After Seattle Shooting, the Media Watched Us Pray

One more post in light of the shooting at SPU I found worth sharing.

TIME

Last Thursday afternoon around 3:30 p.m., a senseless act of violence visited Seattle Pacific University, where I teach. Within minutes, squad cars, fire engines, ambulances, helicopters, and TV news trucks had converged on the scene of shooting that took the life of one of our students and injured two others. The campus was on lockdown for several hours. But by 7 p.m., the mayhem had subsided and the campus community did something that has seldom been seen in the aftermath of the many school shootings that have occurred lately. It prayed.

And it was the praying, almost as much as the shooting, which seemed to capture the attention of the media in the next couple days.

SPU is a church-related school. All employees are professing, practicing Christians, and so are the majority of students. It seemed to be the most natural and needful thing for us to do at that…

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#prayforSPU

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You’re probably aware at this point that there was another university shooting, this time at a small-ish Christian college in Seattle.  It’s funny, because thousands of people die every day by violence and injustice and hatred and evil.  People who are sons and daughters, teachers and grocery store clerks, parents and siblings, janitors and doctors, strangers and friends.  And to these we often give at best a passing thought.  Because of course, bad things only happen to other people in other places.  But of course, everyone else is “other people” to other people.

So when it happens at a place so close to my home–and my heart–I pause.  I didn’t actually apply to SPU, but if I had been a slightly faster runner in high school, maybe I would have.  Maybe Otto Miller Hall–home to the mathematics and engineering departments–would have been my building.  I went to SPU Falcon Running Camp the summer before my senior year of high school: the people I met and the experiences I had there changed me.  But that’s irrelevant now.  Many of my friends attend SPU; the father of one of my good friends from high school (only girls in the low brass section!) works at SPU and his office is in the building where the shooting occurred (thankfully, he wasn’t on campus at time).  The student who took a risk and tackled the shooter went to high school near me and ran for their cross country team–we ran against them and went to camp with them multiple times.  All to say, though I didn’t really know anyone involved, it was alarmingly close to home.

On Thursday, one very evil thing happened.  But since then, hundreds or thousands of good things have happened and still are happening.  I thank God that it is the latter that has been mostly covered by the media.  That the name of Jon Meis, rather than the name and face of the perpetrator, is what people will remember.  That SPU is being portrayed as a school in shock and grief–but not despair.  That the community is lifting up victims and each other in prayer–as well as the man who acted out this evil, for it has not been forgotten that he too is made in God’s image.  That the church can be a place of life and light and hope in this time of darkness.

In the past couple of days, many other things have been said about the events that have occurred since Thursday afternoon.  Three articles/posts, each from very different perspectives ([updated] newspaper reporter, student, faculty member, alumni/local pastor, and the student who tackled the suspect), I would recommend follow:

http://seattletimes.com/html/localnews/2023794834_spufaithxml.html

“We can experience anger, even rage, but we do not give vent to vengefulness. We can experience intense grief, but we do not lose hope. We recognize the brokenness in ourselves and therefore try to extend compassion and mercy to other people whose brokenness has been unleashed,” Steele said. “This is our darkest day and our finest hour.”

http://laura-nile.blogspot.com/2014/06/Pray-for-SPU.html

I am grieving in so many ways that seem so small, at first I feel ashamed to even feel them. But as my favorite professor, Dr. Frank Spina, reminded our community last night- being a Christian forces us to be honest. In light of this tragedy, we must be honest...
Today SPU gets the terrible, awful, privilege of doing what we always do– modeling what a grace filled, Christian community looks like. With the world watching, we get to be reflections of the abounding of love of Christ. We get to reflect the Father’s broken heart for the evil in this world. We get to reflect the active and powerful movement of the Spirit.

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jack-levison/after-the-shooting-at-spu_b_5460475.html?utm_hp_ref=religion

I’m not quite ready to talk hope. I believe in the resurrection of Jesus, yes. I believe in the life everlasting, as the creed puts it. But for now I grieve, as sad at dawn this morning as I was at dusk last night. Sad for the mothers and fathers, sisters, brothers, and friends grieving a lost son, urging a daughter back to life. But I confess, too, to a certain deep consolation–maybe it is hope after all–lying somewhere inside me next to that ball of grief, as I recollect the faces and faith of my students.

http://www.theunitive.com/hope-in-heartache-a-letter-to-my-seattle-pacific-university-friends-tyler-gorsline/

I saw you giving interviews to media members and inviting them to pray with you, only to have those very media members weep alongside you. In your shared confusion and lack of answers, there was hope for those trying to tell your story, for neighbors, for our city, and for our world.

[updated] http://www.kirotv.com/news/news/spu-shooting-hero-jon-meis-releases-statement/ngG9x/

…what I find most difficult about this situation is the devastating reality that a hero cannot come without tragedy. In the midst of this attention, we cannot ignore that a life was taken from us, ruthlessly and without justification or cause. 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. When I came face to face with the attacker, God gave me the eyes to see that he was not a faceless monster, but a very sad and troubled young man. While I cannot at this time find it within me to forgive his crime, I truly desire that he will find the grace of God and the forgiveness of our community.

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See You Next Year

Boston.

It’s one of those iconic things where you don’t even need to use the full name to know what it is, sort of like how the sight of a “swoosh” automatically invokes “Nike.”  Well, to runners anyhow.  You don’t say “I ran New York” or “I ran L.A” or even “I ran Athens”–the hometown of the marathon.  If you did, you’d probably get some confused looks.  But “I ran Boston”?  You’re likely to get looks of awe or curiosity or congratulations or that inside look that only people who’ve run Boston can fully appreciate.

The marathon itself is a beautiful thing.  It’s the longest conventional-distance race (26.2 miles, for the uninitiated), but that’s plenty long.  For scale, the farthest I’ve ever run at once is about 16 miles.  I feel like I could pull off a half marathon with minimal amounts of specific training.  A marathon is different, though.  You have to respect the distance, what it can do to your body, your mind.  Boston takes that respect to a whole new level.  It’s not that it’s the hardest marathon there is (not that it’s easy) or that it fields only the best athletes (though they do come).  It has something to do with hard work, pride, pain, joy, tears, determination, heartache (or did I mean Heartbreak?), courage–and tradition.  It’s an intangible, inexplicable quality that draws people, myself included, to Boston.

April 15, 2013.

The 117th running of the Boston Marathon commenced with the elite division.  Originally all six US athletes who competed in the 2012 Olympic marathon were slated to race Boston, but ultimately all but two–Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher–dropped out due to injury.  They finished fourth and sixth, respectively.  That would have been the news of the day, until everything changed.

I had just gotten out of my last lab of the day and was going to drop off my bags in the athletics’ complex so I could go for a tempo run.  I stopped to check Twitter on my phone; aside from watching a live stream, following raceday tweets is the next best thing to watching a race in person.  You get little snippets of people’s triumphs, disappointments, encouragements, and all sorts of interesting commentary.  (I also really wanted to know if Joan Benoit Samuelson had made it in under 2:52:43–her goal of being within half an hour of her 1983 record at Boston.  She did, with a 2:50:29 for 47th place overall.)  But along with a few older tweets along the lines of “FINISHED MY FIRST #BOSTON!!”, “PR 3:35:08 #bostonmarathon”, and “bonked at mile 22…rode back in an ambulance which would’ve been fun if i didnt feel like crap”, my feed was starting to be overrun by tweets like these from running media companies:

BostonMarathon2013_02The mainstream media hadn’t yet begun to cover the situation, so what I was seeing was from the aforementioned running media organizations, runners, and spectators.  At first I thought it was a hoax of some sort.  That lasted for about five seconds as my feed filled with more and more tweets.  For about one second after that I thought, “I wonder what sort of explosion they’re talking about?”–but that didn’t really need to be asked.  As an offspring of the post-9/11 world, in the deepest part of my heart, I knew.  The real question was, “How bad is it?”  I reasoned in my head that the press crews from Flotrack, Runnerspace, etc. usually had spaces reserved in fairly close proximity to the finish line, and since reports were coming in that the explosions occurred near the finish line, it couldn’t have been that bad.  I suppose it depends on how you define “that bad.”

My next move was to text my friends in the running community. Weirdly enough, this year, I don’t actually know anybody who ran Boston.  The people I know who would normally go are either injured, pregnant, just married, or taking some time off from marathoning.  I have never been so thankful that people did not qualify for Boston.  Even though I don’t personally know anybody at Boston this year, the running circles from back home exploded in a frenzy of social networking activity.  (As an aside, the man in orange in the incredible photograph from the Boston Globe’s John Tlumacki, of which another version made the cover of Sports Illustrated, is actually a local runner from back home, so when photos and videos of him going down started surfacing, the club team’s Facebook page went into even more of a frenzy trying to verify the status of all of its members at Boston.  As an aside to this aside, I actually think that Tlumacki’s photo is quite brilliant.  Obviously, there’s always an element of luck to photography–especially live-action photography–but the framing, lighting, background, and even the colors of the runner’s jersey and the officers’ safety vests make this picture so powerful.  Perhaps most important, though, the dynamic motion makes this photograph into more than just an image: it tells a story.)

I’ve never been to Boston (though I’ve always hoped to, and I still hope to–perhaps even more now than ever before).  I didn’t know anyone there.  I’m halfway across the country right now; home is on the opposite coast.  I should have no reason to feel so connected to this tragedy more than any other tragedy.  But I do.  I believe that it’s because the running community truly is a community.  Something about the shared sweat and tears and joy and triumph brings us together in a way inexplicable to those on the outside looking in.  It lifts us up when times are good and holds us together when they aren’t.

As much as I view viral quotations (which, half the time, aren’t even real quotations) on Twitter and Facebook with skepticism, one by Fred Rogers struck me.  He wrote in his book, The World According to Mr. Rogers: Important Things to Remember, “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.'”  This is so true.  For one, it was a crowd of runners.  That whole deal I made about community?  It matters.  Secondly, humans as a whole have somehow managed not to evolve ourselves away from the run-to-help-rather-than-away-from-danger complex.  That’s a good thing.  It wasn’t just a few people–everybody rushed in to help.  Medical professionals in attendance originally to assist struggling runners, spectators, race staff, police officers, National Guardsmen who ran the rucksack race earlier in the day, runners who happened to be medical professionals, runners who happened to know that if someone is bleeding, you should put pressure on the wound.  Everyone, runners and non-runners alike, stepped up.

Runners are some of the strongest people I know.  If you want to tear someone down, runners probably aren’t the best target.  Marathoners, least of all.  By nature, I think, running draws a certain personality type (why do you think cross country teams tend to have the highest GPAs of all a school’s sports teams?)  And let me tell you, it’s not one of shrinking violets or defeatists or quitters.  Despite the steely picture I’m painting, runners are also an incredibly compassionate, passionate, community.  We love the race, but we also love each other.  I think this image from the Life in the Day of a Runner Facebook page says it all:BostonMarathon2013_03I think of the Tom Petty song (I like the Johnny Cash version better):

Well I won’t back down, no I won’t back down
You can stand me up at the gates of hell
But I won’t back down

Gonna stand my ground, won’t be turned around
And I’ll keep this world from draggin’ me down
Gonna stand my ground and I won’t back down

Well I know what’s right, I got just one life
In a world that keeps on pushin’ me around
But I stand my ground and I won’t back down

And, on a slightly more pious note, from 2 Corinthians 4:8:

 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.

And finally, I’d like to leave you with this cartoon from the New Yorker, drawn by Christopher Weyant.  If you don’t have a vague understanding of the baseball culture, this won’t make sense.  But it’s so true.  As my former principal/advisor says, “We’re pullin’ for ya.”BostonMarathon2013_01See you next year, Boston, for the 118th running of the Boston Marathon.

Prayer of the Children

A further reflection the events of the past week.  This song was written by Kurt Bestor who served as a Mormon missionary to Serbia in the 1970s, one of the many periods of conflict and violence throughout Eastern Europe.  Lyrics follow.

Can you hear the prayer of the children?
On bended knee, in the shadow of an unknown room
Empty eyes with no more tears to cry
Turning heavenward toward the light

Crying Jesus, help me
To see the morning light-of one more day
But if I should die before I wake,
I pray my soul to take

Can you feel the hearts of the children?
Aching for home, for something of their very own
Reaching hands, with nothing to hold on to,
But hope for a better day a better day

Crying Jesus, help me
To feel the love again in my own land
But if unknown roads lead away from home,
Give me loving arms, away from harm

Can you hear the voice of the children?
Softly pleading for silence in a shattered world?
Angry guns preach a gospel full of hate,
Blood of the innocent on their hands

Crying Jesus, help me
To feel the sun again upon my face,
For when darkness clears I know you’re near,
Bringing peace again

Dali cujete sve djecje molitive?
Can you hear the prayer of the children?

Third Sunday of Advent: Grief and Grace

“A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and great mourning, Rachel weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted, because they are no more.” Matthew 2:18

This isn’t really what I had planned for today, but in light of the events of the past week in Oregon, Connecticut, and China, it seemed appropriate. I’m sorry if it’s extremely disjointed: that’s how the past week has been. I tried to separate thought topics with horizontal rules, if that helps.

At first, I was going to write a list of the major mass shootings since Columbine and  muse about this type of violence.  (Columbine was the first shooting I remember hearing about.  I know, I just dated myself.)  But then I realized that isn’t where I wanted my focus to lie.

Yes, it’s important to talk about school shootings.  It’s important to talk about gun violence/control/rights in general.  It’s important to deal with what’s happened and how to prevent it from happening again.  It’s important to work through what we’ve experienced, seen, heard, felt.  But if that’s the final end of discourse, we’re left in a dark place.


I guess it all goes back to the fallen nature of man.  As I thought about what I wanted to say, all that came to mind were the lyrics of a song by Sufjan Stevens:

The neighbors they adored him
For his humor and his conversation
Look underneath the house there
Find the few living things
Rotting fast in their sleep of the dead
Twenty-seven people, even more
They were boys with their cars, summer jobs
Oh my God
Are you one of them?…
And on his best behavior …
He’d kill ten thousand people
With a sleight of his hand
Running far, running fast to the dead…
And on my best behavior
I am really just like him
Look beneath the floorboards
For the secrets I have hid

We’re all tainted by the same Sin.  Even if it manifests itself differently in different people’s lives, even when it affects us in tragically different ways, we all need grace–to give, but most of all, to receive.  And that’s why we need Christmas.


From another perspective, one of the accounts that struck me most was that of Kaitlin Roig, a teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary School.  Incidentally, props on this interview goes to Diane Sawyer; she’s an incredible journalist and seems like she would be a great person to get to know in general.  Here’s the link; unfortunately, WordPress won’t let me embed iframe videos:

http://abcnews.go.com/WNT/video/connecticut-shooting-teacher-kaitlin-roig-protected-students-17978970

This is particularly remarkable to me because some of my peers here at college are probably about the same age as she is.  For that matter, she might only be three or four years older than I am, and I can’t imagine bearing that type of responsibility (don’t mind the fact that I can’t imagine being responsible for the minds of the next generation).


From Facebook (half of these are from teachers, which seemed fairly representative of the demographic of related posts):

“John 16:33 ‘I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.’  God help the families of Newtown Ct.”

“hugged my kindergartener a little longer at bedtime tonight and cried for the mommies who can’t do that tonight. 😦 my heart breaks!”

“Stuff like this goes on all the time. We just got a compressed version of the evil and pain and despair people experience all the time, and it came close to home. It wasn’t Palestinian kids or African kids or Latin American kids. And it’s going to bring a bit of a downer to our nice North American Christmas. So be it. The birth of the Messiah was never meant to be nice. It’s necessary. Necessary for hope of anything better or different than this status quo of ours. The alternative is that we continue to patch over the darkness with periods of nice, social progress only to have it come through the cracks like this.  [This is] absolutely NOT to diminish what happened in Newtown…My point was that this is only the tip of the iceberg, a glimpse into a darkness that’s more pervasive and constant than we realize because we’re often insulated from it by the veneer of order and stability we have in N. America and Western society. But it is a very thin veneer. Anyway, to any of you who connected to this posting, I want to make that real clear.”

“I am so grateful 3 boys came back through my door today, brimming with all the normal school day news. There are no guarantees and so I will give extra hugs today.”

“All I can think about is my little brother and how thankful I am that I have him alive and safe in my life. Prayers to all the babies and families apart [sic] of the horrific tradegy today. 😦 so upsetting”

“Charlotte, Daniel, Olivia, Josephine, Ana, Dylan, Madeleine, Catherine, Chase, Jesse, James, Grace, Emilie, Jack, Noah, Caroline, Jessica, Avielle, Benjamin, Allison, Rachel, Dawn, Anne Marie, Lauren, Mary, Vicky”


“This is my Father’s world / O let me ne’er forget / That though the wrong / seem oft so strong / God is the Ruler yet.” ~Maltbie Babcock, This Is My Father’s World

“Where there’s a shadow, there’s a light.” ~Petra, Road to Zion