How much longer, O Lord, will we submit ourselves to this distorted normalcy of mass shootings? Will we ever arrive to a day where the news doesn’t begin with or contain in some form damning phrases like “it has happened yet again” and “another shooting,” or are we destined to dwell permanently in the valley of darkness? Are we that desensitized from our self-created crisis in these recent years, or have we surrendered to denial our hearts, minds, and hope—letting blatant hate and violence take the wheel, driving the bus straight to hell? Can we address gun violence with common sense and consistency—ending this nightmare, or are we simply doomed to kill ourselves and those around us with passivity, clinching white-knuckled onto a piece of parchment written on 250 years ago for which we seem to rest our ultimate (dare I say, idolatrous) trust? Our schools and synagogues, malls and mosques, city centers and churches are stained with the blood of silent resignation. Fear has become constitutional to our social fiber—to the point that more and more we resemble less our Creator. We are perpetually anxious and morbidly afraid. Where next? What this time? How do I respond? The only thing we can be sure of, unfortunately, is that continuing down this pathway it will inevitably happen again. It’s just a matter of when. We know why, but still remain unmoved by it. Each instance is another episode in a never-ending story we can neither turn away from watching unfold nor are willing to confront with real change.
Squirrel Hill (Pittsburgh, PA), and the deaths of 11 parishioners during Shabbat morning services at Tree of Life synagogue this past week, is not special. The only thing unique in it all is our shameless response as a society. Silence. Partisan script-reading. Suggestions that armed security would’ve or could’ve prevented it. The cyclical surge of people reacting out of fear by purchasing firearms. If any of this offends, than perhaps there’s still hope. When the news no longer pierces us, leaving an ache deep within our gut, then we know despair has become terminal. As we draw near to All Saints Sunday this next week, remembering all those who have died and looking with hope to that unknown day when Christ will return to resurrect the dead and join heaven and earth into a new creation, the trauma of this recent mass shooting should sit even more heavily on our faith. This event was first and foremost a hate crime against our Jewish kindred, from whom we receive the majority of our religious heritage. Our testament to Jesus does not separate us from this premeditated violence, but rather further convicts and challenges us to speak prophetically in the face of hate and work more diligently with people of every religious expression towards shalom throughout the world. How can we share in praising and proclaiming Baruch atah Adonai (Blessed are you, Lord our God), when our lives, actions, and lack thereof do not bless but instead curse God’s good creation with each senseless death? It seems that we have sacrificed the dignity of human life upon the altar of misperceived safety and control.
As I’ve said elsewhere before: I don’t have all the answers. What I do have is something between a diminishing optimism and enraged hope. Our failure as a nation to address with honesty and empathy the problem at hand is permanently stamped in history. There’s no erasing it. Future generations, if there are any to be had, will look back to this time dumbfounded by our heated rhetoric and hesitant response to an otherwise obvious question. We have demonstrated ourselves enslaved to fear and distrust, shackled to our weapons. With each new shooting the relevance of our words becomes increasingly diluted—another tear rolling down the cheek of a perpetually drenched face of grief. My anger with all of this, however, is coupled with (and cannot be separated from) hope marked by the faith I cling to in these times of pain and uncertainty. Death, dying, and decay are not the final words. The Crucified and Risen Christ Jesus promises us new life. Our Christian hope, with its roots in ancient Pharisaic Judaism, is that that unknown day when Christ returns all the dead will be resurrected and given new transformed bodies. On that day, we will be reunited with our loved ones in a new heavens and new earth. Every tear will be wiped away and death will be no more. All things will have been made new by God. There will be no need nor place for fear or hate, no reason to argue or tremble. God will dwell, here in this place, with God’s people. This hope is not about escaping or ignoring the trauma at hand, but meeting it face-to-face and saying enough is enough. We will one day be judged for our responses in this life, and therefore, we are called to stand up for life, here and now. I pray for the Spirit to transform our hearts and minds. This is not how God intends for us to live—frightfully wondering if we or our loved ones will be the next gun-related casualty. Hope keeps us from being consumed by the terror around us, but it also fuels us to work for change. My hope is that we may never hear the words “mass shooting” ever again. My hope is that Christ forgives us for our silent resignation amidst rampant hate and violence. My hope is that, though this is likely not the last time, we will not wait any longer to speak and act for change in our gun-crazed culture. My hope is that the Spirit moves us to live and serve in the face of pain, suffering, and death as witnesses to the Risen Lord. My hope is that the resurrection to come is not hindered by us here and now.
– Pastor Andrew