Stunned grief, again, in another week of hateful carnage in the USA. This crime pretty much distills all of our woes into one grisly event: a hate crime against the LGBTQ community, targeting people of color, committed with a military-style gun, a mass shooting in a place meant for relaxation and belonging, potentially a religiously motivated assault on perceived laxness and sin in the society, spun (by the shooter and the press) for its connections to ISIL-inspired anti-American-involvement in the world at large, by someone who exhibited at least some signs of anti-social violent behavior (against his wife no less) and one might assume mental illness, an born-and-raised American whose parental origins immediately connected the event to anti-immigration sentiment. Complex? I should say so. If one set out to crystalize all the dissent, angst, mistrust, discomfort of America into one event, it would be hard to top this one. Muslims, gays, guns, immigration, and psychotic breaks. There's not a small leak in the dike of safety which one can easily point to and plug on this one.
So should we cynically deride anyone who tries? Should we helplessly throw up our hands?
The song that keeps going through my head this week is a Dave Wilcox oldie. "There'll always be a crazy, with an army or a knife, to wake up from your day dream, put the fear back in your life . . . " Yes, we live in a broken messy world. There will always be evil people. But the song goes on to state in faith that "we get up on our feet and do our best . . because it's love that wrote the play." So in that spirit, let me list a few truths.
1. Love is stronger than death. The ultimate, final truth of the universe is love. One day all the shooting and hating will stop. We live in a trajectory that ends in beauty, newness, healing. We aren't there yet, but the ending is ultimately good. We don't have to live in fear. The love of God is enough to go around.
2. In the meantime, we are called to be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Wisdom would dictate that when the crazies get to hating, it's better when they can reach for a knife than an army. So our political process matters. Our mental health care system matters. Keeping guns out of the hands of people being investigated for terrorism matters. Limiting guns to those that are difficult to fire rapidly and repeatedly matters. Voting for people who don't foment hate, isolationism, shaming matters. There are big picture systems that we can improve.
3. While there is not an easy prevention to this event, a million small interactions along the course of a lifetime could have changed the course of history. When your kids love a bully (Geniene S!), when your kids befriend an immigrant or learn a new language or seek to understand a different religion or lifestyle, the ripple has an effect. Repeated local acts of justice and kindness matter, the small picture day to day ways we live. Terrorism will never be defeated by force. Force can win a conventional war, but not a battle of trust, beliefs, not a struggle of the heart.
4. And lastly, in view of all of the above, I think there is no better answer to Orlando than to live missionally in the footsteps of Jesus. I've also been reading this week some good critiques of the "white savior Barbie mentality" that we can so easily slip into (here and here and here and here). Thinking that we Americans have all the answers, or that a quick trip to a distant place is inherently saintly. I cringe at the elements of truth in this, the ego-boost of being needed and appreciated and admired. Yuck. But I do not reject the entire enterprise, because I think the best of what we do is exactly in opposition to Orlando and San Bernadino and Paris. To Ferguson and Charleston. That is to actually live in places where infant mortality spikes off the charts, and have children there as well as resuscitate other people's babies. To teach in places where literacy lags, and invest in students over the long haul there. To preach an alternative to fear-based tribal spirits in places crushed by war, and be a witness there. To become part of a community to the extent that a stand against raping teen girls or a stand for accountability in medical funds will be heard. To take on some of the risks that the majority world can not choose, because we can choose. To learn language and listen carefully, to become true partners with our host communities. Those things take long-haul commitment, and we are thankful for the scores of people we partner with who are doing just that.
If this week has you down, listen to the Wilcox song, and think about the lyrics. In the darkness love can show the way.