Christian love can help us overcome our resigned isolation, find healing, and perhaps prevent the shootings that terrorize our country and haunt our memories.
By Todd Sorensen
When a mother reported that there was an incident at Columbine High School, and I walked out of my office to see helicopters hovering over the school, I feared it was bad. Nobody was prepared for what happened on April 20, 1999. I tried calling the sheriff’s office to see what I could do, but it was in panic mode. Four days later, we gathered all our children and youth at the altar rail, surrounded them, and laid hands on them in prayer. It was one small step toward healing. There was no guide for what to do next.
In the aftermath, we learned how a community can come together. Our suburban area lacks any civic center, so we gathered at the park adjacent to the school. We continued to gather for prayer and mutual support on the anniversary for several years after the event. We have been forever changed to be a bit kinder and more connected.
But we have also been changed, having to become more aware of what occurs around us. This is not an easy endeavor in our strangely connected society. Especially in suburbia, we tend to live in our technological castles, with a driveway for a moat and a garage door for a drawbridge. Most people cannot name all of their immediate neighbors, but we connect online. One can have 600 Facebook friends and none in the neighborhood. We have lost the era of extended families living in proximity, of neighborhoods functioning as a form of family.
Without those societal webs, it is so easy for individuals to fall through the cracks. Since Columbine, there have been 25 school shootings with fatalities and 208 school shootings overall. I recently spoke with our local public safety officer, who remarked that his son, on patrol duty for the last two years, has witnessed a further unraveling of the fabric of society in just that time: less civility on the roads, marked by more road rage, impatience, and rudeness.
What can faithful Christians do?
Pray: First, keep praying for the victims and their families, and for all responders and those who follow up. We funded help for county workers who were providing support to the victims’ families but had no support system for their own grief. Their grief does not fade with the headlines.
Remember: St. Anna’s Church in New Orleans lists all victims of violence in the city going back many years. Perhaps we could use a poster that, like The New York Times (bit.ly/GunsByDots), documents gunshot victims through growing clusters of dots. I would place the title “Lord, Have Mercy” at the top, and “Please, No More” at the bottom. Colorado produced a license plate with a columbine flower and the words Respect Life. I remember every time I drive my car. There are various means to help us remember and keep strong in prayer. Be creative.
Triage: There’s been much talk about gun control. For the life of me, I cannot see any reason a person needs a rapid-fire rifle. I think control of automatic weapons may be a much-needed bandage. Most bandages protects a wound while it heals but do not heal the wound. Or consider home-security cameras. They provide some feeling of security, but they do not address underlying issues of safety in our society.
Love: Prayer, remembrance, and triage help us cope and help us find our bearings amid violent tragedy. But they do not reach the hearts of those who treat other people as less than human. God created us to be in healthy, life-giving relationship. Perhaps the call of Christ hearkens back to the first followers of the Way and the observation of outsiders: “See those Christians, how they love.”
After Columbine, it seemed that everyone here was greeting one another — friend and stranger alike — with a genuine, eye-to-eye, “How are you doing?” This continued for many years, but we appear to have returned to the retreat of our privacy in public. How much would our culture benefit if we greet each other with a sincere inquiry about our neighbor’s well-being?
Perhaps in Christ we need to reweave the social fabric, to advocate and create means of helping neighbors connect face-to-face (not just on Nextdoor.com). Alan Roxborough’s “Moving Back into the Neighborhood” workshop is one such option. We are learning from this concept to emerge from our castles and meet face-to-face with our immediate neighbors up and down the street, come to know them, and learn what is on their hearts. It’s not about recruiting members; it’s about forging meaningful connections.
It was the love of Christians for all that has been the glue for many peoples throughout history. “This is modern America,” some may say. Against such resignation we find our gauntlet: to help change our society one neighborhood at a time, in order to keep one more person from falling through the cracks.
The Rev. Todd Sorensen is rector of St. Gregory’s Church in Littleton, Colorado, a position he has held since 1990.