Friday, July 20, 2012

'Be devoted to one another in love'

Romans 12:9-21 (NIV)

Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.

Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
   if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
I’m not really sure where to begin this post. I can say definitively I did not intend to write about current events today, though the second I read these words from Romans I felt as if I had no choice. The news of the day is as follows:
AURORA, Colo. (AP) — As the new Batman movie played on the screen, a gunman dressed in black and wearing a helmet, body armor and a gas mask stepped through a side door. At first he was just a silhouette, taken by some in the audience for a stunt that was part of one of the summer's most highly anticipated films.

But then, authorities said, he threw gas canisters that filled the packed suburban Denver theater with smoke, and, in the confusing haze between Hollywood fantasy and terrifying reality, opened fire as people screamed and dove for cover.

At least 12 people were killed and 58 wounded — 11 critically — in one of the deadliest mass shootings in recent U.S. history.

“He looked like an assassin ready to go to war,” said Jordan Crofter, a moviegoer who was unhurt in the attack early Friday, about a half-hour after the special midnight opening of “The Dark Knight Rises.”

The gunman, identified by police as 24-year-old James Holmes, used a military-style semi-automatic rifle, a shotgun and a pistol, stopping only to reload.
There are so many emotions it’s difficult to know where to start. One of my first reactions was being mentally whisked back in time to Feb. 14, 2008, the day a gunman opened fire at Northern Illinois University. I was still in full-time newspaper work at the time, just about an hour south of the school. Several of my colleagues were NIU graduates, some not even four years removed from their own college careers. Newspaper folks never forget the events of days surrounding such tragedies, and it doesn’t take much of a trigger for the memories to flow.

Another mental response was to steel myself for the onslaught of opinions from both the professional media and social media. I felt blessed to not be in a newsroom today, where I would have been unable to bury my head in the sand and pretend I don’t live in a world where things like this happen. I would not be required to be on top of each breaking development and to find a way to localize the issue. Still, you can’t be on the Internet and avoid news — or opinions about news or the way your friends respond to news and opinions. I don’t mind when our rush to judge culture is hashing out the unfairness of an “American Idol” audition or blown strike call in a World Series game, but it maddens me beyond words when human tragedy becomes just another talking point while literal lives hang in the balance.

I also considered the loss of lives in one spree as compared to the almost daily reports of gun-related killings in Chicago this year — 25 shot dead alone since this month began. There is wicked in this world in every place in every day, and pretending otherwise is sheer ignorance.

But the one aspect I didn’t see coming smacked me right between the eyes. A college friend, a Colorado resident with whom I am in regular social media contact posted the following:
“I was heartbroken having to explain to my children what happened less than 15 miles away while they were sleeping.”
I count my lucky stars my children do not need to be told about this tragedy. They are too young to read the newspaper or watch the news on TV. There is no school right now, so Jack won’t hear any passing conversation (there was some dialogue the day after Osama Bin Laden was apprehended and killed). Someone else posted a link to an intelligent article titled “5 Tips on Talking to Kids About Scary News,” and I didn’t click because I didn’t want to face the reality: I can avoid discussing this tragedy, but I’m a fool to think there won’t come a time when I have no escape.

Another friend, a college chaplain, posted the following:
“In addition to praying for the victims of the Colorado shooting, my heart breaks for the family of the shooter. Imagine being his mother, brother, grandparent, etc., and the pain they must have as they try to understand this horror.”
This is heavy stuff for any human to process internally. But you add the element of children — these little people you’re supposed to raise and nurture and educate and inform and encourage and comfort and protect and prepare — and it strikes me that when I describe parenting as a God-given responsibility just how laden that terminology truly is. I must do my best to shape these three souls, these boys who initially looked to me and their mother for literally everything, to grow into people who live lives worthy of God.

And I must do so in this world, this often horrible place, a creation of God we humans corrupted. A world capable of offering both indescribable beauty and unspeakable horror. I want them to richly love life and appreciate it as the gift it truly is, and somehow reconcile that philosophy with the knowledge they will live among so many people unwilling or incapable of holding the same viewpoint. I want them to be survivors and crusaders for good. I want them to be slow to anger, quick to forgive and willing to let God take control.

There will come a day when I will have to talk with them about something tragic such as these killings. Hopefully it will be because they are at an age of reason and not because the event strikes close to home. Hopefully I will remember to pray first so I might let God speak through me instead of trying to go it alone. And hopefully I will have the time before then to teach them this lesson from Paul, laying a groundwork when life is calm that they may be equipped for turbulence.

Go read those words again. And again. This is not a matter of the church, of organized religion, of one denomination over another. Though the sentiments are Christ-inspired, they are, by and large, simple truths of how humans should relate to one another regardless of any individual’s belief in a supernatural being.
“Be devoted to one another in love. Honor one another above yourselves. … Live in harmony with one another. … Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. … Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
These are the lessons I will teach my children at the same time as I recommit them to my own heart. We are not going to change this world with guns or laws or wars or protests. We are going to change this world one person at a time, with love. Christ gives us the peace that passes all understanding, if only we are willing to accept. And we can, with prayer and determination, repay that blessing by loving others as God first loved us. This will prove to be incredibly, inconceivably difficult. But even this task will be easier than what Christ did for us in selfless sacrifice. The call is clear. We must answer.

A prayer for July 20:

Lord, the burden on my heart is heavy. I am saddened to think of such senseless tragedy, today and every day. I wish we did not need to be reminded of the importance to love as you commanded, that we all would live in that spirit each moment of each day. Your guidance is a gift; I know how you would have me live and what lessons you would have me teach my children. I pray they will learn to walk in your path and feel the peace your love provides. May we all act in respect of that peace, of your sacrifice for us and gracious salvation. I pray, Lord, though I don’t know the words to say. Have your way with all of us. Amen.

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