The following is my upcoming article for the Minister's Corner of the Shawnee News-Star
Reverend Amy Busse
United Presbyterian Church
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son,
so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.
John 3:16, the Discipleship Bible, New Revised Standard Version
Grief is universal. Regardless of our race or gender, our religious beliefs or the creeds we ascribe to, we all grieve. Seeing the pictures coming out of Turkey after the horrific coal mine explosion this week is a graphic reminder to me about the universality of grief. Families of the coal miners are gathered, waiting for news of their loved one. The agony on their faces is the same agony I’ve seen on the faces of families in Nigeria, waiting for the return of their kidnapped daughters. It is the same agony I saw on the faces of the families in South Korea, waiting for their loved ones to be brought back from the sea. Their agony is the same that lined the faces of those wanting definitive news of what happened to the missing Malaysian airliner. That agony was echoed on the faces of the parents in Newtown, Connecticut waiting to hear the fate of their children; and even closer to home, that same agony was evident on the families who lost their loved ones in the tornadoes last spring. It was on the faces of people in Shawnee, Bethel Acres, Moore and the other communities that suffered terrible loss. The people in all of these pictures don’t look alike. The Muslim mother in Turkey looks very different from the Christian father in Moore. Whether it’s a difference in skin tone or clothing, the diversity is obvious. But the agony is the same. The grief is the same. Grief is universal.
I don’t write this as a way of dismissing or homogenizing grief. The grief each person in each circumstance feels is profound and, in some ways, unique to that person. But that does not change the fact that we all grieve. When we suffer loss and heartache, we all grieve. Grief is our common denominator. While we share other factors in common, grief seems to be the one bond that is most capable of creating empathy. When we see another’s heartbreak, even if our hearts have never been broken for the same reasons, I suspect that most of us feel some of that heartache ourselves.
But oh how I wish that we could see our common bonds and feel this kind of empathy for one another without the causes of grief. How I wish we could live in a state of constant awareness of the ways we are alike, rather than our incessant focus on how we are different. We divide ourselves daily – over politics, religion, and ideology. Yet after every disaster or catastrophe, we both applaud and lament that people seem to come together to help one another only when there’s trouble. But when the trouble begins to fade from our memories, we return to our corners, clinging to the categories we assign to others and to ourselves.
I am as guilty of this behavior, this kind of thinking as anyone else. I think having to see other people without the commonality of grief, especially people who seem radically different from us, makes us uncomfortable. It is far easier to stay in the lines of our labels for one another then it is to acknowledge that just by being human we are more alike than we are different.
I also realize that I take the above passage from John out of context. There is more to the story surrounding this verse. Yet I cannot help but focus on the central thought of this verse; God's love for the world. God loved, God loves the world. God loves us in spite of ourselves. God was willing to become one of us in order to help us see, understand, and manifest that love in our relationships -- with God and with one another. God’s love for me is so complete, so encompassing, how can I not at least try to love others in the same way? God’s compassion for me is never ending, how I can I not show that compassion to others as it is shown to me? How can I not have compassion and empathy for all of God’s children, including those who believe differently from me and for those who don’t believe at all? I think that God’s love for the world compels me to love not only in return, but to love beyond my comfort zone. God’s love for me urges me to relentlessly and unceasingly love others, in my words and in my deeds. Grief may be universal, but love is more so. May love be our common denominator.