I Can Imagine…

Holy hell!

Twenty-seven people were killed today during a Sunday morning worship service inside a Baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. About half of their congregation’s average attendance is dead, among them a two-year-old; four children are among those hospitalized. The shooter is one of the dead.

I can’t even imagine…we say. Yet that’s not true.

By power of imagination and regular practice, I can mentally seat myself in a church, with my loved ones and friends, my church family. We are singing, or praying, or jotting down salient points from the sermon. Though we each bring our assorted baggage, in this time and place we are unified in spirit. All is calm.

I can hear the Sanctuary door jarred open, the bang and squeak disrupting the quiet moment. I can see heads turning in confusion, wondering at the interruption. I can hear the pop pop pop shattering the worshipful hush, the fearful screams, the shouts to “Get down!” I can see those who would sacrifice themselves leaping from the pews, rushing the gunman, the thud of bullet meeting muscle, the shudder, and the gunman stepping over fallen bodies to continue his bloody rampage.

How long does it last–minutes feel like years–and how would it end? At what point does the gunman decide to turn his weapon on himself? Because that’s how it happens, usually (what hell do we live in that I can write, “usually”?), unless police arrive to stop him with their own bullets.

I can see the aftermath: the scared and crying congregation, some shirking from the bloodied bodies, retreating into themselves; some wailing; some jumping into immediate action, whether from well-worn servanthood or numbness; many running from the Sanctuary-scene to the courtyard, falling into hugs and prayer, clinging to one another in desperation. I can see (I pray I never see) fellow worshipers—children, teens, adults—those with whom I have prayed and served for years, gone in a gun’s flash.

Carrie Matula embraces a woman after a fatal shooting at the First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, on Sunday, Nov. 5, 2017. Matula said she heard the shooting from the gas station where she works a block away. (Nick Wagner/Austin American-Statesman via AP)

How will we recover? Through faith, with prayer (and a healthy dose of talk therapy), with the strange togetherness that results from shared experience no matter how awful. Some will fall away, unable to fathom a God who would allow this to happen in His house. Some will take their fear and anger to God, and some will take it out on Him.

I can imagine the horror. I wish I couldn’t. Mass shootings in the U.S. have become such a terribly regular occurrence that even as we are horrified we also aren’t surprised.

Can we please, please, pretty please (because the reality is the antithesis to pretty) end the madness?

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