The news today from El Paso – another shooting, at a Walmart, 20 dead – makes me absolutely ill. More senseless death, and this time (for me) getting a bit closer personally than usual (more on that in a moment.)
We don’t know the facts yet – we know nothing about the shooter, or a motive, or a weapon, or any other details. Much of that will come out in the coming days. What we do know is that once again someone with a weapon has turned that weapon on innocent people, most of whom, possibly all of whom, were simply in the wrong place at the wrong time. Twenty lives ended…twenty people who will not enjoy the rest of the summer, look forward to the coming of autumn, and will not celebrate Christmas this year. Twenty fellow human beings whose hopes and dreams have been snuffed out, and whose many gifts and abilities have been silenced. Twenty futures that have suddenly and violently come to an end.
And that’s just the twenty.
What about their families? What about mothers and fathers, spouses, siblings, and most of all…children…forced to grieve on what should have been an August day leading into the “dog days of summer?” How many other lives have been shattered, forever?
And then the injured…twenty four will bear the physical scars of this attack. And how many others will bear the trauma of being too close to the action?
I wonder about that. Our vacation trip last year took us to Western Texas and New Mexico. We didn’t, but initially we planned to drive through El Paso and stop at that very Walmart. What if?
All this by one man, one man carrying…and using…a gun.
And so with all of this the debate will be renewed, and there will be many who will say, “That’s the point – it was a person who did the killing.” Agreed. But he used a gun.
Guns have very few purposes in this world. They are designed to do one thing – to destroy. Really, to kill, but someone recently said, “Well, what about trap shooting?” OK, but what of that – it’s really target practice to allow one to use the gun more effectively. And besides, what happens to the poor target? Blown to bits!
But what of other weapons? Knives, dynamite, rope, baseball bats – all have creative purposes. Even the chainsaw in “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” was built for a constructive purpose.
Look, I get it. Hunters are protective of their right to have a gun – or more. I’m OK with that. I spent over 20 years in the UP of Michigan, where hunting is so big, they close school on the first day of firearm deer season (their season always begins on November 15, so usually its a weekday.) I’m not against hunters, or even against collectors. But why is it so “evil” in the minds of some to even require a background check before purchasing a weapon? And why do hunters need semi-automatic weapons?
They don’t, and in all my years, I’ve never spoken with a true hunter who used that kind of firearm. No sport in that!
Still, the special interests work hard on this one, seeking to convince us that we need to allow unfettered access to firearms. Tell that the families of the twenty killed today. Or the twenty four who were injured. Or the however many who will be killed, injured and forever scarred by the next attack.
Tighter gun laws might not have prevented what happened today. But if even one attack is prevented, isn’t it worth it? Or we allowed lives to become so devalued, that the right to have a gun, with no checks and balances, is more important than people, than children who are precious in God’s sight.
So somewhere, somehow, we need to make a change – or two. I’m not a “policy wonk,” and I have no instant cures for what ails us. I just know we need to begin to take a stand, and decide what is important. And start to make things happen.
Now, I know this is a charged issue, but somewhere God’s precious gift of life has to become our priority. Isn’t that what the cross is about, God acting through the death of Jesus to make life the priority? And not just life someday. Life, here and now. The death of Jesus has to make a difference in the life and death routines of daily life, or, well, it just isn’t all that important.
In some respects that has been one of the gifts of my sabbatical. Of course, I already knew that. I’ve been a pastor for 33 years, proclaiming that God is at work, and that in Jesus God makes the difference that brings life out of death. Still, the past weeks have given me some time to reflect on that, and (yet again, a spoiler alert for my sermon on August 24/25, my first week back) seeing the congregation from a bit of a distance has also allowed me to see new ways in which God is at work in the congregation, and through the congregation. Cool stuff, really!
So there you have it. Another reason for me to be thankful for my sabbatical time, but also to begin anticipating my return.
By the way…Tim Bowman, our interim Youth Director a few years back will be ordained on Saturday, August 24, at 2 PM, at Faith Lutheran Church, Dodge Center, Minnesota (you are invited to attend). Tim has been called to serve as Associate Pastor at Christ the King Lutheran Church, Mankato. Pastor Jean and I will attend the ordination, and Tim has asked me to preach. I’m honored to do that. Tim had a two year seminary degree when he worked with us, but it was during his time here, and in large part because of his interaction with us, that he decided to go back to seminary. Hey, this one’s on us – or on the God who works in us and through us (sound familiar). Cool stuff, really (again)!
One final note – last Sunday, as our vacation drew to a close, we worshiped at Pastor Jean’s old church (Ascension Lutheran Church, Riverside, Illinois). And this week I read Gettysburg Rebels, by Tom McMillan. Using very little source material, because there isn’t much, McMillan sketches out the story of five natives of Gettysburg, who moved south in the years before the Civil War, and then came back as part of the Confederate army to fight at Gettysburg. One – Wes Culp – died on the battlefield. Another fought on a part of his father’s land and visited his father at night. Very poignant and personal. A good read.
So, there you have it. I have two full weeks left, and then a part time week. I will continue to savor this time, but also look forward to returning to the office, to worship, to ministries, and most of all, to you!