I rarely check my Twitter account. But as I sat in my hot car waiting in line at the bank to make a deposit, I figured I would pop in and see what was there.
And I was horrified.
There was an account from the Rev. Canon Andrew White, nicknamed "The Vicar of Baghdad," about a five year-old boy from the Iraqi Christian village Qaraqosh. The militant Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) had attacked the village. They cut this little boy in two:
"I’m almost in tears because I’ve just had somebody in my room whose little child was cut in half,” he said. “I baptized his child in my church in Baghdad. This little boy, they named him after me – he was called Andrew.”
I cannot even begin to imagine the terror that the religious minorities are experiencing in Iraq as this intrafaith genocide continues its crusade, killing hundreds and sending people fleeing for their lives into the mountains where they are without food and water. And so, there in my car, I offered up a very simple prayer: "O God, help them!" I am afraid for the Kurds, for the Yazidis, for the Christians, and for anyone else ISIS has determined isn't one of "their kind" of Muslim. They claim they want an Islamic state; what I think they really want is wanton death and terror.
Some friends on Facebook are grumbling that President Obama has sent U.S. fighter planes to drop bombs on ISIS hold outs, and humanitarian aid for refugees in the mountains. And even though my own sentiments lean strongly toward pacificism, this situation is so alarming that I don't think the world should sit back and let the Iraqis figure this out. The United States, with its flawed decision to invade Iraq back in 2003 and execute Saddam Hussein, has contributed to the uproar that now exists there. We are now, whether we like it or not, linked to this situation and owe it to the people to offer protection and drive back the forces that mean to destroy so many.
Speaking of Facebook, that supposed social media escape app, instead has been slamming more reality of this world in the face of many here in Tallahassee, or at least amongst my friends. Many have posted about the 63-year-old grandmother who had "a surprise" for her grandsons. She took the younger of the two boys into the bathroom, locked the door, and stabbed this six year-old to death as he screamed, pleading for his life. His older brother, unable to get the door open, called his dad, and hid as grandma emerged, looking for him. The stories coming out after the fact are heartbreaking. A planned birthday outing for this young boy now needing to be canceled in favor of a funeral; a couple, planning to wed in November, shaken; and an older brother who was devoted to his younger sibling left with the awful memory of a Tuesday morning horror show.
One child cut in half. One child stabbed to death. And my cry goes up: "My God! My God!"
The overwhelming cruelty that seems rampant in the world is tough to take in, even from the remote comfort of a Twitter feed or Facebook timeline. It is depressing and disheartening. How can human beings commit such cruel and evil acts on each other, especially against children?
And then we enter into the Gospel of Matthew, and the story of the disciples get tossed around in their boat and Jesus comes walking toward them on the sea, and calms the turbulent waters. At first they don't believe it's him, and they think he's a ghost. He tells them, "Take heart; it is I. Do not be afraid!" Peter shouts out to him from inside the boat, "Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you." With no hesitation, Jesus says, "Come!" And Peter, obediently, gets out of the boat and starts walking toward Jesus. Until a big gust of wind comes along. That's when Peter becomes more aware of the wind, and the water under his feet, then Jesus. And he starts to sink. But as he starts to go under, Peter calls out to Christ to save him. And, again, without any hesitation, Jesus lifts Peter out of the waters before they overwhelm him.
The simple reading of this would be that when we call on Christ, he will save us. That's true. All who truly turn to Jesus Christ and really give their attention and intentions to God will come in contact with the grace that is beyond our logical understanding. There is a kind of peace in that moment that can't be explained, but can be experienced. But is this any consolation to us in a world where the waves of chaos regularly crash through our TV screens and internet connections? Or to the grieving parents of slain children?
Perhaps another way of seeing this moment with Peter is to understand that Christ never lost sight of Peter. Jesus left the mountain top and ventured out onto the waters of chaos to meet and rejoin his disciples being tossed about in their boat. And when they react to him with fear, he assures them and repeats the most consistent mantra throughout the Bible: Do. Not. Be. Afraid. Jesus doesn't abandon his followers; he searches for them. He pays attention to them. And when the waves are battering them, he goes to them... even before they start crying for help.
Christ has not abandoned the people of Iraq or anywhere else. None of the ways we humans call upon God in our darkest hours and greatest moments of need are ignored like a blinking message light on an answering machine. Because we are still seen, still known, and the Holy still seeks to find and be found. So, we pray.
O God make speed to save us.
O Lord make haste to help us.