Ghosts after Seattle Pacific shooting? Not in this story

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Here at GetReligion, we blog often about holy ghosts in news coverage. However, we much prefer stories that leave no room for spiritual ghostbusting.

Such is the case with an exceptional Seattle Times report on the “grief without despair” that followed last week’s shooting at Seattle Pacific University.

Given the university’s evangelical Christian ties, religion has been a part of this tragic story from the beginning, as tmatt noted earlier.

In a piece published Sunday, the Times explores the faith angle in a simple-but-remarkable way:

In the hours after a gunman killed one Seattle Pacific University student and wounded two others, what struck many was the way the students responded.

They clasped hands in prayer circles; lifted their voices together to sing hymns; prayed for the shooter as well as the victims.

“I have never been more proud of this institution,” Richard Steele, a professor in SPU’s School of Theology, wrote in an email to friends. “The faith, courage and calmness were just stunning,”

The response of the students, faculty and staff to Thursday’s startling violence highlights the role of religious belief at SPU. The small evangelical Christian college, on the north slope of Queen Anne Hill, stands out in the Seattle area for the degree to which it works on developing students’ faith and for fostering a tight-knit community.

Yes, the reporter — a former Godbeat pro named Janet Tu — provides relevant background on Seattle Pacific:

All undergraduates must take at least three courses in theology, and are encouraged to attend worship services, Bible studies, Bible retreats and other such activities to nurture their faith. They are expected to adhere to a code of conduct that prohibits premarital, extramarital or homosexual sex, as well as the use of alcohol or tobacco on campus, and marijuana on or off campus.

The some 4,000 students are predominantly Christian, although there are a few non-Christians at the school, which was founded in 1891 by the Free Methodist Church of North America.

Faculty and staff must be professing, practicing Christians.

But this story (relatively concise at 1,000 words) is at its best when Tu steps backs and allows her sources — three professors and two students — to discuss the role of faith in their own words:

Community is emphasized, with students encouraged to participate in activities through their academic majors, residence halls, campus leadership positions, or through ministry or volunteer service.

All of that — and especially his theology classes and relationships with others at SPU — helped develop the faith of Alex Piasecki, a 21-year-old junior majoring in theology.

He is drawing from that faith now, even though “I don’t know if there’s any way of making sense of what happened,” Piasecki said. “I’m placing a lot of faith in God at this time. It’s a new thing for all of us. It’s very hard to go through. I truly believe that God is the ultimate healer and redeemer. We’re just going to have to be patient through this process.”

In Tu’s capable hands, what could have been a cliché account of a Christian campus community coming together feels deeper and more real.

Sections such as this one stand out:

While many at SPU drew a measure of solace and hope from their faith – thinking of their classmates, Paul Lee, who died; and Jon Meis, who acted selflessly and quickly in stopping the violence — there were no easy answers.

“We’re allowing ourselves to not really have answers, to have whatever feelings we are having,” said Megan Wildhood, a 28-year-old graduate student at SPU’s Seattle Pacific Seminary, who says her faith was very much shaped over the years by the support and care of the School of Theology faculty. “What I’m seeing most is the desire to really be together, to find each other, to look after each other. To both give and receive the love of Christ.”

That quality also struck Jack Levison, a professor in SPU’s School of Theology, as he sat in a silent prayer circle on the campus lawn with a group of students.

“They lingered in grief. Not despair, grief,” Levison said. “I was really moved by their ability to allow so much silence, to allow so much ambiguity, to allow bewilderment to settle in their lives. They were lingering in the presence of a God they didn’t understand but they wanted to linger there anyway, in God and each other’s presence.”

I better stop copying and pasting before I violate copyright rules. But be sure to read the story. Read it all.

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About Bobby Ross Jr.

Bobby Ross Jr. is an award-winning reporter and editor with a quarter-century of professional experience. A former religion editor for The Oklahoman and religion writer for The Associated Press, Ross serves as chief correspondent for the The Christian Chronicle. He has reported from 47 states and 11 countries and was honored as the Religion Newswriters Association's 2013 Magazine Reporter of the Year.


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