Its not the way I planned to spend my week. But the events of Sunday, shootings at churches/ministries both to the north and south of us, pushed us to develop some basic security plans for our church. A police officer who was on the scene at New Life Sunday met with us today. He said one of the scariest things was the number of people at the church with concealed weapons permits who had their guns out after the shooting started. The police had a scary time trying to figure out the good guys from the bad guys.
When I began pastoral ministry 20 years ago, I never thought I'd have to deal with things like having a uniformed police officer on the premises during services. I never thought we'd have to develop a lock down plan. Who would have ever thought we'd have to ask people to not bring their guns to church? (Yeah, its definitely a red-state!)
The shooter from this past weekend was, according to the paper, from a "very, very religious family." He had once been in the YWAM program. (True, he was asked to leave and the reasons are vague.) But the point is, he had been exposed to faith, perhaps excessively so.
So the Christians who are blogging that "these shootings are the result of America pushing God out of public life" sound pretty weird to me. Then there are those outside the church that are pointing blame by saying, "well, all the kid wanted was a place to sleep for the night. If these so-called Christians had just shown a little kindness this would never have happened."
I'm thinking of the line from Zoolander where the character played by Will Farrel screams, "I feel like everyone's taking crazy pills!"
It's a reality that people with mental illness and social dysfunction often give religion a try. They are searching for something, anything, to help them cope with a life that just isn't working. Too often though, their oddities keep them from engaging with the people who could potentially help them find the hope they are looking for.
Seems like a common denominator in these shootings is that the killers are social outcasts. They've been rejected by others, and see this as their payback.
Which came first? Did their delusion and moral collapse stem from their rejection, or were they rejected because they were so odd and scary?
I remember like it was yesterday the wounds my own kids got in middle school from the cruel remarks and rejections from kids they wanted to socialize with. We aren't built for rejection. Especially when it feels like you've been rejected by God.
On the one hand, I think maybe if someone had just loved these outcast kids before their rage grew to a toxic level... But on the other, I have seen time and again in churches weird people who just cannot function at a very high social level and out of fear, people avoid them.
I had a friend, a social worker, who said long ago, "sometimes things just get broken deep inside these kids, when they are too young to even know it." Is that it? Or does it happen later?
About five years ago, a guy I had grown up with, knew well as a high school student and young adult, went through a lot of loss and struggle, and in a drunken depression, killed his wife, three young daughters, then himself. At what point did Wesley snap?
I don't really have answers. Answers never seem to provide the comfort we're looking for anyway. Things are broken in this world. They are not the way God intended. We are living with the consequences of the human tendency toward selfishness--what the Bible calls sin.
But I refuse to give up hope. I have seen the freedom that comes from Jesus restore people. Call it healing, or whatever, it is real. It does not happen on demand. It does not happen in every case. And I do not understand why.
But it does happen, so I hope and pray that we can, somehow, engage people, even weird people, with the authentic love of Jesus, and that God will do his part and bring restoration to their unfortunate lives.