Yet More Goodness and Light

Published Jul. 30, 2016 in the Ames Tribune.

By Eileen Gebbie

My God, people are in so much pain. Nerves are frayed, souls are bleeding.

This is not news. To you or to me. There is a vibration of fear and distrust in the land, which none of us can escape.

As a pastor, it is not actually my place to try to escape. An important part of my work is being with people in their pain. I’ve had formal training and years of experience in “pastoral care.” It’s a kind of caring distinct from what mental health care professionals do, in that I do not diagnose or offer solutions. I listen and I pray.

I ask the (often considered annoying) question, “Where is God for you in this?” So receiving and witnessing pain comes with my job.

But something shifted in the last month, at least for me in my ministry. I’ve preached about and been public in my response to all of the recent shootings and public violence, even before Orlando and Dallas.

But it has felt like humanity — or at least the people of Ames and Story County — recently crossed into no-mans’ land, or broke through a dam — whatever metaphor for unfamiliar territory and feeling overwhelmed works for you.

The calls, emails, Facebook messages, texts and walk-ins to my office with cries for help have dramatically increased.

In addition to the pain and fear and distrust born of violence and politics, more people are hungry.

More employed and hard-working people are on the verge of homelessness, if not already homeless.

I am encountering more and more people living with depression, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and PTSD and without professional help available for any of them.

And it got to me. I found myself experiencing a gnashing rage I had not before known in such a sustained way. I wrote a scorched-earth editorial that I was one click away from submitting to this paper.

But the better angel in my life (my wife) asked me how that would help. She asked me how that part of my voice would do anything other than reinforce the already well-established combatant camps. Was that really my role as a pastor?

Last week, my colleague and friend at First Christian Church, the Rev. Mary Jane Button-Harrison, did the work of a pastor when she convened a meeting at her church. She invited those in the downtown-ish area who receive a lot of requests for help, as well as those who have some to offer.

The participants represented the Salvation Army, Mary Greeley, the Retired &Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP), the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Ames Police Department, Ames Public Library, the Northern Plains district of the Church of the Brethren, First United Methodist Church, Trinity Christian Reformed Church, Food at First, Unity Church, AMOS, the Story County Housing Trust Fund Task Force and Community That Works.

Although we shared very familiar stories of pain and need, it was also an opportunity to name resources — resources that we were not all aware of.

In doing so, I was reminded of a sermon from a founder of my branch of the Christian family tree, John Robinson.

In 1619, he preached that there was “truth and light yet to break forth” from God. In fact, there is truth and light breaking forth from all of us, all over the place, all the time.

If we but put ourselves in places to see and feel them, if we but invite each other to places where they can be seen and felt — and accept those invitations — pain, fear, and distrust can and will fall away.

My invitation to you is to release yourself from anything that distracts you from seeing the real kindnesses and life-saving practices abundant in Ames and Story County.

If you can find a community, religious or not, that gives you a mechanism to be a kind life-saver, all the better.

Because we are at a time when all of us are called not just to be caring witnesses to pain, but active healers of that pain.

I just saw a woman holding a sign, on Duff Avenue near Target, that didn’t just explain her lack of employment and need for help. It also read “HAVE MERCY.”

Yes, let’s show that we do.

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