How (NOT) To Respond to Tragedy // A reflection on the mass killings in Orlando


Sunday marked yet ANOTHER mass killing here in the United States – resulting in the largest number of deaths to date, when Omar Mateen opened fire on Pulse, a night club established for the LGBTQ community.

Each week it seems we wake to another mass shooting and another threat of terror somewhere on the globe that feels all to close to home.  We shrink back at the news of viruses and illnesses seemingly capable of wiping out larger portions of the population.  And then there are the often unpredictable natural disasters that lurk beneath and above us waiting to catch us off guard.

There has been and always will be plenty to fear.  Perhaps this is why God often attempts to comfort those who follow him with the charge, “Do not be afraid.”

One of the amazing things about having kids is what I’ve learned about how they learn.  Kids learn through observation and through repetition.  They do what they see us do, and say what they hear us say.

In Isaiah 12:2, it is the prophet, not God who finally says what he has heard God say over and over again:

“Surely God is my salvation;

    I will trust and not be afraid.

The Lord, the Lord himself, is my strength and my defense;

    he has become my salvation.”

It is as though Isaiah is rehearsing the oft repeated words, “God is my salvation…I will not be afraid.”  He is, in this moment, attempting to cash in, it would seem, on God’s assurances.  He is also inviting us, along with his audience, to look toward a “day to come” in which we will rehearse these words together – as God’s collective people – and tell the world of “all God has done!”

Isaiah knows that we are in desperate need of access to such words – especially when we feel endangered and afraid – because there is always a war going on in our hearts to serve the lesser-god of fear instead of the God, who as Isaiah says, is the very embodiment of Salvation.

Just listen to the conversations taking place around you or scroll through the various social media feeds and see if you are not struck by the amount of fear you see expressed.

I wonder if, in ways we are not even aware of at times, we don’t spend most of our days serving the lesser-god of fear than the God of salvation.

Ask yourself the following questions: What is the dominant tape playing in your head and heart right now?  Is it the voice of a God who says, “trust in me and my ways”, “do not be afraid”, and “let go of your fears”? or do you hear the voice of a lesser-god who calls you to hold tight to your rights, your privileges, your taxes, your country, your guns, and your _____________.

When this happens we might notice that the things we talk about and post about have less to do with the Good News of a God who is the embodiment of salvation, and more to do with the things and the people we fear.

Perhaps this is because the lesser-god of fear has a way of upending the way we see the world and those who live in it;

Or because the lesser-god of fear has a way of undoing our ability to reach out to each other because fear has this ability to draw us up tight into a posture of protection;

Or because the lesser-god of fear, ultimately, has a way of undermining our trust in the God who is salvation;

Or because the lesser-god of fear drives us to look elsewhere, to commit our cause to the people and institutions that promise to absolve the things and the people who threaten us by wholesale doing away with them.

To lean into Isaiah’s words is to lean ever nearer toward the promises of a God who will arrive as the embodiment of salvation to demonstrate the way of salvation so that we may live confidently and bravely and without fear!  This is good news!

For the church to hear Isaiah’s words, then, is to hear a counter-narrative that opposes the stories of fear currently running rampant in our nation.

Tragedy becomes an opportunity to reach out in love toward those who have been wounded, those family members who lost loved ones, and to those now living in fear (LGBT, Muslim, or otherwise) when we no longer serve the lesser-god of fear.  We are free to be light in darkness, grace amid a see of rushed judgments, and to practice empathy with each other instead of rushing to hide from each other.  We are free from feeling the need to to politicize, criticize, scandalize, sensationalize – or size up these events in any other way than to sit along side those who are hurting.

So when tragedy strikes, lets say aloud and collectively that “God is our salvation…The Lord is my strength and my defense” and then lets make it known “to all the world.”  When we do this we change how we respond, what we talk and post about, and instead join Isaiah in protesting against the rule and reign of the lesser-god of fear.


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