Focus on Hope

I was devastated to learn about the shooting last week. In the wake of this tragedy I would like to share a few things that I read recently. Each of these readings are profound and beautiful, but the combination of the three have had an immeasurable impact on me and how I hope to move forward.

This first excerpt is from an email I received from our pastor.

Friends, as people of faith, we are called to stand in solidarity with those who suffer, and we do so with our prayers of lament on their behalf. But we must do more. I believe with all my heart that we are not the only ones lamenting right now. God laments with us and for us. I have been imagining, since I first heard this news, that God is praying the prayer of lament, asking, “How long, my beloved children, how long? How long before YOU will rise up, speak up and act on my behalf? How long? I have no voice; I have no hands; I have no vote; and I have no feet other than those of my people. How long, O my people, how long?”

Nothing will bring back the precious lives lost yesterday, or the hundreds of others lost in such mass shootings in malls, temples, theaters, community centers, and schools in the recent past. Regardless of our politics, I think we all agree with President Obama that as a nation we have endured too many of these tragedies. The best way for us to honor the lives lost is to take action to address the causes of such violence and to do everything we can to STOP it. Let us not get stuck in either/or thinking that keeps us from addressing ALL possible sources of the increasing violence in our culture. We must address gun-control AND mental health AND violence in the media AND the spiritual alienation that leads to such mass destruction of life. GOD is waiting for us to act even while we continue to pray.

The second excerpt is from The Seven Last Words from the Cross by Fleming Rutledge. I began reading this book tonight for my bible study class. 

Crucifixion was shameful. The Epistle to the Hebrews puts special emphasis on this, saying that our Lord “endured the cross, despising the shame” (Heb. 12:2) Yet Jesus of all people did not deserve to be shamed. Whose shame is it, then? “My sinful self my only shame.” It is our shame that we see Jesus taking upon himself. In the mocking of Jesus, in his death by torture, we see all of the absolute worst that people can do. And here is what we need to remember. In this first word from the Cross, Jesus does not pray for the good and the innocent. He prays for people doing terrible things. He prays for men who are committing sadistic acts, offering them to his Father’s mercy. It is for his enemies that he prays, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

There is a suggestion here that human beings are in the grip of something they do not fully comprehend. The evil that lodges in the human heart is greater than we know. This means at least two things. It means that there is nothing that you or I could ever do, or say, or be, that would put us beyond reach of Jesus’ prayers. Nothing at all. And it also means that no one else, no one at all, is beyond that reach. His prayer for the worst of the worst comes from a place beyond human understanding. From that sphere of divine power we hear these words today as though they were spoken for the first time, as though they were being spoken at this very moment by the living Spirit, spoken of each one of us: Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.

When I read this I was shocked to think that Jesus would pray for someone who could commit such a horrible act as that which took place this past Friday and am still having a hard time making sense of this. It is “beyond human understanding.” What I take from it is that rather than focusing on the anger and hatred that we feel and trying to make sense of how something so evil could happen or someone could do something like this, we should focus on God. I truly agree that ONE of the reasons we get to points like this is “spiritual alienation.”

This last quote was spoken by the father of a student who was killed at Columbine, Darrell Scott, as he addressed Congress.

Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, soul, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and reek havoc. Spiritual influences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation’s history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact.

What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence.

This shooting has made me question where our world is heading. It has shaken my faith in humanity. Today I was sitting in traffic headed to the football game and there was an indigent man on the sidewalk asking people for money. He appeared to have a physical and mental disability. I was ashamed to watch the number of people pass by him without even making eye contact. I first wanted to find a way to give him a few dollars, but where I was in traffic I couldn’t do it. So I prayed. First I prayed that God would help that man. Then I prayed for someone to stop and give him something. No sooner than I had thought these thoughts I noticed two men slow as they approached him. The first man dug some changed out his pocket and handed it to him. The second man reached for his wallet and handed him some money. This brought tears to my eyes. But it was what he did next that really got me. He wrapped his arm around him and hugged him! At that moment a bit of my faith in humanity was restored.

That sick feeling in the pit of my stomach upon hearing of the shooting is still here, but I have hope.