Tragedy most often feels distant.
Bad things happen: Perhaps a hurricane, or a tornado, or an accident, or a mass shooting, and we feel sympathy, and we wish it hadn’t happened, and we talk about it and we think to ourselves “I wish there were a solution,” and then we go on with our lives.
Rarely do we feel personally touched by tragedy.
This past week was very different for me.
The shooting at the Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks California took place during “College Night,” just a couple of miles from the campus of California Lutheran University, one of our ELCA colleges. Borderline was full of college-age young adults, from both CLU and Pepperdine University, which is five miles away.
I have friends who work on the campus of California Lutheran University. The campus pastor, Rev. Scott Maxwell-Doherty leads campus ministry there and is a close friend. His spouse, Melissa, is one of the vice presidents of the University. My friend Desta Goehner works in church relations there and works closely with both Melissa and Scott. And another friend, Dr. Colleen Windham-Hughes, is a brilliant professor in their religion department. I have known and worked with all four of these people for years. Their lives have been turned upside down in the last week, as they have sought to tend to the needs of a campus that is in shock, grief and mourning.
Even more shocking, one of the shooting victims was a young man who graduated from California Lutheran University last spring. He was very active and loved on campus, and he sang in several of the choirs. He sang the national anthem at the graduation ceremony in a quartet. His name was Justin Meek, and he was 23 years old. He sang in the California Lutheran choir that performed a concert last year here at Trinity. People still talk about the joy and the energy that the CLU choir brought to Trinity. You can read more about him on the CNN profile.
He was at Trinity! He was hosted by one of our families! He sang in our Sanctuary. And now he is gone. I am deeply saddened, and I am angry.
- I am saddened because of the pain that these people, these friends of mine have had to endure.
- I am saddened because lives…young lives…were cut short.
- I am saddened because no one should have to experience what these people and their families have experienced.
And I am angry because we sit here “doing this all over again.” We keep reliving these mass shootings. And it’s like our culture is paralyzed about what to do.
Is there blame to go around? Absolutely. But it feels to me like all we’ve done is try and figure out who to blame. It’s easy to focus on blame rather than solutions.
And while I don’t know what the exact solution is, I do know these two things:
- This is not how God would have us live. In John 10:10, Jesus says: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Living in fear, living in grief, living in sadness and anger is not the life God hopes for us.
- We can do something about this. Again, I’m not going to prescribe a solution; I need people smarter than me to do that detail work. But I do firmly believe that it is within our power to make the cultural changes needed to end this epidemic. We need the will and the courage to do what needs to be done.
All I know is this: My friends are hurting. And because my friends are hurting, my heart is heavy.
Please pray for the people of Thousand Oaks.
And then let’s be willing to have conversation about this. Let’s pray for wisdom. And then let’s pray for the courage to take action…whatever that looks like.
I am sad, and I am angry. But I will not give up hope, because I believe that God does not stop working in the world. God too has hope for humanity, and hope for all of creation. And God entrusts that hope to us. God calls us to be peace, love and grace to our broken world. We are God’s hands, doing God’s work. And as long as God entrusts this to us, we cannot give up hope. Light will always overcome darkness.
Let’s live into the abundant life that Jesus promises, and let’s make sure that all of God’s people can do the same.