We stand today alongside those in our country who are mourning as the wildfires in California continue to ravage the hillsides, destroy homes, and claim lives. Lifetimes of memories have been lost, livelihoods have been lost, and most tragically, lives have been cut short. All of this on the week prior to Thanksgiving means that there are all too many of our fellow citizens, fellow humans, our brothers and sisters, who are wondering what there is to be thankful for this year.
Tragedy can strike out of nowhere and leave us reeling with a sense of hopelessness and despair, which too often can turn into finger pointing and blame. We experience or witness pain and we want to know who we can point the finger at so that we can, in turn, try to find some way of exacting retribution or vengeance upon them. "Somebody's going to pay for this," we cry out to all who will hear as we wrestle with the reality of loss.
Others may take that tragedy and try to spin it into an opportunity to advance themselves or to promote their own perspectives or ideologies. They will claim to know exactly why it happened and will try to turn that rationale into an advantage for themselves and for "their side." Some may label it as "divine retribution" for some list of offenses and then use the tragedy to call for moral change and reform. Others will see it as proof of their own ideology being superior to another's and use the tragedy to call for conformity to their own perspective.
Be wary, though, of those who will "use" tragedy for self-gain, for tragedy is not a commodity to be bartered or traded. Tragedy is a reality that we encounter in life that must build up in us a desire to have empathy and sympathy for those who have been impacted. We are to weep with those who weep and mourn with those who mourn (Romans 12:15), but we can't do that if we're focused on finding somebody to blame or finding an angle that we can exploit.
With that thought in mind, I call this parish to weep with those who are weeping today, not only those who have been struck with tragedy by fire in California, but those neighbors, and family member, and coworkers--those who are near to us--who are also facing personal, sometimes hidden, tragedies of their own. Let us be those who will walk through the fire of pain and tragedy alongside our neighbors, not because of what we can gain out of it ourselves, but because it is simply the right thing to do.
(as published in St. Luke’s weekly email newsletter, 11/14/18)