Browsing From the Pastor's Desk

What's Next?

Oct 6, 2017

In the auto accident before the one for which the judge took away his license, my father credited his survival to his guardian angel, who warned him to stop before he went too far into the intersection. That may be true. But I have to admit that on last Monday morning, the memorial of the Guardian Angels, there was a Satanic irony. When I heard about the massacre in Las Vegas my first thought was “Where were their guardian angels?” That was a normal sort of human reaction.

If you look at the religious art depictions of Guardian Angels, they don’t look like they could protect you from anything. Guardian Angels definitely cannot protect us from the calculated malice of human beings. They did not stop the Holocaust. They did not stop ISIS, the death squads in El Salvador or Cambodia. They do their best to protect us from those things that harm our bodies before we are ready for God’s kingdom, but their real skill is in protecting our souls. But even then, they cannot cancel the bad choices of our free will. We are all free to do good or evil, to help or harm ourselves and others.

On the face of it, it would appear that we Americans have been trying very hard to make our Guardian Angels’ jobs much easier. We have OSHA to make our workplaces safer. We have the Underwriter’s Laboratory and the Consumer Product Safety Commission to keep our products safe; we have the Food and Drug Administration to keep our food, drugs, cosmetics and nutritional supplements safe. We are making cars now that drive themselves, removing accident-prone us from the decision-making processes. We are safe from just about everything, except ourselves.

The first I remember was at the University of Texas in 1966, when a former Marine sharpshooter went up to an observation deck and shot 47 people, killing 18. In 2007, a deranged student at Virginia Tech shot and killed 32 people, wounding 17 others. In 2012, a troubled young man killed 18 people and shot 58 others watching a Batman movie at a Colorado theater. Later that year, another troubled young man killed 26 children and teachers in a Connecticut grade school. In 2016, whether motivated by ISIS or mental illness, another sick soul killed 49 and wounded 58 others in a gay nightclub in Orlando. Those are just the big numbers. Eight people were shot dead last month in Plano, Texas, when an ex-husband burst into his ex-wife’s home and opened fire on those watching a football game. There are workplace shootings all the time, and we all know where the term “going postal” comes from. Not at the mall, not at work, not at school, not on the streets, not at home; the killers are not gangsters, not drug dealers, not hardened criminals. We are not safe from our fellow citizens, coworkers and classmates. We read headlines about violence in Syria and around the world. The rest of the world reads headlines about violence here and sees little difference.

We look for reasons to make sense of these horrific tragedies. As of yet, there is no known motive for what Stephen Paddock did in Las Vegas. His brother said all he was interested in was gambling. He had no interest in politics. Still, televangelist Pat Roberston blamed the shooting on profound disrespect for Donald Trump. That’s unlikely, but it does point to a problem we have.

Too many people make Donald Trump out to be either the new Savior or an incarnation of Satan. That’s a problem because it draws all of our attention from the real problems in our society and our working together toward solutions for them.

I saw a Facebook post by a 22-year-old I know that said, “In my short life, I’ve seen Virginia Tech, Orlando and now Las Vegas. What’s next?” A good question. Personally, I think stronger gun control is a good idea. But we have learned that Mr. Paddock had ammonium nitrate and other explosives stocked both at his home and in his car in Las Vegas. We saw what that can do at the Federal Building in Oklahoma City in 1995 where 168 were killed and 680 injured. Removing guns from our society may help limit the casualties but will not remove the violence and evil. Evil used to reside in people like Al Capone, Hitler, or Stalin or Pol Pot… almost cartoon characters like the devil in South Park. Now it is in people like clean-cut Timothy McVeigh, young Dylan Klebold at Columbine High, or boring loner Stephen Paddock in Las Vegas. We must recognize that evil, or at least the potential for great evil, is all around us and is in fact in us. What is next indeed?

High school students, college students, gays, movie fans, country music fans... what groups of victims describe us? What groups do we abhor? Pastor Martin Niemöller spoke of his experience in Germany, where Nazism grew out of the condition of social division and discontent:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out — Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

We need to stop going at each other now. We need to stop watching TV and our self-selected news feeds and start talking to each other. We don’t so much need a strong leader as we need strength and courage in ourselves. Not only to speak out, but also to act. It doesn’t take strength or courage to shout, to shoot, to lash out, to put down, to close our ears and minds. We need the strength and courage to love, knowing that evil will surely oppose that. It takes strength to listen to others, to seriously consider alternatives to our opinions, to search for solutions rather than to impose simplistic answers. We need to be able to speak the truth to power, to choose what is better for someone else. We already have a Savior who did that for us and He showed the way. We just need to follow Him.

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