As I'm sitting here in Madison Square Park in New York City, enjoying lunch and blogging on a coolish late spring day. There are hundreds of people about enjoying the company of friends, moving from place to place, standing on line at the Shake Shack, or just doing what New Yorkers do. As I enjoy this scene as only a New Yorker can, I also realize how vulnerable we all are. What would happen to this happy crowd if someone came upon us spraying assault weapon fire? What if what happened in Orlando last Sunday, happened right here in a busy New York park. What if?
A New Yorker knows the answer all too well. We're sitting in the shadow of the greatest single act of hatred, cowardice, terrorism and violence - the collapsing of two towers, and the death of thousands within minutes of the explosion of flying bombs. Yes - that happened almost 15 years ago, but nobody can easily forget the images of that day, and we still suffer the aftermath of our attempts to seek justice for the evil that was brought upon us.
I don't mean to compare the 9/11/2001 events with what happened in Orlando. The people who lived through the horror last Sunday, and those who have lost loved ones will suffer grief, loss and trauma every bit as much as those who experienced the terror of the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Shanksville PA bombings. Rather I want to link them together as well as all the other terrorist acts and mass shootings that have occurred in the intervening 15 years. And I want to stand with many who are saying ENOUGH!
And, maybe we should just build more walls.
As a Christian, I have to reflect faithfully on what it actually means to say ENOUGH! As a Christian who claims to be a disciple of Jesus Christ, that has to form my response to these terrible acts of violence that God's children perpetrate on God's children. As a theologian, how do I even begin to make sense of that statement? As a member of the Holy Christian Church, I have a responsibility to bear witness to Jesus Christ living and acting the the world. And if, to paraphrase theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the church is Christ at the very nature of its being, then I must stand for love and life in the face of hatred and death.
In response to the Orlando shootings, and in the pattern of responses to previous acts of mass violence, our protectionist instincts kick in and we want to build walls, in varying shapes, sizes and purposes. Some suggest building such a strong wall that would end any opportunity for refuge for those seeking to leave rampant violence in their homelands. Is that loving? Is that life-giving?
Others advocate for stricter gun control laws, attempting to reduce the proliferation of weapons that always seem to end up in the wrong hands, like those of the Orlando shooter. Incredibly, 41 states don't have waiting period requirements for purchasing guns in those states. Yes - let's build that wall for love and life! But let's not forget that it is just as easy to obtain weapons illegally as it is to do so legally. Hiding behind one wall, can obscure what is happening on its other side.
Another wall to be concerned about is the wall of idealism. This wall is particularly troubling because it is a double-wall, built by people on opposing sides of an issue, who find the wall as a way to protect themselves from having to understand those on the other side. The wall of idealism prevents people from loving each other, and from living life from the perspective of the other person. One person's response to mass violence is to advocate to ban weapons, and another responds by saying we need to protect our rights to have weapons to defend ourselves. Actually, these two people have more in common than they realize. A response that is based on love and life calls for these two people to work together toward a best common solution, apart from idealistic targets.
The saddest part of this is that no wall can be built to close us out of a world that is broken. I'm afraid that Orlando will not be the last act of mass violence, as we knew that the San Bernardino shootings would not be the last. All a faithful Christian can do is to stand as a witness for Jesus Christ, who came to us that we may have abundant life, and who calls us to love all - even our enemies.
So, I too say ENOUGH! Enough of violence, hatred, bigotry, protectionism. These are not acts that reflect Christ's call to bring love and life. But I also say ENOUGH to building walls. We are all Children of a living and loving God. We need no walls if that is true.
Welcome to The Soul Cafe, a place for gathering, for learning and for conversation.
We invite you to join us as we study and discuss how God reveals himself to us in the Bible and in our lives.
Please read our blog, share our devotions and join the conversation.
About this website
Gustavus Adolphus Lutheran Church (GA) in New York City has been chosen as one of eight internship congregations to participate this year in a church-wide initiative designed to increase our understanding of Holy Scripture and most importantly, to cultivate our engagement with it. In partnership with The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia, Vicar John Heidgerd will be working to develop innovative ways to deepen our faith formation and sense of discipleship for the sake of ourselves and our communities.