When Bad News Hits

Last week was a doozy, wasn’t it? Sunday, just as I was wrapping up our second service at church, I heard the news of the late night mass shooting in Orlando. Of the 49 killed, there was an accountant, a star athlete, a bouncer, a bartender, a restaurant manager, a young man described as a “cool dude” and “an angel” for his extraordinary kindness. They were sons, daughters, friends, fellow humans. The great majority were LGBTQ persons and persons of color, as well. They were targeted by another young man who claimed to be inspired by radical Islamic funamentalism, including ISIS, and may or may not have been a closeted gay man himself, certainly a relevant topic for consideration if that proves to be true.

But I’m not in a position to analyze. I’m no expert on the events, and it’s likely too soon, certainly for an outsider and amateur like me. I just know that every time I checked the news or even looked at my facebook feed, I saw and heard more, and was paralyzed by a low level grief. On top of that, despite this being a pretty awesome week in my own life in many, many ways, I had the news from a dear friend of a potentially deeply worrisome health diagnosis. So that was on my mind as well.

Thursday, I found myself unable to get much done. Until I noticed that, did a few things, and then went on my way with a fair measure of joy and peace. Nothing I did was all that original, but in case it helps, I’ll share with you all.

I took a walk. The picture for this post, in fact, is the gorgeous and enormous old oak tree in a park I like to walk through and pray in now and then. Andy Crouch, in his book Strong and Weak, presents a 2 by 2 chart that outlines the various ways humanity flourishes or doesn’t. The polar opposite of flourishing in his chart is withdrawal, when we have or exercise no capacity for meaningful action, and we open ourselves up to low or no risk or vulnerability.


For folks living in safety and security, we easily hide from the scariness of the big world by retreating into safe and meaningless withdrawal. For me, this looks like endless and mind-numbing facebook scrolling, for instance. Crouch says that one of our simplest paths out of withdrawal is just this.

“Turn off your devices and go for a walk or a run, not just on days when the weather is pleasant but on days when the wind is fierce, the rain is falling or the humidity is high. Shiver or sweat, feel fatigue in your limbs, hear the sounds of the city or the country side unfiltered by headphones. Choose to go to places – the ocean, the mountains, or a broad, wide field – where you will feel small rather than grand.” (90)

My walk did just this – connected me with the big, wondrous world and gave me a moment of perspective taking.

As I walked, I started to pray. I prayed for the victims of the Oralndo shooting and for their families. I prayed for the shooter, and for his family. I prayed for our nation and our attachment to guns and our addiction to violence. I lamented the outrageous state of things in our world, on so many fronts. I prayed for my worried friend and his family.

And in a little prayer book I’ve been using to lead and inspire me, I came across this prayer: Keep, O Lord, your household the Church in your steadfast faith and love, that through your grace each of us may proclaim your truth with boldness, and minister your justice with compassion; for the sake of our Savior Jesus Christ…” And that felt timely to pray and guided me toward the kind of spirit and action I want to embrace.

Then I did a couple of things that were in my power. On the advice of one activist I follow on facebook, I checked in on a few LGBTQ friends of mine, asked how they were doing, told them they had my prayers and love and support. I signed a petition related to gun violence. I made a note to myself to say something and lead out in prayer the next Sunday in church.

And then I got away from my newsfeed, and I looked to love the people in my path and to live with purpose and joy, as best I could. I find that when any kind of big news hits, certainly when tragedy strikes, it’s easy to go numb watching video after video, reading article after article, taking in outraged social media post after post. I first experienced this in the aftermath of 9/11, when all of us – myself included – couldn’t stop watching those planes crash into those buildings.

But I’ve learned that this ceaseless feeding of my brain with images and outrage only paralyzes me. It doesn’t increase compassion or lead me to any kind of productive action. So I shut it off and checked in on my kids, wrote a couple of notes to friends, and kept an eye out for my next chance to connect or to serve or to be useful. I continue to think about this, almost each day.

This path may not be yours, but it’s been the best I’ve known how to do. And it’s helped keep me awake and alive, even in what sometimes feel like dark days.

Romans Bible Guide – Day 25

Previously, in Romans: Paul has begun exploring whether God can still be seen as just and merciful and effective in fulfilling his promises – in short, righteous – even though most Jews seemed to have rejected their Jewish Messiah, Jesus.

Romans 9:19-29

19 You will say to me then, “Why then does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20 But who indeed are you, a human being, to argue with God? Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, “Why have you made me like this?” 21 Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for special use and another for ordinary use? 22 What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; 23 and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24 including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? 25 As indeed he says in Hosea,

“Those who were not my people I will call ‘my people,’
and her who was not beloved I will call ‘beloved.’”
26 “And in the very place where it was said to them, ‘You are not my people,’
there they shall be called children of the living God.”

27 And Isaiah cries out concerning Israel, “Though the number of the children of Israel were like the sand of the sea, only a remnant of them will be saved; 28 for the Lord will execute his sentence on the earth quickly and decisively.” 29 And as Isaiah predicted,

“If the Lord of hosts had not left survivors to us,
we would have fared like Sodom
and been made like Gomorrah.”


Points of Interest:

  • ‘Why then does he still find fault?’ – Paul’s anonymous question asker is back, asking what seem like pretty fair questions. If God has the prerogative to be kind to some and reject others, can we really blame people who seem to be rejecting God?
  • ‘who are you… to argue with God?’ – So this is one way to shut down the conversation, but it’s where Paul starts, by insisting that a creator God can do what God wants to do, and it’s not really the business of one who is created to argue. Fair enough, but it’s not where Paul leaves things.
  • ‘objects of wrath… objects of mercy’ – One way of reading this contrast is that we’re all like clay pots, some made for God to smash and others for him to enjoy. (But he’s being patient in not smashing some quite yet, even though they are, in fact, destined to be destroyed!) Another way of reading it is that God is having great patience with messed-up pots so that, through the power of Jesus’ good news, they can become objects of mercy. After all, God wants to “make known the riches of his glory,” and what better way – in this metaphor – than by having many pots to pour it into.
  • ‘Those who were not my people I will call “my people”’ – In quoting from Hosea, Paul calls to mind a story about Israel, in which people God had adopted are so unresponsive to God that they are compared to adulterous prostitutes. Yet, in Hosea, God can’t help loving them again and again, being faithful even in their faithlessness to make them his beloved spouse/his children again. So again, even while Paul says God has the prerogative to choose some and reject others, he’s inclined to keep turning to people in mercy, waiting for them to say yes to God’s kindness.
  • ‘only a remnant of them will be saved’ – In his quotations from Isaiah, Paul completes his retelling of Jewish history from Abraham, through exile, through return. God chose Abraham and some of Abraham’s descendants to be in covenant with God – to experience God’s blessing and mercy and to respond in faith. Those descendants largely turned away from God, raising the possibility of the end of that promise and covenant. Here too, “the word of God” could have “failed.” (9:6) But a small part of Israel remains responsive to God, called “my people”, “my beloved”, a portion who are saved. First century Jews might have understood this to be the portion of Jews that returned to Jerusalem after their exile. For Paul, it could be Jewish followers of Jesus. It could be Jesus himself. It could be all who trust God and so who are “circumcised in heart” (2:29). It’s too soon to say.
  • ‘Sodom and… Gomorroah’ – Cities of pervasive violence and inhospitality that are destroyed in the Genesis story after Abraham asks God to guarantee he’ll be merciful if there are only a few decent people to be found. The implication here is that the Jews have not had this experience – there are survivors.

Taking It Home:

For youWhat if your life, like a clay vessel, is meant to contain as much of God’s mercy and love as possible? How could this be so for you? Does it help to imagine God calling you “my people” and “beloved”?

For your city/church – Have you tended to see your surrounding culture more as a world that God is eager to destroy or which he has prepared for glory? Invite God to fill your city with mercy and glory, as this passage says, and to use it for a special purpose.