Posted by: Titus Presler | November 7, 2012

“Don’t interview me – get us to a hospital!” – Random confluence in a theology of mission

Yesterday morning, while watching the USAmerican election returns from Peshawar, I took a break to meet with a junior clerk of Edwardes College who had been injured in a bomb attack not far from Peshawar.  On the second day of Eid-al-Azha, on Oct. 27, he and his five children were on their way to a Sufi shrine when the blast caught them in the city of Nowshera – his wife, their mother, was not with them on this trip.

As he came to consciousness he was aware of his children crowding around him.  He stood up, bleeding, and saw others lying on the ground, some injured, some dead.  Journalists and cameras rushed to him as one of the few injured who was standing, and importuned him with questions.

“Don’t interview me – get us to a hospital!” he responded in Pashto.  So somehow that happened.  His children had only minor injuries, he was glad to report.  He himself is recovering well.  A wound to his face is mostly healed.  He’s limping from where something hit him in the leg, but he’s glad to be among the living and to be able to return to work.  Work, he says, keeps his mind off the horror he witnessed.

Yesterday a blast hit a bazaar in Peshawar itself and killed six, injuring 36.  An Edwardes staff member was shopping for a file cabinet about 200 yards away when it happened.  He was startled, shocked, but not injured.  He returned without a file cabinet.

Confluence is the flowing together of events.  We notice confluence especially when the events are disparate.  Or when their meaning ­– and the meaning of the confluence – is suggestive but elusive. 

I am struck by several instances of confluence.  For me personally, following the results of an election that has significance both globally and for this region resonated with hearing the story of a person who is recovering from the violence in this region that has global significance.  His being injured in the course of fulfilling an act of religious devotion – doubtless not coincidental in the sectarian violence of Pakistan – deepened the sense of tragic hurt.

“Don’t interview me – get us to a hospital!”  That was meant as a rebuke as well as a plea for help, and my guess is that the journalists present took it that way.  For them it probably renewed a habitual dilemma: They would like to help, they should help, but their primarily obligation, really their vocation, is to help by getting such stories out to the wider public so that a swath of humanity, not just the bystanders, can see, hear, know.  Journalists flow toward notable events.  It’s their job to report them, publicize them, analyze them – not necessarily to heal them.  They annotate confluence in public.

“Don’t interview me – get us to a hospital!”  Beyond the journalists, probably all of us feel the force of that exhortation in some way: Don’t just read about it – do something!  Don’t be a voyeur – get involved!  Don’t see your awareness of this event as a coincidence – see it as a call.

“Don’t interview me – get us to a hospital!”  This should push us theologically as well.  Are we simply observers of the world, or are we asking God-questions about the events that surround us? – What is God’s view of them?  What is God up to amid them?  What is God calling us to in them?  These are theological questions.  Important theological questions are also missional questions.  That is, authentic insights about who God is catalyze authentic insights about what God is calling us to be and do in the world.

A major obstacle to missional engagement with the world is the existential experience of the randomness of the world and our place in it.  “After all,” one might protest, “I didn’t ask to have this event happen next to me.  I didn’t ask to be surrounded by this crisis and that anguish.  I didn’t even ask to be living at this time.  I’m just one more random bit of life amid a world and maybe a cosmos of swirling life.  So why should I engage beyond my limited circle of interest?  And if I were to choose to so engage, how would I choose which anguish to engage?  It’s all so random!

The randomness is real.  So I say randomness rather than apparent randomness – in opposition to one common theological shortcut to mission which says, “Oh, it’s actually all God’s plan that you be here or there, next to this or that event – so that’s why you need to be involved in this or that way.

No.  God gave up planning a long time ago.  God is the God of risky gambits, the God who gives up power in favor of inviting the bearers of God’s image – human beings – to fulfill the image of God within us by doing the God-thing in the random events that surround us.  The incarnation of God in Christ was the quintessential risky gambit, where God gave up everything, including controlling how it might turn out, so that the very nature of the universe hung in the balance.  Jesus encountered the random in a random place in a random time – and engaged it.

None of us can engage everything, but every one of us can engage something.  It’s not that we’ve been placed by God in some particular place at some particular time.  No, that’s quite random.  It’s rather that God invites us to choose some random thing where we can make known the love of God, the healing of God, the reconciliation of God.  Each of us has particular gifts to offer to particular confluences, and we have the opportunity to choose who, where, when, what and why – which, interestingly, are also the classic journalistic questions.

The choosing is everything, for it discloses both what it means to be God and what it means to be human.  When the Episcopal Catechism asks, “What does it mean to be created in the image of God?” the answer provided is: “It means that we are free to make choices: to love, to create, and to live in harmony with God and all creation.”

So, confluence.  The confluences are random.  Our choosing is not.  Our choosing brings together the randomness of the universe with the longing of God.  You can almost hear the click.  Or feel the embrace.

“Don’t interview me – get us to a hospital!”



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