April 9, 1993 – The end of the Waco siege and the death of 82 members of Branch Davidian.
April 19, 1995 – The bombing of the the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City that killed 168 children and adults.
April 20, 1999 – The Columbine High School shooting and the death of 15 people.
April 16, 2007 – The Virginia Tech shooting death of 32 people.
April 3, 2009 – The shooting death of fourteen people at the Binghamton, NY immigration center.
April 2, 2012 – Seven people died in the shooting spree at Oikos University in Oakland, CA.
April 6, 2012 – Three died in a racially motivated shooting in Tulsa, OK.
April 15, 2013 – Bombs planted near the finish of at the Boston Marathon resulting is three deaths and over one hundred injured.
April 19, 2013 – Two more deaths apprehending suspects in the Boston bombing.
As heinous as these violent events are, they are only a tiny part of gun-related injuries and deaths that occur daily in the United States alone. Over 1,000 people a day are directly affected by gun violence in the United States. This number does not even included families, friends, co-workers, and acquaintances who are also impacted.
- 87 people a day killed in homicides, by suicide, or by an unintentional shooting
- 201 people a day shot and injured
- 732 people a day who are victims of armed robbery or aggravated assault with a gun
Of those 87 people killed each day, 9 are children and 46 are suicides!
What are people of faith to say in the aftermath of ongoing violence? How do we we remain life affirming in the midst of so much injury and death? How do we maintain grace in the midst of vengeance?
One of the scripture readings for today (the fourth Sunday after Easter) is the beloved Psalm 23. Because of it’s popularity at funerals and memorial services, even the non-religious are somewhat familiar with it. Many raised in church and Sunday School have it memorized.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff— they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.
Sometimes when something is so familiar, we glance over it to make sure we remember its essence without stopping to ponder what new insight we might gain as a result of the changes in our own lives. I like to think of scripture as a living, breathing document that holds new treasures for me each time I revisit its pages. I was not disappointed as I looked at this psalm through the eyes of this past week.
The first phrase that jumped off the screen at me was I fear no evil for you are with me. The writer is realistic and pragmatic. He doesn’t deny the reality of evil nor does he downplay the capacity of evil to wreck havoc in our lives. Security isn’t found in governmental agencies like the FBI, CIA, or Homeland Security or in all the high-tech surveillance measures designed to track, trace, and tighten evil breaches. Security is found in the abiding presence of God who will not abandon us in the midst of whatever evil pervades.
The psalmist also reminds: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. A natural reaction when we’ve been attacked or harmed is vengeance. We want to extract retribution and see that justice is served. True justice has nothing to do with vengeance or retribution and everything to do with grace. I know that’s a lot to wrap out heads around and is a worthy subject for further reflection. By taking a moment to reflect on the abundance and blessings I do have in the midst of whatever awfulness is going on, an opportunity to move from vengeance to grace opens up. You cannot maintain a vengeful spirit in the midst of being thankful.
Make no mistake; evil is present and real. Horrible things can and do happen. But God does not abandon us nor leave us without resources. As people of faith we cannot get caught up in or be held hostage by whatever current of sentiment emerges from our shared experience. We have an opportunity to speak words of grace and comfort when everyone else repeats the vengeful rhetoric that has not served us at all since 9/11. We have an opportunity to reframe the conversation and speak to the real reasons we have so much violence in our lives. Generations of faithful before us have risen to the challenge. It is time for the truly faithful to do so again.