A Pastoral Letter Regarding the Shootings in Dayton and El Paso

Rez family,

We are all still reeling from mass shootings in El Paso and Dayton. If you’re like me, you struggle with discerning how to live and speak as a faithful witness of the Kingdom of God when reading the reports that at least 31 killed in the mass shootings from this weekend alone. Sadly these tragedies and the evils of gun violence in general have become commonplace in our country. From where I stand, as a husband and father of 6 kids, as half-Mexican and half-white, and as your priest, I have felt the burden of our society’s old wounds, its willful ignorance, its ideologies that idolize the powerful and trample the weak, and the divisions built up by fear and sin. Everyone feels disrespected, misunderstood, defensive, angered, and disoriented. And yet the church has never been more perfectly equipped and suited to engage this darkness.

We tend to think all we can do is offer our “hopes and prayers”, get on social media, or fight for political change. Don’t get me wrong, these things aren't bad in and of themselves. I’m grateful we live in a country where people can exercise those freedoms. But as long as we believe that the problem is really somewhere “out there” to be fixed in the world or in others, and not in us, we make a fatal misjudgment and we miss the real way forward. Consider this: We live in God’s world, He is setting things right through His son, Jesus, and we are His church. This means there are conversations we really need to have and actions we really must take as witnesses of genuinely Good News for our world. There is much to say about all of this, but there are at least 2 things I want to point our community toward.

First, especially in the case of the mass shooting in El Paso, we must name the evil of white supremacy, white nationalism, racism in its various forms (including rhetoric that incites and encourages it, and the ways it's "built-in” to the way our society operates), violence, and domestic terrorism. For whatever blame we put on the president, lack of gun-control, mental health, video games, culture, etc., is blame we must also own our share in. Our politicians, policies, culture, are just a collective reflection of who we have become, an image we don’t want to see because we fear it's really true. The blame we put on others, even when rightly placed, allows us to tell a story about ourselves and others that maintain our innocence and righteous indignation at the evils in others. There is no “them”, it’s just us. There is no one righteous, not one (Romans 3:10-12). We have to begin by naming our society’s sin as a reflection of who we have become. We are complicit in these societal evils, we have participated in and propagated them, we have worked ourselves into this dark place of death and division, and we can be ready to repent and make things right. The grief of those who suffer should weigh heavy on us, and our guilt should lead us to repentance, not defensiveness. Repentance doesn’t “win” a point for our political party, or show how “woke” we are, nor does it need something from those we disagree with. Repentance admits defeat, puts down weapons, and drains all pride and vanity, to make space for the life that only God’s grace can provide.

Second, Jesus is still the answer. We have a hope capable of healing and unifying a severely broken world. When the worst evils of the world were unleashed on Jesus on the cross, when evil had given its best shot, he trampled over it and triumphed. The title “Lord” is only rightfully His, and this means he can tell us and this world what to do. This means that any power, any authority, any ruler, or party, or movement, and even ourselves, are subject to the agenda and will of Jesus Christ. No political party is safe from critique by the Kingdom, no establishment, no sacred custom or thing our society guards, and no cultural norm isbeyond His authoritative headline that His Kingdom is now settling over all of it. It all belongs to Christ, we belong to Christ, we are citizens in His Kingdom, and everything is subject and held accountable to Him.

Church, you are the sign of God’s work in the world. Think about it: what we cry out for is for God to gather up our broken world, to bring peace, to heal and set things right. This is exactly what God is doing in the church through Christ and by the power of the Spirit. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people (1 Peter 2:9). We’ve all got the same past: we are a people once caught in sin that Jesus has commanded be raised to life. We’ve all got the same future: God has inaugurated His new world and we are called as His bride to reveal his beautiful reign and rule. We are made one community in Christ, perfectly equipped and suited to engage the world. So don't be afraid to follow Jesus into the world’s pain and lean on the power of the Holy Spirit. Don’t be afraid to confess and repent, to grieve and be present to those who suffer. Don’t be afraid to love boldly, and welcome outsiders, just as Christ has loved and welcomed us. Don’t be afraid to follow Jesus when the world resists the Kingdom He is establishing. Get used to being a peculiar people with an identity foreign to this world. You shouldn't fit comfortably into a political party’s ideology. You should feel out of place when with any vision of life that competes with the Kingdom of God. You should be frustrated by the arrangements of the world that devalues, tramples, takes advantage of, or destroys human beings. Nothing justifies evil, not economic prosperity, not the precedent of policy, not our privileges, and not our ethnicity or social standing. And nothing will stand in the way of the Kingdom that is at hand. God's everlasting Kingdom is our “home” placed in a strange and broken land.

It’s one thing to know in your head and heart, and quite another to learn to actually practice. Personally, I'm constantly working this out in my own life. It's for this very reason that Rez hosts a regular conversation called “Who is My Neighbor?” that wrestles with discerning the way of the Kingdom in our world. This Saturday at 5:30 PM we are exploring the timely topic of immigration, hearing from one of our own about their experience. This is important, please make it a priority to be there with us.

Peace,

Shawn+