Eugene Cho

Making sense of something so senseless: The tragic shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

Conn-school-shooting-vigil-jpg

How do you make sense of something so senseless? That is what I hope to address in this post.

Like all of you, I was initially stunned and shocked to read the news. I was in the middle of an amazing day long church staff retreat and development day when I glanced at the headlines on the internet and couldn’t believe what I had just read.

The shock turned into utter heartache.

These were some of my thoughts over the course of the day via my Twitter account.

Heartbroken.

Heartbroken. Grieving. Devastated. Speechless. Praying for those impacted in the Connecticut school shootings – especially the children. #lordhavemercy

A Time to Mourn & Weep…

Whatever your views, we should all agree on this: We must do all that we can to protect children – your kids, my kids, their kids, & our kids.

There’s a time to argue issues and there’s a time to just grieve, mourn, and weep.

NOW is that time to grieve, mourn, and weep.

Don’t Move on…

When we just move on with our day and “normal” after such tragic news…herein lies one problem: We’ve become desensitized to violence.

Three words: “Don’t move on.”

How do we make sense of such senselessness?

And this is the question.

This is the question that so many are having; the question that parents are having with their children; and the question that many pastors and leaders will be having this Sunday with their congregations. Faith worldview or not, we are left with this question.

While we don’t have to have all the answers and in fact, unless you’re God, you won’t have all the answers, I found this useful about what NOT to share because we have to take the wisdom of “mourning with those who mourn” seriously. We have to mourn well with others and as such, there are – bluntly – stupid Christian phrases that are said that should be avoided altogether when someone is mourning the loss of a child:

1. “God just needed another angel.”

Portraying God as someone who arbitrarily kills kids to fill celestial openings is neither faithful to God, nor helpful to grieving parents.

2. “Thank goodness you have other children,” or, “You’re young. You can have more kids.”

Children are not interchangeable or replaceable. The loss of a child will always be a loss, no matter how many other children a parent has or will have.

3. He/she was just on loan to you from God.

The message is that God is so capricious that God will break parents’ hearts at will just because God can. It also communicates to parents and loved ones that they are not really entitled to their grief.

4. God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.

Actually, some people do get a lot more than any one person should ever have to handle. And it doesn’t come from God. Don’t trivialize someone’s grief with a “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” mentality.

5. We may not understand it, but this was God’s will.

Unless you are God, don’t use this line.

But back to the question: “How do we make sense of senselessness?”

The blunt truth is that it’s so difficult and impossible to address this question without talking about the reality of evil, sin, and brokenness.

We live in a broken world.

And the irony of so many of these devastating tragedies is that we want to remove God from so much of our cultural expression and embodiment and the ever awkward dance between the separation of church and state (which I understand) and yet, we so easily turn our blame on God for so much that is tragic and broken in our society.

We live in a broken world.

And in this broken world, there will be painful, difficult, and horrible events. As much as we want to shield ourselves – and especially our children – that truth is evident all around – and even within us. Even Jesus himself cautions us in John 16:33 that “in this world, there will be trouble.”

We live in a broken world.

But listen: this is not meant to be fatalistic or to offer a theological magic cop-out for God or for us – but to simply illuminate what should be obvious: the world is very broken.

On our own, there can be no sense of a senseless world. There is nothing sensible. On our own, we can’t find anything redemptive or meaningful in the utter brokenness and depravity of the world. We want to make sense; We want to put the pieces together; We want to fix together. We want to lean on our own understanding and brilliance to make it work and make sense…but we can’t.

How can we?  How can we find meaning in the senselessness when we ourselves are the main culprits of that nonsensibility.

The ‘redemptive’ news – in the micro-narrative of this shooting and the meta-narrative of human history is that Jesus entered our dark, broken, and messy world. God loved the world so much that He sent his only son, Christ, so that he would come to die and reconcile the sins of a broken world. This – in spite – of a broken and rebellious world.

As we rightfully and appropriately mourn and grieve, we can’t make sense of this senselessness without a perspective of something greater than our utter brokenness. As the mourning and grieving     s  l   o   w   l   y   turns to healing, we have to point people towards the Gospel.

I believe in a Gospel that not only saves but seeks to restore all things back unto the One that ushered forth all that is good & beautiful.

During this season of Advent of waiting and anticipating, we are truly reminded again that Jesus ushered in the Kingdom of God but yet, it is not fully here.

We wait for Christ to return to restore all things but while we wait,
we partner with God to work towards that restoration.

We wait but it is not a wait of passivity but one of activity and conviction.

How about the issues?
Gun control and mental illness?

Yes. and. Yes.

Guns will always be part of the American culture. But this conversation should have happened yesterday. Why? Because just consider the number of violent incidents and mass shootings in this country. Since Columbine in 1999, there have been 31 school shootings. This is the 2nd shooting just this past week (Clackamas, Oregon shopping mall). Seattle had a tragic shooting at Cafe Racer Espresso in May of this past year. How about the shootings at the midnight premiere of The Dark Knight Rises in Aurora, CO. How about the shootings a the Sikh temple?

I can go on but this is a time to mourn, grieve, and weep…

My wife, Minhee, is a therapist and while she is a Marriage and Family therapist, much of her training and recent background has been focused on mental health and illness and she often shares with me the need to illuminate light and understanding to this often ignored conversation in our society.

Reminded of these words today:

Peace is not the product of terror or fear.
Peace is not the silence of cemeteries.
Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.
Peace is the generous,
tranquil contribution of all
to the good of all.
Peace is dynamism.
Peace is generosity.
It is right and it is duty.

~ Oscar Romero

* Honoring our teachers…

But in the midst of the tears, grateful for Ms. Roig – 1st grade teacher at Sandy Hook Elementary – and all the teachers, administrators, and educators in our society. We need to rally around them to let them know how much we appreciate their service.

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7 Responses

  1. KDavis says:

    Beautifully stated and right on point, Brother Cho, especially the five steps.

    I could say more about what I have observed about the church and mental illness and our general desensitization to violence, but I won’t for now.

  2. Michael Mills says:

    When I first saw this story on the news, yesterday morning, I found myself crying out to God:
    “Please, Lord, end this. End it now. How much longer will sin hold its power on this Earth? Please Lord, bring an end to it all.”

    Of course, I wasn’t jut thinking about Sandy Hook and the 20 precious children who were killed. I was thinking about all the tragedies and evil I’ve seen in my 62 years of life.

    I’ve given up trying to understand why God has allowed the consequences of sin to flourish as he has. At this point I can only pray:

    “Come, Lord Jesus. Come!”

  3. […] I’ve read many different responses to the tragedy, and this is one of the articles that resonated with me, as did this piece. […]

  4. Trine Smith says:

    Rev. you made the statement that guns will always be apart of America, I agree, however,clearly there is something absurdly wrong about the way they can have a gun expidition in one room of a building,then go into another in the same building and purchase crates of these weapons of mass destruction without any receipt of transaction (in essence under the radar, might I add). Some months ago I was made aware of this info while at my Congressmans office concerning my plight for justice, and while speaking to the Constituient laiason I initiated the conversation and went on to mention I had read an article by Russel Simmons and his advocacy against the NRA, and how I had been compelled to pray about this issue on the daily prayer line. It’s sad and inhumane that blood is continulally and senselessly spilt before effective gun control is exucuted, and for that much of the matter, its far too many guns in the public hands, it is at this point that breakthrough believers and image bearers must lament and intercede on behalf of the souls, spirits of every man, woman, and child on the face of this planet. I myself have felt the bitter sting of losing my first born nephew, 23yr old Michael Smith, and this tradegy occured not long after my Treasure-Lily’s untimely death.

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One Day’s Wages

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As we honor Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., don't forget the God behind the man. The one true God who deposited this dream into MLK is still speaking to us today. Are we listening?

Be courageous. Be brave.

Being invited by the King Family to speak at the MLK worship service at Ebenezer Baptist Church in 2016 remains one of the most unexpected honors of my life. On the right is his daughter, Dr. Bernice King and his sister, Dr. Christine King Farris. Walking throughstreet markets in different parts of the world is the best. Soaking in the culture. Listening to the local language and music. Enjoying the amazing cuisine. Meeting new friends. Praying for the Gospel to penetrate. #ChiangRai Blessed be the local, indigenous leaders for it is they who live in the very communities they seek to love. For it is they who understand their context and culture...better than a Westerner ever will. For it is they who will continue to tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love when visitors like me leave.

Yes, blessed be the local, indigenous leaders. What an honor and privilege to celebrate with the on-the-ground local @thefreedomstory team to celebrate the recent opening of their Education and Resource Center for the local youth in Chiang Rai, Thailanf. This was made possible through a partnership and matching grant by @onedayswages and The Freedom Story.

While it was an honor to be there to cut the cord and say a few words, this is an example of collaboration. Much love to the Freedom Story team including their co-founders Tawee Donchai and @Rachel Goble, to their staff who live in the community, who understand their context and culture, and who tenaciously pursue a better world with hope, justice and love. And of course, much love to the students themselves for they each matter. Finally, to each person that donated to @onedayswages to make this grant possible.

May hundreds and even thousands of youth be impacted, encouraged, and mentored. May they capture a glimpse of God's love for them.

Photo: @benjaminedwards Part 2 on my wrestling with the complex issue of human trafficking. In part, documenting my trip to Thailand for @onedayswages...to listen, learn, and visit one of our partner orgs @thefreedomstory. More to come.

There's such painful and poignant irony in pursuing justice...unjustly. One way we do this is when we reduce people into projects...and thus, propagating the dangerous power dynamic of US as heroes and THEM as helpless and exclusively as victims. So dangerous.

Human trafficking is not just an issue. It’s ultimately, about people. Depending on the sources of statistics, there are anywhere from 29-40 million people in some form of forced labor and slavery, including sex trafficking.

And one thing I’ve learned, personally, is how easy it is easy to reduce people into projects which is why mutuality, reciprocity, and dignity are so vital. These are critical because God never intended people to be reduced into projects.

We forget this and we indirectly foster a culture and system of victimization or worse, the pornification of the poor or in this case, "the trafficked." And when you start dehumanizing the poor or trafficked, you have no genuine desire to build relationships with them. You believe or build stereotypes in broad strokes, singular, black and white narratives that have been told about them. You believe the lie that they have nothing to teach us and are incapable of contributing to the larger society.

Lord, break our hearts for the things that break your heart. Give us eyes to see others through your eyes. Give us humility so that we acknowledge our own need to learn and grow. (Photo via @thefreedomstory) May our hearts break for injustice and exploitation - whether abroad or in our own backyard. Spending a few days for @onedayswages in Thailand. Along with one of our board members, I'm traveling with a group of 10 others to learn, listen and visit a few NGOs including one of our partners, @thefreedomstory. Couple days ago, we spent an evening walking through Soi Cowboy. On a given night, about 10,000 people are in the ring of prostitution in Soi Cowboy, Nana Plaza, and Patpong. Much of this is driven by the consumer demand. Approximately 70% of male tourists go to Thailand for the sex industry.

Human trafficking is complex. Anyone that says otherwise is lying or selling you something. 
To reduce it to simple terms, or simple problems, or simple solutions…cause harmful consequences. While we can all agree that it is sinful, egregious, evil, and wrong…there are many nuances and complexities. It would serve all of us to grow deep in the awareness not just of the larger issue but the nuances and complexities.

When people speak of human trafficking, they tend to be ‘attracted’ to the issue of sexual exploitation. Dare I say it, human trafficking has become trendy as a justice issue.

Clearly, it’s evil and egregious. But to reduce the entire issue of human trafficking into one form is not helpful. Because the mission is to fight the entire injustice of slavery. And if that’s the commitment, we have to not only combat sexual exploitation but engage in issues of poverty, forced labor, commercial exploitation in tourism, land rights and power abuses, organized crime networks, cultural and economic realities, etc.

Oh, it's so complex but we have to be engaged whether in Thailand or in our own backyards. May our hearts break for the things that break the heart of God... More thoughts to come.

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