Have you ever felt like you’re not where you’re supposed to be? I’m not talking about misreading directions and getting lost. I’m talking about being in a place, a dynamic, a behavior where your gut tells you, “I’m not supposed to be here.”
Recent storms ravaged Houston. Christ United Church of Cypress was flooded; their building halfway underwater. Volunteers cleared out salvageable items to store in portable storage units. Walls were pulled from their framework and flooring pried up to prevent mildew. It was devastating.
Still, the people gathered for worship on Sunday.
In their parking lot that was underwater only days before, church members set up lawn chairs and held service.
As in any worship gathering, there were announcements. A church member stood up from his lawn chair with a warning. “Because of the flooding in our community, there’ve been out-of-state predatory insurance companies making the rounds. Be careful. They can do more long-term damage to your livelihood than any flood.” Some attendees gasped in shock that such a thing could happen during their community’s time of vulnerability. Others nodded in sad affirmation.
After the service, people folded lawn chairs and started to leave. But there was one young man still sitting where he had been the entire time on the outskirts of the congregation.
The pastor approached him to say hello.
The man was crying. He was wearing an official business shirt of some sort, but during the service he had taken electrical tape and covered its logo.
Through tears he confessed to the pastor, “When that guy made the announcement about those predatory insurance folks and how much damage they’re doing, I realized, ‘That’s me.’ I’m working for one of those companies. That’s why I came to your service today.” And then the man hung his head and declared, “I’m not supposed to be here.”
In the Hebrew Scriptures, Yahweh’s prophet, Elijah, is on the run from Jezebel, wife of Ahab, who had done “more evil in the eyes of the Lord than any [king] before him.”
Elijah is God’s messenger, the voice of goodness and justice in the midst of Israel’s chaos.
But, like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, our hero runs off to a desolate mountain fearing for his life.
Hiding in a cave, Elijah cries out (and I’m paraphrasing here), “What’s the point in going on? I’m finished! Lord, take my life.” And the Lord replies, “What are you doing here, Elijah?” It’s like a little boy telling his parent, “I’m running away,” only to be found hiding in the woods behind the family’s house an hour later by the parent who asks with an endearing eye roll, “What are you doing here, son?” (That little boy may or may not have been me.)
Like a loving parent to their child, the word of the Lord says to Elijah, “You’re not supposed to be here. There’s more goodness and justice for you to do, more prophetic work to be done in a world in urgent need of compassionate voices. You have that voice, so get up and speak, act, share, because you’re not doing your people any good sitting out here.”
Yesterday marked one year since a young man with a gun, brainwashed by racism, walked into a Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, opened fire, and killed nine people. Only a week ago, another armed man, skewed by extremism and anti-gay ideology, walked into Pulse nightclub, a gay bar in Orlando, opened fire, and killed 49 people.
In between the Emanuel Nine and the Pulse 49, so many more beautiful, unfinished lives have been taken or damaged by violence—violence that is fostered by unchallenged racism in our public discourse, violence that is stoked by indefensible, murderous hostility toward LGBTQ people preached from church pulpits, violence that is nurtured by a culture that fools itself into thinking that the only way we can go on as a society is for some to die so that others can securely live.
This is chaos. What are we doing here?
We need to recognize our complicity to racist systems that produce the killing of people of color. We need to recognize our complicity to anti-LGBTQ ideology that breeds the massacre of gay people. We need to bridge this cognitive dissonance that keeps us all in bondage.
We need to see the chaos in which we all live so that, like a young man following seemingly harmless orders from a predatory company, we can realize how far we’ve strayed from home and declare with a new voice, “I’m not supposed to be here.”
We’re not supposed to be here. It’s time to come out of the chaos of us-and-them indifference and into the urgent homecoming of compassion. We all need it. Compassion is the holy virtue by which this world is meant to be structured if we have any hope of going on.
So, instead of blaming other people, other religions, or other things that we don’t understand for the next mass shooting, instead of thinking “it is what it is” and remaining silent when we hear toxic rhetoric about those who differ from us, for all our sakes we need to pause, see where we are in all of this, and not be ashamed to ask, “What am I doing here?”