On responding to tragedy…

Last night’s shooting in Aurora leaves us vacillating in our souls between numbness and horror, and grasping for meaning; for we are “meaning makers”, we human beings, and so it is that “senseless tragedy” is particularly hard for us to swallow.  We feel that something must be done or said to put it all in perspective.

And it is just there that we are likely to go wrong, for the wise writer of Ecclesiastes says:

What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted. (Eccl 1:15)

Not everything that happens “under the sun” simply “fits” the way we’d like it to.  With that in mind, let me make five suggestions for responding to this (and any) tragedy:

1) Resist the temptation to spout theological platitudes.  This is all part of God’s perfect plan… God has a purpose in this… Everything works together for good for those who love God… Everything happens for a reason… Fools blather on in the face of tragedy; wise people watch their mouths, and few things in life are more harmful or insensitive than the bloviating of foolish armchair theologians when life hits the fan.  Enough.  Be silent.

2) Resist the temptation (for now) to engage in social analysis.  People with particular social and political agendas will be out in full force shortly, using tragedy as a platform to push their agenda.  Gun control, the presence of violence in entertainment, the moral erosion of America…  And on and on it will go.  I said a moment ago that few things are more harmful or insensitive in such times as theological bloviating.  One thing that comes pretty close is political or social opportunism.  Stop it.  There will be a time and place for such conversations; now is not the time.  And in any event, we should remember the Teacher’s words quoted above: “What is twisted cannot be straightened; what is lacking cannot be counted.”  These things tend to defy our comprehension, so when the analysis begins, let it be chastened with humility.

3) Resist the temptation to demonize the perpetrator.  #1 and #2 usually collide with a collective demonization of the perpetrator in society’s eyes.  Christians should be smarter than to do that, for we know that the stain of sin touches all of us and therefore all of us are equally objects of Christ’s redeeming work – the very same Christ of whom St. Matthew says, “A bruised reed he will not break; and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out” (Matt 12:20).  Our prayer should be that whatever good is left in the perpetrator would somehow be blown into flame not in spite of but THROUGH the punishment he is likely to receive.  A chastisement that brings about “shalom” in him.

And then of course…

4) We pray.  We stand with everyone affected by this horrible tragedy as though we ourselves were directly affected by it.  We pray comfort for the newly bereaved and health and healing for those injured.  We pray that evil would be turned to good, and that Aurora and the greater Denver area would become stronger through what has transpired.  We pray that evil in every way would be defused, and that peace would reign.  We pray.

5) We determine to enter the story with those affected, however we can.  One thing that stands out about the life of Jesus is his categorical determination not to analyze pain but to enter it with those who suffer, bringing his light, life, and redemption.  We are his Body.  Let us also do the same.

Praying grace and peace to the citizens of Aurora and all whose lives have been touched by this tragedy.  Lord, have mercy; Christ, have mercy… even as we put our hope in you.


[UPDATE: Two things I should add real quick – 1) Remember not to be passive recipients of the “discussion” but shapers of it.  One practical way you can do that is by refusing to read or re-post articles, etc., that violate #s 1-3 above.  2) The irony of writing a blog telling people to hold their tongues and not use tragedy for self- or cause- promotion is not lost on me.  For that reason I’ve disabled comments on this post and won’t be checking it for the rest of the day.  Feel free to repost if this if you find it helpful, but let’s not add to the noise.]

Purple Door Coffee!

Hey friends –

Wanted to interrupt my summer blogging sabbatical for a moment to tell you about an initiative here in the city that I think is REALLY cool and also wanted to invite you to consider supporting.

The city of Denver has a fairly high population of homeless youth.  Though it’s difficult, for a variety of reasons, to come up with an exact number, estimates range from 900 to nearly 2,000.  However you slice it, that’s a lot of kids.

And the thing here is that, unlike many of their adult counterparts (whose difficult lives often leave them drained of energy or hope to get off the streets), most of these youth still have a burning ambition to change their situation and make a difference with their time and talents.  The fire of youthful hoping and dreaming hasn’t gone out in the vast majority of them.  They just need someone to stand with them, put their arm around them, and help them acquire the necessary skills to get where they want to go.

That’s where Purple Door Coffee comes in.  According to their website,

Purple Door Coffee is a coffeehouse that exists to give job opportunities to homeless youth and young adults who are working to exit homelessness. 

We exist to give opportunities to kids who have been deemed ‘unemployable’ and ‘unusable’ by society. We teach job skills that are universal to any job and we teach the art of making coffee and espresso. We exist to teach former ‘street kids’ how to work in today’s workplace. We provide tools of community, accountability, love and grace that will help our employees on their journeys to a new life.

Opening in this Fall (and working in tandem with local ministries Dry Bones Denver and Belay Enterprises), Purple Door will serve as a “middle space” type experience… a bridge to help get kids from where they are to where they want to be.  It’s exactly the kind of thing that Denver needs.

The chief architects of this idea, Mark Smesrud and Madison Chandler, are part of our community at Bloom and it’s been a joy for us a community to walk with and support them.  We love the idea of Purple Door because it combines beautifully so many of the things we love… creativity, culture, sustainable ministry, entrepreneurship, a concern for the “welfare of the city”, and so on.  Would to God that we would see many more efforts like this.

In order to hit their target launch date, Purple Door needs to raise approximately $122,000 of startup money.  They’ve recently received an ENORMOUS help in this endeavor through their sister ministry, Dry Bones Denver, which has arranged generous donors who will match funds up to $30,000 received before August 15th!  That means that your contributions to their ministry can have double the impact if you give before then.

I’d encourage you to head to their website and blog, read all about what they’re up to, and if you feel prompted – give.  And to you Bloomers, stay tuned all summer long for more news on specific ways you can be involved with the launch of PDC.

That’s all for now.  Thanks for taking the time.  And for those of you who’ve been praying for us this summer – thanks.  We’ve felt the prayers, and this summer has been incredibly renewing and rejuvenating so far.  We appreciate you.

Grace and peace,