#PrayforSPU: Reflections on the tragic events at Seattle Pacific University

Screen Shot 2014-06-08 at 9.36.33 AMI don’t blog often, but if there is anything that warrants it, this is one of those times.

On June 5th my school experienced a tragedy that I never thought I would see firsthand. I remember watching the news for hours  during other school shootings, and I remember thinking to myself, “Thank God that hasn’t happened to my school.” With that kind of statement comes a sense of guilt, as well, because though it’s not true, you feel like you’re saying, “Thank God this has happened to someone else and not to me, not to my people.”

This has happened now. To me, and to my people.

I co-lead an undergraduate women’s Bible study, and Thursday night was going to be our last event of the year together. Our plan was to go to the beach, have a bonfire, eat good food and sing worship songs together as we celebrated the amazing year we have had. Another year of “making it through.” I went to pick up one of my small group women from the UW, and was parked outside of her house when I received a group text message. The first in the thread was from a friend I’d attended seminary with and is also a Seattle police officer. The message was simply, “You guys OK?” The next—“I’m okay, with friends in Bellevue.” The next—“We are in Bellevue, so we are okay. A bunch of people are in Kingswood [our seminary house] in lockdown.” The next—“Really good to know. I’m not working today, so I’m just getting scraps of info. Right, Kingswood, good place to be right now.” The next—“Glad you’re not working.”

My simple response—“What’s happening?”

What is happening? Why is there so much gun violence in this country? Why do the perpetrators all look the same? What are we doing to the boys and men in this country that makes them think this is a proper response to pain and suffering and anger? What systemic evil is in place that is so deeply engrained and yet so carefully obscured, such that the response of the people who knew this perpetrator was simply, “He seemed like such a normal guy.” I can only ask, is this what normal has become in our country? As Anna Minard from The Slog states, “this isn’t a new story, and it’s not a new event, not an unusual event, not a surprising event. There was a double-shooting this last weekend. There was a dramatic spate of gun violence in the city just a month ago. This is the world we’ve built.”

“There’s been a shooting on campus,” my friends told me. My first reaction was that it must have been at the bank, or maybe the 7-Eleven. There’s no way there’s been an actual shooting on campus. That doesn’t happen at SPU.

Except that it did. This is exactly what was happening.

I started receiving text after text after text, “Are you ok?” My response was—“I’m okay, I wasn’t on campus.” The latter portion of this statement is what has been turning over in many of our minds as we’ve begun to process. “I wasn’t on campus.”

It seems like something gets let off the hook when you say that. “I wasn’t on campus” means “I’m fine.” But a very wise friend of mine blogged about this and reminds us, “even if we were all safe, we were never going to be ok. We aren’t ok. I’m not ok.”

I was not on campus. But that does not mean this event is distant to me. It does not mean that I’m “okay” even if my body has not been broken, even if most of my friends were not in that building.

I had a class in Otto Miller just this past winter. A psychopathology class, in fact. Every Monday night we gathered in that building for three hours. We spent our breaks in the lobby, sitting on couches, standing in foyers, laughing, talking, commiserating. We never sat in the lobby and thought, “What if a gunman came in at this very moment?” We never thought to ourselves, “I don’t feel safe.” We never thought that someday the floors of that hall would be stained with the blood of our schoolmates.

We never thought these things, but now we must think them. We will never again live in the luxury that our school is the safest place we can be. We will never again enter Otto Miller without remembering the moment when a life was taken, when so many other lives were threatened, when evil pressed against us and over us and onto us so profoundly.

Checking Facebook in these times is the best and the worst thing. Your newsfeed is filled with prayers for SPU, with people checking in as they huddle together in the various buildings around the school, waiting for the lockdown to end so they know the threat has been contained. “There’s been a shooting on campus, I’m safe, please pray for us” was the status of many. Amidst these statuses were updates from people in other places just living their daily lives as though nothing happened. Here’s a selfie, isn’t the outfit I’m wearing to the bar tonight great? On a hike, aren’t these mountains beautiful? Watch this video of my dog performing the new trick I taught him!

Don’t these people know what has happened? Don’t they know that our world has been profoundly rocked, altered, disfigured? I don’t care about your selfie right now, I don’t care about these mountains, I don’t care about your dog. Don’t you know what has happened? How can you carry on as though nothing has happened?

These thoughts are not fair, I’m the first to admit that. But it so perfectly exemplifies where we were at, and where we continue to be. The world keeps moving on around us, people keep praying but keep going to work, keep living their lives, keep taking their selfies. We all do it—even we do it—but at the same time that we try to continue living our lives, going to work, writing our final papers and taking final exams—still, this tension lives in us. How can I possibly write a final in the midst of all of this? How can I possibly go to work? How can I live as though this hasn’t happened, as though this isn’t happening?

I wasn’t on campus, and “oh good” people say. I wasn’t on campus, and “it’s so weird, I knew that was your school so I just had to text you and make sure you weren’t killed!” people say. I wasn’t on campus, and “I need you to fill out this paperwork for corporate,” people say.

I wasn’t on campus, and “I’m glad you’re okay,” people say. I wasn’t on campus and “Thank God,” people say. I wasn’t on campus, and “are your friends okay?” people say.

So much tension. So many things to balance. People I haven’t talked to in months checking in to make sure I’m okay, and yet people I love dearly who haven’t checked in at all. We have all experienced this, every one of us. We are all trying to figure out how to balance these things.

The plan for Thursday night was to celebrate with my Bible study women, to sing songs of worship, to laugh together, to talk about the year, about what we loved and what was challenging, about things in the future that we were looking forward to and things we were scared about. Instead, many of those women were in lockdown. One of them was in lockdown in Otto Miller. An evening that should have been spent in celebration at the beach was spent praying, singing, and lamenting together in churches and buildings and outdoor venues around campus. Instead of celebrating our victories, we grieved our losses. Instead of rejoicing that we “made it through,” we mourned the young man who didn’t. Instead of ending the year with a sense of closure, we are ending it with a sense of ambiguity, of displacement, of wondering how things will ever look and feel normal again. Instead of looking forward to saying goodbye to this school for the summer, we want to cling so desperately to it, and to the people who are such wonderful family, whether we know them personally or not.

And tomorrow is Monday, and we must take finals, and sit in classrooms and libraries, and walk past memorials and signs of “We will overcome.” We must live in this new reality, this tension, this sense that nothing is okay but we must continue to live our lives.

I am so profoundly thankful for my SPU family, for my professors, for the people who are continuing to support this community. I am grieving, but am so grateful for this school, for these people, for the body of Christ that has surrounded us, for the face of God shining upon us. We remain faithful, we remain hopeful, despite the fact that our world has been torn.

A Brief Response to Boston

This morning we reel from continued news of the tragedy of Boston. As updates about the events of the past few days and newly discovered information about the suspects continues to be revealed to the public, I am left with an impending sense of dread of the public response.

Inevitably, when our nation is hit with tragedy such as this, we are quick to point fingers, to place the blame, to argue that “if only we had done such-and-such none of this would have happened.” People will say we need gun control, and our Facebook newsfeeds and Twitter accounts will suddenly fill with arguments about 2nd Amendment rights. Unfortunately, most of these won’t be real conversations or debates about the issue. People will post propaganda on their walls and “like” memes that mock the opposing side’s argument in disparaging and crude ways. Recent news reports have stated that the two suspects are Muslim. I can only imagine the kind of comments that will arise from this information, but I’m imagining a lot of religious bigotry, racial profiling, and hate speech.

Here are three thoughts I am left with as I prepare to move forward in light of these terrible events, and I would encourage all of us to consider them:

1. The actions of these two men were terrible and wrong. But I grieve for their souls. They were wrong—their actions were evil—but they were human souls. I grieve the fact that they clearly did not know what a gift it is to have been created by God for the purpose of loving God and loving others. I grieve that they did not honor others as made in God’s image, and I grieve the fact that they clearly did not recognize this in themselves.

2. As we prepare for the inevitable arguments about gun control and religious/racial profiling, let us remember those who are victims and survivors of these events. Let us remember and pray for them, their families, and their communities. Let us make a conscious effort not to let these events turn into mere bolstering of our existing political or religious affiliations. Let us remember the people who have suffered, and let us honor them.

3. Remember that God is here. God is present and God cares. It is difficult to see where God is in all of this, and why God would let this happen. We will probably never know the answer to that question in this lifetime. But when tragedy happens, we are called to bear God’s light, to display the light and life of Jesus to all the world. We are meant to be people of peace, hope, mercy, and love. We might not be able to see God in this—but let us remember that we are temples of God, that when we are in the presence of another believer, we see Jesus’ face looking back at us. When we can’t see God, it is these moments when community is most important. We are God’s hands and feet in this world—so let’s act as Jesus did.

To help me remember these things, I will be meditating on the following verses in the coming weeks to remind myself of who God is calling me to be in response not only to these events, but also to the inevitable maelstrom of vitriolic comments that are sure to emerge:

James 2:19-20: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger; for the anger of man does not achieve the righteousness of God.

Romans 12:18: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Matthew 5:43-44: “You have heard it said that it was, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

Matthew 5:3-10

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

The Lorax and other things

The Lorax has always been my favorite Dr. Seuss book. I’ve always appreciated its message of  caring for the environment, and the dangers of colonialism and manifest destiny, and just how cute that little Lorax is when he speaks for the trees. I remember asking for the movie The Lorax on my 16th birthday and watching it again and again–and feeling wistful and yearning at the end, wishing that something had gone differently or something could be fixed.

I saw the remake yesterday, and though I won’t give away the ending for anyone who may have stumbled across this blog, I will say that I left feeling more complete–this was a movie of reconciliation and restoration and hope, whereas the previous version had a rather melancholy conclusion.

I’ve felt more hopeful about the church in recent years, and the growing concern in churches about issues of the environment, social justice, and even simply loving our neighbors. Granted, I’ve lived in Seattle for the past couple of years, where these are core issues of the political and social sphere, and incidentally, the primary focus, I would say, of the church I attend. It’s been easy to forget that people don’t operate from this mindset in other places–the church in particular. And it’s been easy to forget that one of my main reasons for leaving the church as a teenager was because of the lack of attention the church paid to these issues.

Last week I had a friend visit from Montana where I went to school for a year, and was reminded that 15 hours of distance really is a lifetime away, if I can express it that way. Montana’s beautiful, but in some cities things are a lot slower over there–not just in day-to-day living, but in mindset. I remember being mocked regularly about my vegetarianism, and my concerns about the environment and unethical industry practices denounced because meat-eating was “the way  of life” in Montana. I remember being ridiculed for my concerns on social justice, and people laughing at me when I expressed my anxiety about gun policies. I remember sitting in my dorm room at school while the guys “wrestled” a pig before they shot and slaughtered it, and after the school had feasted on it, was pressured into participating in the social hour in the dining hall where I could still smell remnants of that poor pig. And these were Christians treating me–and each other–this way.

This week I’m back in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for spring break, and I’m again reminded of the vast cultural and theological differences that made me want to escape this place to begin with–where phrases like “All those Mexicans need to learn to speak English if they’re gonna be stealing our jobs over here” are abundant, and recycling is a thing of the distant future. I’m deemed a Leftist and a liberal because I’m concerned about the ideological implications of our vernacular, because I don’t think that birth control is only for women who want to have a lot of sex without the consequences, because I’m concerned about the psychological implications of negative self-talk and communication, and because I don’t think that every single detail in the Bible is to be interpreted in a literal context (four corners of the earth, anyone?).

Jesus’ message to us was to continue His work, bringing the kingdom of God to view with mercy, justice, and peace–and yet there is dissonance, there is a lack of understanding of what this means, and how we are to bring this about. I’m reading a book called When Helping Hurts in which the authors discuss the great shift of thinking concerning the evangelical perspective on helping the poor:

“The idea that the church should be on the front lines of ministry to the poor is not a new concept in the North American context. As numerous scholars have noted, prior to the twentieth century, evangelical Christians played a large role in ministering to the physical and spiritual needs of the poor. However, this all changed at the start of the twentieth century as evangelicals battled the theological liberals over the fundamental tenets of Christianity. Evangelicals interpreted the rising social gospel movement, which seemed to equate all humanitarian efforts with bringing in Christ’s kingdom, as part of the overall theological drift of the nation. As evangelicals tried to distance themselves from the social gospel movement, they ended up in large-scale retreat from the front lines of poverty alleviation. This shift away from the poor was so dramatic that church historians refer to the 1900-1930 era as the ‘Great Reversal’ in the evangelical church’s approach to social problems” (Corbett & Fikkert 45).

How sad that theological and ideological differences caused this split, and the result is that, in the eyes of many in the “fundamentalist” or “conservative” church, concern about social justice, the environment, poverty alleviation, and civil rights is a “liberal” issue. Concern about what should be done regarding the Trayvon Martin case is a “liberal” issue. Concern about how to treat your gay neighbor is a “liberal” issue.

A couple of months ago I was very struck by the article “I’m Christian, unless you’re gay,” which highlights the issue of Christians judging and condemning anyone who is different than them–even other Christians. The author says, “Why is it that sometimes the most Christlike people are they who have no religion at all?”

When Jesus’ message is one of hope and love and reconciliation, why is it that when people think of “Christian” they think of hate and condemnation? When Jesus’ message is to let the oppressed go free and care for the poor, why is that when people think of “Christian” they think of colonialism in the name of evangelism, or war, or Rick Santorum, or Mitt Romney?

How did it come to be that the body of Christ became synonymous with any of these?

I don’t know how it came to be–but after continually pondering these issues I’m left with the feeling that Christians who don’t live this way, who are trying to do what Jesus said to do–“loosen the bonds of wickedness, undo the bands of the yoke, let the oppressed go free and break every yoke, divide your bread with the hungry, bring the homeless poor into the house, when you see the naked to cover him” (Isaiah 58:6-7)–we need to be louder. In love. Whatever way we can be. And it might be the simplest thing.

For me, I need to shed the fear of disagreeing with my family and friends in these matters–to make my stance known. The problem is that when you make your stance known, oftentimes the other party feels that you’re condemning them, even if your delivery is made in love, or in the interest of scholarship. But I’ve come to realize that if I’ve done everything I can to deliver my message in love, if I’ve done it using all the great communication training and experience I’ve had, and I’ve done it to the best of my ability, then I can be at peace with that, even if my message isn’t received well.

Because above all else, I think that Christians need to learn to love others–and as this mom’s response to her teenager’s report on the “I’m Christian, unless you’re gay article” proves, there is hope that we are moving forward.

We can disagree with a lifestyle choice without declaring hatred. We can disagree with a lifestyle choice and still love people. We can be Christians and care for the environment, because caring for the environment doesn’t mean that we agree with abortion or Democratic political policies or socialism. We can be Christians and show love and acceptance to gay couples without supporting gay marriage. We can even be Christians and agree with certain socialist ideologies, because the church, in Acts 4, was essentially a commune.

It’s hard to get people of an opposing viewpoint to listen to you, but it’s pretty impossible when all they feel from you is hatred. As my AmeriCorps supervisor always says, “People will never remember what you say, but they will always remember how you made them feel.” Let’s be the love of Christ to people in the world. That’s not a call to abandon our spiritual convictions or act against our personal theologies. It’s a call to hold fast to Truth while still practicing love–which is, in my opinion, the more difficult path.

When thinking of the state of the church as a whole, I used to have that same wistful, yearning feeling that the original Lorax movie left me with. A state of incompleteness, of wishing that something could be different. I’m seeing glimpses of what the church could be and it gives me hope, but I know we have a long way to go. My greatest desire is to see the church become the second version of this film–the one with reconciliation, with hope, with a feeling that this is how it’s supposed to be–a world where people in the church can express love to each other and to those outside of the church even while holding opposing views, a world where Christians–all Christians–can feel comfortable caring about God’s creation and His people without feeling like they are subscribing to any particular political ideology.

I know we can get there. I’ll keep praying. And hoping.

a glimpse of things to come

Sometimes I get these glimpses of eternity, these visions of glory, a sense of what heaven will be like. Last night I had the awesome opportunity of getting together with three amazing women and spending an evening eating good food, having good conversation, dancing, and making awesome music. I can’t remember the last time I felt so warm from just having fellowship with other believers. And I love worship. My heart comes alive. I haven’t realized how much I’ve missed worship since my church doesn’t do as much worship as I’d like. We had three guitars and our voices–and only one of us was really good at guitar but it didn’t matter. We learned chords and messed up and laughed and attempted crazy rhythms and failed and laughed some more, but we sang to the Lord with abandon and it was beautiful.

I love these moments, when I feel so alive and free and welcome–these moments when I can’t even feel the time passing. It makes me long for the eternity set before us, when these intimate moments will be every moment, and even more than what is possible to imagine now. It makes me savor these moments now, and anticipate the coming glory of His kingdom. And perhaps most significantly–it makes me long to create more space in my life for these moments.

Exodus 17-18

As I’m working through Exodus, I’m realizing that the theme of this book seems to be one of dependence–dependence upon God and dependence upon one another. Consider the following passages:

Exodus 17:11-12

Exodus 18:13-27

Amalek is only defeated when Moses’ hands are held high by his friends, and Jethro warns Moses of the dangers inherent in trying to take on everything alone.

In my journey, I’m reminded that not only am I called as a follower of Christ to accept the love, care, and help of people, but I’m also called to bestow that upon others.

A friend of mine called me this weekend and told me about a sermon Joyce Meyer preached, in which she cautions believers not to disregard the interruptions of life. In our society, when our normal routine is disrupted we tend to become annoyed. I know this is true of me. Often, if someone stops me while I’m walking to my destination, I’m busy thinking about the  minutes lost rather than what the person is trying to tell me. Or when someone I haven’t talked to in awhile calls me, I’ll answer out of a sense of obligation, but then my time on the phone with them is spent thinking about other things, or wishing I was off the phone so I could be reading or doing something else.

And then there are other interruptions. I’m at a strange season in life where relationships are constantly being interrupted. In 2009 I entered a one-year Bible college, where my faith was grown and challenged and I felt so alive for the first time, and was able to build friendships like I never had before. But when May came along and we all said goodbye, I felt like these friendships were ripped from me, and nothing would be the same. Since then I’ve entered an AmeriCorps program, in which terms of service last 10.5 months. I committed to two terms of service–but not everyone did. In July of last year I said goodbye to very close friends I had made over the year, and July of this year I’m sure I’ll do the same.

In a sermon that was preached this Sunday, the pastor was discussing how God interrupts our lives–and reminded us to look for the unexpected surprises and those uncomfortable moments when God is telling us to move in a direction we never thought we’d be asked to go. This guy is one of the big guys in charge at World Relief, in his 50s, and he left his job where he was making tons of money in order to enter the not-so-secure nonprofit work in social justice. And then he went to Rwanda and adopted a kid! Think of how God interrupted this guy’s life, and what his life would have been like had he told God “no.”

In this discussion of interruption, I’m also reminded that not only do I need to be willing to have my life interrupted, but I need to be willing to interrupt the lives of others. That sounds weird to say. But I’ve come to find that interruptions, though they can be painful and annoying when I’m the one being interrupted, often bring about the greatest outcomes. They create dependency–sometimes someone’s leaning on you, sometimes you’re leaning on them–or maybe we’re leaning on each other. But I need to be a part of people’s lives and not shy away, even though sometimes that concept makes me fearful. Sometimes, I need to be an interruption. Sometimes I need to be the one holding their hands up to help them get through the battle. And sometimes I need to trust that their words and actions will support me, too.

God, I know you have a plan in all of this. There must be some reason why you are putting this idea of dependence and interruptions in my thoughts. The concept of interruptions makes me nervous, but I know You are sufficient. It’s been rough–these constant interruptions in relationships and life. I feel so lonely sometimes. I know You are building something in me through all of this, something valuable that will shape and mold me into the image of your Son. I pray that as you continue to mold me through these interruptions, that I will be willing to be your clay, that I won’t be too discouraged. That you will help me. And I pray that you will help me not to be afraid to be the interruption in someone else’s life–to know that I can be Your instrument. Help me not to be afraid to go all in for people, even when I know they will not be here forever. Help me not to be afraid to take the first step. And please show me what You have for me Lord, show me what You would have me do, and how I can best serve You and love You by serving and loving the people You have created.

Introduction

This blog is a place to explore theological ideas, discuss books I’m reading, and consider what God is teaching me in my daily office. It’s not really for anyone else, except if you happen to stumble across it. I’ve titled it “trial and error” because in the act of exploration, all ideas go through a trial and error process in which some ideas are validated and some proven false, and in the midst of this, truth is discovered and belief is strengthened. The ideas and thoughts posited here are nothing more than my own attempts at discovering God’s truths and how He may be speaking to me.