What to do when tragedy strikes (again)

The world is full of terror now. And we’re all worn out by it.

The latest is a shooting at a mosque in New Zealand, leaving dozens dead and dozens more injured.

(Note: The world has always been full of terror, the 24/7 news cycle just makes us in the mostly safe West more aware now)

Terror is the weaponization of fear.

And that weapon is designed to immobilize. Which is why people use it. It immobilizes the populace while the terrorist progresses with their hate. It gives them the tactical advantage of unrestricted movement.

So when it strikes—and it seems to strike so often today—we are immobilized, frozen, stuck.

And in our frozen state, we can only stare helplessly as we watch hate move freely through the streets of our shared humanity.

I argue our collective apathy to the news of ‘yet another shooting’ is the result of that terror.

It’s too hard to even care.

And yet.

And yet, our common humanity cries out for recognition. In the words of John Donne:

No man is an island entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main; if a clod be washed away by the sea, (we are) the less…any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind.

That’s it right there.

We are involved.

So what do we do?

“Thoughts and prayers” seem so trite. But what else do we have when we are personally far from the world’s latest mass shooting?

Political action is so slow and divisive. But policies have impact, maybe not full or perfect impact, but impact nonetheless.

Grieving is so hard. But that tests the limits of our humanity and exposes the shallow well of our compassion.

I am a Christian pastor, so my responses are shaped by Christian Scripture and Christian imagination. I like it that way.

You may not be a Christian, but there is a category in Christian Scripture I’d like offer. I think you’ll agree our common humanity needs it.

The Greeks called it “Agape” (Uh-GAH-pey).

It means, simply, “sacrificial love”.

For Christians, sacrificial love is most clearly outlined by Jesus’ sacrificial death on the cross for the sins of all of us. The mes. The yous. The terror victims. The terrorists.

John Donne outlined it as a love of refusals.

As in, refusing the things that harm humanity.

As in, refusing to stay uninvolved.

As in, refusing apathy no matter how appealing a shelter it might be.

In the face of terror, sacrificial love compels me and you to REFUSE:

  • to turn off my emotion.
  • to accept numbness as normal.
  • to categorize people so I can feel more comfortable labeling someone I don’t know.
  • to not name evil, ‘evil’, every single time.
  • to see any person in any way other than as my neighbor.
  • to not care about the tragedy because they share a different faith or have no faith.
  • to treat people like objects, thereby categorizing into “us” and “them”, allowing “us” to not care about “them.”
  • to gloat, ever.
  • to not grieve.
  • to not examine my own prejudices.
  • to not care about root causes, digging til we unearth the conditions that led this person/these people to commit this act.
  • to not care.
  • to start believing this is normal.
  • to think I am unaffected when this “clod be washed away.”

I refuse.

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