In the wake of a tragedy like yesterday’s bombing, we ask the age-old question: why do bad things happen to good people?
And in the hours and days following such an event, we might also find ourselves wondering: why do good people say dumb things?
Through our collective prayers, we seek understanding; we ask for God’s comfort with the wounded and those suffering loss; we give thanks for our own loved ones, safe at home, by some stroke of grace or luck; we pray for justice and peace. These sacred petitions bind us together in face of unspeakable violence, and connect us with the God of our being. Our prayers speak blessed, simple truth into the chaos.
But out loud? Man, do we ever say some dumb stuff.
1. The blaming of God: Well, the Lord must have needed those angels…The Lord works in mysterious ways… God knows what he’s doing… Yuck, yuck, and yuck. What we hear, in these lame attempts at comfort, is a person of faith feeling the need to defend God for letting such an awful thing happen. Which evolves into, essentially, somehow claiming the horrible event as an act of God. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly bad internet theology can circulate in times of crisis. In an effort to find God in the midst of terror, it’s pretty easy to inadvertently make God the terrorist. But of course, on the other end of the spectrum we find the…
2. Blaming of others… Anybody want to take bets on which televangelist or mega-preacher will go to blaming the gays/pro-choicers/and-or/absence of school sanctioned prayer for this one? Pat Robertson or James Dobson used to be our go-to guys in these moments, but these days, I’m more inclined to go with an up-and-coming hater like Marc Driscoll. I don’t know why we continue to be surprised that these straight white protestant affluent men seem to ALWAYS have an easy answer, ready for primetime sound bite, as to whose fault this is. We know it’s coming. Let’s just be prepared to roll our eyes and move on. In the meantime, we’ll contend with the
3. Inserting of oneself into the situation. It is one thing to share with the world that you had a loved one present at the disaster, and let folks know that said family member is safe and well. It is another to do the whole ‘OMG, my neighbor’s cousin’s boyfriend was THERE y’all, that could have been me!” Or, for example, the Phoenix evening news leading with “Phoenix couple just back from Boston!!” Like, ‘OMG, Arizona, of the 5 million people living in Phoenix, 2 of them were THERE. That could have been us!!” Why this need to closely connect with the site of the tragedy? My best guess is that, we see these horrific images on the tv, and our hearts break for those whose lives will never be the same again. We feel that we somehow don’t have the right to feel so deeply for strangers, and so we find a way to make the tragedy our own. Let’s all take a deep breath and remember that being a person is all the license we need to feel the pain of another person. No need to seek a connection of geography or gene pool… And speaking of news anchors, sometimes they say THE dumbest things because
4. when you play the gruesome images repeatedly, on a loop, for hours, you run out of stuff to say. So, commence the saying of dumb things in prime time. Perhaps we need to watch less, say less, and simply be in a spirit of prayerful solidarity. (see #3). Because also, watching too much media coverage of such a scene not only gives us nightmares. It makes us vulnerable to the
5. Inappropriate politicizing of a national tragedy. “See, a crazy person can kill people with or without guns! That’s why guns are great!!” or something like that… It’s one thing to think it. It’s another thing entirely to use a terrible act of violence as a defense of, or argument against, a political position. Period. Or to use it as opportunity to further demonize or negate a president (or other leader) that you don’t like. When people have died, it is not the moment to pull out the NRA memes, the anti-abortion memes, the school prayer memes or…well, it’s not the time for memes, period. Not even the ones with kittens and a warm fuzzy quote about God needing another angel in heaven (see #1).
In the presence of violence, our hearts break for the world in which we live–a place where even the most commonplace events have become scenes of terror and mass destruction. Really, all of these cringe-worthy responses are understandable variations on a theme: the human attempt to make sense of the senseless.
After all, it is easier to formulate an answer, or to blame others, or even to blame God, than it is to live with the truth: that the world is not as it should be, and that we are all a part of the greater brokenness.
But it is imperative that we learn to live with that reality. Because the sooner we do, the more we will be ready to move with a little more grace, speak with a little more mercy, and pray with a little more sincerity. The more prepared we will be for an in-breaking of God’s kind of justice; whether or not it goes with our meme theme, or mirrors our politics, or makes us feel better.
Talk less, pray more; judge less, love more; explain less, wonder more; and above all, work for peace, and refuse to let violence become our nightly form of entertainment. Having said all this, I don’t know what that looks like, in our fractured and hurting world. I don’t know how to embody these practices, to pray these prayers, and to work for the peace that will save us all. But until I do, I’m going to talk less… Ok, I’m going to TRY to talk less… I’m going to pray to learn how to talk less… And try, in my own broken way, to live in the fullness of God’s creative mercy.
I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep. The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life. The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.