It was the first week of classes for my son at our local community college. Still figuring out the schedule, we found ourselves sitting in the parking lot with time to dally before his writing class started. Hearing the distinctive chime from my phone, I reached into my purse to see who had texted. It was my husband.
“Hey, my mom is wondering if ____ goes to Umpqua Community College.”
I turned to my daughter in the backseat and inquired of her friend. She answered yes, so I relayed her response, curious as to why my mother-in-law would be asking such a random question.
“Pray for her. Mass shooting. 9 dead and more injured.”
I read the tiny screen and found it strangely difficult to draw a normal breath. My son, sensing my dismay, demanded to know what was wrong. Attempting to keep my voice steady, I told the kids what little I knew and we spent the next several minutes praying. Then it was time for class and as my son got out of the car I resisted the urge to lunge over the seat, grab his hoodie, and drag him back into the car.
Instead, I smiled. I told him I love him as he slung his backpack over one broad shoulder. And as I watched him bound up the steps, two at a time, and disappear, my mama’s heart twisted. Tears clouded my vision as I drove away, numb. Jumbled, fractured prayers tumbled through my head, the cacophony not abating until we were assured, an hour or so later, that our young friend was safe.
This past week has been surreal. We are not at the epicenter of the UCC shootings, but being less than two hours from Roseburg, we definitely feel the shock waves in a way that is intensely personal. We all have friends who live there, and the small communities of Southern Oregon feel like kin in a way that only rural communities can understand.
As I read the headlines, the ever-changing news reports, and countless blog posts I felt a heaviness settle over my heart. It’s been an Ecclesiastes sort of week:
…everything is meaningless, a chasing after the wind…
…there is nothing new under the sun…
…the hearts of men are full of evil…
People of all walks opportunistically use tragedies of this sort as a springboard to promote their pet political agendas. Everyone has an opinion on the causes and cures of the social cancers that are rotting the heart of this country. Lord forgive me, but I have done the same. From Columbine to Aurora to Sandy Hook, it’s easy to cluck our tongues and wax eloquent when the evil is in someone else’s yard. But when that evil reaches out it’s icy hand and touches someone you care about, well, that’s a whole different kettle of fish, I’m finding.
This is raw and painful. The fear is cloying, choking our joy because now we know, without a doubt, the bogeyman is real. I see people flapping their lips, stirring up division, empty words flowing like a river of sewage, and I want to scream.
I wasn’t going to write about UCC. I really have no right. Compared to my neighbors in Roseburg and all who were there last week, I’ve barely been touched by this horror. Feeling strongly that I have nothing meaningful to add to the discussion, I had decided to not comment.
Then yesterday I heard the news that members of Westboro Baptist “Church” are planning to picket the funerals of the UCC victims and an anger began to bubble in my gut. So here I sit, at 4 a.m., unable to sleep, sick to my stomach and filled with sorrow, and I find that I do have something to say after all.
To the Westboro Baptist media whores: Get the hell out of my backyard! I’m going to be audacious enough to say I speak for the vast majority of Oregonians when I say, we don’t want your brand of evil in our state. We’ve suffered enough as a result of hatred this past week, so slither back to your dens, you sick brood of vipers, and leave us to tend to our own.
To the rest of the America: Put down your verbal weaponry and set aside your agendas. The loved ones of those who were lost and all who were there at UCC last Thursday don’t need our endless debates. They need our prayers, our support, and our love. Yes, there is dialog that needs to happen on many issues, but today is not that day. Today we grieve with our Roseburg family. Today we remind each other that hope is not lost. That hope is never lost as long as we stand together.
To the real church: Let us not be distracted by the endless chatter and simply be about our Father’s business. When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus said:
“And you must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength.’ The second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ No other commandment is greater than these.” (Mark 12:30-31, NLT)
It’s easy to lose our focus in our anger, justified though it may seem. It’s easy to succumb to fear. It’s easier to pretend to solve the world’s ills in armchair commentary than it is to be about the hard and messy work of loving.
But what exactly does this love business look like?
How about we start by rolling up our sleeves and praying unceasingly, earnestly lifting up our brothers and sisters who are still reeling from this vile act.
Let us be sensitive to those whose fears are stirred, the victims of past violence, the loved ones, the students and staff of our schools, the mamas who see their kids off each morning. May we reach out with the love of our Father and let them know they are not alone.
May we put on on our God-colored glasses and really see those around us. May we recognize the hurting, the isolated, the disillusioned and show them that they matter to our Lord. That they matter to us.
As children of the Most High, our response to evil should never be with more evil. It should not be the same as that of those with no eternal hope. And even when the darkness strangles our joy, we must still proclaim it, because no matter how we feel at the moment, our God is still good and that is worthy of reflection.
Jesus called us the light of the world. (Matthew 5:14) Let us live that out, through acts of love, bringing to life the hope that we profess.
“Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.” (1 Corinthians 13:7, NLT)