08 Nov More Than Thoughts & Prayers
As many people have noted this week, only 35 days elapsed between the mass shooting in Las Vegas and the events of this past Sunday in Sutherland Springs, Texas. Once again our lives have been abruptly, horribly disrupted by an incident of gun violence that has left us unnerved and aghast, as these tragedies always do. At the same time, what happened at First Baptist Church has felt eerily and sickeningly familiar.
What is one to say when a quarter of a church congregation is slaughtered in the midst of worship? Words are as inadequate as they were when 6- and 7-year-olds were mowed down at their elementary school or when concert-goers were unsuspectingly ambushed from a hotel window high above them. It’s been a harsh reality to face the fact that our schools, entertainment venues, businesses and places of employment are not safe, nor are our houses of worship immune from the deadly determination of a mass killer.
It all has an impact on our collective psyche. I see the grief and hear the increased anxiety. Because my church is similar in size to First Baptist, members here have been voicing not only their sympathy and prayer support for the Texas church, but have also been wondering aloud what it would feel like if we lost one-fourth of our faith community in the blink of an eye. We cannot know what they are experiencing and feeling, of course, but we can be sensitive to the fact that every person who was present Sunday morning has had his or her life forever changed. There will be no “getting over this.” There will only be the long, hard, painful work of learning to live with a new normal in which numerous people you loved are gone.
Words can feel shallow and hollow at times like these. Even worse, words spoken too soon or without love can cause additional pain to those already suffering. There is a time for silence, for letting a shoulder to cry on or a warm embrace or our tears do our talking for us. But eventually, we must also speak. We must speak out against gun violence so that we do not allow it to become rationalized as normal. There is a very real danger that as a society we are becoming desensitized to the horror of these incidents. If we react with anything less than revulsion, shock and dismay, we need to wake up. This is not normal. It is not acceptable. We are not impotent to do something differently. Don’t buy into the lie that nothing can be done.
There is also another word we must speak, and that is a word of hope. Particularly as the church, this is part of our call and identity. Jesus encountered human sinfulness in all its power and fury, experiencing the worst that humankind can do, and his constant message was (and still is), “Do not be afraid.” Yes, suffering, evil and death are realities of the human condition, but there is another reality that trumps these. Jesus Christ has overcome evil, and death has been defeated. It is God’s eternal grace that defines us, not the pain and suffering that mar our lives. It is God’s love for us that will speak the final benediction over us, not death. And, this is not just a future hope. God’s creative, faithful, redemptive presence infuses our world every moment of every day, so that we can live with hope, love, grace and peace now, even when the catastrophic circumstances around us suggest that there is no hope, love, grace, or peace left.
For today, let us hold the hope for our brothers and sisters in Texas who are too consumed with grief and horror to be able to hear this word just yet. Let us continue to work for peace and justice. Let us continue to pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
Yours for the Kingdom,