Category Archives: Reflection

“After Sutherland Springs: A Reflection”

Sutherland Springs

Yesterday’s tragic church shooting in Sutherland Springs, Texas has already hit the “refresh” button on any number of rallying cries on all sides of the gun violence debates, especially on social media.

Coming soon to a feed near you–depending on which ones you’ve developed–will be the seemingly inevitable impatience with sending “thoughts and prayers” and not attempting meaningful gun control legislation. Or alternately, there will be the calls to encourage concealed- and open-carry, even in church, under the general heading of “an armed society is a polite society,” or “the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

“It’s Not Too Soon to Debate Gun Control,” says an editorial in this morning’s New York Times. “If we can’t talk about gun control now, after Sutherland Springs, then we will never talk about it,” says a commentary in today’s Dallas Morning News.

Yet just last month, in the wake of the Las Vegas shootings, the White House called such conversations “premature” when they appeared less than 24 hours after the tragedy. Others will say so again today, if they have not already done so.

There will be statistics. There are always statistics.

Yet soon enough, it will once again be clear that few have changed their minds, even this time, and the debate will go dormant again…until the next incident.

Despite the common sadness and horror we all feel in the face of tragedy, we continue to talk past one another when it comes to responding to gun violence.

It’s time for a different conversation.

We want the court of public opinion to adjudicate whether guns are “the solution” or “part of the problem”.

But it’s not that simple.

Instead, I wonder what might happen if we began a broader conversation on fear.

Christian ethicist Scott Bader-Saye, academic dean of the Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, Texas, has written about the moral consequences of “disordered and excessive fear.”

He argues that fear “underwrites an ethic of security in which self-preservation consistently trumps other goods, and it fosters a set of shadow virtues–including suspicion, preemption, and control.”

He warns against the dangers of coming to fear not only what we should not, but also as we should not–that being afraid of the wrong things, or becoming consumed by fear to the exclusion of all else, can equally lead us astray.

Fear distorts our perception, leading us to see some threats as bigger than they are, or much closer than they are.

It can also lead us to fear losing things that, actually, aren’t all that worth defending. (Think of the person who refuses to give up a wallet during a mugging, or someone who whips out a gun over a disagreement about a parking space.)

Similarly, for many years now, studies have documented how fear of crime has been far more pervasive than actual crime.

How might that be translating into diminished lives, in which our fear of possible harm, while justified, has become so great that it overshadows our ability to pursue the good?

For example, in my congregation, how many people might be avoiding serving dinner at a nearby men’s shelter because the neighborhood seems too frightening?

In my last church, we had an older woman in good health who was afraid to come to Sunday Worship because of a burglary at her home that had occurred while she was out at church many years before.

How many people say they won’t go into a nearby city, or travel in different parts of the country because it’s too dangerous?

That sounds a lot like where we are.

We all long for security–for a world safe enough for us to cross a deserted parking lot, or to go buy a pack of Skittles after dark without worrying that our lives and our children’s lives might be on the line.

The fear of being in the “wrong place at the wrong time” is real, and yet it looks very different, depending on your social location in America today.

If you put it that way, are guns really “the problem” or “the solution”?


Much as guns are in the mix, the questions go much deeper than the presence or absence of a gun in a given situation.

Maybe we should talk about what it is like to be that sort of vulnerable space, rather than focusing immediately on the narrower question of whether or not a gun should be there, too.

Those who roll their eyes at the old slogan “Guns don’t kill. People kill” are missing an opportunity to ask what it is about our world that makes some of us scared enough or angry enough to contemplate killing if need be.

Those who carry guns are missing an opportunity to hear especially what those from traditionally “targeted” communities in America go through not only today, but literally since 1492.

What if instead of being focused on guns, we tried to engage in real conversation about privilege in America–what it feels like to be losing it, and to be denied it altogether?

If that’s too big, there are other questions to ask.

As Bader-Saye might ask: who are the “shadow virtues” of suspicion, preemption, and control training us to become?

Is that really who we want to be?

I don’t think it is.

But until we find enough common ground to begin talking, that’s exactly what we’re going to become.

The Labor Day Letter I Wish I Could Send To My Church

Dear Friends,

It’s 6:45 on the evening of Labor Day.  Many of our members are getting set for the second week of school, and some of you are probably running back and forth between the burgers on the grill and continuing coverage of the U.S. Open.  If history is any judge, others are slowly making their way back to Greenwich after another summer in a beloved second place — if that’s you, I hope the traffic through Norwalk isn’t too bad.

In the next few days, you’ll be settling back into your “home” routine, and soon enough, everyone’s calendar will start filling up again.  Halloween candy and decorations are already on the shelves at the A&P — and then it’s the familiar sprint to Thanksgiving, then Christmas.

At church, we’re hoping to see you, too.

But statistics tell us that we won’t see all of you.  On average, across all denominations and across the country, after about six weeks out of the habit of going to church, the likelihood that you’ll return diminishes significantly.

Because you’re gone, we won’t know if it’s something that’s changed for you about our church specifically, about church in general, or about your relationship with God.

All lives have seasons, and sometimes it’s only time away that reveals to us that we are in a new one — the silence of a house now that everyone has left for college, the career that still asks so much when what it offers now doesn’t seem like enough, the end of a marriage or the death of a parent, or the pull of a new dream.  Did some powerful voice speak to your life this summer, and maybe point you in a new direction?

We’d love to hear about it.  You know, if only there were some sort of convenient weekly meeting at a set time and place where we might encounter each other…but I digress.

Most of the time, our curiosity and concern get politely postponed. When we call to check in, people tell us that they’re just so busy but look forward to getting back soon, and thank you for calling.

When you say that, we know that you’re breaking up with us.

There’s a world of difference between “we really must get together sometime” and “let’s have lunch on Tuesday,” isn’t there?

Maybe you’re trying to let us down easy.  Or maybe you aren’t quite ready to admit to yourself that the landscape has shifted.

You wouldn’t believe the number of people who never take their leave, but who just send an email to the church office asking to be removed from the email list.  And the newsletter database.  And the stewardship campaign.

If that’s because, say, caring for an aging parent is wringing you out to dry in every way, by all means, let me know. Let me be your pastor and walk with you through this season in any way I can.

But if it means that, without ever quite saying so, you’ve discovered that golf or little league is your greatest Sunday commitment, then how God fits into the rest of your week is a question only you can answer. Even so, I’d love to help with that, too, if I can.

We want to honor our relationship with you as your life changes.  We also count on you to honor your relationship with us. We can’t make you and would not want to, even if we could.   But we hope you will do right by a community that, at some point, seemed to mean a great deal to you.

So don’t feel guilty or dive out of sight whenever you spot me or the Senior Deacon in the supermarket.I have a different idea: if summer has taught you something new — about yourself, about your family, or about God — and you know you won’t be back, let’s have an exit interview.

I promise that I won’t try to convince you to stay if you promise to tell me honestly about how you’ve encountered God at our church, and what memories are sacred to you, as well as what’s been, well, profane.  Or just blah.  Help us with your wisdom, even if it is just for one last time.

Not sure if you’ll be back? Let’s have that talk, and agree about a sabbatical for you, with permission for me to call at some mutually agreed upon point, even if it’s just to wish you godspeed.

Feeling like you know you’ll be doing something else on Sundays, but can’t imagine family baptisms, weddings, or funerals anywhere else?  Let me tell you what to expect if the pastor you contact turns out to be someone after I’ve moved on.

Because in all those situations, the life of the congregation will be moving on, too.  New stories, new situations, new leadings from God will shape our imagination and our life together.

But if you’re moving on, and so are we, that doesn’t mean that we can’t help each other move forward into whatever God has in store for us both.  And we should.

Somehow, that seems like the Christian thing to do.

Be in touch,