Another school shooting and we are horrified. But not as much as we used to be. After so many, it’s become just another item moving across the news ticker, barely causing us to look up from our coffee.
This week I’m attending a workshop sponsored by Image Journal. Last week’s shooting at Seattle Pacific University occurred in the building just behind the literary and arts publication’s offices. No one here sees it as just another shooting. For the Image staff, life will never be the same. They understand that no place—not even a Christian college—is perfectly safe.
A man at breakfast the other day said that the week before the Columbine shooting in 1999, a young man dressed in fatigues and carrying a large black case entered his church just as the service began. The man at my table said he was directing worship and saw the boy come in. Understandably, he got nervous, as did everyone else. As the time for communion approached, the elders approached the table. So did the boy with his black bag.
At this point, no one would have blamed church leadership if they had made a scene, called the cops, or attempted to subdue the boy. But this was pre-Columbine and we weren’t as jumpy as we are now. Instead of panicking, someone quietly explained to the young man that the elements would be brought to him and helped him to a nearby seat. A family from the back of the sanctuary then quietly came up and sat next to him. After the perspiration-inducing service was over, the pastor talked to the young man, and instead of finding a raging pre-criminal bent on destruction, they found a boy in crisis who just needed to talk.
They never found out what was in the black bag. Perhaps it was nothing but a change of cloths and a few books. Perhaps it was a rifle. We will never know the alternate outcome had that church reacted differently.
With now another shooting in the news, we who write responses to such travesties have no fresh words with which to respond—again—to such horror. Answers elude, but still, we grasp.
Gregory Wolfe, Image’s founder and editor, tweeted his response to the SPU shooting:
“… violence cannot shake our faith. It only calls forth more love.”
Jon Meis, the man who took on the shooter at SPU and is now considered a hero, responded similarly:
“Others were badly injured, and many more will carry this event with them the rest of their lives. Nonetheless, I would encourage that hate be met with love.”
Such grace stuns my vindictive sensibilities yet makes me wonder how things might have turned out had the SPU shooter been offered what the boy with the black bag was offered. I don’t know. But I do know there was a time in my life when one kind word, one loving look in the eye, one hand on my shoulder would have averted disaster. This isn’t to blame but to remind us that love matters. What word, look, or hand might have stayed the hand of the SPU shooter … or of the exhausted mom ready to slap her kid, the husband poised to cheat on his wife, the girl ready to slit her wrist?
We must, must call forth more love.