by | Mar 29, 2022

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye?
Matthew 7:3

Last week our Presbytery staff attempted to have lunch together. We chose a restaurant that is fairly centrally located, and has a big patio, in case folks were still a little nervous about COVID. We are a fairly distributed staff, so folks were coming from La Cañada and La Verne, and one staff member got stuck at the dentist’s office and didn’t make it at all. Two of us were meeting with a church session and didn’t leave on time, so we sent an email to let the others know we’d be a little late.

We were ten minutes late and didn’t see the others, so we sat at a table to wait. We were still unwinding from the meeting anyway, so we had plenty to discuss. I figured that one might have gotten stuck in traffic, and the other has become a short-term foster parent for unaccompanied minors, and she said she might have to go pick up her new charge, and she might have to cancel. So we chatted for a little longer, until half an hour passed, and I got a text from the would-be foster mom, asking where we were.

It turns out that they were at the restaurant, and had been waiting for the full 30 minutes! They were sitting in a different patio on the other side of the restaurant, and I didn’t even think to look that way. They were sure they would see us, but somehow didn’t, and they waited a while because they knew we would be late anyway. What a perfect illustration of how our perspectives and assumptions can keep us just a little bit blind and isolated!

There are more serious ways that our lack of awareness can cause problems. Some—perhaps many—of us are very sensitive to the attacks we feel from others, while we are not at all aware that we can seem threatening ourselves. I have been told that my tone can be sharp, or my words can be overly direct, and this intimidates others. Of course my self-perception is that I would never hurt someone else, so it never occurs to me that I could hurt another without realizing it. I have seen this dynamic happen all too often in the church, where we are quick to feel victimized, never imagining that we might be the victimizer.

Conversely, we may see an image that seems quite innocent, even lovely. Someone brought sunflowers to church recently, knowing that sunflowers are like a symbol of hope for Ukraine. It reminded me of a photo that was sent to me, along with a poem that was inspired by the photo.

There were other photos similar to this, with people walking through gorgeous fields of sunflowers in bloom. The photos were taken in July 2014 in the Donbas region of Ukraine.
I didn’t know anything about that in 2014, but I do understand a little more now.

The people were walking amongst the sunflowers because Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 had crashed over Donetsk, downed by a missile during the first part of the Russian-Ukraine war. The people were searching for wreckage of this commercial airliner, where all 283 passengers and 15 crew members died.

A church member, Charlotte Kaster, wrote this poem, inspired by the image of the sunflower fields:

Your majestic fields of golden sunflowers
       received unwanted tragedies.
and bore them in quiet acceptance.

The souls now upward soared—
       well beyond—
Regaining eternal peace.

Pray—pray for our possible understanding.
Pray for the humanity
      that is left in agony and pain.
We are left here helpless,
      and long to reach out . . .

It breaks my heart that this poem should be so fitting again, as we pray for the people of Ukraine.
As we near Good Friday, we are reminded that times that are so tragic and filled with suffering
can yet hold the seeds of hope. And this was proved true, as a journalist and photographer
happened to keep some seeds from the sunflower field, and were surprised to see that they
germinated. Paul McGeough and Kate Geraghty had this wonderful idea to send the seeds to people missing their loved ones who perished in the crash. But their efforts were interrupted by a government official, Nicola Hinder, who was in charge of biosecurity. McGeough wrote of his
disdain for this bureaucrat/scientist, who he was sure would thwart their efforts to offer hope to
people wrenched with grief. But in his article on the incident, he came to realize that Ms. Hinder
was going the extra mile to strengthen the seed stock he had, and she greatly improved the chances that the seeds would actually grow if sent to the beloved. In spite of his resistance, she
persisted, and supplied seeds that had an 80-90% chance of growing, vs. the initial 4-5%.

As we are faced with the trials and violence of war, and disease, and the suffering of the innocents—especially the most innocent, our Lord and friend Jesus Christ—may we remember that God sees more rightly than our faulty vision, that love can overcome fear, that death is not the final answer. Each of us has the seed of resurrection planted in us. May we care for, celebrate, and give thanks for the new life within us.

In Christ’s peace,