“How is Uvalde?” How many of you have been asked that question? I have. I suspect it’s a conversation we’ve all had whether about Uvalde or another situation. It’s the obvious and natural thing to talk about after any kind of tragedy, trauma, or loss. That conversation takes place within families, among friends, between concerned citizens, helpers and those in need, leaders and constituents.
When it comes to Uvalde most of the time what I say and hear others saying is a description of what is happening. “There’s deep grief and sadness. There’s a lot of anger and mistrust. There is conflict and division. And there is a huge outpouring of prayer, compassion, love, and support.”
And while all that may be true and accurate, Jesus is clear and direct with the crowds in today’s gospel (Luke 12:49-56) that description is not enough.
“You hypocrites!” he says. “You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?”Luke 12:56
It is not enough to simply describe what is happening. We must interpret and discern what is going on in what is happening.
Jesus says to the crowd, “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens.” Do you hear the description and interpretation in that? Jesus continues, “And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens.” Again, there is description and interpretation.
You and I are being asked to be good interpreters of the present time. The interpretation we give the present time has direct consequences for the immediate future. Some interpretations open ways for healing and unity. Others leave us stuck in business as usual repeating the same old cycles of past pain and violence. Let’s not be like the crowds in today’s gospel reacting correctly to nature but remaining passive in the face of what has happened.
One of my biggest concerns for Uvalde is that we will get through this but nothing will change. We’ll look around us and do the necessary things: money will be distributed, needs will be met, counseling and mental health resources will be provided, a new school and maybe a recreational center for kids will be built; but nothing will change. If that happens it will be because we refused to interpret the present time and do the next right thing.
Please do not misunderstand me. I support those things and I want them to happen but I don’t want us to stop there. I don’t want us to just look around at what is happening. I want us to look deeply at what’s going on.
I worry that we will scapegoat and punish a few individuals and consider the case closed, but nothing will change. I’m not saying there should not be accountability for mistakes or wrongdoing. I just don’t want that to be the end of the story. I want us to be good interpreters of the present time.
How are you interpreting the present time? What do you see going on in what has happened and is happening?
Interpretation doesn’t mean getting to the one right answer or explanation. It’s more about transformation than information. It’s about discovering meaning and finding options for healing and moving forward. It’s about addressing the dis-ease and not just the symptoms.
Here are a few of my interpretations:
- We have for too long assumed that people are the problem rather than recognizing that the problem is the problem. (David Anderson Hooker). We’d rather blame individuals than take responsibility for addressing the problem or look at the ways in which the problem benefits us or particular interests.
- The availability of guns and the prevalence of gun violence continue to be an American epidemic. We are killing and wounding each other daily.
- Much of the anger and mistrust we are experiencing today isn’t new but was already here before May 24. It’s been simmering in an ongoing history of racism.
- We know people can lose themselves and go down a dark road. We know the patterns of what that looks like but too often we label them as weird or evil and write them off.
- The people we ask to give of themselves and work for the welfare and benefit of our community and life together are often undervalued, underpaid, and under-resourced.
- We have a hard time being present to and holding the pain of others.
- We’re not very good about loving our neighbor as ourselves. We often prefer to worship Jesus rather than follow and emulate, or let him change us.
I don’t offer these as the best, right, or only interpretations. It’s just where I am today. Some of them might create division between me and others, maybe between me and some of you. That’s not what I want but Jesus said that might happen. And that doesn’t mean I think I’m right. I don’t know. I don’t know if I am being a good interpreter of the present time but I want to be and I trust you do too.
Discerning the present time may just be some of the most important and life-giving work we can do for Uvalde, one another, and those who come after us. And just as it’s not enough to only describe what is happening, neither it is enough to just interpret what is going on. Every interpretation asks something of us and calls for us to respond.
What good does it do us to interpret “a cloud rising in the west” as “It’s going to rain,” and then refuse to get a raincoat or umbrella?
This is not someone else’s work to do. This is your and my work. Immediately after today’s gospel Jesus asks the crowds another question: “Why do you not judge for yourselves what is right?” (Luke 12:57) No one else can do our work for us. We must discern for ourselves.
Are you letting others judge for you? In what ways have you outsourced your discernment to others: news reports, politicians, law-enforcement, social media, gossip, pundits, conspiracy theorists? In what ways has your discernment been co-opted by fear, prejudice, indifference, personal interest, or political agendas? What would it take to reclaim and accept your responsibility to discern and judge what is right?
How are you interpreting the present time? What do you see going on in what has happened and is happening? Look deeply and judge for yourself what is right. And then tell me, how will you, a follower of Christ and a citizen of Uvalde, respond?