The events that have unfolded over the past couple of weeks have been hard to believe and difficult to reconcile. When I awoke to the news last week of the terrible shooting in Orlando, my heart sank. I felt sad, angry, scared, and afraid. “What is to come of the world my daughters are growing up in?” I thought. This tragedy did not happen directly to me, and I certainly will not pretend to know what the survivors and loved ones of those lost are experiencing. However, there was this little part of me that felt violated. How can someone knowingly and willfully end, in the matter of moments, the stories that were unfolding in the lives of so many people?
On that same Sunday morning, my husband and I noticed quite a few police cars in our neighborhood. A neighbor’s car had been stolen in the early hours of Sunday, and most other cars in the neighborhood had been broken into. Our glove box was open, and we had a few minor things missing. Violated . . . again, I felt violated. Why did the perpetrator find it acceptable to open my car door and take what rightfully belonged to me?
Amidst the confusion of the morning, our oldest daughter became noticeably unsettled. As she began to cry, I held her and asked her where her tears were coming from. “Momma,” she said, “Was there a robber at our house last night? Will the robber come again tonight and take me?” I could feel the violation my daughter was expressing in her questions. Again, my heart sank. We were in this tension together – trying to hold onto hope while recognizing our own inability to preserve our felt-safety.
As I’ve continued to reflect on these events, I keep coming back to this crossroads, of sorts. I am supposed to keep these little ones safe, I want to keep myself safe, but how do I do this in an environment that isn’t so safe anymore? As a Christian, I’m compelled to look at the life and teachings of Jesus for insight. During his earthly ministry, Jesus consistently offered a message wherein hardship and hope find themselves intertwined.
“In the world, you will have tribulation, but take heart: I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly” (John 10:10).
In the context of grief and tragedy, I have often quoted, albeit glibly, the words of John 10:10 to vilify Satan. “Of course,” I’ve thought, “That is Satan’s whole gig – he takes every swipe and stab at humanity while he can, knowing that ultimately, he’s the mortally-wounded foe.” This verse has continued to surface over the past couple of weeks. Perhaps you can, therefore, imagine my surprise in discovering upon further exploration of the text, that “thief” in this context is not a direct reference to Satan. Appearing in the middle of a monologue wherein Jesus self-identifies as the long-expected messiah, “thief” seems to be anything or anyone offering fraudulent avenues of salvation. Bogus attempts at restoring God’s created order of shalom – perfect reconciliation within ourselves, with God, and with others – are false avenues of salvation and will, according to Jesus, lead to loss, death, and destruction.
All too often, we look to what we’ve been led to believe is “our own power,” couched in our ideologies, nationalities, or parties to usher in kingdoms of peace. I fear we may have been misled. As a Christian, I must ask myself, “If I believe Jesus is the Savior, what is the way of Jesus, in which I am to follow?”
The way of Jesus is the cross: “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me” (Mark 8:34).
Self-sacrifice in a world circumnavigating self-preservation emerges as the way of salvation from and amidst loss, death, and destruction. Any way in which sin has ever, currently is, or will ever violate God’s created state (shalom) are absorbed into the crucified Savior. A new power is at play – the subversive power of love . . . even in the face of death (Revelation 12:11).
Do you feel this piercing tension? The calling we receive as Christians - to lay down our lives for one another – seems nearly offensive to this desire to protect our own. I don’t know how to ease this tension. It seems too idealistic; I feel only to be a dreamer. Maybe you can, alongside of me, find comfort in the following words from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.:
“We must in strength and humility meet hate with love. Of course, this is not practical. Maybe in some distant Utopia, you say, that idea will work, but not in the hard, cold world in which we live. My friends. We have followed the so-called practical way for too long a time now, and it has led inexorably to deeper confusion and chaos. For the salvation of our nation and the salvation of mankind, we must follow another way . . . To our most bitter opponents we say: ‘We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. Do to us what you will, and we shall continue to love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom, but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process, and our victory will be double victory.’” (Strength to Love)
In following another way, the way of the cross, I fear a scary world might feel even scarier. What will be demanded of me, over and over again, is a response opposite than my social programming. I will have to fight my own flesh to arrive at love. But, the other powers aren’t working. Perhaps love has something to say – the subversive power inherent within may just win over our own hearts, and doing so, those that seek to violate us.