Have we turned away from God

Published 2:51 pm Friday, April 27, 2007

God’s been getting into things lately. And for some, God should go somewhere else.

Over the last few days I have heard many comments from friends and neighbors who have expressed dismay and anger at a comment made in Sunday’s newspaper.

An article reporting on efforts to garner signatures opposing a private prison in Adams County quoted a statement used by prison opponents saying “The Catholic Bishops have made it clear that for-profit prison are morally unacceptable.”

Email newsletter signup

In a time when the community is clearly desperate for jobs, the sudden injection of the Catholic Bishops’ opinions set off a fire storm of comments from Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

“The church should keep its nose out of this,” one friend said to me earlier this week.

“What business is it of theirs, anyway,” another said while waiting in line at a local restaurant.

“The church shouldn’t be getting involved in politics,” I overheard in a discussion on a downtown street.

Listening to these comments over the past week, I was reminded of a long-ago lesson I learned underneath a blanket sitting in front of the altar at Carrollton United Methodist Church.

As a hyperactive 9-year-old, I hated going to church on Sunday mornings. I hated the little starched shirt, the clip-on tie and, most of all, the toe-pinching loafers.

Sitting still in the wooden pews without squirming, talking or teasing my brother was almost impossible… until the children’s sermon.

When Pastor Drane sat down and welcomed the children to the front of the altar, I would be one of the tykes who ran to the front smiling.

One particular service, pastor Drane brought an extra-large blanket patterned with stars, moons and planets. Suddenly, he lifted the blanket high in the air allowing it to settle on the heads of us children.

From beneath the blanket you could see all of the stars glowing from the sanctuary lights above.

Thinking back on it now, I realize it was somewhat of a paradox. At one point, I felt swaddled in a warm fuzzy blanket. At another moment it was if the entire universe was above.

“This is what God is like,” pastor Drane said.

I am not sure if I fully understood the lesson that Sunday. But over the years this moment has been the foundation for some of my beliefs about God, his relationship to me and to the world.

Like that blanket, God’s place is here and everywhere. He can be at once tangible and all encompassing. That is my belief about God.

For me, the controversy of the past few days has been less about prisons and more about how we as a society attempt to put God in his place.

God doesn’t belong here; God shouldn’t be involved in this; we should leave God out of this — These are all statements I have heard this past week.

It seems like our society is trying to compartmentalize God — leave him at church on Sunday morning instead of taking him with us on the other six days of the week?

It used to be that we looked to God for guidance on large issues. God’s church had been the moral compass.

Over the years we have been faced with controversial issues like the death penalty, sex and abstinence and abortion.

If the church agrees with us, great.

If not? Well that’s just not the place for the church and God.

Our reactivity rather than our openness to such questions reveals our unwillingness to listen and think about the issues. It is far easier to dismiss God and possibly God’s revelation for us through others, than to sit down, listen and pray.

Today’s prisons are filled with inmates who need to hear the word of God. There are many good people who do this work.

But walk our city streets and you can see many more who need ministering as well. Surely it would be good to minister to them before they end up in the prisons we build or their own prisons of materialism or addiction.

We turn our heads when these people enter our lives — when God enters our lives.

Yes, God’s been getting into things lately. Are we listening?

Ben Hillyer is the web editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.