My neighbor has put up a scarecrow for the fall season. It’s in her yard, across the street from our house. Each morning, in the foggy western Washington grey daylight, when I back my car out of the garage and down my driveway, that scarecrow comes suddenly into view in my rear-view mirror. And every morning, it startles me. You would think I would have gotten used to it after a few weeks, but no such thing has happened. I back out, I see the scarecrow, and my foot moves to the brake. It would be funny except that the startle reflex inevitably gets my heart pounding just a wee bit faster. I’m not sure I will ever get used to it, and that’s a good thing, right? We are supposed to react quickly when we see something unexpected appear in our rear-view mirror, right? I’m just doing what my old driving teacher, Mr. Vitamonte taught me.
Reflecting on this little story, so inconsequential in the grand scheme of things, has been helpful in regard to something much, much more important. It occurs to me that we should not ever want to get used to the scary things in life. They are scary for a reason.
I don’t ever want to get used to news of mass shootings. What happened this week in Las Vegas cannot become a normative experience… it MUST not become routine. Despite the repetition of similar shootings (Sandy Hook, Orlando, Virginia Tech… the litany is too, too long) this horror can never be allowed to become so much a part of our human experience that we anticipate it, take it in stride, and don’t miss a beat on our day when such tragic news breaks. We must hit the brakes. We must feel our hearts beat harder and faster, our pulse quicken, our tears well up, and unbidden prayers escape our lips as we hold our breath in disbelief. If ever we become inured to this mindless violence, if we ever fail to be scared by such things, then we will have lost our humanity.
But maybe if we get scared enough, we might be finally moved to action. When I read the scriptures and hear the message of peace through the life and teachings of Jesus, I am ashamed that we’ve allowed these massacres to continue. Long before Jesus’ message of peace, God spoke through the prophet Isaiah, saying:
Let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob; and He will teach us of His ways, and we will walk in His paths: for out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. And He shall judge among the nations, and shall rebuke many people: and they shall beat their swords into ploughshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.
Swords into ploughshares. Yes, it is time… it is long past time.
Throughout the scriptures, God says to God’s people, “Do not be afraid.” But that word from God always comes in response to a fearful reaction. God doesn’t say, “Don’t be frightened” as a way of suggesting that fear is for snowflakes. God doesn’t say, “Don’t be afraid” because your weapon isn’t bigger than the other guy’s weapon. No, God says “Do not fear the scary things” because God will be with us as we work together with God to take away the power of everything that scares us, everything that would hurt us, everything that would make us less human, everything that would hide the imago dei in which we were so lovingly created.
I will never get used to the scary things, but neither will I be afraid to proclaim that truth in my heart, a truth that says God shows us a better way, a peaceful way, a way that does not take an eye for an eye, nor strike the one who strikes us. My strength is in the Lord who tells us that we shall beat our swords into ploughshares and our spears into pruning hooks.
It is my personal belief that our unwillingness as a nation to enact more effective controls on the ownership of weapons like those used in Las Vegas is a sign that we have gotten used to the scary things and that we don’t believe that God’s better way can work. I know that many in the church family hold different views, but that is the way I see it, and considering all of these tragedies that have so frequently startled us in our complacency, I must proclaim it. Gun control efforts alone will not heal this broken nation, but it is a place to start.