In the aftermath of the worst mass shooting in our history, Americans are struggling once again with the disorienting reality that our “village” is not safe. America is supposed to be different than those “other” nations. Our founding fathers came here to escape tyrants and violent persecution.
Almost before the sickening sounds of the bullets raining down from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas had ceased, our citizens were once again debating about what can stop these random acts of violence. The proposed solutions reveal the deep divide among us. Opinions range from banning guns to others who think we need more guns. I am not an expert on such things. I am neither a gun owner nor the son of a gun owner. Many of my friends are avid hunters and have an attachment to their rifles, whereas other friends would be in favor of stiff gun control laws.
Behind the debate, I hear a much deeper question- “What happened to our village?” Since 9/11 , our self-awareness as a country has changed. Before, we believed that military conflicts happened elsewhere, but not on our soil. Terrorism was something we saw on our televisions, but not in our back yards. When I was a child, the ministerial organization in our small Illinois town organized an effort to bring Laotian refugees to our city in order to escape their war torn country. Tragically, one of the Laotians was killed in the US by a drive-by shooter. Such inexplicable violence might happen in Laos, but not in land of Lincoln and not in Las Vegas.
The question of security is the theme of one of my favorite movies “The Village.” If you have not seen the movie, I highly encourage you to watch it. The setting takes place in a peaceful village with built in protections to keep this utopia from being ruined by attempts to live life on the outside. The dress requirements are extremely modest and the rules are lovingly stringent. In spite of all precautions, however, evil rears its head in this weaponless society. Spoiler alert. Toward the end of the movie, we learn that the elders of the village had previously lived in modern society and had their lives deeply affected by tragic deaths of loved ones due to crime and violence, Creating the village was the elders attempt to eliminate such painful grief. As you might guess, all of their precautions did not keep tragedy from occurring.
There is a great quote toward the end of the movie by one of the elders named August. He says, “you may run from sorrow as we have, but sorrow will find you. It can smell you.”
And yet, the movie also has redeeming hope. Ivy, a blind girl, makes a journey to the “outside” in order to get some much-needed medicine. She meets up with a stranger who helps her get the medicine. Her description of the stranger to the other villagers was profound: “I heard kindness in his voice. I did not expect that.” It is the blind girl who truly sees.
So what is the antidote to our troubled world? Become a Christian! Isn’t that the expected response of Christian pastor?
You may read or hear people who espouse to Christians” suggesting this act of violence was a judgment from God. It is not. They do not represent the one who was willingly broken for our broken world. It is a crude attempt to explain what happened to our village. Judge them gently. We all are struggling with the same question.
The truth is, at our best we Christians are imperfect, and at our worst we are imposters. I suppose I toggle somewhere between the two.
And yet, my faith helps me navigate through the abyss.
Jesus didn’t promise a utopian village. He indicated that “sorrow” would find us. “In this world you will have trouble.” Jesus said.
Jesus did not come to eliminate risk from the world. In some ways, His kingdom exacerbates it. The power of love and service is an affront to ruling kings and kingdoms that lead through strength and power.
Like the blind seer, Ivy, people of faith hear the unexpected kindness in the voices of unlikely people. We see love and light in the eyes of everyday heroes. When evil reigns down a thousand bullets of cruelty, my faith combats them with a million acts of kindness. We really do have a nation of beautiful people who need to be healed with hugs instead of divided with hateful rhetoric.
Finally, my faith sees a land beyond this land. We believe in the peaceable kingdom, the virtuous village, the “land that is fairer than day”, the city of God.
Our life task is making this land a little more like that land-that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. May God bless all our efforts and may God bring comfort and healing to all who mourn in the village of Vegas. After Jesus promised that in this life we would “have trouble” he left us with a promise of hope. “Take heart”, Jesus said, “I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)