Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Lingering in Grief to Learn the Lessons of Tragedy


For a time, it was my job to lower the flag. No one assigned it to me. I took it on because, in times of tragedy, lowering the flag to half-staff was tangible evidence of both our corporate grief and my own. It felt as if I was "doing something," when I saluted the flag and slowly drew it down.

Lowering the flag was an act of "lingering" with the grief, because there would, eventually, be a day when we raised the flag again. 

I hope we linger a bit with our grief this time, for there are vital lessons here.

The why of the Las Vegas massacre only matters if we learn from it, so examining all the factors in this horrible tragedy is an important task. Our objective, however, must not be to strengthen our own personal agenda, but to discern truth.

What precipitated this tragedy? Was an intervention possible? Would tighter gun control laws have made a difference? How did this man get the automatic weaponry he obtained?

I support the constitution, including the second amendment right to bear arms. I understand the desire to have weaponry for protection of family and home, as well as for hunting. 

This shooter, however, had considerably more guns than were necessary for hunting (for food) or for protecting himself in his home. He could have armed a small militia. 

I want to know how he obtained so much firepower and over what period of time. Does the gun registry trigger a flag for unusual purchase patterns? Does someone investigate these purchases? Could there be a way to anticipate a tragedy based on the kinds and number of gun sales to an individual?

The answer to those questions may help with regulation of arms, but they will never solve the real problem.

The root issue is not the gun on the shelf, nor the ammunition in the box, but the heart of the person holding the gun and loading the ammo. This was not an act of good; it was an act of evil. It was not the act of a weapon, but of a man with a weapon.

This shooter was a successful accountant and businessman. He was reportedly generous with friends and family, although no one describes him as warm and loving. How did evil take such control of his mind and heart that the actions of Sunday evening made sense to him? 

This evil didn't start overnight, and it probably didn't start in his adult years. His father was a criminal and incarcerated for his crimes. He was, in a sense, much like many of our children today, fatherless. If you don't think that matters, take a closer look at the impact of fatherlessness. It's huge. (the link leads to the research page of the National Center for Fathering. Please take some time to read through their data. It's staggering.)

33% of American children live in a home without their biological father. Does this seem like a good idea (or good situation) to anyone? Fathers, where are you?

What impact did the actions and absence of his father leave in this man's life? You can be certain that the impact was not positive, and also fairly certain that the impact of his father influenced the decisions that led to Sunday's tragedy.

Now, body of Christ, we must ask ourselves a serious, and very hard, question. Where was the church when these boys lost their father to incarceration? Why didn't a godly man see the need and step up to the plate? Did a community try to surround this family, or were they left to their own devices?

I'm pointing a finger at myself, too, and, yes, it's painful. When we know there's a problem and we do nothing to help, we become a part of the problem.

We have a dire situation here, Body of Christ, and we need to do more. An ever-increasing number of children are growing up without their fathers and without the ongoing involvement of a man of integrity in their lives. This should not be. 

Fathers, stay with your family. Men, reach out. Mothers, accept some help. 

Body of Christ, we must examine our priorities, make a plan, and follow it. 

Yesterday, I worked with a group of troubled teens, as I do a few hours a month during the school term. One of the pastors on our team made a shocking statement. "We're here for you and not just for one hour a month. When you have a ballgame, we'll be there. When you have an activity, we'll come. We want to support you and help you reach a different, and better, kind of life."  

Afterward, I asked him about it. "That's a bold statement. We have to be there now..." 

He smiled. "I already am." He attends every football game for the high school in his town, not because he has a child who plays (he doesn't), but because he's concerned for the young men on the field. He knows their names and he cheers for them on the field, and off. 

He's choosing a role in the lives of teenaged boys and walking it out with his presence, and not just at athletic activities. We can, and should, do this, too.

There are plenty of opportunities for involvement. From Boys and Girls Clubs to church outreaches in housing projects, there are countless ways to help. Children in the church and out are walking the hard road of life without their father, and we can make a difference. 

There's a lesson to be learned in this tragedy and it's much bigger than gun control. The solution is not more laws, (or not only more laws) but more flesh-and-blood involvement in the lives of kids who are trying to find their way.

Step up, body of Christ. We can make a difference, if we will. 

"Let love be without hypocrisy...not lagging behind in diligence...do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." Romans 12:9, 11, 21 nasb
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