In the wee hours of Tuesday morning, our church, Aldersgate United Methodist Church, was vandalized with symbols of hate and evil. A few things struck me Tuesday morning after the incident. First, I thought of those who committed the crime. I reflected on what circumstances would have to transpire for someone to deface a sacred space. It occurred to me that living with this kind of hate certainly could not bring one to a state of peace and ultimate joy. Second, as the calls and e-mails flooded in, I was overwhelmed with the goodwill from individuals within the community of Juneau. Clearly, this is a city where its citizens genuinely reach out and sincerely care for one another. Perhaps this is the gift of living in a small community, but I have lived in other small communities and have not experienced this kind of unique concern. Third, I realized how fortunate I am because it is my turn to write for Living and Growing, and due to kismet I have the opportunity to reflect publicly on my thoughts regarding this event.
For Christians, this is a season where we lift up one of our more central stories about how God is revealed in our ordinary lives. We remember and remind one another that, in recognizing ‘God is with us,’ there is only one way to respond – with pure joy. There are infinite opportunities for us to witness the Divine all around us, and these opportunities occur not just in the month of December, but throughout the year.
As I try especially hard to practice what I preach this season, I strive to keep my eyes, ears and heart open to how ‘God is with us.’ In my view, vandalism of this sort reflects not only hate in its symbols, but hurting souls lost in the darkness. The message of my tradition teaches it is out of the darkness that light will come and that it is light that will overcome all that is dark. As the days in Juneau grow shorter and shorter, darkness becomes more evident than ever. I have read research that connects the unusually dark extremes of the winter months to winter depression and high rates of alcoholism among Alaskans. With this in mind, it is important for us to recognize the opportunity we have to bring a light of hope to any person engulfed in depression and despair.
The Christian tradition celebrates this Light breaking into the world on December 25th. I would add that we have opportunities to bring hope, peace, love and joy to others any time of the year. It is true that out of this crime came blessings beyond my imagination. As stated earlier, I have been inundated by individuals genuinely reaching out to the Aldersgate community. Out of a crummy circumstance, I have experienced the Light of God breaking though into my very ordinary life through the sincere efforts of those who simply follow “love thy neighbor.” I think it is important for us to include these vandals as our neighbors as well. We can ask ourselves how we might reach out to these persons and show them the same kind of compassion the community has shared with Aldersgate.
Our response to this event is to offer an invitation. This message goes out to not only those responsible for the vandalism but to any person feeling the oppressive darkness bearing down at this time. The motto for the United Methodist Church is Open Hearts, Open Minds, Open Doors. We strive to be a welcoming community to all. So, if you find yourself in a dark place, if you are experiencing despair of any sort, even if you are acting out from that depressed state in negative ways, we ask that you find a faith community that will offer you hope — hope that comes from Yahweh, Jesus, Allah, or any form of Divinity that brings Light into the darkness.
My personal prayer for everyone in the Juneau community is that in your ordinary lives, something extraordinary will occur.
• Susan Boegli is a pastor at the Aldersgate United Methodist Church.