The Ministry of Tenderness

I almost got myself into trouble on Twitter this week.

Thursday was not a normal day, and Twitter did not affect me as usual. The state of Mississippi was trending less than 24 hours after ICE’s immigration raids of seven businesses. What created the news frenzy was not only the fact that it was “the largest single state immigration enforcement operation in our nation’s history,” but also the images and stories of children whose first day of school ended with parents detained.

I had followed the story as it unfolded on Wednesday, fell asleep praying for the frightened families, and woke up angry. It was in that spirit of anger that I went on Twitter and discovered a political leader in Mississippi had tweeted a statement of gratitude about the 680 aliens detained.

A celebratory tone ….

A stereotyping of 680 children made in the image of God into an “other”…

That’s where I almost got myself into trouble. I began writing tweets to this leader. There weren’t enough characters in the Twitter-verse to convey my feelings, so I deleted them and switched to a Word document and wrote a letter. I walked away, came back, and finally deleted my page-long, finger-pointing rant, too. Anger can be a great force for change, but without the Holy Spirit’s power it can become a tool for pain. I was far closer to inflicting pain than inspiring change in that moment.

As the day progressed, anger simmered into sadness.. Later that afternoon, in my inbox was a statement from Mississippi’s episcopal leader in The United Methodist Church, Bishop James Swanson, Sr., who expressed so well what I felt under all those emotions.

I’m not concerned with your personal political stances and thoughts on implications related to U.S. immigration, but I am concerned about the well-being and stability of families. Specifically, I am concerned about the children who suffered a sudden and traumatic separation from their families on what was for many, the first day of school here in Mississippi.
— Bishop James E. Swanson, Sr.

Sometimes we become so engulfed in emotions, stances, politics, and issues that we forget our first priority as the Church is to the ministry of tenderness. Tending to one another without labeling as “the other.” Practicing gentleness. Caring with the love of a heart pierced on the cross. Tenderness grows from hearts that extend mercy because they know how desperately they need mercy. What I heard in Bishop Swanson’s pastoral letter was a call back to tenderness, a call to truly see the children and families and what they experienced.

With the call to see is the call to respond.

On Easter Sunday of this year, the choir sang the anthem, “Is He Worthy?” by Andrew Peterson. One of the things I love most about this song is that the structure is call & response. The lead vocalist sings a question, and the choir answers those questions with declarative statements. One of my favorite arrangements of the song is by the group, Shane & Shane, because they lead it live as a worship song where the congregation IS the choir responding. At the end, unlike other arrangements, the caller and the responders all sing in one voice a reversal of the question, “Is he worthy?” to the heavenly sound of the statement, “He is worthy.” The question morphs into statement of who Jesus is—and who we should be.

Life is full of questions that call all of us to respond. How we respond to the most vulnerable cries for help in society must reflect the One who is worthy.

How will you respond as the tender light of Jesus Christ?

all good things to each of you,

Pastor Darian