Seeking healing at an unholy time in history
I lift up my eyes to the hills; * from where is my help to come? My help comes from the LORD, * the maker of heaven and earth." Psalm 121
This past weekend, the mass shooting in El Paso, TX and Dayton, Ohio – leaving at least 32 dead – adds yet another unholy time in our history. Thirty-two innocent people who were simply going about their lives have been slaughtered by these horrific acts of gun violence in less than two days.
Reports tell us that the total number of shooting incidents this year is 33,257 and the resulting number of deaths totals 8,802. The number of people in the El Paso shooting makes it one of the 10 deadliest shootings in modern America history and the deadliest of 2019. Violent shooting deaths defile our core values as Christians and as Americans.
In a timely 2016 article, The Right Reverend Chip Stokes, Bishop of New Jersey notes, "These acts of violence imitate anarchy on the one hand, and totalitarianism on the other. As if that is not enough, our two great political parties are at each other’s throats trying to denigrate the ‘other’ all in the name of what is best for us as a nation. This should challenge us. We are neither the nation we could be, nor the nation God calls us to be.”
"We are hurting," quipped Police Chief David Brown from Dallas. "Our profession is hurting. Dallas officers are hurting." I would add that as a nation, "We still are hurting."
In Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speaks of the "ultimate weakness of violence," observing, "The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy, instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it. Through violence you may murder the liar, but you cannot murder the lie, nor establish the truth. Through violence you may murder the hater, but you do not murder the hate. In fact, violence merely increases hate. Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars. Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that."
The events of this past year underscore great social ills - racism, gun violence, distrust between communities and the law enforcement persons charged to protect those communities. The list goes on and on. We cannot sit back and hope these troubles will go away. In his Letter to the Ephesians, St. Paul writes, "putting away falsehood, let all of us speak the truth to our neighbors, for we are members of one another" (4:25). It does not say, "Let's choose sides and pick each other apart."
We are members of one another. As a member of the community of Southeast Florida, I am profoundly aware that the people of this area are diverse in every way - Black, Latino, White, African, Middle Eastern, Native American, Caribbean Islanders, South American, poor, rich, urban, rural, suburban, law enforcement, civil servants, government workers, entrepreneurs, homemakers, professionals, laborers, unemployed, clergy, lay, LGBTQ, children, youth, adults, seniors, differently-abled, and more.
In the Gospel from Luke 10 a lawyer asks Jesus, "Who is my neighbor?" What a vital question for us all to consider this week.
As God stands with us in the midst of the suffering as we absorb and try to make sense of the senseless, I urge us all to pray for our neighbors who were killed and injured this past unholy week in El Paso and Dayton. Pray for their families and loved ones who grieve. Pray for first responders, the police men and women who put their lives on the line in our streets where fear for their lives should not be an issue in any city in the UNITED States of America. Pray for the doctors and nurses. Pray for this nation, which is in desperate need of healing and of God's love. Pray for our leaders. Pray for those whose hearts may be inclined towards violence - in word or deed. Pray for justice and peace. Take action to heal our wounds.
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that we may know and understand what things we ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Gracious God, you walk with us through the valley of the shadow of death. We pray that the suffering and terrorized be surrounded by the incarnate presence of the crucified and risen one. May every human being be reminded of the precious gift of life you entered to share with us. May our hearts be pierced with compassion for those who suffer, and for those who have inflicted this violence, for your love is the only healing balm we know. May the dead be received into your enfolding arms, and may your friends show the grieving they are not alone as they walk this vale of tears. All this we pray in the name of the one who walked the road to Calvary. Amen.