Mass shootings have topped the news 11 times in the past few weeks, racking up a stunning list of casualties. Cops, gays, African-Americans and people who just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So many, I can’t keep the details straight.
As a former journalist, I spent years keeping the details straight and practicing how to remain calm in the midst of tragic news events. Assemble the what, when, where, how and why of a story. Get it right. Get it fast. Move on. Observe, report, explain. Then do it again.
I remember sitting through six weeks of gruesome testimony during the trial of mass murderer John Wayne Gacy, the contractor and political precinct captain in Chicago who murdered 33 young men and buried most of them in the crawl space under his home. Several times a day I’d slip out of the courtroom, call the newsroom, pull together the latest what, when, where, how and why of the moment, then go back into the courtroom to do it again. Until the day I couldn’t.
I called the newsroom, began to read from my notes…and threw up.
Around that same time, former Chicago Tribune columnist Bob Greene wrote, “How many people have to die before our numbed-out sensibilities find it too much to bear?” That day, for me, 33 people was too many.
I’m still a news junkie. Instinctively, as I’ve watched dizzying events unfold lately on my TV screen, I note the what, when, where, how and why. But it no longer takes 33 deaths to make me want to throw up.
I am sick of trying to make sense of the latest tragedy before I’ve fully processed the last tragedy and before the news cycle has moved on to the next tragedy. Now, thanks to smartphones, horror sometimes even comes to us in real time and then gets replayed again and again, until the images stay in our brain long after the TV is turned off.
Don’t you wish we could declare a moratorium on senseless acts of violence? Don’t you wish we could say, “I’m sorry, the quota for evil has been used up for this month. However, we are taking applications for extravagant acts of kindness and excessive demonstrations of unity and mutual respect. Kindly submit your examples at your earliest opportunity, as our supply of hope is dangerously low and widespread despair is palpable.”
In times of crisis, when blood supplies are low, the call goes out and people line up to donate. And, except for those with medical conditions that prohibit their participation, it’s something we all can do. All human beings have blood. We don’t need a law passed, a politician to agree, or a lobbyist to apply pressure, to make it happen. We decide to act and people’s lives are saved.
Today, as Christians, we need to issue a different rallying cry. Let the call go out: We need to see more extraordinary examples of grace extended to people who don’t deserve it. We need to flood our relationships with more forgiveness and mercy–the kind of mercy that holds no grudges and holds its tongue.
We need soccer moms and electricians and teachers and realtors and mechanics and geeks and sales clerks and kids on a playground to produce repeated “live shots” of racial harmony and ethnic diversity. We need to mount a massive counter-offensive against evil in the world.
Do you know anyone who’s hungry? Feed them. Know anyone who’s lonely? Don’t make them a project. Take them out for coffee or take them with you to the mall. Know anyone whose faith is different from yours…or any outsiders who aren’t your “type?” Surprise yourself. Strike up a conversation, listen, learn something.
Wherever you are, whoever you are, unleash a full-on assault of goodness in your corner of the world. Inch by inch, day after day. Refuse to cede any more territory to despair, hate and fear.
Will all these baby steps make any difference in the grand scheme of things? Well, the most famous Person who ever lived that way ended up on a cross. But, 3,000 years later, millions of people still follow him. He changed the world.
Maybe if we act more like Jesus, we can change the world, too. That’s why God left us here–to offer an alternative narrative to the world’s madness, before Christ returns to put a stop to it once and for all.
It’s what he’s been waiting for.