“In Our Image”

That’s what the creation story has God saying when God makes people. “Let us make humankind in our image….” A lot of ink has been spilled over what, exactly, that means. What are the characteristics of God that we have inherited in our creation?

It may be that the pronoun is a big clue – “our” image. If this “our” suggests a connection with the idea of God as Trinity, then what we share with God is that we are made for community. We flourish when we are in communion with our fellow creatures who are also made for community.

Richard Rohr said, “If God is Trinity and Jesus is the face of God, then it is a benevolent universe. God is not someone to be afraid of but is the Ground of Being and is on our side.” He goes on to say that our image of God creates us. That is, the way we think of God, the way we perceive God to be, shapes how we live our lives, what we believe about ourselves and the way life is.

If we believe that God is to be feared, that God will punish us if we step out of line, that we have to walk the straight and narrow or God will throw us into Hell, we will live our lives with the same kind of attitude. We will live as if life is about judgment and punishment. We will see others as real or potential threats and enemies. We will see differences and see threats, not gifts to enrich us.

If we believe God is for us, that God’s stance towards us is fundamentally that we are loved and drawn into eternal communion, and that all of us make up a community of increasing complexity and harmony, we will view others, no matter how strange to us they may be, as gifts to challenge, enrich and teach us.

The way we think of God does indeed shape the way we think of others.

On this anniversary of the Charleston shooting, a few days after Orlando, we desperately need to see God in the face of Jesus, to understand God as love, and to turn toward our neighbors with welcome and blessing. A culture of fear and division leads people to strike out at those they view as threats. We are all prone to this temptation. The peace of our world and our communities depends on our being able to embrace a God of love and grace and community, and to be shaped by that image. For too long we have made distinctions or race and class, culture and sexual orientation, as if God did not make all of us for community. It is time to look God in the face by seeing in one another “our image.”

Condemnation, or Compassion?

Recently there was a terrible accident in our community. A father left his 4-month-old son in the car, thinking the child was at day care. Too late, he discovered his mistake and the child was dead of overheating. A simple mistake with terrible consequences that will affect a family for the rest of their lives.

Someone posted on the “People and Places of Rome, NY” Facebook page a simple comment, full of concern for a family whose suffering was horrible to imagine: “There is a family in our town that needs our thoughts and prayers this evening. Nothing more needs to be said. Just pray for them in their time of pain and grief.”

In response to that post, there have been 740 “likes” and 202 comments. The loss that family has suffered touches us deeply. And to have that happen in a town this small, where many of us know the family, work with them, grew up with them, taught them in school – it shakes us to our very core. We don’t want it to be true. We hardly know what to say, except “I’m so sorry. I love you. I’m praying for you.” And take some food (if anyone has an appetite after such a loss).

We don’t want to imagine that happening to us. We don’t want to think about making the same kind of mistake. But if we do, it is frightening to imagine how one would feel, how one would try to cope, how a father could forgive himself, how to go on with your life after that and how long it would take. My heart breaks for this young father and mother and their family.

It will be a while before the father of that little boy can do anything but feel, before he will be able to and start to forgive himself and start to heal. The feelings of grief and guilt and remorse must be overwhelming. I hope he finds warm hugs, listening ears, patient friends. I hope he has faith that God will bear his anger, his guilt, his grief, his sorrow.

And I hope we can forgive the people who wrote in response to that Facebook post and were quick to condemn, to judge, to give advice and to call for rules or regulations or punishment. I understand the emotional reaction that provokes such comments. I don’t want to believe I could do such a thing. I push away those feelings. And the easiest way to do that is to project my dark feelings onto the person I see as guilty and to judge and condemn.

But condemnation will not heal. Condemnation will not bring the dead back to life. Condemnation will only divide people. We need compassion. Compassion understands that we are all human, that we can identify with the mistakes of another person, even when it horrifies us to imagine ourselves in that same position. But our hope lies in reaching out to one another with love. Offering our presence, our prayers and our support. Remember: God does not condemn. God is love.

We are all grieving this loss, some more, some less. None us as much as the parents, grandparents and other family of the child who died. But this loss touches us all. And our best response is to throw arms of love and prayers of healing around them in their grief.