After the Shooting at Michigan State University
This Valentines Day, I do not send our 140 Michigan churches the sugary sentiments of a heart shaped box of chocolates but the prayers from my broken human heart after last night’s shooting at Michigan State University. We had church members who could see the scene from where they were locked down in homes and churches. Last night, as I checked in on our local pastors, I knew they were checking in on their churches, communities, families, workers, students, first responders and the weary world around them.
For, as every pastor knows, when tragedy hits, our churches grow much larger than the membership rolls. Churches become centers of care for the whole community, in buildings at busy intersections, in online gatherings, or on prayer chains. When violence locks us down or sends us into the streets, the church has the chance to blast past its walls, when preachers realize that their most important sermon may be the one that is offered to the stranger at the grocery store who recognizes them and says, “Pastor, just answer me this. How can God let this happen?”
I’ve heard that question a lot lately, from people horrified by whatever picture of the world they receive in the news of their own choosing, but it’s a question that we in the church have an ancient answer to. God does not let this happen. People do. It is people who let these things happen.
We saw it in the video of Tyre Nichols, killed by the brutality of human violence and the more devastating brutality of human indifference. We see it in the horror of the war in Ukraine, where, as in all wars, the poor pay the greatest price, while far away leaders philosophize to monetize their own safety. We see it in ourselves as a country, when the news of one school shooting after another becomes routine, in a culture drooling for violence as entertainment, but hardened to it in real life. We see it in ourselves as a nation of immature impulses and short attention spans, more interested in shooting balloons out of the sky than taking guns out of the hands of its own people. God does not allow that to happen. People do.
Yet somehow, despite the stakes, God, the great creator of all things, chose to create us with free will and mortal bodies. We could have been made to live forever as coddled infants, with our needs met, our decisions constrained and our capacity to harm the rest of creation minimized. Instead, we were created in the image of God, which means we have souls and bodies that were literally built for growth and change. Created with a limited time on earth, we were given the ability to choose between right and wrong, love or death, God or stuff, the care of all creation or the tedious worship of the self, all on a short journey through life whose purpose is to draw us closer to the one who gave us life to begin with.
As for the shooting in East Lansing, God does not let this happen. People do. It is God’s people who let the worst things happen to ourselves and to one another, from the violent act of taking lives, to the violent inaction of cynical indifference. But it is also God’s people who allow the most beautiful things to happen, from the courageous saving of lives, to the loving healing of broken spirits, to the humble repairing of the world from our own mistakes. This is what it means to follow Jesus, human and divine. Today, our Michigan pastors and churches are at the beating heart of it all.
Peace and Blessings,
The Rev. Dr. Lillian Daniel