WEEK OF Pentecost 17
Out of the depths I cry to you; O Lord God, hear me calling. Incline your ear to my distress in spite of my rebelling. Do not regard my sinful deeds. Send me the grace my spirit needs; without it I am nothing. (ELW Hymn 600)
Like you, I find myself conflicted. I am admittedly overwhelmed by the tragedy in Las Vegas. I find myself recalling other tragedies, and for some morbid inexplainable reason, making comparisons in terms of the level of trauma, the impact upon the communities in which they occurred, the presence of people of faith, and the actions of survivors. I suppose it is a craving to try and bring some order out of chaos and some control over the uncontrolable. It has a spirit of irrationality to it, I recognize.
But what can we do? We can pray … the Church (and other faith traditions) always have the obligation and privilege of praying in all circumstances of life. Practically speaking, trauma and loss seem to elicit more prayers than other scenarios in our lives. It is a derivative of the “there are no atheists in a foxhole” old saw that has gone around for years. When we are in trouble, we pray. It is a visceral reaction in many ways. And it is faithful. God no doubt expects it.
What do we do? We watch the unfolding resolution of the trauma …maybe too intently and with a bit of a prurient fascination with the trauma. We keep our ears and eyes attuned to heroic and self-sacrificing stories as a way to find some good and some positive vibe in the aftermath of a horrible event. We gather for prayer vigils … we pray alone in our rooms … we watch politicians emote and promise and declare (and even as I smugly presume what we really get is grandstanding for most, I also pity the expectation that their attempt to satisfy constituents who think there is a legislative solution to these kinds of tragedies) … we write … we talk … we watch and wonder and despair.
Being present is an over-used term, but it is no less true for its sometimes casual usage. We are called to try to find ways to be present in a world that invites us to retreat in the face of brokenness and evil and hatred. We will each do that in unique and personal ways. There are certainly no easy answers, and maybe no systemic answers, so long as we live in a world that cherishes violence, whether it is expressed in a suicide bomber, a terrorist sniper, an act of vandalism, a situation of domestic abuse, a Friday night horror flick at the Bijou, or a Sunday afternoon football game. We possess so many levels of violence in our lives, that it is almost impossible to consider a world without it.
In that light, I offer a short section of a letter I read earlier this week from our synod bishop, Bishop James Dunlop. He referenced a March 2013 Pastoral Letter from the Conference of Bishops. The words are a helpful place to close, as I invite your prayer and exprssions of hope for the coming week.
While the church grapples with this call to reduce violence and make our communities safer, we recognize that before God we are neither more righteous because we have guns nor are we more righteous when we favor significant restrictions. Brokenness and sin are not somehow outside of
us. Even the best of us are capable of great evil. As people of God we begin by confessing our own brokenness – revealed in both our actions and our failure to act. We trust that God will set us free and renew us in our life’s work to love our neighbors.