“You have heard it said, the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun, is a good guy with a gun. But verily, I say unto you, that this woman is a total badass…and her only weapons were prayer, courage, and compassion. Verily I say unto you; the world is violent, but there is always another way.”
Alright, so I don’t say ‘verily’ much. But Antoinette Tuff deserves a ‘verily.’ She verily saved the lives of countless children yesterday. When a gunman entered the school where she works, she engaged him with a clear head, a calm voice, and a kindness that, ultimately, led him to surrender. That, friends, is what happens when faith meets courage and steps into the void.
“I just started praying for him,” she said. “I just started talking to him … and let him know what was going on with me and that it would be OK…I give it all to God, I’m not the hero. I was terrified.”
Terrified or not, Tuff was tough…in every way except for physically. And while I don’t doubt that she would have put her body between the gunman and innocent children, it did not come to that. All because she was willing to make herself vulnerable in another way. She shared some of her own painful life experiences. She connected with this man who was obviously hurting in a way that few of us can even imagine. She prayed. She made herself fully present to the pain of another person. She transformed a horrific situation into a day without a death toll; and a story that is inspiring many people to think more deeply about what it means to live the faith, calling it up in a moment’s notice when another person is in need. Any person at all.
And you know what? She didn’t have a gun.
I’m not saying that every other tragic, mass shooting might have been averted IF ONLY a faithful, Godly woman had been on hand to pray the bad guys away. In fact, I’m sure there were many faithful people, in each of those situations, who acted out of love and mercy–even if the outcome was drastically different. I’m also not saying that nobody should use force, ever, to stop someone from harming innocent children. I only point out that, on this one occasion, love was louder than suffering; louder than baser instincts, more effective than legislation or constitutional rights, and far more powerful than the language of violence that permeates everything we say and do in this country.
For a people who claim to love freedom, we seem surprisingly willing to simply wait for the next tragedy. We move fearfully and cautiously. In many ways, we are crippled by our own liberties. We’ve been bought and paid for by the people who make the guns, sell the guns, and make us afraid of each other so we’ll buy more guns. We’ve internalized the liturgy of purposeful gunfire, and somehow transformed this shared narrative into a romanticized tale of wild west, cowboy justice. The good guy with the gun is king.
The right to bear arms is important to our national identity, and to our personal freedom. I know that beating all our swords into plowshares is not really a viable option, nor a desirable one. Keep the guns. Whatever. But remember this: when our founding fathers penned the constitution, they had no idea that ‘arms’ would get so big, so powerful and so plentiful. They never imagined that the tools used for hunting and necessary defense would so quickly be evolve into legally sanctioned weapons of mass destruction.
But Jesus did.
And that’s why Jesus cautions us that God’s kind of justice does not look like ours. He reminds us that, in the face of a hopeless situation–even when violence feels like the only answer–there is almost always another way.
The other way is never easy, it is never popular, and it may not always make sense alongside the fearful narrative in which we live. It sure wouldn’t make a good movie. But every now and then, an Antoinette comes along to remind us of what God’s way might look like…and of the better story that we are called to live. We will always live in tension between the world’s brand of good news and the Jesus kind. The world’s kind says violence can only be stopped by more violence; but Jesus and Antoinette know a better way.
There must be a way to live faithfully in that tension; maintaining our personal freedom while also remaining faithful to the Jesus way of peace. I don’t have an easy answer about finding that balance… it involves a level of complex conversation and soul searching that defies everything we value. It would take a high level commitment to mental healthcare forallpeople; a critical look at what kinds of ‘arms’ should really be accessible to the public at large; an examination of where we get our guns, and how; and above all, a deep and honest look at how fun and awesome and even heroic we have let violence become in our shared narrative. All this. It won’t be easy.
But well…if one woman can stand in the void between chaos and grace, and somehow be the presence of God in an impossible situation; then surely we Jesus people can talk about hard things.
Here’s how we know that her way was the Jesus way… because even if we can’t count the lives of all the children she saved, we can count one life. She saved the gunman. Who does that? Not us. Not our way. Not our story of ‘justice.’ But in God’s story, even the bad guy hears the still, small voice of mercy, and is transformed.
Jesus shows up in the flesh, every day, in people who are brave enough to tell a better story. Their way is still there for us if we can find it and follow. And the darkness has not overcome it.