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Jun 14, 2016 | The Rev. Russ Levenson

The Rev. Dr. Russ Levenson Reflects on the Aftermath of Orlando Shooting

I find myself writing words like this to you too often. Yesterday's horrific and merciless attack on the Pulse nightclub in Orlando is almost more than the mind can take in; and beyond the mind, it certainly makes the heart and soul heavy indeed. I suppose, like many of you - I am stunned. Asking "why" at this point seems almost pointless. Now, I suppose, is when I turn to verses like Proverbs 3:5, "Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding."


This atrocious act of violence carried out in the name of religion has no grounding in the God of love you and I worship week after week, and serve day after day. As I read the responses of faith leaders across the globe in the hours that followed - there is no question that this is a horrible reminder that while we live in a world which God loves, God has enemies - God has an enemy, the evil one who seeks to bring destruction and darkness into our daily lives. What are we to do? May I suggest just a few things?


First, turn your eyes and hearts toward Jesus. Fix them on Him. We live in a world where there is much good; and we live in a world where much is evil - so did Jesus, and His life, and death, and most especially His resurrection, were a testimony that our identity comes not from this world, but from our heavenly Father. When tempted to be afraid, or vengeful, or worried - as Jesus turned to His Father, may we turn to Him, Who is the manifestation of Almighty God.


Second, be on guard. By this, I mean do all you can to resist the temptation to respond as many around us will respond. This, like the other terrible acts of violence carried out in the United States in the last few years, will no doubt be politicized. There will be those on the left and the right of our culture wars who, particularly in an election year, will sadly use this deeply dark moment for political gain. Again, we Christians are not defined by our allegiance to a political party or the issues of the day, but our allegiance to Jesus, the Scriptures, what the early Church called "The Way." What happened yesterday is not about the gun ownership or banning the same; it was evil - pure and simple, and as Christians we are to name evil, oppose it, seek to overcome it and pray for its end.


Third, feel whatever you feel. That may seem a bit simple, but it does no good to try and avoid whatever you are feeling. We have a God Who welcomes all of our emotions and questions. You may be angry, confused, terror-stricken or just deeply sad and troubled. Pick up your Bibles, read through the Psalms - you will find comfort in knowing that all of these kinds of emotions - and more, are poured out before God in the Holy words of our faiths forbears.


Fourth, pray. I cannot say or suggest that enough - pray, pray, pray. Pray that God would protect us from evil. Pray for those who have, in any way, been affected by yesterday's terrorist attack. Those killed were sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, husbands and wives - friends, loved ones. As precious as those in your life are to you, those killed yesterday were precious to those who loved them. Those left in the wake of grief, need our prayers. Pray for our leaders, that God would guide and direct them; pray for our enemies - that God would open their hearts to His love. Pray the hurt and the wounded; and pray for those who are helping them.


Fifth, be a witness to the love of Jesus for every person you meet. As this tragedy will no doubt be politicized, some will use it as an opportunity to stir up hatred, and greater polarization in our already very divided society. We must resist that way of thinking with all that we are. The fact that a particular group was singled out for this massacre makes it all the more despicable. In four days, we will reach the first anniversary of the Charleston, South Carolina shooting - victims targeted because of the color of their skin. The shooting yesterday, targeting gays and lesbians is no less frightening. Regardless of one's race, or religion, or nationality or orientation - violence is violence, and terror is terror - and it should break our hearts as it no doubt breaks the heart of our Lord. Even more, it should call out of us a greater care, concern and empathy for those in our society who are too often targeted for discrimination and prejudice.


And while there are probably dozens of other things we Christians could do in a moment like this - I suppose I will end by suggesting you do something to bless the lives of others. I was struck that one of the first community responses in Orlando was the gathering of so many to donate blood. When the attacker took life; other more noble humans lined up to give life. When many will choose to plop down in front of the 24 hour news outlets and feast on story after story from every angle on this event; I would invite you instead to invest your time otherwise. Look for opportunities to bless the lives of others - in your work, in traffic, at the grocery - in this city we so love; smile, speak a kind word, help another - give of your time, your talent, your treasure. Don't hold back, give more - it helps - I promise it does, it helps defeat the darkness.


This morning, I read the below prayer by an English priest named Jim Cotter who died in 2014:


"Be present, living Christ, within us, your dwelling place and home, that this house may be one where all darkness is penetrated by your light, all troubles calmed by your peace, all evil redeemed by your love, all pain transformed in your suffering, and all dying glorified by your risen life. Amen."

I found some comfort and direction in this prayer; perhaps you will as well. In the meantime, know what a profound honor it is to be part of the St. Martin's family - where together, in good times and bad, we can hold fast to one another and our Lord and in doing so, bring greater light to the dark places of our world.