(with God in mind….)
Almost 90 years ago, on Valentine’s Day, a protracted gang war between Al Capone and George “Bugs” Moran escalated into a northside shooting, where four men, dressed as police officers, en-tered the headquarters of Moran, and shot 7 of his chief associates. This was in direct “response” to Moran going to a Cicero Hotel, and shooting over 1,000 bullets at Capone and associates. Known as the Valentine’s Day Massacre, this killing has been immortalized in movies (think the one with Jason Robards), and Chicago anectodal history.
Until ten days ago.
Ten days ago, seventeen children and adults were savagely killed in Building 12 at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. On Valentine’s Day. I was getting ready for Ash Wednesday worship, a service of penance, sacrifice, and atonement. The killings do not yet appear (note: I do not really know, but have listened much) to be in retribution for one
particular act. The students and teachers killed do not appear to have been in long-term relationships with the shooter. But these killings will be immortalized, and etched into our
And the questions abound: Who is at fault? Could we have done something better to protect our children? What signals did we miss, or ignore? But there are questions for me that I want to share: How can we, as Christians, use our basic values of faith to impact how we live on a day to day basis to respond to crisis? How can we, as the Church, demonstrate how living in covenant with God challenges us to live differently than the ways the world teaches us.
Due to the nature of systems, the further away we get from being individuals, the more we try to blame systems for all the world’s problems. You have already seen the blaming. It is painful, and woefully short-sighted. And I am saddened that much of our Christian response has been minimized, because we have been caught in the crossfires of pain: “How dare you say—I’ll pray for you. How does that bring back my child?”.
I would like to respond.
The oldest understanding of the word “respond” is to “pledge again” - to make a promise to be in relationship. It is to create relationship, take seriously relationship, and re-create it when damaged. It is not to use relationship for self-serving means (which is in part what has been happening after the shootings). It is to be open to true and painful listening, and not need to
create an immediate reaction.
When I was in seminary, I spent a summer serving at Barnes Hospital in St. Louis on the Bone Marrow Transplant floor and the Neuro-ICU unit (think major brain surgeries and gun shots). Much of my training was learning to stop thinking of a response, and start thinking about what someone else was saying. It was to try, as best I could, to get into “their skin”, and figure out why I was uncomfortable with “my skin” (why I hurt when they said something; why I needed to fill the void with talk, for instance).
We live in a time of instant gratification and instant reaction. The word react simply means to “do again”. When we react in anger to anger—we are only reflecting more anger on the already existent problem. When we react to pain by telling someone about our pain—we are only minimizing their hurt. Too much of that has been done in Florida. But no blame. We do it, too. And we can stop reacting and begin responding.
Responding means how I choose to act and live with you. For the last ten days I have tried very hard to think about the pain of students and families. I have also tried to think of the pain God has in knowing that I am given freedom to live. That freedom can bring life, and it can bring death.
So the question is: How will I choose to live with the freedom God gives me to bring life? How will I break the world’s cycle of blame and retribution, and move away from
Valentine’s Day Massacres to instead—”pledge again” to be in relationship with God and with others? This is not cheap or naïve talk. It is basic. I spend far too much time challenging
people to listen, contemplate, plan ways of caring response as I listen to their pain and hope.
I cannot undo what has happened in Parkland, Florida. But I can do something about what I do here. And when I take the time to know you, listen to you, I have a much better chance to know if there needs to be intervention, and a much better chance to ask for help, be-cause I cannot do all things by myself. But I can respond, rather than react. And I pray you work with me to do the same.
In blessing, and in prayers for all the families affected by this horrible tragedy. PASTOR: Rev. Joseph E. Mills, III In the Risen Christ