When Tragedy Comes Home

I woke up this morning to my hometown being splattered all over the national news. Borderline Bar and Grill in Thousand Oaks, CA, which is less than two miles from my home, is now the scene of America’s latest mass shooting. Last week it was a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh, before that a seemingly endless list of schools, nightclubs, churches, concerts, and workplaces. All of them are so horrible and so senseless—lives cut short because of the anger, “cause” or brokenness of an individual human being who somehow thought carnage was the only way to address his pain.

I watch my city grieve today and my heart and prayers go out for all the victims—the family of the sheriff’s deputy who was shot, the 13 murdered and the 22 wounded, those traumatized from the event, even for the family of the shooter who are living their own worst nightmare. What started as a college night of celebration ended in untold pain that will last a lifetime for many.

What a world we live in—one broken life in a fit of rage, narcissism, or vengeance can do so much damage to the lives of others they don’t even know. And it just keeps happening week after week as we re-hash the same old debate over gun control and nothing will change. It will happen again, unfortunately. Somewhere.

I was reminded of this exchange in THE SHACK movie between Wisdom and Mack as he deals with his own tragedy of an abducted and murdered daughter:

WISDOM: This was not God’s doing.

MACK: He didn’t stop it.

WISDOM: He doesn’t stop a lot of things that cause him pain. What happened to Missy was the work of evil. And no one in your world is immune from it. You want the promise of a pain-free life… There isn’t one. As long as there is another will in this universe, free not to follow God, evil can find a way in.

MACK: There’s gotta be a better way.

WISDOM: And there is. But the better way involves trust.

And there Mack was confronted with a choice, to give into his fear, blame and anger, most of it directed at God, or to embrace the love of God that would absorb all his pain in a growing trust in Father’s goodness. Untangling the senselessness of evil won’t come out of our fear but in our engagement with a Father worth trusting, who is not the cause of pain in our culture, but the cure for it.

Evil has such amazing power, to hurt, harm and destroy. And how someone’s unaddressed personal pain can morph into acts of such incredible evil is so hard to understand.

But as horrible as that is, Love is more powerful still. Humanity does not only have the capacity to do great evil, but also the opportunity to put love and light in the world. That, too, happens every day, and even in the midst of tragedies just like this, as a sheriff’s deputy rushes in to confront the shooter, and as people pour their lives out to help those impacted by this tragedy.

My next blog was going to be about our ongoing work in Kenya, and how many lives have been saved by the generosity of strangers. Not only does free will allow evil to be in the world, that same free will every day brings incredible love, life, and healing into the world. At times like this, I want to not only pause and pray for the victims of this tragedy, but I also become even more determined to pour more love and light into the world. We don’t have enough it, not anywhere!

Good will overcome evil. Love will win over hate. Life can feed into the most broken places and bring joy and goodness again. God’s love is certainly more powerful than anything evil can do. Free will allows for that, too.

How can I be even more a conduit for that to the people I know and the situations I am in today?  And tomorrow? And for all the days of my sojourn here on this planet?

6 thoughts on “When Tragedy Comes Home”

  1. I understand what you are experiencing, Wayne and family. You see, I’m from Pittsburgh. As an employee of the University of Pittsburgh, I received an emergency alert of an active shooter at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Squirrel Hill. So many of our student and faculty live there. As the events of the morning unfolded, it was so difficult for us here to fathom the pain that one individual, intent on hate, could bring to one of our oldest neighborhoods. As a way to express our love and to help us grieve, my family and I “Showed up for Shabbat” last Friday evening for a celebration of support and unity for the Jewish community, and it was wonderful. There were such beautiful messages of peace and love. And there have been more Memorial services for unity and healing, including one here at PITT, “We are Stronger than Hate” earlier in the week and another one scheduled for tomorrow afternoon at Point State Park in downtown Pittsburgh. I believe that our community will be praying for you and your community, even as we are still processing our pain here. Love is the only response to the brokenness in this world.

    1. I’m so sorry, Karen, for what you have endured as well. I’m blessed to hear the good things going on to help heal that community. I just found out the best friend of a good friend of ours was one of the victims. Life can seem so fragile some times, and all because someone has to take out their pain or hostility on others. It’s so sad, truly. I’m glad I know a Father bigger than all the hate and violence in the world.

  2. Martha Huckabee Fleming

    Such a timely post Wayne, and so true. Thank you for your willingness to write and speak such healing words our world so desperately needs. It’s an encouragement to me and I’m sure so many more of your fellow brothers and sisters.marth

  3. I have not commented before because I have such mixed emotions over this. As a European it is so hard to understand. As you said yourself ‘it will happen again’ and from reading and watching the press it seems almost that this is generally accepted. But surely the cycle can be broken? I grieve for you and I am 100% behind your sentiments that love is more powerful and in the end love will win. That extract from The Shack is so good. A question has to be ‘in what or whom do we put our trust?’ Bless you Wayne in your role as a lover and one of the peacemakers – ‘who will be the sons of God’.

    1. Thanks for your comment Ian. There is a contagion spreading among desperate, broken, lonely people looking for a way to go out creating as much chaos as they can. Psychologists and sociologists who have studied it say it is reason why it keeps happening here and hasn’t “caught on” in other cultures to the same degree. The media glorifies it with every killing, encouraging some other broken soul to try to make a bigger splash on their way out. If we could get media people to take THAT seriously, we could reverse the contagion, but we can’t. Media coverage of mass shootings draws millions viewers and so does drilling down into the perpetrators past and his issues to try to figure out “why.”

      I wish I could be hopeful here, but there are too many deranged and tormented souls in a population of our size. Gun control alone will not fix this. California has some of the strictest gun laws in the U.S. Brokenness is a weird dynamic, especially in the way it celebrates doing harm to others. I’ve thrice been the victim of someone taking out their anger on me in by doing truly evil things. Fortunately they weren’t violent things, but those who will lie, cheat, and steal from you just to soothe some brokenness in their own soul happens all the time to people. The evil people are willing to do (and justify in their own minds) is incredible in this broken world.

      And as to your question about trust, the context of the movie put that squarely on God. Makes DIStrust of God was adding to his pain and isolation. A growing trust in the Father’s love, even in the midst of a broken world that has dealt cruelly with him, is the only path to live above the brokenness of this age and add redemptive influences to it. There’s where the hope is, not in fixing the world through law, but transforming it through love in whatever small corner of it Jesus has placed us. Then, one day, he will come and the kingdoms of this world will become his kingdom forever and ever! Looking forward to that.

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