A birthday cake with lit candles

In Wake of Violence, Compassion Matters More Than Ever

A person posing for the cameraPeople of Hope:

While serving at Grace Lutheran Church in downtown Phoenix, I regularly mediated both verbal and physical conflict. When fistfights erupted in Hope Hall, the fellowship hall, usually, one person would flee, the other remain. The person who remained would end up at the table in my office, where I would ask: “What’s going on?” One hundred percent of the time, when I asked this question, people responded with things like: “My dad used to hit me,” “My mom used meth,” “My parents split up when I was young, and they weren’t around much.”

People’s past traumatic experience was so vivid that it spilled over into the present. Instead of using healthy coping skills to work through the traumatic memories still vibrantly present and triggered by a particular sound or look or circumstance, the person used their fists or profanity or a raised voice to work through the difficulty. Because of people’s life circumstances, stressors were continuous: sleep deprivation from not having a safe place to sleep, homelessness that meant constant uncertainty, mental health challenges, a lack of healthy relationships, and a lack of health care, among others. People were trying to solve the problems of the past, triggered by circumstances of the present, through violence.     

These past couple of days, as I have read with sorrow about the shooting of three children and three adults by a young adult in Nashville, I have thought about all the other people in my life who have tried to solve problems in their lives with violence. We have probably been there, too, even if we did not have access to a gun or other weapons. We have probably raised our voice or called someone a name or even disciplined a child physically. There is a reason people use violence to try to solve problems, and in my experience, it often has to do with an overwhelming emotion we don’t know how to navigate, or not knowing any other way to solve problems because that wasn’t modeled for us.  

There are plenty of systemic and personal reasons that violence is so pervasive in our society. But today, I pray for all those who commit acts of violence. That person is hurting and struggling and trying to solve the problems in their life. They are not solving their problems in healthy ways and must be held accountable. Still, I have compassion for each one even as I grieve with the families and friends of those killed and the community at large at the loss of these children and adults.

Jesus commands us to love God and to love our neighbors, all our neighbors.  

With love for each of you,

Pastor Sarah