I take my reporter’s notebook to church because our minister, Ollie, almost always has topics in his sermon that I want to remember. So I take notes.
Ollie’s sermons frequently address current news topics, such as most recently the mass killings in El Paso and Dayton. He will talk about the event because he knows that his congregation needs to talk about it or, at least, hear it discussed. He offers solace always, and his pain is palatable as he stands bravely up in the pulpit yet again trying to explain what cannot be explained and comfort those who cannot be comforted. And he always returns to Scripture and reminds us that no matter how bad things seem, that there is shelter and comfort to be found - in each other if we seek it, and in our faith.
It goes without saying that there is always pain involved with these events, and that pain is both an individual pain as well as a collective one. Those who were directly involved in the tragedies — the families , the co-workers, law enforcement and EMTs who respond, the people in the store, or those at the bar at the time all experience the unimaginable and surely are scarred for life by the experience if they are the lucky ones who survive. Those who weren’t directly involved suffer similar trauma, even if it is less immediate, less personal. It is, nonetheless, there.
It becomes part of our story — our narrative that is the new filter through which we see the world.
Today, a car backfires on the street, and people run for cover. A nutcase wears a mask and camo into a Walmart, and a panic ensues. Hoodies invoke cold sweats and fear. Symbols that formerly represent positive aspects of our individual and collective culture take on new threatening meanings. Sunday services now include a police presence. People enter buildings and focus on exits and potential escape routes — just in case.
Just in case. When did we start having to be so concerned with “just in case? Was it yesterday, last week, last year? And what has changed that brought this on? Isn’t that at least part of what we find so frustrating, so mystifying?
My 2-year old grandson’s favorite word right now is “why.” Imagine how much he might use his favorite word after he begins to see and process more of what is going on around him that he cannot and does not process now, at 2 years of age. Can’t I just stop time for a while — for him — to allow this toxic “time” to heal, to return to the mean? “Everything cycles,” I keep telling myself. Have faith. We’ll get through this. I know we will; we always do, but It doesn’t feel like it right now. But I do have hope. I always do.
“Hope” is so much of what Ollie shares with his congregation. We must have hope.
“Who are we? What time is it?” Ollie asks from the pulpit.
To some his message is immediately crystal clear. To others, not so much. “Context” is what he means when he says “What time is it?” This trauma we are all experiencing is not occurring in a vacuum. It is a response to a stimulus. In the long run — from an evolutionary point of view — ultimately, all life in some way is a function of an effort to protect and propagate the species. I’m not sure how that applies to these mass shootings, but I know it is there somewhere.
Ollie tells us to be aware, to look around. See what is missing. See what is broken. See what is incomplete, just dangling in air. Hear pleas seeking help, cries of anger, people looking for companionship and compassion. Recognize what it looks like when someone who needs a friend, has none. Be aware, act, and create context for yourself.
“Who are we?” speaks to a willingness and the mettle to act and not run from life swirling around us, no matter how strong the wind. Heal the wounded. Console those who do not see hope. Take action. If you see what time it is and do not act to push back at life, no matter how infinitesimal one single person’s effort may seem to be, then we really are in harm’s way.
Hope, and lives of intention sustain us. Take bold steps. “Do something,” Ollie said from his pulpit — in so any words. But, he said, we must be the ones who must “do something.” We should not rely on someone else to act. That’s not who we are. Every day, every night, we have to push back and make sure our hope is a beacon that is seen by others who need to see hope and perhaps do not. Our context becomes their context. Our story and narrative become theirs. If we don’t act though, the narrative belongs to the other side, and our world continues to fall and fail. Conversely, together, we step toward the center and a better tomorrow.