I believe the events in the middle east have not only gotten our attention, but that of most of the world.  Terrorism is simply terrifying and terrible (thus the name, I guess).  The hate, anger, fear, and violence of that general area has been around virtually forever – but that simply does not justify what took place Saturday morning.  However, it certainly is not without precedence and probably should not be so shocking to any of us.

I just finished reading a novel that I would classify as “historical fiction.”  The book is “Crow Mary” by Kathleen Grissom (2023).  It is the story of the interaction between the Crow Indians, American settlers, and the government in the late 1800’s.  Tragically, the narrative is not so different from what we see in our world today.  I know we cannot change history, but I keep asking myself what I personally can do to improve the pattern for the future.

In an epilogue the author explains: “Some facts: (The main characters) did live, and (one main character)’s end came as written.  The Cypress Hills Massacre did happen, though I used license to write my version and to fictionalize Mary’s experiences there.  It is true that Crow Mary … was a witness at the trial in Winnipeg, though none of the accused were ever found guilty.  However, as a result of the massacre, the North West Mounted Police built Fort Walsh, and whiskey trading was eventually brought to an end.”  I will not write more in case anyone chooses to read the book.  Let me simply say that the author goes on to explain more about what actually happened and what she added to tell the story.

If you have ever read the Old Testament in the Bible, you have most likely noticed similar stories of terror and cruel bloodshed.  Just as Jesus said, “You always have the poor with you,” (Mark 14.7), so I believe we can safely say, “We will always have violence in this world.”  However, I do not believe that acknowledging its endless presence is the same as giving in to violence while not trying to do anything about it.  As a start, I am thinking about rereading Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s “The Cost of Discipleship” and/or Henri Nouwen’s “The Wounded Healer”.  And it just might be time to bring back the oft recorded song by Jill Jackson / Sy Miller that begins and ends with the phrase “Let there be peace on earth and let it begin with me.”

Crow Mary’s story is one of incredible strength – and great tolerance.  She chose not to fight many battles, but the ones she chose to fight were meaningful.  Her story is also one of bravery, suffering, and patience.  Mixed in were many hardships and uncertainties, failures and disappointments.  Somehow through it all – in spite of many misgivings and near-reversals – she plugged forward through many challenging changes to do what was best for her family.  For this I applaud her.

My greatest disappointment in her story is that it sounds as though she never had the Gospel of Jesus Christ presented to her in a loving or culturally sensitive way.  Why is it that we are always so focused upon using the law to make things right, when the Gospel is the only tool that is able to make significant changes?  I can only imagine how much more fulfilling Mary’s life would have been if one particular character in the story had understood and clearly articulated what was behind her oft-used phrase “God be praised.”

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is an incarnational message that is best articulated when word, deed, and attitude are working in concert.  Paul talks about this as he writes to the church in Philippi.  One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3.13-14)  Does he do “one thing” or three?  The three things he lists “forgetting what is behind,” “straining forward to what lies ahead,” and “pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” can be summarized as “one thing” – keeping the main thing (the Gospel of Jesus Christ) the main thing.

We see Jesus incarnationally demonstrating this for us as he prays in the Garden of Gethsemane.  As “his sweat became like great drops of blood falling to the ground,” (Luke 22.44) he was forgetting all of the insults, challenges, ignorance, etc. that he had experienced over the three years of his earthly ministry … as he was straining forward to why lay ahead – betrayal, denial, scourging, crucifixion, etc. … and pressing on toward the goal of God – the defeat of sin, death, and the devil, along with spending eternity with us in a whole new creation (one with no violence, death or terror).

Just as Jesus took all of our failures and guilt upon himself on the cross, so also in our baptism he gives us his identity (sinless child of God) and his mission – that of saving the world (or, keeping the main thing the main thing) … incarnationally demonstrating the love of God in Christ Jesus in all circumstances through our words, deeds, and attitudes … doing that “one thing” with Paul: ”forgetting what is behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (we) press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.”  Of course we will be challenged (be it through events like those of this week or in adversities similar to those of Crow Mary), but that which the Gospel of Jesus Christ works in us … such as “peace that surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4.7) along with similar joy and courage … makes it all worthwhile. Thus, through all and in spite of all, we live on as relentless people of hope.

(Initially, I was planning to write a follow-up to last week’s “Muchas Gracias” highlighting that it was really all about relationships … but then, as I think of it, this week is also all about relationships!)

Crow Mary