Another Tragedy: What are Its Lessons?

A couple of things run through my head regarding the shooting in Aurora, CO. I preached this morning on it.  Although my original intentions were to preach a different topic using the lectionary readings, I chose not to preach the epistle lesson from Ephesians and chose to stick with Mark’s gospel (6:30-34, 53-56).  I won’t publish the entire sermon, but here’s the basics:

“In the wake of a tragedy like Friday’s it seems so lame to find a deserted place to rest.  We may feel unmoored because we have no explanation to give it meaning.  We might be inclined to say, ‘I need to make sense of this so I can get on with my life.’

“But maybe that’s our problem.  We want to get on with our lives, when really we need to pause.  It’s not that we need to make sense of the senseless, but to find sense in ourselves. We need to stop in order to acknowledge the blessings we have, including that we are alive.  We need to remember those who love us and to remember those we love.  We need to reflect deeply upon what gives our lives meaning.  We need to keep sight of our own worth and the truly rich blessings that family, friends, and community give to our lives.  We need to step back in order to remember not to take our lives for granted.  We need to pause because we must realize that as tough as we are, our lives are fragile and that only God’s love and abiding presence is assured.

“We’re lost in the wake of these sudden and senseless tragedies.  By plunging forward without taking that step back, we get lost in the way we might respond.  The voices that tell us the perpetrator was a “sicko” or that God is punishing us for our transgressions may satisfy the immediate urge to find meaning, but, realistically, how are they helpful?  We might reflexively say we have to do something about our lax gun laws, which is the truth, but would tighter gun laws have stopped James Holmes from purchasing his guns?

“Pause and let God lead.  God as our shepherd means we won’t need anything else.  We won’t need to find meaning from those who can speak first or speak the loudest in order for it to make sense in our lives.  God will lead us through the tragedy and with God’s help we will find meaning – the sacredness that gives us true comfort in the midst of tragedy.  Letting God lead ensures that we won’t respond to a tragedy in fear leading to a decision that we will later regret.  Letting God lead helps us to find a response that we won’t forget and that could be truly healing.  God is our shepherd.  God makes the unbearable bearable.”

My daily devotions consist of reading a psalm every day.  I go from Psalm 1 to Psalm 150 and then repeat the cycle again.  Coincidentally, I read and prayed Psalm 36:

Transgression speaks to the wicked deep in their hearts;

there is no fear of God before their eyes.

For they flatter themselves in their own eyes

that their iniquity cannot be found out and hated.

The words of their mouths are mischief and deceit;

they have ceased to act wisely and do good.

They plot mischief while on their beds;

they are set on a way that is not good;

they do not reject evil.

Your steadfast love, O Lord, extends to the heavens,

your faithfulness to the clouds.

Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains,

your judgments are like the great deep;

you save humans and animals alike, O Lord.

How precious is your steadfast love, O God!

All people may take refuge in the shadow of your wings.

They feast on the abundance of your house,

and you give them drink from the river of your delights.

For with you is the fountain of life;

in your light we see light.

O continue your steadfast love to those who know you,

and your salvation to the upright of heart!

Do not let the foot of the arrogant tread on me,

or the hand of the wicked drive me away.

There the evildoers lie prostrate;

they are thrust down, unable to rise.

It seemed fitting… I read it this morning at the conclusion of my sermon.

Despite preaching, I can’t quite let go.  I’ve been thinking about this shooting and the other violent events in our recent history:  Columbine, Virginia Tech, Nickel Mines … you can name others.  And while I believe we need to tighten gun laws, would any of these tragedies have been stopped with more gun restrictions?  While doing my research for my sermon I stumbled across this interview with Wayne Lo, the student, who 20 years ago shot people at Simon’s Rock, in nearby Great Barrington, MA.  He believed a waiting period make sense, but that’s not the answer either.

Frankly, I have nothing more than my sermon, except I would add that we might reflect upon why these gruesome tragedies happen with more frequency than we’d like.   Is there something in our culture, our way of life, that leaves us prone to suffer these incidents?  Certainly, we have to do something about our lax gun laws.  We also have to do better for those who suffer from mental illness.  But better gun laws and better treatment and care for those with mental illness might not make such tragedies less frequent.

I have no answers.  But maybe rather than looking for specific causes and explanations, we might look at ourselves and ask what is it in our way of life that causes people to snap and commit such terrible tragedies?  Is there something in our way of living — working too hard without a lot of hope that it will make a difference in our upward mobility?  Are we too stressed about our own vulnerability, maybe being one serious illness away from bankruptcy?  Are we losing our relational connections with the actual community which surround us?

I really think we need to look beyond the immediate suspects, guns and mental illness.  I think we need to do some serious self-examination about the way we live.


About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
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