Thoughts and Prayers

When I saw the headline about the massacre at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on October 27th, I felt like my own family had been attacked; as if I had lost a brother. I don’t have a brother, nor are any of my relatives Jewish, yet this heinous crime felt so personal for me.

Out on my bike in the morning darkness I was reflecting on how when I was a kid in elementary school, Billy the Kid (William Henry McCarty, Jr.) was the only mass killer I’d ever heard of; at least the most well known. Now the list keeps growing, as mass shootings are a somewhat a regular news item across our country.

The same reactions follow; calls for gun laws, complaints against the divisive tone of our political discourse and social media posts. And the well worn, familiar line: “Our thoughts and prayers are with…” But that no longer cuts it. People are a bit annoyed when they hear it. Yet that line brushes up pretty close to the real issue with which are being confronted more and more.

People want the legislators to legislate a solution , and the President to say unifying and consoling things. But the issue is not the gun. It is the heart of the one who’s turning that gun against the innocent. It’s the same issue with the guy who’s been mailing pipe bombs to prominent political leaders. No gun there; but the same evil intent.

We know the familiar debate about removing guns versus having good guys with guns so they can defend against the bad guys with guns. On and on it will go, as we continue to avoid the deeper issue.

Thoughts and prayers” brush up against that boundary of the spiritual realm.

Ever notice that the media perks up when a president or other high level leader calls the act or even the perpetrator himself “evil”. You see, if there is evil, then there has to be “good” somewhere as well. And the good leads to God, the One who defines what “evil” is. How can you discern the difference between good and evil unless there is a standard? And that standard didn’t evolve out of nothing. Someone had to declare it and make it known. But we don’t want to go there, because if we start admitting there is a God to Whom we all must give an account, then that begins to offend certain people’s sensibilities.

God’s word through the prophet Jeremiah says, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it? (Jeremiah 17:9).

Right there is where the problem lies. But it is also the great equalizer. It is describing a universal condition which exists in everyone with a heart . The “good” and the “bad”, the Democrats and the Republicans; even the Independents, the Green Party, and everyone else. Every one of us has a heart condition.

Both the problem and the solution lies within the hearts of all sides. If we could calm down and look at each other from that perspective, that we are equally responsible on all sides for the direction our culture is heading, then there will be no sides when it comes to the essentials of being a community, a nation.

No I will not even consider taking a firearm and mowing down people I strongly disagree with. And probably, neither will you. But what positive thing am I doing to counter the negative I see and hear? Often doing nothing good is about as harmful as doing something bad.

Writing from prison to his church family in Philippi, Paul tucks in two lines referencing a conflict there.

I implore Euodia and I implore Syntyche to be of the same mind in the Lord. And I urge you also, true companion, help these women who labored with me in the gospel.. (Philippians 4:2-3a).

He doesn’t describe the sides of the debate, but emphasizes the necessity of these two women to work it out and get on the “same page” with each other. And he asks the “true companion” to whom he’s writing to help them bridge their differences. The whole body was being affected by the tension between these two.

The cause of the whole community was more important than the sides of a debate that’s long been lost to history. What do we see here? Paul valued the women themselves and the unity which they had all enjoyed and ultimately longed for.

Don’t we all?

One nation under God: E pluribus unum: “Out of the many, one”