“I tire of spiritual but not religious people who think they are unique, daring, or interesting because they find God in the sunset… My take is that anyone can find God in the sunset. What is remarkable is finding God in the context of flawed human community” – Lillian Daniel
For weeks the people of Iowa – in fact, people across the country – have become familiar with the smiling face of Mollie Tibbetts. Yesterday we learned that Mollie will not be coming home. Her lifeless body was found in a field, the victim of evil and violence, which seems to pervade our world more deeply each day. What do we say and think of such a loss; such a manifestation of evil and suffering? As Christians who worship God revealed in the suffering of the cross, there is much to say, really. In summary I’ll quote a colleague, Arthur Bergren, a pastor in Waverly, Iowa: “In the field where this young woman was recovered, the cross of Christ stands. Mollie was never alone.” Her tears, pain, terror – whatever she suffered – was suffered in the very heart of God. That God will not let this suffering be the final word for Mollie, for her family, or for us.
Sadly, Mollie is fast becoming a footnote to this story. Instead of grief and honoring the dead, political leaders, media outlets and many others have jumped on the fact that the alleged perpetrator of this crime was an immigrant who was in this country illegally. The death of a young woman is being used for political purposes and scapegoating. The young man who stands accused of the murder is in custody and charged. The system of justice is in motion. If convicted, he will pay for his crime in ways that have been mandated by the people.
Will using this woman’s death to rally people to purge our nation of immigrants ensure that this kind of violence will never happen again? Hardly. If we hunt down the illegal immigrants (and in the process every person who speaks Spanish or is a little browner than we are) will we be able to sleep in a deluded peace, sure that violence cannot touch us? Hardly. Should we look at common sense immigration practices that don’t throw the “baby out with the bath water” as we act? I hope so. Should we, in this moment, mourn Mollie, comfort those who grieve and try not to objectify this young woman any more than she has been for our own causes? I pray so.
Here’s the thing: In 1986, Mark Smith waited for his ex-girlfriend to come home from school after he had broken into her home. When she arrived, he stabbed her 66 times. Mark Smith was not an illegal immigrant; he was not unusual. He and his family lived in a house just adjacent to my parent’s home. Jenny Crompton died for no real reason. Simple human brokenness and sin were at the heart of the act. Mark Smith was convicted and is in jail to this day – a recent appeal, denied.
My point is that we cannot live in this world and believe that senseless violence and suffering will not happen if we can identify the “bad people” – be they illegal immigrants or our normal neighbors, or even us. You know the down-deep, center of your soul truth, don’t you? Every one of us is capable of becoming Cain or Abel, perpetrator or victim. That is why we need a God who enters into our existence – even the suffering and death – to transform us and share our pain.
So, I’m just asking us to keep this loss, this tragic and senseless murder, focused on Mollie and her family. That we pray for the justice system to work. That we set aside our agendas and our need to pick up our torches and search for the monsters – because they are all of us, friends. I’m asking that we keep our heads, watch our mouths and open our hearts – for Mollie. That is this Beggar’s Take on Mollie’s death.
copyright 2018 – Timothy V. Olson
“It is a good proof and test of our love if we can bear with such faults (of others) and not be shocked by them. Others, in their turn, will bear with your faults, which, if you include those of which you are not aware, must be much more numerous.” ― Teresa of Ávila
“From beginning to end, the Holy Scriptures testify that the predicament of fallen humanity is so serious, so grave, so irremediable from within, that nothing short of divine intervention can rectify it.” ― Fleming Rutledge
On the Day of Pentecost, a Spirit-filled group of the disciples of Jesus were driven into the street to speak words that testified to Christ. When they opened their mouths, the languages of many nations became audible. Each heard their native tongue. It was not that none of them could communicate before. They all spoke Greek, maybe Latin and certainly Hebrew. Yet, God’s voice came to them in the wonderful diversity in which God had made them. More important was what the Spirit’s language was about: it was about the love, mercy and grace of God. That is the language of the Spirit. In our age, language divides and spreads hate; language puts a price on everything and judges. The Spirit sends us into the street to speak a language that testifies to Jesus.
copyright © Timothy V. Olson, 2018
In today’s lesson from Acts, the Holy Spirit interrupts Peter’s sermon by filling the uncircumcised gentiles with gifts of the Spirit. Last week, as Philip brought good news to Samaria, the Spirit interrupted, sending him to proclaim the gospel to an Ethiopian eunuch. While we often think we are in control of the mission of the Church and over who is included in our efforts, the Spirit – Deus Interruptus (the Interrupting God) – is out ahead of us building the reign of God before we ever show up. Welcoming people we exclude, forgiving the unforgivable, are all the work of the Spirit without us. The question is, “Will we be left behind or catch up to what the Spirit is already doing?” Praise Deus Interruptus!
copyright © Timothy V. Olson, 2018