I like to think of things in terms of: “What kind of world will Noah inherit one day?” As a parent, that seems to be an important way of thinking about our world and my contributions to it. One day, as hard as it may be to realize, I won’t be there to protect Noah, care for him, and make sure that he is growing into the person God has called him to be.
Noah is 6. I’m anxious for the world that he will not only inherit, but that he is living in today.
Since arriving in the world in 2013, Noah has witnessed more mass shootings than I care to admit. The other day, I took a look at how many mass shootings have occurred since his birth. I took advantage of research that was readily available that look at. Essentially, did a shooting event have multiple victims and receive media coverage? Since Noah was born, there have been 88 mass shootings, which killed 564 people and injured 1,1,45 people. Taken all together, the death toll is as if everyone in the town of Matewan was shot and killed since 2013.
That is too much.
It is hard to get a clear definition of what counts as a mass shooting. Different organizations use various standards to determine what mass shootings are or are not. A 2015 report from the Congressional Research Service suggests defining mass murders on whether four people were killed during the attack. Others, such as the organization Gun Violence Archives, defines a mass shooting as any event in which four people were shot, not including the alleged shooter. By the Gun Violence Archives count, there have been 255 mass shootings in 2019.
No matter how you define a mass shooting, it is clear we have a problem, and it is only getting worse.
I think we all recognize we have a problem that has become more and more apparent this past week. We have witnessed with horror three mass shootings (by any definition), which killed 27 people and injured dozens more, forever affecting the lives of the families, people, and communities of Gilroy, Calif., El Paso, Tex., and Dayton, Ohio. In the days since these tragedies, I’ve spoken with several people who are at a loss, not knowing how to respond or why God would allow violence in our world. These are all important and necessary conversations.
My belief has always been that the church should be a place for difficult, hard, and necessary conversations. We should be able to enter into these conversations knowing that the grace of God goes with us to enable us to ask difficult questions, express when we do not know the answer, and guide us to be a people who live out our prayers and seek to live differently in a world filled with violence.
What I have been trying to wrestle with is what is going on in the world, especially in the United States.
As it relates to our conversations within the church, I believe we struggle seeing the imago Dei (image of God) in those who are different than us. Genesis 1:27 tells us that God created all people to reflect his very nature and character. We are more than happy to claim that we were made in God’s image. We have a hard time claiming that for those who are different than us or disagree with us. In doing so, we create divisions where they should not exist, and we treat those who are of a different racial or ethnic background or political ideology as “not one of us” or “different.” This leads to hatred, anger, racism, and xenophobia, which are many of the same issues and problems we are dealing with today.
There is no room in the body of Christ for hatred, anger, racism, or xenophobia. All of this are incompatible with the God of holy love and the witness of Jesus Christ. It doesn’t belong in the church, in our fellowships, or our conversations with one another.
The way we get past hatred, anger, racism, and xenophobia is by intentionally building relationships that lead to understanding with people of another cultural, ethnic, or political background. Too often our conversations and relationships remain within homogeneous groupings where everyone thinks, looks, and talks the same. When this is how we live and interact with one another, it is hard to gain an appreciation for the struggles and difficulties others may have and understand that there is more that brings us together than what separates us.
I learned this while I was in college. Where I grew up in Shady Spring, there weren’t that many opportunities to build relationships with people from a different race or cultural background. That changed when I was in college and I became friends with an African-American student who lived on the same dorm floor as I did. We found something in common – professional wrestling, as silly as that may be – that allowed us to become friends.
I’m not perfect in relationship building, but I recognize that it is the gateway that leads to understanding, a gateway modeled to us by Christ himself. Time after time, Jesus interacted with people and communities that were considered to be different and outcasts at the time. He conversed with women and invited them to be in discipleship relationship with him. He dined with people from various walks of life, such as the religious elites, zealots, societal outcasts, and his own friends. If we are to take Jesus’ words and calling seriously, then relationship building that goes beyond just sitting in homogeneous circles has to be something we practice and live into as a community.
Our mantra as disciples of Jesus Christ is to live into the Great Commission (make disciples) and the Great Commission (love God, love our neighbors). We cannot make disciples if we are filled with hate, anger, and bitterness towards anyone. We cannot love God or love our neighbors if our acts, intentional or not, are defined by hatred and bitterness.
The body of Christ must always be a reflection of the life of Christ, because we are the ongoing witness of Jesus Christ in a broken and hurting world. The best way we can do that is by modeling the life of Jesus and love God, love other people, and seek to build relationships that break down the curse of hatred, anger, racism, and xenophobia.
If we can do that, the world that we will leave Noah and all the other children will be a better place than what we see now.