Since I was 6 years old, I have been afraid of the kind of gun slaying that happened at the Batman screening recently. When I was younger, I tried to sleep in ways that made it look like my room was empty, so if an attacker came into my room at night they would not be able to find me. During nightmares, I strategized escape plans from attackers with guns in public places.
Unfortunately shootings, no matter how shocking, are not unique. And while I’m sure many survivors and pastors will be speaking out in the days following this event, I think the Lutheran tradition has a perspective that is helpful for this national conversation.
If you’re looking for lobbied opinions for more mental health care, more or less gun regulations or an attempt to figure out how or why this tragedy happened, you won’t find it here. Other traditions have louder, more polarized things to say. Lutherans are adept at issues that fall in the messy middle.
We have learned the lessons that come from having a founder whose anger caused wars against the innocent and the slaughtering of enemies and are able to see the ways issues like these are as complex as the God who created us. While it’s easy to get stuck in the “why” questions of a tragedy like this, Lutheran tradition calls us to look beyond the origins and to not only yearn for but to dirty our hands working for a more just and peaceful tomorrow.
When we are at our best, ELCA members voice very divergent opinions and continue to have the ability to work together to respond to disasters, fight malaria and respond to hunger and poverty issues. At the center of our faith is the need to respond to humanness in all its raw, beautiful-ugliness.
Our sacred Scriptures are neither fortune cookies nor shields from violence. They are gritty stories that provide opportunities to eavesdrop on characters that stare death in the face, try to rebuild after war and do the best they can to listen to God’s call for their lives.
The first time I stared death in the face was when I was 24 days old. At the baptismal font, my parents and a faithful Lutheran congregation celebrated a ritual designed to ease the fear of death. While I continued to spend many years afraid of gun violence after that moment, I deeply wish our country had a ritual we could share in times like these that would enable us to hear universally comforting words of promise.
Regretfully, we may only have the ability to feel this connection in our moments of silence. It will be tempting during this time of national mourning to try to attach blame, to become numb to the news and to let fear get the best of us. But we must learn to stop fearing our neighbors, to heal from our traumas and to find ways to crawl out from under our beds and live.
Megan Rohrer is an ELCA pastor called by five congregations and has been a missionary to the homeless in San Francisco since 2002.