Reluctant Xtian: Death on Vacation

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Most people are on vacation from the types of death that have gripped America in the past weeks, and now is the time to wake up and realize this is a reality that needs to be fixed.

By Timothy Brown

I’m on vacation.

I woke up on vacation to the sound of the surf and seagulls and the smell of salt water.  vacation-planning

I woke up on vacation to the sound of laughter being silenced as a brilliant comedic force lost a battle to depression.

These two things don’t mix easily.

I woke up on vacation to the sight of children running and playing in the surf. Children of all ethnicities chasing crabs and picking up shells.

I woke up on vacation to the news of an unarmed black man being shot in cold blood. To rioting, angry voices justified in their anger, but not in the violence that followed. Death begets death.

These two things don’t mix easily.

What’s funny, of course, is that most of us are on “vacation” from this sort of death. From pretending depression isn’t an illness but just a phase. From pretending that racial inequality isn’t real because, well, if it is real then we might have to change the way we behave.

And, let’s be honest, we don’t really want to do that. Most of this country is on vacation most of the time. And that vacation mindset can find a shock of reality in the church community, if we’ll allow it. I think most go to church to have their views reinforced, not challenged.

The pastor has become the conscience massager instead of the conscientious objector to the vacation tendencies that power and privilege provide.

People leave churches because their pastor mentions these things. All congregations. My congregation, too. And in a time of church-attendance limbo we may feel like we can’t say anything because, well, what if people take a vacation from the congregation because of what is said?

So we massage it.

But there is another reality that can’t be massaged into something different, that can’t be escaped: a black man lay dead in the street. A comedian became the victim of joylessness. And we have to admit that God has something to say about that, something to say about a culture that considers you OK as long as you’re laughing; a culture that considers you OK as long as your skin color doesn’t automatically make you suspect.

So what to do? Raise our voice in indignation? Console one another? Tell the truth about depression? Speak to racial inequality and violence and unchecked power?

Of course, yes. But also, let’s stop being on vacation. Let’s stop pretending these things aren’t reality.

The church can be a place where we help people live with the tensions of life, not trying to alleviate them, but helping us all live well with them.

Jesus helps us live here and now, in reality. Jesus doesn’t let us take a vacation from reality. “If you see me, you see God,” Jesus says in the Gospel of John. If you see Jesus you see ultimate reality.

Do you see Jesus in the person battling depression? In the black man dead in the street?

Or are we just all on vacation?

Rev. Timothy Brown is the pastor at Luther Memorial Church in in the Lincoln Square neighborhood of Chicago. He regularly blogs at

Justin Shimko

Justin Shimko is an award-winning writer and political analyst. He began as a reporter in his college days at the University of Oklahoma, writing for The Oklahoma Daily (rated as one of the best collegiate newspapers in the nation) and The Oklahoman, the statewide newspaper, winning awards from the CSPA and the Society of Professional Journalists. He later moved on to research and writing work for a number of political campaigns. His email is [email protected]

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