Tag Archives: God

When our words are weak – A Lament for Alan, Ghalib and Rehanna Kurdi

Yesterday, I was scrolling through my social media feeds and a vivid photo of a beach passed by. I scrolled back to see a very young boy in shorts and a t-shirt laying in the sand.

It took me a moment to piece together that this wasn’t a child playing on the beach, but instead a wordless and unimaginable tragedy. It was Alan Kurdi.

 I have a son. A little boy that has often been dressed in shorts and t-shirts this summer. Those hands and feet, those legs and arms, that little body is one I see everyday.

It was heartbreaking to see the same arms, legs and body as my little boy lying lifeless on a turkish beach. It was guilt inducing and gut wrenching to be grateful that there was dark hair and not my son’s reddish blonde.

I have regularly prayed for Syrian refugees in my church. I have just slipped in a few words for them along with prayers for rain in spring and sunshine in harvest, prayers for world leaders and peace, prayers for church ministries and programs, prayers for sick and dying people. It was the very least I could do.

I have regularly forgotten to pray for Syria when all those other things took all my attention.

I have have encouraged my congregation to collect sweaters for displaced Syrian refugees, to give money to our denominational aid organization working in the refugee camps, to be open minded about our muslim neighbours.

I haven’t pressed them as hard as I could have.

A few months ago as I sat in my office, a muslim refugee family came to me to ask for help. A father and mother just like Abdullah and Rehanna, 6 children just like Ghalib and Alan. A family just like Alan’s sat in my office and I hemmed and hawed about how much help I could provide, secretly wondering about how much effort I would need to put in helping them.

As a pastor, I have had grieving mothers cling to me. I have had to offer failing words and inadequate comfort to those who are grieving the death of a child – young and old.

My job is to point to hope, even when no one else can. My vocation is to be the one who declares “Life” when everyone else declares “death.” My calling is to give words to the grieving.

Words for Alan, Rehanna and Ghalib. Words to Abdullah.

Words that somehow make sense of death.

I wish I could say there is some purpose in this tragedy, but there isn’t. I hope that Alan’s  photo becomes as significant as the naked Vietnamse girl’s is, but it would better that neither needed to be taken. I wish that Alan’s death had some greater meaning, but would you volunteer your child’s life to be the one that moved the world to action?

I hope that Alan reminds us that the words ‘Syrian’, ‘Migrant’, ‘Refugee’ are synonymous with ‘person.’ I hope that we remember that Syrians, migrants and refugees are human beings, not numbers, not news headlines, not problems to pass off, or expenses we don’t want to incur.

The world – 5 years too late – cries out for Alan and for Syria.

Finally. 

Yet, world leaders, NGOs, military campaigns, and good intentions will not solve this crisis. At best, they will mitigate it, they will make things slightly less tragic.

That is where my job to speak words for Alan, Ghalib and Rehanna comes in…  to speak words that somehow spark hope in the midst of tragedy and death.

Words that are not mine… words that belong to and are given by God. 

Because when are confronted with images of tragedy that make us cry out,

Because when we know that our leaders don’t have the will to respond, nor could they adequately respond if they did will it,

Because our good intentions have never solved our problems.

Because the human spirit, as noble as it might be, will not save us.

Because when we cannot redeem senseless death, God can. 

God makes sense of that which we cannot. 

God turns our tragedy into something better – into mercy and resurrection.

God does have the answer, God has life and love for a little boy laying on a beach.

God has life and love for our broken world.


Featured photo courtesy of Leadnow.ca

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“What is the Good News?”: It is not buying God off.

So I am sitting at a table in a church in rural Manitoba, Canada. For Canadian readers, imagine the winter paradise that most of you think rural Manitoba is. For American readers, imagine the winter wasteland you might think Canada would be all about. This is where I am.

I am also betweens sessions as the co-presenter at a youth retreat. Our theme for the weekend is “What is the Good News?”

Two sessions in and 3 to go, it strikes me how difficult a question this can be. There are  seemingly obvious definitions, like Jesus died for our sins, or God loves us, or God is King of all creation. But when you are trying to explain this youth, you need to be more concrete. At the same time, when you speak to youth and allow for their response, you will be surprised by their depth and their insight. Already the youth have been pointing out nuances that I didn’t consider when planning my parts of the speaking sessions.

As Lutherans, we have a very specific dogma when it comes to the “Good News”. We boldly declare that grace, that God’s love, that God’s mercy and forgiveness is entirely an action on God’s part. There is no earning God’s love. There is no choosing to follow Jesus. There is no repenting first, so that we may then be forgiven. The direction of God’s grace is always towards us.

We showed this video to the youth, of Nadia Bolz-Weber speaking to 40,000 ELCA youth in New Orleans about Lutheran theology:

Good News with this 1-sided approach (as in, it is all God’s work, and none of ours) becomes hard to nail down. We so desperately want to know our part. We want to have something to contribute. In in the middle ages it was good works which earned merit. The merit could be earned with works, and purchased with indulgences. The church sold Good News like a commodity. Merit became like ladder rungs to purchase for our climb to heaven.

Today, we are mostly over the good works thing. But the church is still selling Good News, in the form of faith or repentance or choice. We don’t say that we need to do good works to go to heaven, but instead that we need to actively accept God’s love. We need to choose Jesus in a conscious, life changing way. We need to truly repent of our sins to be truly forgiven. We need to DO something in our relationship with God.

This is still selling Good News. And we still buy it because it affords us a sense of control. If we can make the active choice, have the repentance moment, if we can accept Jesus as our Lord and Saviour, than we are in control of our eternal fate.

But this is not what Jesus says about Grace. This is not what Martin Luther realized by reading Romans. This is not Good News

It is all still buying Good News, still buying God’s love. We once bought God with work and indulgences, now God is bought with sincerity of faith or our choice.

God doesn’t act this way. The Good News is not that we can somehow earn or buy off God.

The Good News has always been, and still is, that God is the one coming to us. God’s love, mercy and grace is freely given. Given whether we have earned it or not. Given whether we repent, choose, or accept it or not. God is constantly giving Grace, and there is nothing we can do about it. Nothing at all.

So what is the Good News?

That God is doing all the work when it comes to us. That is God is doing the saving, forgiving, resurrecting work.

And it just happens to us.

God just happens to us… just happens to love us, before we even knew what love was, before we had any say in the matter.

That is Good News!

So what is the Good News? What is our role? Can we have a role? Share in the comments, on Facebook, or on Twitter: @ParkerErik