We are fragile. We like to pretend that we are strong, but we aren’t.
Homeless people aren’t lazy or worthless. Most of the time, they’ve been hit, by a marriage breakdown or the death of a child or domestic abuse or the loss of a job, have struggled to hold their life together, and not been able to. They are just like those of us for whom life is going well at present – something none of us should ever take for granted.
People who walk into schools and kill children and teachers aren’t any more evil than you or me. They aren’t good-for-nothing failures, or whatever other term of abuse we might be tempted to categorise them as. Some might have wilfully given themselves over to acting in evil ways, but it won’t do to label mass murderers evil as a means of seeing them as the exception and not the rule: as with the homeless, there but for the grace of God go I.
Wherever we live, our societies are full of people who are struggling, who are withdrawing. The irony is that in this position, we get ourselves into a catch-22: with the best will in the world, it is hard to reach out to someone who is heading away from the reach of those who try to show love. I saw this over and over again when I was working with university students who were dealing with an intense social and academic environment with – especially in the case of international students – homesickness and culture-shock thrown in for good measure.
It only takes a couple of things to spin out of their regular orbit in our lives at once, and we get drawn into a downward spiral out of control. In such circumstances, frustration is normal and understandable. Life can lose its value – not only our own, but those of others, family and stranger alike. Anger is natural, and illogical: can be directed against the world at large, and at ourselves.
Make it relatively easy for anyone in such a place to get hold of firearms, and the potential impact on the community is massive and tragic.
As an outsider looking in, as a friend, I cannot understand why America does not amend its gun control legislation (I cannot see how the Second Amendment to the Constitution equates to carrying concealed automatic and semi-automatic weaponry), and I also long to see a completely different approach to mental illness (effectively criminalizing it is...madness).
But what I want to end with this evening is an endorsement of and encouragement to the churches across America and across my own nation and in countless other places; faithful communities who are reaching out to broken people in love. Yes, it is hard at times. It is hard to love broken people: because of their brokenness, because they run from us, because of the ways in which their brokenness offends or mirrors our brokenness. It is hard, almost impossible: indeed, without the Holy Spirit in us and with us, quite impossible. And yet, day after day, night after night, the church is there. The church, that gets so much bad press.
And so, take heart. Grieve for the world we live in. Lead our neighbours in repentance – in a change, in how we perceive situations and people, not from the world’s perspective but from the perspective of heaven – and belief – living a different way, forming society in truer ways. Hold fast to good. Be of good hope.
We stand, shaken but not overwhelmed. For we are not alone.