Unity in a time of terror

Jun 5, 2014 by

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This was going to be a post about Pentecost, a reflection on my family’s love for our city-wide Mennonite Pentecost service — a service that involves as many languages as the building can hold, a service that reminds me that, from time to time, we can get along and be one.

Willem

Willem

But I don’t think I can write that post today. Because today I received one of those texts you never want to get from your child: “Mom, the school’s on lockdown; what do I do?”

My 13-year-old son goes to school in downtown Philadelphia. He takes the train with his friends to school and back every day. He has a lot of freedom for a middle schooler, freedom that is well-earned as a usually responsible kid.

Today, he went to school and did all the things he was supposed to do. But today, an angry student from the college across the street pulled out a gun in class and threatened a classmate. And that sparked a lockdown of the college and my son’s school. The lockdown was an appropriate response to a violent situation. But it terrified my son, and me.

The Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colo., happened 15 years ago, and the attacks on the Twin Towers 13 years ago. Both of those incidents changed how we parent. We raise our kids in times of terror, when our schoolchildren no longer prepare for distant cold war threats, but for angry people who only know how to express themselves with extreme violence. And that violence happens in places where we are trying to keep our kids safe.

What do we as parents do to respond? How do we keep our children safe, but teach them to live in a spirit of hope and not fear?

One of the things I love about Pentecost is that, for one day in our church life, we can imagine being one. We can imagine that the church can put aside our theological, cultural, race and class divisions for one day and worship together in unity. This is — of course — much easier said than done. But it’s exactly why I love this day. It’s something to work towards together with other communities of faith, particularly when our own congregations look less like Pentecost than we wish they would.

But when things are frightening out there, it’s tempting to shut our doors, to shut out the spirit, to live in fear. We are tempted to keep to ourselves, to isolate from others, to stay only with those who share our culture and values.

But this is not how we are called to live. This is not what we are called to teach our children.

As difficult as it is to send my son out to the train some mornings, not knowing what his day will bring, I trust him into the care of the Beloved. I trust him with what he’s been taught in our home and community, and what we try to practice in our lives — that God loves all God’s children, and is present in every moment of their lives.

I also know that isolation does not give us glimpses of the beloved community. It does not give us Pentecost. It doesn’t bring us any closer to understanding who God is and what it means to follow in the way of Jesus.

When we are tempted to shudder our doors and windows, to hide from a world that feels too violent to bear, may we open ourselves to the wonder of Pentecost. While fraught with unknowns, there is still joy in the gathering together, in the sharing fellowship with others who experience the world differently, and learning from them.

May we teach our young people to be God’s hopeful Pentecost children, even when the world feels frightening. Amen.

Amy Yoder McGloughlin is pastor of Germantown Mennonite Church in Philadelphia. This blog post is provided thanks to our partnership with Practicing Families.


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