Dear Friends and Colleagues,
When the reports starting coming in yesterday regarding the mass shooting at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, my mind began to flood with thoughts:
- I wonder how many lives have been affected?
- Lord, be with the victims and their families.
- I wonder if there were any children involved?
- I know this place! I have been past this synagogue dozens of times!
- Have they apprehended the shooter?
- Oh no, not again.
After my immediate reaction of concern for the families, the synagogue, and the community, my mind began to race through the places where violence has had a deadly and massive affect:
- Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Parkland, Fla. (2018)
- Mandalay Bay, Las Vegas (2017)
- Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas (2017)
- Pulse Nightclub, Orlando (2016)
- Emmanuel African American Episcopal Church, Charleston, S.C. (2015)
- Sandy Hook, Newtown, Conn. (2012)
These incidents, which rank among the most deadly shootings in history, have all taken place within the past six years. And these are only a few of the dozens that have taken place in that time span. Every time another event takes place, the ones before them fade a little bit more from our consciousness. And, every time another shooting happens, it tempts us to want to believe that this is the “new normal,” and we become numb to the lingering pain and agony that innocent people live with for a lifetime when yet another gun is fired.
When I heard the reports coming in from Pittsburgh, I tried my best to discipline my mind to not only pray for the victims at the Tree of Life, but for families and friends, and communities and churches where their incident of violence has not faded and their pain has not been healed.
As the reports continued to develop and the number of fatalities continued to grow, I found myself crying out like the psalmist of old:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken. (Psalm 13:1-4, NRSV)
It was just earlier in the week that pipe bombs sent anxiety across the nation as yet another misguided soul tried to take matters in his own hands. And the week before that another random shooting took place. And the week before that another rape, another kidnapping, another hate crime. The list is endless. And in the midst of that growing list, it becomes harder and harder to maintain our hope and preserve our joy. We, like the psalmist, find ourselves crying out, “How long, O Lord, how long?”
I have found myself writing a similar message recently. The message has been about the rhetoric of fear and anger that has dominated the landscape on all levels in our country – from the highest office in the land to the halls of Congress to the communities of everyday citizens who feel enabled when persons of power set the tone with messages that breed hatred and cynicism.
Those messages though, have also been about us, the community of faith called the church. The halls of our denomination have also been filled with vile and anger, doubt and despair. Yet, we are a people with a message that is a counter to every hate-filled speech ever given. We are a people with a rhetoric that is a rebuttal to every bullet that is fired and every life that is taken unnecessarily. It is time, dear friends, on every level of the church’s life and with every ounce of faith that we can employ, to no longer be silent with our message of hope and promise.
You see, the writer of Psalm 13 did not stop with the verse stated above. The psalmist did not cower in the midst of his own self-doubt and anxiety. He caught himself in mid-psalm and did not finish his writing without saying these critical words:
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:5-6, NRSV)
"I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation . . .” This is an ultimate statement of faith, a counterbalance to doubt, a gut check in the midst of violence, a vivid reminder in the midst of anxiety. “I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” And as a result, I start to cry out, “How long, O Lord, how long?” How long will it be before we have such faith, that even in the midst of weekly violence and injustice, that we will proclaim a higher belief and a better way?
We dare not cower in fear over this recent shooting or in the midst of a growing sense of evil that is expressing itself in hate and violence. This is a time to increase our prayers, deepen our courage, and sharpen our message of grace and hope.
Mahatma Gandhi once wrote these words: “When I despair, I remember that all throughout history the way of truth and love have always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they can seem invincible, but in the end, they will always fail. Think of it, . . . always.”
Think of it always, pray for it always, believe in it always.
The Journey Continues, . . .
Thomas J. Bickerton