Shortly after the shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, I received an email asking if we, as a parish, are prepared if something like this were ever to happen. Now first, I’m not sure anything can prepare you for something like this, other than possibly a sniper attack in a war zone or consistent trauma in your life; but secondly, I’m not convinced I want to be prepared for something like that. I can certainly understand, from a logical and rational point of view, but it also feels, as someone who is supposed to trust deeply in this higher being we call God, that it’s giving into fear, which is antithetical to the consistent message of Jesus in the gospel proclaimed every Sunday not to fear.
Safety and Security may be the two greatest illusions we hold onto and quickly buy into when we react to horrific acts like this. Our immediate response is more guns or at times, build walls, anything that’s going to give us the false sense of security that we desire to make us feel safe. We pad ourselves in whatever way possible, building a fortress in order to appeal to what our eyes can see, “I’m safe now”, but deep down, in the unseen, the heart of the matter continues to exist. It never quite strikes at the deepest fear we cling to, which is death, but in those moments our automatic response is to consume more of what we know rather than sit with the unknown reality that all who are hurting are left with in their lives. The consistent underlying message when giving into fear is that I will do everything possible to avoid what really could have been me. It very well could have been me or anyone else sitting in that church on Sunday or a movie theater or a classroom or at a concert or whatever the next setting will be, knowing full well that there, unfortunately, will be another, and each time it is me.
More often than I’d like, including less than a month ago, I have written on this blog the continuous struggle with violence that we witness and perpetrate in our lives. Violence goes beyond the horrific acts of gun violence as well as other means that we have all too often witnessed in this country, a consistent reminder that there’s a problem. More often than not, though, we’ve bought into the culture of violence, through our words and actions. These men, and yes, it is consistently men as well, are a mere microcosm of the deeper issue that continues to spread throughout the country. We consume it daily through news outlets and social media and many times spread it ourselves. We consume it in our conversations, in our gossip, in our lack of respect for human life and all creation. The simple reaction to our problems is to blame and invoke violence against the other, feeding into the death of the soul of a nation, bankrupted of any moral standing, putting guns, walls, drugs, things, before the very dignity of the very person that is most impacted.
Now I’m not one to necessarily always buy into the understanding that we are all divided. Unfortunately, division sells and sells big. Fear is such a deeply rooted reality in our hearts and souls that we appear attracted to it and drawn into it consistently, quickly buying into any fix as to take away the eternal pain of separation while building up a false narrative of the kingdom. Our problem, as consumers, is that over time we’re lulled into believing it all, even if we know deep down that things aren’t right. In our own infatuation of the illusion of safety and security we will find a way to cling to anything that is known and certain, often to avoid the fear that only continues to grow exponentially, leaving us in a frenzy. It happens in us as individuals but collectively as a country as well, mindful that that illusion was shattered in this country after the events of 9/11. Since then, violence has spiraled, divisions have been set in place, even if they are illusions, extremes have positioned themselves, all feeding into this fear while the rest of the world watches and waits, looking from a place a part from us, understanding our hurt and pain in a way we know not and seem to refuse to look at and consistently find ways to avoid. We have grown a part from ourselves and each other, now leaving us with more violence than our hearts are often able to bear.
I honestly cannot imagine what it was like in that church on Sunday and maybe I don’t want to either. My guess is it started like any other Sunday, people catching up with one another, asking about family and friends who may be sick, the small chit-chat that happens on a typical Sunday morning. There were no thoughts of feeling unsafe, no thoughts of what separates and divides people. They were a community that gathered under a common purpose and with God at the forefront. In an instant, lives were changed forever and many eternally. It wasn’t long after that the predicted responses would begin and hurting lives would once again be turned into politics and more violence, separating and dividing. We hear about guns don’t kill people, good people need guns, if the government makes any changes they’ll take away all our guns, as we know best, it’s all or nothing, benefiting corporations, feeding a consumer culture rooted in fear, safety and security. We react and lives are left shattered in the process.
I have no answer even though it seems like I write about this so regularly anymore. I’m not sure there really are answers when we don’t even know the right questions to ask. Conversations are directed from backstage, inciting fear, and without even thinking, we give into it so quickly, again, believing what we are told and so often afraid to go to the depths of our own being to evaluate what’s most important to us. We will never have the safety and security that we think or believe we should have. It’s a mere illusion and an illusion that is fed by a consumer culture. More than anything, we need to learn to have a patient trust in the slow workings of God in our lives.
There is so much healing that needs to happen in our lives, not just the hundreds whose lives have been shattered by traumatic violence that goes beyond the city, but each of us who find blaming the other individual or group for our problems, throwing tantrums in trying to get our way. Not only do we need healing but we need to grow up and accept responsibility for ourselves and each other. We do this not by continuously buying into these illusions that feed our own fears, but in learning to embrace the paradox and mystery of life and death. Our lives are not comprised of only half the mystery, the half we like while living in fear of the other. Rather, with each passing breath in every given moment a gift is being given to live, but at the same time to let go and trust in the unseen power of God. For all who have faced such trauma and are reeling in the grief of loss while they still cling to life, it’s all they have, and quite frankly, it’s all any of us really have.