Posts tagged ‘Mass Shooting’

2019: Year in Review

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Credit: Ulrike Leone from Pixabay 

It’s hard to believe another year has come and is now nearly gone. This year has had its share of memorable moments. There were the accelerating attacks on houses of worship – synagogues, mosques, and churches. There were the wildfires that devastated California and Hurricane Dorian that decimated the Bahamas. There was the huge controversy surrounding the Boeing 737 MAX, which experienced problems with one of its automated flight control systems, resulting in two deadly crashes. Politically, there was the impeachment of a president and the death of Elijah Cummings, a fixture in the US House of Representatives. And then, of course, in a story that will reach into 2020, there is a presidential election brewing.

It’s difficult not to experience a bit of déjà vu as I look back over this year’s big stories. Deadly rampages continue to terrorize communities and cultures. Natural disasters, a staple of creation since the introduction of sin, continue to wreak havoc across our nation and throughout the world. Businesses continue to find themselves in PR nightmares. And, our political fissures continue to widen and deepen. None of these problems were new to 2019. These were just new manifestations of old menaces.

Solomon famously wrote: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9). This is most certainly true. But we must also remember that this is not ultimate.

The apostle Peter writes about those who, like Solomon, know that things don’t really change. But they also doubt that anything ever will change. They complain: “Everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation” (2 Peter 3:4). But Peter knows that even if the axiom “history repeats itself” is true of history, it is not true for the future, which is why Peter holds out this hope:

The day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything done in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, where righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13)

Peter says there is a day coming when all the drudgery of this age will be overcome by the delight of the age to come.

But here’s the key: Peter says that, since we know that something better and different is on its way, we ought to “look forward” to what is to come. In Greek, the word for the phrase “look forward” is prosdokeo. Dokeo is a word that denotes “thinking,” and pros is a prefix that denotes “that which is first” or “at the head.” In other words, Peter is admonishing us to “think ahead.” Think ahead to a day when mass murders will die and natural disasters will be rendered unnatural and commerce will be consecrated and politics will care only about King Jesus. Think ahead to that day. Because it will be a supremely good day.

I’m praying for a great 2020. But I’m also hoping for a perfect eternity. I don’t know how God will answer my prayer. But I do know He will fulfill my hope. For my hope is His promise.

December 30, 2019 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Terror Strikes New Zealand

Members of the public mourn at a flower memorial near the Al Noor Mosque in Christchurch

Credit: RTE News

“The wages of sin is death,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23.  These words were horrifyingly instantiated this past Friday when a terrorist gunman opened fire on two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, killing 50.  The crime was, in every way, monstrous.  Minutes before he went on his rampage, he emailed top government officials a rambling and incoherent manifesto, outlining his ardent white nationalistic beliefs.  He then strapped on a helmet camera so he could livestream his attack on social media.  Finally, he shot many worshipers at these mosques, which included several children, at point blank range as they cowered in corners.

If anyone ever doubted the dastardly death that sin – including philosophical sin like white nationalism – can bring, now would be the time to become a true believer in the devastations of depravity.

Near the end of the book of Genesis, we read of a man named Jacob and his twelve sons, the favorite of whom is Joseph.  Joseph’s brothers, Genesis 37:4 says, “hated him” because of his status as his father’s favorite son.  Their hatred eventually spawned a plot among the brothers to kill their kinsman.  And they would have, were it not for a last-second intercession by one of the brothers, Judah, who decided it would be more financially advantageous if, instead of killing Joseph, they sold him into slavery (Genesis 37:26-27).

Hatred is an acid that eats up the soul.  This is why the Bible’s consistent and continuous call is to love – and not just to love those who are like us.  The Bible’s consistent and continuous call is to love those who are very different from us and even hate us.  As Jesus puts it:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you … If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others?  Do not even pagans do that? (Matthew 5:44, 46-47)

White nationalism explicitly tramples on Jesus’ command.  It not only fails to love its enemies, it actually creates enemies where there need be none and becomes an enemy to those who do not fit its arbitrarily contrived ethnic and philosophical strictures.  It trades the foundational and universal sanctity of life for a hackneyed and exclusionary solidarity of race.

Blessedly, love did manage to rise up and break through when hatred was spraying a hail of bullets into two mosques in Christchurch.  48-year-old Abdul Aziz was at the second of the mosques.  He was there with his four children to pray.  When the terrorist began firing in the parking lot of the mosque, rather than running away, Mr. Aziz ran into the lot with the only thing he could find – a credit card machine.  After firing off many rounds, the terrorist returned to his vehicle to grab a second weapon, and Mr. Aziz hurled the credit card machine at him.  The terrorist then fired off another series of rounds at Mr. Aziz, who managed to protect himself by ducking between cars.  When the terrorist returned to his vehicle yet again to grab yet another weapon, Mr. Aziz found one of the guns he had dropped and, after realizing it was empty, threw it at the windshield of the terrorist’s car.  The windshield shattered.  The terrorist was spooked.  He sped off.  And many lives were saved.

Mr. Aziz explained, in an interview with The New York Times, “I was prepared to give my life to save another life.”  That’s love.  And it stopped hate dead when hate was trying to speed death.

Christianity teaches that there was another man – a perfect man, who was also God – who was prepared to give His life to save other lives.  His name was Jesus.  And He not only was prepared to die.  He did die.  And He not only saved lives by His death.  He bought for us eternal life with His death.

“The wages of sin is death,” the apostle Paul writes in Romans 6:23.  But he continues: “But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”  In Jesus’ death, love killed hate.  May this be our confidence and our conviction as we mourn the tragic losses in Christchurch.

March 18, 2019 at 5:15 am 2 comments

Tragedy in California

They are the worst wildfires in the history of the state of California.

Nearly 250,000 acres have burned.  79 people have been killed.  Sadly, that number will likely climb as first responders continue their search through the rubble these fires have left behind.  The town of Paradise, in the Sierra Nevada foothills, has been especially hard hit, with nearly the whole town being destroyed.

California has had a rough go of it lately.  Just two weeks ago, the state endured another tragedy as a gunman opened fire at a country bar filled with college students in Thousand Oaks, killing twelve.  The shooter was a Marine Corps veteran who appears to have had all sorts of mental health issues and was, at one time, on the cusp of being committed.

The sheer number of tragedies that roll in through each news cycle can begin to feel overwhelming.  For each town that is charred and person that is shot, we ask, “How can we stop this from happening?”  Answers to this perennial and pressing question seem to elude us.  When tragedies do strike, we are thankful for firefighters who risk their lives on the frontlines of massive and unpredictable blazes and officers who run into hails of bullets rather than away from them.  Proactively, we are instructed to keep dry brush away from homes in fire zones and guns out of the hands of mentally disturbed people.  But despite our best efforts, the tragedies keep coming.  Tragedies, even if they can be somewhat mitigated and managed by us, cannot be successfully stayed by us.

On the surface, the California fires and the California shooting seem to be two different types of tragedies.  One is a natural disaster.  The other is man-caused carnage.  Below the surface, however, these two tragedies share a common core:  sin.  The fires remind us that the sin that came into the world with Adam and Eve has disordered and distorted the world in profound and frightening ways.  The mass shooting reminds us that sin is not just in the world.  It is in us.  It’s not just that we cannot eradicate the sin that distorts creation; it’s that we cannot even kill the sin in ourselves.

The message of Christianity reminds us that, even as societies scramble to address sin, we need a victory over sin that we cannot gain for ourselves.  Sin needs not only our noble actions and timely reactions, but a perfect transaction that exchanges our sad sin for a better righteousness.  This is the transaction Christ makes for us on the cross.

Tragedies are sure to continue.  And we should be thankful for those fighting on the front lines of those tragedies.  But we can also be hopeful that tragedy’s time is short, for sin’s defeat is certain.

November 19, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Package Bomber and a Synagogue Shooter

It’s been a tragic week in our nation.  And that’s putting it mildly.  Beginning last Monday, a series of packages containing explosive devices began to turn up at homes, at business, and in post offices.  These packages were addressed to Democratic politicians, including the Obamas and the Clintons, as well as to financier George Soros, actor Robert De Niro, and CNN.  Though none of the packages detonated, they were sent by a man who was, to put it mildly, devotedly partisan in his views.  He drove a van covered with bumper stickers showing Democratic politicians in crosshairs.  He also posted violent and threatening rhetoric on social media.

Then, on Saturday, a gunman armed with an AR-15 and three rifles showed up at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh.  He shouted, “All Jews must die,” and opened fire.  By the time his shots fell silent, eleven were dead and a number of others were injured.  As investigators looked into this shooter’s past, he too was found to have posted violent and threatening rhetoric on social media.  He was also a member of an egregiously anti-Semitic online community.

It’s no secret that we’re a nation on edge.  A lot of people hate a lot of other people.  This hate, in turn, when coupled with a mental health crisis that seems to be creeping across our society, erupts in violence – just as it did in the case of these two men.

At this moment, when hatred is hot, Christians must be on the frontlines advocating for love.  Our culture is fighting the wrong demons.  Our culture sees demons in politicians and positions it doesn’t like.  It sees demons in religions and races it doesn’t like.  But Scripture is clear.  We are called to fight:

…not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

If we’re fighting other people, we’re doing it wrong.  Our struggle is against the demons the Bible identifies as truly demonic – not against the demons created for us on social media.

In his new book, Them: Why We Hate Each Other – And How To Heal, Senator Ben Sasse offers a convicting analysis of our cultural milieu:

It seems clear that in America today, we’re facing problems that feel too big for us, so we’re lashing out at each other, often over less important matters.  Many of us are using politics as a way to distract ourselves from the nagging sense that something bigger is wrong.  Not many of us would honestly argue that if our “side” just had more political power, we’d be able to fix what ails us.  Fortunately, we can avoid addressing the big problems as long as someone else – some nearer target – is standing in the way of our securing the political power even to try.  It’s easier to shriek at people on the other side of the street.  It’s comforting to be able to pin the problems on the freaks in the pink hats or the weirdos carrying the pro-life signs.

At least our contempt unites us with other Americans who think like we do.

At least we are not like them.

Senator Sasse speaks specifically to our political climate, but his words can be applied to our broader cultural problems as well.  There is an attitude prevalent among many that does not want to solve problems.  Instead, it only wants to grab power.  There is an attitude prevalent among many that does not seek understanding.  Instead, it only traffics in character assassination.  And the results, even if they are, thankfully, generally not violent, are certainly not good.  People begin to trade transcendent commitments for tribal grievances.  They stop looking at others as people who are precious by virtue of being created in God’s image and instead see them as enemies needing to be eradicated.  They make demons out of mortals.

The Psalmist describes God’s patience with the Israelites of old like this:

He was merciful; He forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time He restrained His anger and did not stir up His full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return. (Psalm 78:38-39)

God was patient with and merciful to the Israelites because He remembered who the Israelites were – mere, fragile mortals.  Their lives were so short and fragile that they were like passing breezes.  God is patient with and merciful to us because He remembers who we are – mere, fragile mortals.  Our lives are so short and fragile that we are like passing breezes.  Perhaps we should see each other like God sees us.  Perhaps we should restrain our anger and wrath like God does for us.  I hope this past week has taught us at least that much.

Life’s too short to hate.

October 29, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

A Senator, A Pope, And A Shooter

This past weekend was a busy one in the news, to say the least.  Friday, it was announced that Senator John McCain would discontinue treatment for his brain cancer.  24 hours later, he passed away.  Around this same time Saturday, news broke that Pope Francis may have known of accusations against one of his closest confidants, former Washington D.C. archbishop Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, who resigned this summer after it was discovered that he may have sexually abused a minor some 50 years ago.  Then, yesterday afternoon, a gunman opened fire in a Jacksonville, Florida bar during a Madden 19 video game tournament, killing three and wounding eleven.

After a weekend like this one, it is easy to be left reeling and restive.  When cancer takes the life of an American hero, when a spiritual leader is accused of covering for sexual abuse, and when another – yes, another – mass shooting unfolds on another soft target, it can be extremely difficult to take everything in, much less to make sense of much or any of it.

So, how do we process any of this?

During relatively peaceful times, which seem fewer and farther between these days, we can be lured into a false sense of security.  We can be tricked into forgetting that, in the words of God to Cain, “sin is crouching at the door” (Genesis 4:7) and it can rear its head at any moment.  However, during tumultuous times, which seem to have become all too common, we can become drawn into alarmism and catastrophism.  We can have a false sense that, in the words of Chicken Little, “the sky is falling.”  Both senses are false.  Generally, things are never quite as bad or quite as good as we think they are.

The message of Christ can provide us with a reality check after a weekend like this one. Jesus has no problem warning the world of the full damage and devastation that human sinfulness can wreak.  Jesus warns that, in this age, there will be an “increase of wickedness, and the love of most will grow cold” (Matthew 24:12).  But Jesus also is clear that He has come to overcome sin.  In the words of Jesus’ dear friend John, Jesus is “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).  Sin will not ultimately get its way.

Christians can respond to the tragedies of our world with both a sober realism and an indefatigable hope.  The death of a man as well regarded and as widely celebrated as John McCain can serve as a reminder of the brokenness of our political system and the often illogical rancor that eats away at any generative discourse.  The promise of the man Jesus Christ is that He has come to bring peace between divided peoples and parties.  The alleged secrecy of a man like Pope Francis in the face of a terrible crime like the one allegedly committed by Theodore McCarrick reminds us that sin runs for cover so it can continue its damaging and damning work.  The promise of the man Jesus Christ is that He has come not only to reveal sin, but to heal those ravaged by it.  The murderous intentions of a man like Jacksonville’s mass shooter is a reminder that death comes for everyone – sometimes at the times we least expect it.  The promise of the man Jesus Christ is that by His death, He has conquered death.

Every tragedy yearns for a Savior.  Christianity promises that every tragedy has a Savior.  And after a weekend like this one, that’s what we need to know most – and believe deeply.

August 27, 2018 at 5:15 am 1 comment

2017 in Review

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2017 is officially history.  And what a whirlwind of a year it was.  As we gear up for what will more than likely be another fast-paced year in 2018, it is worth it to reflect on some of the biggest news stories of this past year and ask ourselves, “What lessons can we learn from what we’ve experienced?”  After all, though the news cycle is continually churning out new tragedies, scandals, stresses, and messes to capture our immediate attention, the lessons we learn from these stories should linger, even if the stories themselves do not.  Wisdom demands it.  So, here is my year in review for 2017.

January

By far, the biggest story of January was the inauguration of Donald J. Trump into the office of President of the United States.  After a campaign that was both contentious and raucous, many were on edge when he was inaugurated.  As our nation increasingly fractures along partisan lines, Mr. Trump’s presidency continues to inspire both sycophantic adoration and overwrought incredulity.

February

A debate over immigration led the headlines in February as fallout over President Trump’s executive order banning immigrants from nations with known terror sympathies – including Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen – came fast and fierce. The president’s travel ban was, until very recently, the subject of endless court battles.

March

The headlines jumped across the Atlantic in March when Khalid Masood, a British-born citizen apparently inspired by online terrorist propaganda, drove an SUV into pedestrians on the Westminster Bridge, leaving four dead and forty injured.  After crashing his vehicle outside Parliament, he ran, fatally stabbing a police officer before he was fatally shot by law enforcement.

April

In one of the strangest stories of the year, Vice-President Mike Pence was both criticized and, at times, even mocked for refusing to dine alone with any woman who was not his wife or one of his close relatives.  Many people interpreted his boundary as needlessly prudish.  Mr. Pence viewed it as a wise way to guard his integrity.

May 

Another story of terror echoed through the headlines in May, this time in Manchester, England, when suicide bomber Salman Abedi detonated himself at an Ariana Grande concert leaving 22 dead and 59 wounded.

June

The terrorist attacks continued in June as seven were killed and another 48 were wounded in London when a vehicle barreled into pedestrians on London Bridge.  Three attackers then emerged to go on a stabbing rampage.  Also, Steve Scalise, the majority whip for the House of Representatives, was seriously wounded when 66-year-old James Hodgkinson opened fire during a congressional baseball game.

July

President Trump and Pope Francis offered to provide medical care for the family of Charlie Gard, a baby born with mitochondrial DNA depletion syndrome.  A judge in the UK, where the Gard family resides, ordered that Charlie be taken off life support because he saw no hope for Charlie’s recovery, which prompted the president’s and the pope’s overtures.  Charlie was eventually removed from life support and passed away.

August

James Alex Fields killed one person and injured nineteen when he plowed his Dodge Challenger into a group of counter-protesters at an event called “Unite the Right” in Charlottesville, Virginia, which was protesting a decision by the city to remove a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee.  Hurricane Harvey also ripped through Texas, devastating the Coastal Bend, the Houston area, and the Golden Triangle on the Texas-Louisiana border.

September

Hurricane Irma churned its way across Cuba, the Bahamas, Turks and Caicos, the Virgin Islands, Antigua, Barbuda, and, finally, Florida, leaving mass devastation in its wake.

October

The worst mass shooting in American history took place when James Paddock broke the window in his hotel suite at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and fired onto a crowd of country concert goers below, killing 59 and injuring hundreds.  In a much more heartwarming moment, the Christian Church celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation.

November 

On the heels of one mass shooting came another – this time at a tiny church outside San Antonio in Sutherland Springs.  26 people were killed when a gunman opened fire on the congregants inside in the middle of a Sunday service.  A sexual assault epidemic also broke wide open, as man after man – from Hollywood moguls to politicians to television news personalities – were revealed to have engaged in sexually inappropriate behavior.

December

Devastating wildfires ripped through southern California, scorching thousands of acres and forcing hundreds of thousands of residents to evacuate.

These are only a few of the stories from 2017.  There are, of course, countless others that I did not mention.  So, what is there to learn from all these stories?

First, when I compare this year in review with others I have written, I am struck by how, in the words of Solomon, there really is “nothing new under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 1:9).  Other years have featured other terrorist attacks, natural disasters, mass shootings, and political upheavals.  Even the freshly revealed charges of sexual assault chronicle things that happened years, if not decades, ago.  The news cycle seems to have a certain, sordid rhythm to it.  The news may be saddening, but I’m not so sure it’s surprising.

Second, if anyone ever needed a bit of empirical verification of the biblical doctrine of human depravity, the news cycle would be a good place to find it.  Both the drumbeat of dreariness in our news cycle and the fact that we, as a matter of course, are often more riveted by horrific stories than we are by uplifting ones are indications that something is seriously wrong in our world.

Finally, at the same time the news cycle testifies to human depravity, it must not be forgotten that, regardless of how bad the news cycle gets during any given year, hope seems to spring eternal for a better set of stories in the coming year.  Yes, we may brace ourselves for the worst.  But this cannot stop us from hoping for the best.  Such a hope is a testimony to the fact that God has “set eternity in the human heart” (Ecclesiastes 3:11) – an eternity when everything that is wrong in this age will be set right in the next.  We cannot help but yearn for that age to come.

So, here’s to hoping for a grand 2018.  Yes, the news cycle may indeed take a turn toward the sour, but we also know that God has promised a new age to come, even if we do not yet know its day or hour.

January 1, 2018 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Sutherland Springs, Texas

I am growing weary of the phrase “active shooter situation.”  Whenever I hear the phrase, I know what it means.  It means more bodies counted.  It means more families shattered.  It means more communities terrified.  It means more tranquility robbed.  It means more tears shed.  It means more loss endured.

This time, an active shooter situation came for Sutherland Springs, Texas – a town that, admittedly, although I’ve heard of it and live right up the road from it in San Antonio, I had to look up on Google Maps to jog my memory as to its precise location.

The numbers out of Sutherland Springs are awful.  26 people have been killed, including several children, the youngest of which was only 18 months old, and nearly two dozen more have been injured after a gunman opened fire at the First Baptist Church there during its morning worship service.  It is the deadliest mass shooting at a house of worship in American history and the deadliest mass shooting period in Texas’ history.

So, once again, we pray.  And, once again, we grieve.  And, once again, we hope this will be the last mass shooting.  And, once again, we know that, in spite of our hopes, it probably will not be.  Though law enforcement officials have not yet discerned a definite motive, we know that the prospect of fame, even if it comes in the form of infamy, the chance at revenge, or the allure of making one’s voice heard through bullets seems to be so enticing that it overwhelms even the most basic of moral instincts – the moral instinct to celebrate and protect life.

As with other tragedies, people want to know why and how this could have happened.  Why would a man who lived in New Braunfels drive 45 minutes south to open fire on a country Baptist congregation?  How did no one see this coming?  How do we protect ourselves when so many places in our communities and neighborhoods, simply by virtue of the fact that we live in a free society, are soft targets for people with evil intent?

One of the blessings of being a part of a church family is that, if the church family is healthy, it tends to feel safe.  It is a safe place for people to worship with their families.  It is a safe place to make friends and grow in relationships.  It is a safe place to turn when a sickness strikes or a loved one is lost in order to receive prayers and support.  It is a safe place to process struggles and ask questions about faith and God.  But this feeling of safety has been severely tested by this tragedy.

It is important to remember that this feeling of safety that can sometimes seem so indigenous to some churches was not – and still is not – a normal feature of families of faith.  Churches all across the world are being bombed, shot up, and terrorized because of their confession of Christ.  The apostle Paul, in Romans 8:36, writes about what it was like to be a member of a church in the first century when he quotes Psalm 44:22: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”  This does certainly not sound safe.  Yet, what makes Paul’s words especially poignant at a time like this are their context.  Paul begins by asking:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?  Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?  As it is written: “For Your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us.  (Romans 8:35-37)

Even the sword of a Roman soldier – and, yes, even the bullet from an assailant’s rifle – cannot separate us from the love of Christ.  We are, Paul says, more than conquerors of those things because Christ loves us through those things.

Jesus once said, “My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more” (Luke 12:4).  A shooter at a church in Sutherland Springs killed some bodies – but he can do no more.  So, we should not be afraid.  Why?  Because there was a moment in history when instead of a mass murderer mowing down dozens of people with an assault rifle, a mass of murderers brutally executed one man on a cross.  But their murder didn’t take.  Because three days later, He came back.  The murders of the congregants at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs won’t take either.  Because one day – on the Last Day – these worshipers will come back when the One who once rose Himself will return to raise them – and us.

The worship service that those congregants were participating in yesterday morning at 11:30 – singing God’s praises and hearing God’s Word – didn’t end when a gunman opened fire and the victims drew their final breaths.  It just moved.  It just moved to a place around a throne where there sits a Lamb of God who takes away every sin by His death and grants eternal life by His life.  And one day, we’ll join them around that same throne.  May that day come quickly.

Maranatha.

November 6, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

The Faces of Las Vegas

Mandalay Bay Victims

These are the faces of lives lost.  These are some of the people who went to a country music festival in Las Vegas for a fun night out only to find themselves on the deadly end of a mass murderer’s bullet.  These are mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sisters and brothers, coworkers and friends – human beings made in God’s image.

From the moment SWAT officers burst into Stephen Paddock’s hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay, investigators began to ask the question, “Why?”  Why would a man with no ostensible axe to grind or radical ideology to vindicate carry out the largest mass murder in modern American history?  Why would he pick this venue?  Why would he do so without leaving any apparent clues as to his motivation like a manifesto of his grievances or a record for his place in history?  Why?

These are the types of questions that have been the primary drivers of countless news stories over this past week.  And “why” questions are indeed very important, for their answers have the potential of helping prevent another attack like this one.  But they may also be unanswerable.  Indeed, one of the strangest features of this tragedy is that a week has passed and, still, the motive of this man has remained elusive.  So, rather than asking “why?” I want to take a moment to focus on “who.”  Who was it that lost their life a week ago Sunday?

Bill Wolfe Jr. coached youth wrestling and Little League in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania.  He had worked for an engineering firm and was well-known as being fun-loving and “a devoted Christian.”

Candice Bowers was described as a woman who “was so busy taking care of everyone else…that she rarely took time for herself.”  She lived in Garden Grove, California and had recently adopted her two-year-old niece, Ariel.  She also had two older children, ages 20 and 16, and worked as a waitress.

Christopher Roybal was a 28-year-old Navy veteran whose mom was supposed to join him at the concert that night, but before she could meet up with him, shots rang out.  He was medically discharged from the Navy in 2012 after going mostly deaf in his left ear.  He was a man who would graciously watch chick flicks with and for his mom and had the Lord’s Prayer tattooed on his side.  He worked as a fitness trainer in North Colorado Springs, Colorado.

Sandy Casey was a special education teacher in Manhattan Beach, California.  She was engaged and was attending the concert with her fiancé.  The Superintendent of the Manhattan Beach Unified School District described Sandra as “a spectacular teacher who devoted her life to helping some of our most needy students.”

Charleston Hartfield was a Las Vegas police officer and was off-duty when attending the concert.  He was a 34-year-old military veteran who coached youth football.  He published a book titled Memoirs of a Public Servant, detailing his time on the Las Vegas Police Force.  He leaves behind a wife, a son, and a daughter.

These are the names of only five of the victims who lost their lives a week ago Sunday.  58 were murdered in all.  That leaves 53 other names.  53 other faces.  53 other stories.  53 other people.  I would encourage you to take some time to learn more about them.

The questions of “why” will always be, in some sense, unanswerable – even if a motive is discovered and a record of the assailant’s thinking is uncovered.  Shooting up a concert full of innocent people can never be made to make actual sense, even if investigators uncover what made it make sense to the perpetrator.  Sin never leads people to act sanely.  Before sin ever affects our actions, it infiltrates and corrupts our minds.  This is why the questions of “why,” though they may be important to investigators, cannot eclipse the stories of the people who lost their lives.  They matter most.  For they are the reason families are grieving and a nation is reflecting.  May we never become so obsessed with the motive for a crime that we forget about the people hurt – and, sadly, taken – by this crime.

October 9, 2017 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Praying for Las Vegas

Waking up this morning to news of the worst mass shooting in modern American history was jarring.  What was supposed to be an evening of fun at an outdoor country music festival at the Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas melted down into a scene of death and a time of terror when a lone gunman opened fire into the crowd from the 32nd floor of the hotel above.  More than 50 were killed.  Hundreds are injured.

This morning, stories of heroism are already emerging.  On NBC’s Today, an eyewitness described police officers and military trained personnel standing up during the shooting while everyone else was crouching down, looking for the injured so that they could render immediate aid.  These brave souls put their own lives at risk for the sake of those who were in danger of losing theirs.

Certainly, this will be a story that dominates our headlines and, in one way or another, messes with our heads and hearts.  It is difficult to fathom how evil could move someone to commit an indiscriminate act of mass murder like this.  It is chilling to imagine what it must have been like to be there.

Right now, on this dark morning, there are two things for us, as a people, to do together.  First, we should pray.  We should pray for the families of loved ones who have lost their lives.  We should pray for the medical professionals who, right now, are tending to many who are critically injured in level one trauma centers.  We should pray for law enforcement as they seek to unravel what has happened.  And we should pray for Las Vegas.  Here is yet another community that has been marred and scarred by tragedy.

Second, as a part of our prayers, we should not forget to give thanks.  We should not forget to give thanks for the heroes proven in a terrible time of deadly strife.  We should not forget to give thanks for those who risked their own lives to place their fingers in the bullet holes of the wounded.  We should not forget to give thanks for those who were willing to sacrifice their own lives to save the lives of others.

As a Christian, I know that salvation never comes without sacrifice.  This is what makes the message of the cross both awful and wonderful all at the same time.  The cross is the place where the Son of God was unjustly murdered.  That is awful.  But the cross is also the place where I was graciously given life.  And that is wonderful – and the reason I have hope.

At the Mandalay Bay, the unthinkably awful happened.  But even the unthinkably awful cannot undo, or even outdo, the bravery of the heroes who were willing to sacrifice themselves for the sake of others.  So, for the wounded and grieving I pray.  And, for the heroes of this morning I give thanks.

I hope you will join me in doing the same.

October 2, 2017 at 7:05 am Leave a comment

Charleston

A view ofthe Emanuel AME Church is seen June 18, 2015 in Charleston, South Carolina, after a mass shooting at the church on the evening of June 17, 2015.  US police on Thursday arrested a 21-year-old white gunman suspected of killing nine people at a prayer meeting in one of the nation's oldest black churches in Charleston, an attack being probed as a hate crime. The shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in the southeastern US city was one of the worst attacks on a place of worship in the country in recent years, and comes at a time of lingering racial tensions. AFP PHOTO/BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI        (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)

Credit: Brendan Smialowski/AFP/Getty Images

There have been plenty of tears in Charleston these past few days. When 21-year old Dylann Roof first walked into the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, he appeared as though he came to join the congregation in its Wednesday evening Bible study. But after nearly an hour, he opened fire, killing nine people, including the church’s pastor, the Reverend Clementa Pinckney. According to reports, he announced as he stood up and drew his gun that he was there “to shoot black people.” Survivors said Roof also told the congregation, “You rape our women and you’re taking over our country. And you have to go.”

I wish I could attribute what happened in Charleston to the simple fact that Roof is a deranged lunatic, which, if preliminary reports are any indication, he probably is. But there is more at work here than just Roof’s psychological health. What happened in Charleston is also a reminder that ideas have consequences. Good ideas have good consequences. And yes, bad ideas can have devastating consequences. Roof, as insane as he may be, is a man with ideas – deeply racist ideas. And these ideas have now left a church, a town, and a nation in mourning. This is why, in today’s blog, I want to take a moment to remind you of what the gospel has to say about racism. For the bad ideas of racist hatred can never be allowed to trump the holy ideals of perfect love.

Acts 10 tells the story of a Roman soldier named Cornelius and one of Jesus’ apostles, a Jew named Peter. Generally, Jews and Romans did not get along. This had to do in part with the fact that the Romans were the occupying force in Israel at this time. It also had to do with the fact that Romans were Gentiles, and Jews and Gentiles despised each other. One of the prayers many pious Jews of this day would pray was, “Blessed art Thou, [O God], who did not make me a Gentile.” So you can imagine that Peter must have been more than a little uncomfortable when three men came to his door and said, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion” (Acts 10:22). Just the mention of a Gentile soldier, especially when that Gentile soldier happens to be working for the army that is occupying your nation, would have turned Peter’s stomach. But this group of men had a special request of the apostle: “A holy angel told him to have you come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say” (Acts 10:22).

It is at this point that Peter had a decision to make: does he turn his nose up in disgust at these men because of their racial and political differences, or does he welcome them and honor their request?

“Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests. The next day Peter started out with them” (Acts 10:23).

Peter, rather than walking the well-worn and socially accepted road of the racism of his day, instead chose the road of racial reconciliation. Indeed, when Peter finally does talk to Cornelius, he announces, “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right” (Acts 10:34-35). God, Peter explains, loves people without regard to race. He loves people “from every nation.” This is why, when another apostle named John sees a vision of heaven, he sees people “from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9).

Peter’s words, then, cut the core of the problem with racism. Racism says, “Even if God accepts people from every nation, I will not.” And to not accept someone that God has is not only hateful, it is wicked.

In my mind, the most eerie, yet poignant, part of this tragedy at Charleston is that Roof, when he first entered the church building, walked up and sat next to Pastor Pinckney. In a predominantly black congregation, and as someone who had not been there before, he would have surely stuck out. The pastor could have shunned him, or, at the very least, ushered him to a more “appropriate” spot that wasn’t right next to the church’s leader. But Pastor Pinckney welcomed him. He gladly let him sit next to him. He, as Jesus said, loved his enemies even though, at the time, he didn’t know Roof was his enemy.  Indeed, in one of Roof’s most chilling confessions, he said he “almost didn’t go through with it because everyone was so nice to him.”  Now that’s amazing love from a congregation who has every reason to hate.

Oh, that we would all have a double portion of Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal’s spirit. For a spirit like that is just what we need to prevent tragedies like this.

+ IN MEMORIAM +

Cynthia Hurd
Susie Jackson
Ethel Lance
Rev. DePayne Middleton-Doctor
Rev. Clementa Pinckney
Tywanza Sanders
Rev. Dr. Daniel Simmons
Rev. Sharonda Singleton
Myra Thompson

June 22, 2015 at 5:15 am 5 comments

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