Friday, July 20, 2012

Not expecting the unthinkable

      This morning, before I turned on the computer, I was pretty certain what I would be writing today.  It had to do with living on the boundaries (inspired by a radio show on Autism and the Divine).  But, once the computer was on, my inbox was full of "Breaking News Updates" about the shooting early this morning at a nearby theater.  As of this writing, 71 people were either killed or wounded.  I immediately thought of two earlier situations when, having a Sunday morning sermon already written, I awoke to tragedies that demanded something else (an airplane crash in Charlotte, and Lady Diana's death).  So, boundaries and autism will have to wait.  Or, at least, autism.
       Because, it seems to me, we are always on boundaries, existing on a very thin edge.  As a road cyclist, I'm very aware of the fact that a couple of skinny tires, and my ability to balance in an emergency, are all that keep me from serious injury -- and I certainly know what happens when something affects traction that even my balance-skills can't correct!  The folks who attended last night's midnight showing of the latest Batman movie probably had no idea of the thin boundary they were walking -- nor should it have been on their minds.  None of us can live effective, productive lives if we're constantly looking for monsters under the bed.
       Tragedies like last night, however, do remind us that the unthinkable happens.  And, once it does, we begin to try to connect the dots that might help us explain it.  As I've said many times before, in many different circumstances (including the two tragedies to which I alluded above), the answer to the "why" question is ultimately unsatisfying.  Blaming violent movies, or too-lax gun laws (if indeed, they are), will not, in the end, explain the actions of folks who are in a psychological/mental state that would lead them to commit such crimes.
       For those reasons I can't ask "Why?" or "Why would God allow . . .?"  I cannot, with all good conscience say "God must have had a good reason for this."  That would not be a God I would want to worship, or serve, or devote my life's work.  I believe in a God who challenges me to ask "Given the tragedy, what's next?"  Mourn, grieve, certainly; there is loss!  But there's more!
       Certainly there are some socio-cultural institutions or practices that probably ought be challenged; that's one next step -- a possible next step that will probably be a very steep uphill climb.  Another, more manageable, next step would be simply to realize how thin are the boundaries that separate us and our loved ones from some unthinkable tragedy.  And to remember that our time together is extremely precious.  And to take action in that regard.
       There is a vigil scheduled tonight in Aurora for those who wish to join in solidarity.  I was asked by an editor of a national blog-site whether I was going to be there, and, if so, would I sent some reports?  Recognizing how it might sound, I responded that, "No, as one who has not been directly affected, I'm not going.  I'm going to be with my family, and hug my wife and kids extra hard."  The editor, also a friend/colleague, understood completely.
        I think that rather than living life looking for monsters under the bed, or in airplanes, or in movie theaters, or asking questions to which there is no satisfactory answer, I'd rather we live life appreciating and celebrating the fleeting beauty that is our life together.  That is one of my best answers to the "What next?" question.
        Because we never expect the unthinkable.  
        My prayers are with all of those affected by this horrible tragedy:  those who've died, those who were injured in body, those who've been injured in mind and spirit, the shooter, and all of their families.  My thanks go out to all of the first responders:  police, fire-fighters, ambulance crews, doctors and nurses . . . as well as those who will continue the care for all affected:  medical personnel, counselors, clergy, friends and family members.


Chaplain Gary


  1. I was very touched by your reflection on the situation. It is a call to cherish the time we have with one another but I also wonder what can be done for those who fall into a mental state that brings them to a point were they have very little control over the chioces they make? I know God walks with them too. How very sad. My prayer is that brain research that is being done in areas like Alzimers will lead to a better understanding of the connections and conditions in the human brain that makes a person vunerable to such actions. My son was in his mid twenties when his mental state changed and I soon discovered that one of the hardest times for the person is after the person reaches the age of twenty one. A parent can do little to intervene to assist the person to get help. Nor does the person have access to mental health services until it is to late as in this situaton. Our jails are full of people with mental processing difficulties that resulted in out of control behaviors that reflect an very unstable mental condition. Once they have been identified the medication and treatment is very expensive and often not affordable. If the person does not recieve the medical help they need because of the cost then they remain vunerable and so do those around them. It is a system that needs fixing but how I do not know so I too pray for them and all those who are impacted but such events.

  2. Very well said, Chaplin Gary. It is so important to react to these types of events with the right emotions and attitudes for the future. Your counsel is much appreciated. Thank you.