It turns out that the dystopian novelists are right – the world really is coming to an end. At least according to the UN’s experts on climate change. If we continue at our current rate, by 2040 (I’ll be 72 years old. How old will you be?) there will be global food shortages and millions of people living on the coast will be displaced by rising ocean levels. The report released by the U.S. on the high news day of Black Friday said much the same thing.
Meanwhile, President Trump sent troops to the front with Mexico to engage the advancing army of Hondurans, Guatemalans, and Mexicans armed with diaper bags. They are such a mighty force that they walked all the way from their home towns; so fierce that they don’t need guns or missile launchers. But it’s a fair fight since we sold all of our weapons to Saudi Arabia who kills journalists.
My dog sits in my favorite armchair and barks. She’s alerts me to the car turning at our corner, the jogger, and the man trudging down the sidewalk carrying his belongings in two grocery store plastic bags. I assume he’s spent the night in our church basement as a guest of our Monday night PADS shelter.
That same dog grabbed a box of raisins from the pantry on Thanksgiving morning. While I puttered in the kitchen making the best pecan pie ever, she ingested what could have been a lethal number of dried grapes. A number of years ago she ate two pounds of Frango mints and a bag of Hershey kisses. That time she had to spend a night at the emergency vet clinic (costing me a winter vacation).
We face real threats. But our president barks at the wrong things.
What does it say about me and about our society that I barely noticed when the news ticked off another shooting? This one was in a school in Northern California. But whether in a school, church or shopping mall, in California, Texas, or Virginia – the shootings are all starting to blend together. I met a colleague for coffee yesterday morning. Instead of discussing sermon series, outreach ideas, and best practices in supervision, we talked about responses to active shooters in the sanctuary. We sat in a Starbucks and discussed the limits of hiding and wondered if hurled hymnals take down a shooter over coffee and muffins. The news of deaths and injuries hadn’t made us loose our appetites.
I don’t want to be fearful. I don’t want to be on guard. But I also don’t want to be complacent or apathetic. I don’t want to forget or ignore that the four people who died have left gaps in the lives of those who loved them. Families, and churches, and communities will have to learn now to live without them. Those who are injured may face weeks and months of rehabilitation. Their bodies may heal but their spirits may remain wounded.
I don’t want to grow accustomed to a world where mass shootings happen and congregations and schools and libraries have active shooter drills. I don’t want to tell my nephews’ children someday about the world before everyone was afraid of going into public places, like I tell my nephews about the world before cell phones. I will continue to lament the deaths, the injuries, the fear.
I will turn my lament into action. I will work now so that future generations wonder aloud what it must have been like to live during these days. These days when assault weapons are easy to get and treatment for mental illness is hard to pay for. These days we spend more on incarceration than education. These days when politicians try to pull us apart to win elections instead of bring us together to do good. I will let news of another shooting embolden my commitment to bringing about God’s realm of peace and wholeness for all.
“Why is the outside door to the fellowship hall locked?” I asked, within a few weeks of arriving at the church I served a number of years ago. The response: “Because people we don’t know might come in.”
To many first time visitors the fellowship hall door looked like the front door of the building. It was a glass double door that faced the parking lot off of the main road. Insiders knew that the actual front door was on the other side of the building that faced the parking lot off the less trafficked street.
I asked the obvious question, “Why don’t you want people you don’t know coming into the building? I thought you wanted to grow?” Then I learned that the ladies who came before church to set up for coffee hour would leave their purses in the kitchen when they went to worship. One Sunday someone came into the building while the congregation was in the sanctuary and stole the ladies’ purses. After that they took what seemed to be a reasonable precaution and locked the fellowship hall door. I suggested they lock their purses in my office, in their cars, or take them into worship with them. We would leave the fellowship hall door unlocked, put up signs showing the way to the sanctuary, and even have a greeter there on Sundays we expected more visitors.
The shootings at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Texas make it tempting for churches to hunker down and be on the look out for folks who don’t quite belong. It’s important for churches to take reasonable precautions to ensure the safety of those who enter our doors and participate in our ministries. But let’s not let vigilance replace hospitality, nor permit fear to thwart love.