We are always poised between the known and unknown. Whether physical, literal, or metaphorical; something is taking aim at our lives. It could be that rock on the highway you didn’t see coming. Who knows? Our next moment is not promised. Risk is all around us.
It takes courage to stand up at moments like this, moments like today, when risk feels so distant. Days when the sun is shining, the sky is blue, and everything seems right with the world but we know, not far away, people are hurting in unimaginable ways. It takes strength to get up when everything appears right with our world. Why? Because appearances can be deceiving. The world, our communities, the body of Christ is interconnected in ways we barely understand. No one suffers alone. Our human capacity for empathy drives us to care for people we’ve never met or seen. We feel the pain and loss of strangers because their stories mirror our own. It doesn’t matter what color they are, who they voted for, or if they think a wall is something you put in your back yard or along a southern border. The ability to love and care for those we see injured, abandoned, and bereaved is not an American or even uniquely Christian quality. It’s part of being human.
Over time, we’ve attached patriotic and religious words to our humanity. In an effort to allow one to subsume the other, we’ve merged our religiosity with our humanity and our patriotism with our national identity. That’s not an authentic reflection of who we are as people. We’re living in a peculiar time and place. Because of our anxieties, Americans are uncomfortable with the idea that evil cannot exist without a motive. We’re equally uneasy with the notion that our goodness as Americans wasn’t caused by splicing the DNA of George Washington’s men at Valley Forge, with Ernest Hemingway’s, and Billy Graham’s which every American receives before enrolling in Kindergarten. In short, evil must have a reason and Protestant American Manly Goodness is simply part of who we are.
We understand the world, morality, right and wrong by putting everything between these two poles. Sunday night, the poles were removed and Americans responded as humans; not as country fans, Christians, Republicans, Democrats, or gun owners. No one needs to justify heroism in terms of any allegiance to a type of music, political party, cause, or tribe. Saving lives is the human thing to do. Being human, caring for others is the right thing to do. When the chips are down and we’ve heard this time and time again, it didn’t matter who was hurt, no one deserved to die.
Humanity played the central role in saving lives and redeeming the story which will ultimately be told about the Route 91 Harvest Festival. Does that make the deaths any easier? Will it heal the pain? No. I do think it shows the possibility of people from different backgrounds seeing beyond the labels and identities they’ve so readily assumed (or been burdened with) and carried for the past three decades. If we want to live in a country where people aren’t regularly murdered by men with automatic weapons, it’s going to take dealing with our anxieties about evil and realizing our goodness is limited by our egos. And the person who’s got your back, the person who will drive you to the hospital if you’re ever shot or heart attacked, may be Hispanic, African American, Gay, Laotian, illegal, driving a truck, perhaps a Subaru, loves country music, voted for Trump, does Yoga, line dances, or maybe voted for Jill Stein, hates cats, loves dogs, and that shouldn’t matter at all to you. You love them no matter what! We’re in no position, not now, not ever, to be turning down friends.
Richard Lowell Bryant