Fear-Soaked Moments, and the Script that Follows

June 17, 2016

angel memeI am shocked. And I am tired.

Early in the morning five days ago, 50 people lost their lives in a mass shooting at an LGBT nightclub in Orlando, Florida.

Early in the evening 365 days ago, nine people lost their lives in a mass shooting at Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina.

When he reflected on this latest tragedy, late-night host Stephen Colbert said, “It’s as if there’s a national script that we have learned, and I think that by accepting the script we tacitly accept that the script will end the same way every time with nothing changing, except for the loved ones and families of the victims, for whom nothing will ever be the same.”

The fact that a tragedy like this has become normal is what shocks me.

Our collective response in the wake of the Orlando shooting has been predictable–scripted, even. There are calls for restrictions on assault weapons and protestations from those who assert that the problem is not guns but the people who wield them; there is an awareness that unchecked homophobia (in the case of Orlando), or unchecked racism (in the cast of Charleston) has real and devastating consequences; there are those (many of them professing Christians, by the way) who say that the ones who died “reaped what they had sown;” and there are moments of silence and calls to action that are soon subsumed by us getting back to life as normal.

As someone who stakes my life on God’s promise–which makes me ultimately hopeful about the future–I must confess that I struggle to make sense of things like Orlando and Charleston. I am certain they are not God’s will. To suggest otherwise is, I believe, inflicting spiritual abuse. Tragedies like Orlando are not challenges that God gives us to make us stronger. They are an affront to what makes us human. This kind of senseless killing is precisely the opposite of God’s will.

Yes, I am tired.  I am not only tired of the news of another tragedy, I am tired of pretending that these tragedies are unrelated to issues that become so hotly politicized in the tragedy’s wake. Of course access to guns–especially assault weapons–is relevant to the conversation. Of course homophobia is connected to Omar Mateen’s rage. Of course terrorism and a perverted, radicalized version of Islam played a factor. To pretend otherwise–and not take action to address the problems with guns, hate, and terror–will only continue a pattern of tragedies that have made their way into the American lexicon: Columbine, Virginia Tech, Fort Hood, Sandy Hook, Aurora, San Bernardino, Charleston, Orlando…

I do not have words to explain nor, in this moment, comfort. In my struggle to understand, my thoughts wander, inevitably, to what it must have felt like inside that nightclub early last Sunday morning with music playing and gunshots ringing. In those fear-soaked moments, beyond the club music and the sound of terror, I pray the victims heard another song–perhaps one that they learned as children growing up in church:

Jesus loves me, this I know, for the Bible tells me so. Little ones to him belong, they are weak but he is strong.

I suspect some of the victims from last Sunday night knew that they were loved by God. I also suspect some of them didn’t, perhaps because they shunned faith, but more, I would venture, because they had been rejected by the church because of their sexuality.

We cannot save those whose lives were cut short last Sunday morning. And there is no elegant solution to protect us from events like Orlando happening again. But we can commit ourselves to communicating to everyone we meet–gay, straight, Muslim, Christian, American, or Afghani– that they are precious, made in the image of God, and loved by the one who created them.

That may sound weak when confronted by the reality of such hatred. The gospel has often been accused of being weak. “But to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Cor 1:18)

– Pen Peery