"Let love be genuine; hate what is evil, hold fast to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; outdo one another in showing honor. Do not lag in zeal, be ardent in spirit, serve the Lord. Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer. Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another; do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly; do not claim to be wiser than you are. Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, 'Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.' No, 'if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."
(Romans 12:9-21 NRSV)
"If a brother or sister is naked and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, "God in peace; keep warm and eat your fill," and yet you do not supply their bodily needs, what is the good of that?" (James 2:14-16 NRSV)
"Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 4:6-7 NRSV)
Like you, I was terrified and horrified by the intentionality of the violence carried out by a terrorist in Sutherland Springs, TX on Sunday morning. A terrorist that used to be in the Air Force and teach Sunday School at his Baptist Church, which, even with the history of domestic violence, can give us a deeper sense of anxiety due to the lack of "other" to place the blame. Shootings are supposed to be far away, but this was in Texas, in a church, and by a veteran. Many of us know people, or are people, that check those boxes on a daily basis.
I've received your texts, e-mails, and messages, and want you to know that we reminded our staff today about safety precautions that had gotten lax, and I plan to address and inform leadership tonight at church council to ensure 'what we can do' is being done. Ultimately, unless we chain the doors and put up metal detectors, we would not be able to stop someone carrying a semi-automatic assault rifle who has a surly or insane disposition, the same way that Kroger, downtown McKinney, or any public space can't stop the first 30 seconds of damage. But, we will do what we can to coordinate, communicate, and train those who need to be on look out.
The church lives in an ambiguous place in society where we balance the fears and anxieties of things like safety, insurance, etc. with the heavenly teachings of Jesus that proclaim forgiveness, putting our swords away, risking our life to save it, and being a welcoming beacon in a world of distrust.
On one hand, I think it would be a good idea if you would share with me whether you are a CHL and would be willing to discreetly serve as someone on standby in the children's or worship center. On the other hand, it seems against the teachings of Jesus that the solution to gun violence is more guns.
On one hand, we could spend money on police protection or security detail for the incredibly off chance a shooting could occur at Creekwood. On the other hand, we'd be taking away money from our Holy Spirit-given purpose: to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
So know that your family is as safe as we can make it, while staying true to our mission and identity. And perhaps to help cognitively and spiritually dive deeper into what might help our world, I wrote this reflection on Sunday evening during my youngest daughters' own breed of domestic emotional terrorism.
As some of you know, she is a sweet, silly, joy-filled little girl, but like all kids, has some quirks. She was in hysterics Sunday evening over her inability to properly set-up a blanket on her bed, which developed into a problem of how she might fix it if left all alone in her bed while we were asleep in ours. I know it sounds small...and trust me, my patience was not at all on full display...but after 20 or so minutes of yelling downstairs (out of her bed), I finally remembered that it's a big problem in her mind. She reminded me of that when she stood in front of me, tears flowing, hyperventilating, and finally got out the words, "HOW DID I GET LIKE THIS?!"
I hadn't yet read much about the shooting in Sutherland Springs yet, so it didn't register immediately towards that tragedy, rather it struck me that she was self-aware enough to recognize her behavior was abnormal, and I wonder now what would have happened if I too had just kept yelling at her. However, through some breathing exercises, gentle touches, and a miracle of The Holy Spirit, we were able to calm her down, and from out of nowhere I answered her question, "You let the blanket be in charge."
We may never know the full intent and motive of the Sutherland Springs terrorist, but given past behavior, I would imagine he had reached a point where the blanket had gained control. Whether a mental condition, brain-washing, or irreconcilable disputes, something must have happened that caused him to reach hysterics to where he no longer controlled himself anymore...because what rational human being is able to carry out such atrocities, much less take their own life?
What I always wonder, in every case from 9/11 to Sunday morning, is how loud did that person cry for help 10 years before? When hijackers were looking for meaning in life, was the loudest voice in their world one that told them Allah demanded their martyrdom? When this guy beat his wife and kid, was the loudest voice telling him he was no longer worthy of affection, grace, or love?
And then I wonder why we were not the loudest voice?
Most of the loudest voices in the coming weeks will be involved in debates about gun control. I'll question again why any person would ever need (note, not want) a gun that holds more than 10 bullets in a clip, but I'll also feel safer because I know there are trained, licensed people in our congregation that pack on Sunday with the intent on protecting us if anything should happen. I'll support freedom of individuality, but wonder aloud why we wouldn't want our politicians to make it as hard as possible for someone to get an item capable of ending lives. I'll sit in the ambiguous space of holding American citizenship, but responsible for pointing people towards loyalty to a realm much higher than our country. And I'll keep remembering the people I've worked with who are good, trained, responsible people who aren't bad...until they are.
It's why the loudest debates and voices don't need to be just about gun legislation.
The loudest voices need to be the ones 10 years before tragedies occur that provide hope to the lost, desperate, broken, mentally-ill, reclusive, and unstable people in our communities. The loudest voices need to be the voices of welcome, comfort, healing, hope, and reconciliation. They need to be the voices that de-stigmatize counseling and support groups, and that teach people how to work through disappointment and their problems in a healthy way, without going into hysterics because they've given the blanket control of their lives. The loudest voices need to tell the world that the strongest, most-powerful, toughest, most in-control human being who ever lived let himself be crucified when he could have easily destroyed them all.
The loudest voice needs to be spiritual. It needs to be ours.
It needs to speak each moment to people in our communities who look just like us, but might be on the brink of hurting someone or themselves.
It needs to speak each moment to the young people who haven't been driven to such acts of hatred, but are inundated by voices that spur them on.
It needs to speak to those spewing judgement and hatred, and tell them to "Shut Up, in the name of the Lord."
Our voice needs to be loud and clear so that the only message anyone can hear is the only message that heals, the message of Jesus that gives us power over sin, death, evil, and anxiety.
I asked our 6-year-old, "Is the blanket you?
"Can the blanket take you away from you?"
"Who made you, you?"
"So who's in charge of you?"
"And did God give you power?"
"So who gets to decide if you're upset or calm?"
"Does the blanket choose for us?
"Does the blanket control our feelings and actions?"
"And who put you in charge?"
"So who controls whether we get like this?"
"And is any problem too big for God and you?"
"So do we have to be afraid?"
We will live as a church in our state of ambiguity, somewhere between fully trusting God and trusting our own security measures. We'll take the appropriate measures to alleviate human suffering, but may we never forget who gives us our identity as the church, and who promises to be with us always through the problems of life. May we never forget who told us to spread the Good News to everyone so that we might hear God's peace that surpasses understanding over and above the voices of hysterics and anxiety. May we never forget the voice of God brings healing and wholeness to even the most lost of souls. And may that peaceful voice carry more power than any gun or terrorist can ever dream of.
Please be in prayer for all those who have lost a loved one, and for those who show tremendous strength by flooding the streets of that town tonight to proclaim the truth of God's healing over the pain of human suffering. May we not turn the attention too much to our own fears, so as not offer authentic prayers and healing to the ones truly suffering in all of this.