Newtown, Aurora, Charleston, San Bernardino, Fort Hood—now, Kalamazoo.
It’s surreal to think that next time the president or a pastor laments forlornly over the not-so-little list of American gun tragedies, my hometown could be there. A hometown known for its schools, its beer, its businesses—not as the deathscape of the country’s latest mass shooting. Until now.
As kids, many of us played checkers or ate hash browns at the Cracker Barrel that is now a crime scene. We’ve walked the halls of KVCC for school fairs or played tennis on its courts or learned to drive in the parking lot, and now the sirens and yellow tape are not so far away. When, last night, a man went on a shooting spree that left seven dead, the city changed and scores of lives changed with it. A new memory is now there, and no amnesia will erase it.
Kalamazoo is a big enough place that not everyone knows everyone else, but it’s small enough that everyone is connected. If we don’t know the shooter or the victims, surely we know someone who knew them. So this is not a closed problem. It’s not far. It’s in the backyard. It’s right next door. The units went screaming down our own streets.
Of course, really, this is not about us. It’s not about Kalamazoo. It’s not, today, about mental illness or gun control or “the moral reality of death” that lingers even in the pleasant places of the world. It must be about the people. Other humans. Neighbors. Brothers and sisters. Fathers and mothers and sons and daughters. This is about the men, women, and children who bled and died and the man who pulled the trigger. It’s about all their families. And it’s about how other people—especially those closest to the dirge of sirens—respond.
This is about who we are to and with and for each other.
When a grim canvas sky recoils again at the realization of what people do to one another, will people recoil too? Will the normalcy of wickedness and the fake safety of alienation repel neighbors, or lead to disillusion, or prompt hatred toward the gunslinger? Will we look again for the best deal at the supermarket of excuses?
Will we forget that there is one who binds up wounds, who heals the brokenhearted, who comforts those who mourn?
Or will we cling to hope? Will we practice peace? Will we be like Jesus?
There will be a time for courts and juries later—and funerals and long silences, too. There will be a time for words and policies and speeches. But sometimes words fail. Like anything I or anyone else writes now, it is too simple, too weak, too nothing—it rises like smoke.
Words may fail, but the Way doesn’t. So walk in it. Go out shoulder-to-shoulder with the suffering in the world, not as showoffs or superheroes, but as servants. Be tender. Be strong, even in fragility. Be full of compassion.
In the coming “search for justice,” there must be no exploitation of this tragedy, no stomach-turning clichés, no saying “Never again,” and leaving it at that. These are the ways of the world. This is what we do because we must. They are part of the ritual—the mechanical, polemical repercussions. The pundits and policymakers could recycle any of a hundred speeches. The national eulogy could have been written months ago, before Kalamazoo was bloody. But we don’t need to politicize and pander. Not today. There will be plenty of that later.
For us, anyway, there are other ways to fight with monsters.
When David took on Goliath, he didn’t do so with a javelin or a sword. When he was given armor, he took it off. Those are the tools of men and empires. But with a sling and faith and a little boldness to do hard things, the whole world came to know that there is a God in the land.
So it is today. With resilience and faith and the boldness to do hard things, the whole world might come to know that there is a God in our hometown. Use the earthly tools to the best of your ability, sure—I certainly believe policy change is due and that an earthly justice is appropriate—but more powerful by far is the way of God and the sacred grit of the Church.
God doesn’t shrug. He doesn’t wilt. He doesn’t hide. Neither can we.
Many will say this tragedy was senseless, mindless, unexplainable. Maybe it was, maybe it wasn’t. What I know is that our response to it should be even more unexplainable.
What an amazing thing it would be if the nation and the world looked at Kalamazoo in the coming weeks and witnessed a response that made them say, “How can they do what they are doing?” The way of Jesus, after all, is unexplainable on the world’s terms.
There is no upper limit to mercy. There is no ceiling on forgiveness. There is no end to prayer. It’s in suffering and tragedy that we can best imitate Christ, because that’s where he heals, that’s where he reconciles, that’s where he elevates.
Let the world not be astounded at the churches or the many good Samaritans in Kalamazoo because of their love and humanity and forgiveness, but rather at the God who showed us those things first and told us to do them. Let the Church act in a way that doesn’t make sense without a divine reason.
In the aftermath of tragedy, be bravely, painfully, relentlessly otherworldly. Be unexplainable.