The Brotherhood of the Second Cross was established on Father’s Day 2005 where 160 men stood before their wives and children to pledge themselves to purity, self-sacrifice, loyalty, and excellence. Today, hundreds more have joined the commitment.
Many people have written the thoughts stirred by the horrific events of last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut. The national outpouring of love and support for that small community has been enormous, and renews thoughts of goodness in the hearts of America’s people.
For me, the horrid news took me back to a similar moment more than three years ago in another small town–this one in Samson, Alabama. Samson and Newtown stand on opposite sides of the economic spectrum, but they share a similar blotch in their community history–a crazed gunman leaving numerous families with overwhelming grief.
In Samson, the numbers of those killed were fewer (11 to 26) and the children lost were a smaller list as well (1 to 20). That one was a little 3-year old girl named Corrine, who died alongside her mother. Their visit to the neighbors across the street turned horrifying when a troubled nephew arrived to unload his automatic weapon on his unsuspecting uncle and family. Andrea and Corrine died with four of their neighbors that morning.
A few days later, I stood on that same front porch, overwhelmed by the trauma that suffocated that little town. Then I stood at the head of the casket that held mother and daughter, trying to help the hundreds packing that chapel to process their pain and find hope in their grief. It’s a surreal moment that lasted for days and lingers somewhere just beneath the surface of my daily routine, ready to spring forward in hard-to-manage emotion each time someone unloads a weapon in a shopping mall, quiet neighborhood, or former workplace.
The Sunday after I returned from Alabama to my congregation in Wichita, I shared a message I titled, “Things I Learned in a Week.” These reflections seem relevant again as I watch the sadness unfold in Connecticut.
First, even the strong cannot stop tragedy and pain – As I stood in that chapel on March 15, 2009, I couldn’t help but see the several dozen armed police and sheriff officers that had come to support one of their own. Joshua, the husband and dad of Andrea and Corrine, was and still is a Deputy Sheriff there. But even with all that firepower and the dedication those men bring to the job everyday, a small deranged young man couldn’t be stopped. In spite of all the collective hours they’d given—on and off duty—insanity found its way to expression. It proves that while there’s room to consider new laws and strategic safety steps, the march of evil will continue and moments such as these will continue to dot the future before us, even as we give our best to prevent them.
Second, loving and giving are matching sides of the same coin – In the midst of the horror and the aftershock that reverberates across the nation, I don’t think we can possibly achieve a full list of all that was given this week in love. Even in that small Alabama town where poverty was the companion of many, people gave…and they gave…and they gave. The response in such moments boggles the mind. I remember a woman who drove up in a battered pickup and dropped off a large bucket of newly-purchased chicken. When I invited her to come in and greet the family, she refused, telling me she didn’t know them, but just wanted to do something. I never met the people who secretly paid for my hotel room, but I did get to shake the hand of the funeral director who provided much of his services free of charge and listened to the radio DJ who raised tens of thousands of dollars from his financially-strapped listeners. It’s remarkable when unbelievable kindnesses become commonplace.
Third, forgiveness offers the greatest freedom – Blame isn’t always easy to aim in such tragedies. Sure, the gunman is a clear target. I often think how much better it would be if those who set out to kill a long list of people would start with themselves, rather than simply adding their name to the bottom of the list. But blame takes some wider targets as well. In Alabama, the gunman’s dad was the only family member left to blame. As in Newtown, mom was the first target so the man who had fathered the boy and then left many years before bravely or blindly returned to town to face the devastation his son had left behind. As the man came to town, I stood in awe as my friend and Corrine’s grandpa, Chuck, laid aside his grief to embrace the broken man and extend a forgiveness the poor fellow needed but couldn’t understand. In that moment, I watched light come to eyes that seemed destined for decades of darkness. Yes, anger has its place, but forgiveness is more powerful, and leaves a fragrant beauty in its wake.
Fourth, I learned that unseen people change the world – My days in Alabama included meeting many national and state leaders. They had come to honor the innocent dead and extend their love to grieving families. As representatives of thousands and even millions, their presence was very special. But while the cameras captured their efforts, thousands more slipped in and out unnoticed, giving their best in ways that made the same deep impressions. I remember a boy at one of the funerals running a mile down the street to a house to grab a music cd the service that was about to start needed. He returned sweating and exhausted, but his race made a huge difference when that music began its comforting work right on time. There was a woman who rushed to the porch and took baby Ella from her dead mother’s arms, racing away before the gunman made his eventual return. Few, if any, newspapers picked up her great contribution, but that little girl wouldn’t be sitting in her preschool class today without her sacrificial effort. I’m glad God keeps track of these things, because I’m convinced that no human can count everything done in such hours by unseen but loving people.
Finally, now is the time to start being the person you plan to be – Andrea had no idea that her friendly walk across the street would be her last. Teachers couldn’t have guessed that their lives would end shortly after they gathered their students for another day of learning. Shoppers never guessed that a day of Christmas shopping would place them in the line of fire. For all of our DayTimers and strategic life plans, we can never know exactly what a day will bring. So, if there’s somebody you want to be, get started now. Today can bring the unexpected and tomorrow doesn’t come with a guarantee.
Live well, love well, and use today to make a difference somewhere. Learn that from these tragic moments and maybe your life will bring something good from the midst of such awful devastation.