Bullet-Proofing

Another week in America. Another massacre.

(File that in the category of things I never – in my wildest and worst nightmares – imagined saying/thinking/writing.)

A deranged gunman opens fire in a crowded bar in Thousand Oaks.

Bullets fly.

People die.

And the attacker pauses to post on social media before killing himself. (More on that later.)

Our reactions are wide-ranging… and telling. From unmoved to outraged, heartsick to dumbstruck.

Here we go again.

Sudden death. And then a tidal wave of emotions: apathy (another mass shooting today… and… by the way, did you pick up the dry cleaning?) to anger… to anguish.

Who can answer the locked-and-loaded questions? Who can make sense of the senseless?

Who can stop the hell-bent?

Immediately following the bloodshed, the same refrain. Pundits pontificate. Politicians posture. Parents press for solutions… and scramble to protect their young.

Praying desperate prayers…

Deliver us from evil.

Taking necessary precautions…

Baby-proofing. Bullet-proofing.

How on God’s green earth did we get here?

There’s no denying that danger lurks… darkness lingers. In malls and movie theaters, neighborhoods and nightclubs.

We aren’t safe anywhere. Even in school. Even in synagogue. (Homeland security? Is there even such a thing?)

Maybe I’m an idealist (or a loon), but I think there’s a lot we can/should/must do.

NOW.

I’m no policy expert, but it seems fairly obvious that these things should top our “to do” list:

  • Ban manufacture and sale of assault weapons, bump stocks and extended magazines. Stat.
  • Require a waiting period prior to all gun purchases. Thirty days seems reasonable. Enough time for law enforcement to do background checks, hotheads to cool off, and suicidal/homicidal impulses to pass. (If it takes 6-8 weeks to get a passport, why should anybody complain about waiting 4 weeks for a weapon?)
  • Impose a minimum age requirement of 21 for gun ownership and possession (with exceptions for active duty military personnel).
  • Implement a more effective red-flagging system. Mental health professionals, physicians and educators – who are already “mandatory reporters” anyway – submit critical information directly to law enforcement when they suspect someone may have violent impulses or intent to harm. Immediate risk assessment follows.
  • Create a database to compile these and other “at-risk” reports. If someone appears to be mentally unstable and potentially violent, a concerned family member/ friend/neighbor can call a hotline or file an online report. (Similar to a DCFS report for child abuse.) If three such reports are received, law enforcement responds (computer search, mental-health assessment, weapons inventory, etc.).
  • Bolster investigative units specializing in online/social media threats. Develop algorithms for identifying cases of cyber-radicalization and home-grown terrorism.
  • Provide active shooter training for every professional currently required to be first aid/CPR certified. (School administrators, health care workers, etc.)

In this latest attack, the shooter (described by acquaintances as a “hothead” with an “explosive temper”) had been reported to police during a domestic disturbance last April. Finding him “somewhat irate” and “irrational,” law enforcement officials called in a crisis intervention team and mental health specialist. Despite concerns about his agitated behavior (and possible PTSD related to prior military service – including deployment to Afghanistan in 2011), the young man was cleared.

If he had been held on a 5150 order, he would have been taken into custody for 72 hours and – under California law – would have been prohibited from owning or possessing firearms thereafter.

And maybe, just maybe, a dozen people who were alive and well on Wednesday afternoon would still be living and breathing. At least a little longer.

I doubt any of the folks in the Borderline Bar and Grill Wednesday night thought it might be their last. Most of the victims were young, their whole lives ahead of them.

But the truth is – even with a vest, shield and tactical gear – the only part of us that’s bulletproof is our soul.

For man is but a breath; his days are like a passing shadow. ~ Psalm 144:4 

Our bodies break. Our minds fail. Our hearts stop. But our souls, they endure. Even when wildfires ravage and storms batter and bullets rain, our souls survive.

My great comfort in these trying and troubled times is this:

It is well with my soul. 

And my desperate prayer is that it be well with yours too. Because every SOS is ultimately… a plea to God.

Save Our Souls.

I don’t know when or where terror will strike next. Or whether I might soon be “in the wrong place at the wrong time,” unaware of someone armed-and-dangerous nearby. (Because as the gunman so eerily wrote in his mid-massacre social media post: “Yeah… I’m insane, but the only thing you people do after these shootings is ‘hopes and prayers’ or ‘keep you in my thoughts…’ Every time… and wonder why these keep happening.”)

I understand the sheer exasperation and disgust of those who keep hearing “thoughts and prayers” but not a single solution.

(Or more importantly, action… protection… prevention.)

So to all the victims’ families and everyone who’s shell-shocked, grief-stricken, frightened or furious tonight, I offer not only my thoughts and prayers… but action points.

Because…

… With faith… If it doesn’t cause us to do something, it’s dead. ~ James 2:17

Please keep praying. (Frankly, I’m stunned by anyone – talking to you, Cuomo – who suggests prayer makes no difference. Without prayer Chris, things would be a HELL of a lot worse.)

And yes, let’s take action too.

Don’t let evil overcome you. Overcome evil by doing good. ~ Romans 12:21

For God’s sake, let’s do something.

Call your elected officials, thank a first-responder, donate blood, hug your kid.

And never ever forget…

Love. Will. Win.

Wendy

P.S. On this Veteran’s Day (as we ponder how to best protect our people and our nation), a simple and sincere “thanks” to our vets seems woefully insufficient. But today and every day, I’m grateful to the brave men and women who’ve served in the Navy, Marines, Army, Air Force, Coast Guard and National Guard. May God bless you and keep you. And may it be well with your soul.

 

 

What’s Brewing

It’s trick-or-treat time again. And you know what that means…

Temperatures are falling, leaves are falling, and leaflets from politicians are dropping into mailboxes day after day. (Please recycle… and pray the negativity isn’t catching.)

Halloween is here. (Pumpkins on porches. Check. Parties in preschools. Check. “Thriller,” “Monster Mash,” and “Werewolves of London” on playlists. Check. Check. Check.) But all the fun-size candy in Kroger can’t counteract the increasing bitterness in our world. All the cute kiddie costumes can’t mask the ugly, grisly and grotesque coming into plain view everywhere from a synagogue in Pittsburgh to a kindergarten class in Chongqing.

Evil is real.

And it’s always brewing.

A few weeks ago, I stood on the beach with a friend and watched the sun set over the water.

It was a dark and stormy night… (It really was.)

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As we stood at the water’s edge, huge thunderheads rolled in, and the sky slowly faded to black. Lightning flashed in the distance, and the sea graced us with a dazzling reflection. We knew it was risky to stand there, unprotected, on the shore… but we couldn’t pull ourselves away. The lightning was wild and beautiful, streaking across the night sky in staccato bursts. We were captivated.

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The rumbling and cracking crept closer, more frequent and fierce. And finally, as the storm front overtook us, we ran for cover.

Because it was the only wise thing to do.

So many storms battering our neighborhoods and the nations. Political firestorms, natural disasters, bomb threats, hate crimes, racial tension, religious persecution, and global unrest… from north to south, east to west.

And then there are the internal tempests. Dread, distress, dis-ease. Gripping fear, crippling depression, simmering rage… raging psychosis.

(Some troubled souls battle their demons a long, long, long time… and then succumb.)

The truth is, sometimes we see a storm brewing… and we can’t or don’t take cover. Because we’re paralyzed with fear. Or too busy storm-tracking. Or focused on fault-finding. Or foolish enough to think we can brave the elements alone.

And sometimes the storms blindside us.

Like stray lightning bolts or bullets – unpredictable and deadly. Something – or someone – gets struck in an instant. Stricken by catastrophe… meteorologic or manmade.

Some storms are self-inflicted. Imprudent decisions, impulsive actions, stoking conflict, fueling hate.

Like a tornado tearing up a town.

A rampage about to erupt.

A bomb set to detonate.

Whether we realize it or not, most of life’s storms brew in an unseen realm. Two powerful fronts collide…

Good vs. Evil.

Ultimately, that’s what all the world is. A storm front. A battleground. Because that’s what we are. Good and evil. Divine and despicable. Made in God’s beautiful image… and inclined to turn ugly.

All of us.

And the reality of that can be heartbreaking. Or horrific.

How is it possible that in this country – the land of the free and the home of the brave – even a synagogue isn’t safe anymore?

I cannot explain away all the evil in the world, except to say that God – out of His goodness – gives us the freedom to do as we please.

Some do good. (And some don’t.)

But I am absolutely certain of this:

When broken, tormented people choose to break and torment… God isn’t MIA.

He is Savior.

For the LORD your God is living among you. He is a mighty Savior. ~ Zephaniah 3:17a (NLT)

Ultimately and eternally, Jesus saves.

But sometimes we don’t get to see the rescue on planet earth. That alone can be a terrifying thought. Traveling through an entire lifetime without a real sense of security. Without knowing that we can find refuge and relief. Someplace. Any place.

That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it? Where do we turn? When all hell breaks loose, we need a safe place to hide out – and ride out – the storm.

A bunker. A shelter. A stronghold.

Where’s your safeguard? Or more pointedly, who?

Who do you turn to when it seems disaster’s about to strike? Who cares deeply enough and is capable of offering protection and imparting peace?

“Help us, Almighty One. You’re our only hope.”

(I know I sound like a lot like Princess Leia here, but the line – the plea – rings true.)

Those who live in the shelter of the Most High will find rest in the shadow of the Almighty. This I declare about the LordHe alone is my refuge, my place of safety; he is my God, and I trust him. ~ Psalm 91:1-2

But what about those precious people who were slaughtered in their place of worship on Saturday? Where was God when that shooter opened fire?

Where He always is.

Near.

Just as God promised Joshua once upon a time, He promises us. (And them…)

I will always be with you. I will never abandon you.

When we cry out to Him, He hears… cares… comes.

Always.

Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and God will say, “I’m here.” ~ Isaiah 58:9 (CEB)

God’s presence is ever present.

Where could I go to get away from your spirit? Where could I go to escape your presence? If I went up to heaven, you would be there. If I went down to the grave, you would be there too! If I could fly on the wings of dawn, stopping to rest only on the far side of the ocean— even there your hand would guide me; even there your strong hand would hold me tight! ~ Psalm 139:7-10 (CEB)

Yes, storms are brewing. And some will wreak havoc.

So, please… please don’t delay. Seek shelter immediately.

Godspeed.

Wendy

P.S. One more thought on the evil in the world…

“The devil’s finest trick is to persuade you that he does not exist.” Charles Baudelaire

Stricken

My dear reader,

I don’t know that I can craft a single coherent sentence right now. And really, what is there to say? Sometimes – truly – there are no words.

Only anguish…

Tears…

Wordless prayers.

Here we are, gutted and grief-stricken yet again. Horrific images from Parkland engulf our screens and assault our senses. They shock and shatter us afresh.

Bloodied bodies and torn hearts.

When will it end?

God only knows.

I hear the calls for stricter gun laws and the cries for crisis management task forces and the pleas for proper diagnosis and treatment of the mentally ill. (And I echo all of those appeals. Please, somebody, do something to stop this madness.)

But deep down I fear it’s going to get worse.

No amount of medication, education, or legislation is going to bring an end to this heinous violence. Even our brightest, bravest and best cannot restrain this kind of evil. The bloodthirsty will remain so. Because they believe it’s their only chance at ____________ (fill in the blank: retaliation, notoriety, vengeance, or sadly, simply… significance).

Maybe he (the accused) suffered a psychotic break after the deaths of both his parents. Or maybe he was bullied. Or traumatized beyond what anyone could bear. Maybe he suffers from delusions or hallucinations. Maybe he was duped into thinking that radicalization would be his redemption. Or maybe his demons overtook him. (Perhaps all of the above.)

I cannot venture to guess how – in just 19 years – this young man grew to be a real-life monster. To plot… and execute. To wreak hell on earth.

It’s a mystery. A million-piece puzzle. A wide-awake nightmare.

Last night, as I listened to high schoolers describe the carnage to various newspeople, I was doubly shocked. The descriptions and images of the bloody massacre were disturbing, to say the least. Especially the streaming videos and Snapchat stories shared in real time during the shooting. Apparently, social media is now the vehicle for sharing selfies… and savagery. (Violence goes viral. And I fear copycats will follow.) But the relative detachment with which some students relayed those horrifying events was almost as unsettling as the graphic images of the crime scene itself.

I’m guessing adolescent psychologists would interpret the students’ matter-of-fact accounts as evidence that they were in a state of shock and hadn’t yet processed what took place in their school just hours before. But I wonder. Have we revisited this terrible place (the aftermath of yet another deadly attack) so many times, that we are becoming collectively desensitized? Do school shootings punctuate our modern history as routinely as hurricanes and wildfires? Is the compulsion to kill becoming as potent as the lure of heroin and hardcore pornography? Countless, chilling questions.

I don’t have any answers. (I’m not even smart enough to identify the full scope of the problem.)

But here’s what I see:

In this world of constant connectivity, people are shockingly and desperately lonely. They may have 1473 followers on Instagram, but they feel utterly alone.

We’ve become a nation of increasingly isolated (and as a result, agitated, anxious, depressed) individuals. One by one, we’re deserting each other. And solitary is no way to live.

All alone can turn… tragic.

We were made to relate, collaborate, comfort, and console each other. We’re meant for camarederie, cooperation, compassion, community.

What we all really want… is to matter. We want our lives to mean something. So we spend them searching for significance.

But the thing is, we already have it.

It’s innate.

Because we were created in the very image of God.

We reflect Trinity: Mind, Body, Spirit.

But without Him, we have no hope of being healthy and whole… physically, mentally, or spiritually.

None.

You don’t have to believe me. But please don’t blame God for our manmade atrocities.

God is infinitely strong, but He’s not a dictator. He doesn’t force His will on us. Instead He lavishly bestows on us freedom, independence and the privilege of personal choice. We get to choose what, where, when, why, and how we do what we do.

And we’ve been up to (little or) no good, since the very beginning.

God saw that human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil—evil, evil, evil from morning to night. God was sorry that he had made the human race in the first place; it broke his heart. (Genesis 6:5-6, The Message)

It’s not just the murderers and the monsters that break God’s heart. We all do.

And He loves us still.

…Here is how God has shown his love for us. While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8, NIRV)

The only innocent man who ever lived took the death sentence for the rest of us. Because that’s what love does.

There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. (John 15:13, NLT)

Jesus loves us. Oh how He loves us.

Every single one of us. From north to south and east to west. From Columbine to Newtown. Orlando to Vegas. San Bernardino to Blacksburg to Parkland. The victims, their families, the first responders and reporters.

And yes… the shooter too.

I’ve read the end of the Book. And from what I can tell, things are gonna get a whole lot worse from here. But the Good News is just that. Good.

For those who trust in the love and mercy of Jesus Christ, heaven’s ahead.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth. The first heaven and the first earth had disappeared, and there was no sea anymore. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. It was prepared like a bride dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Now God’s presence is with people, and he will live with them, and they will be his people. God himself will be with them and will be their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death, sadness, crying, or pain, because all the old ways are gone.”

The One who was sitting on the throne said, “Look! I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this, because these words are true and can be trusted.” (Revelation 21:1-5, NCV)

Some days, I just want to be done. Done with all the hurt and heartache and pain and suffering. Done with my own fear and failings. Done with the hardness of life. And the sting of death.

On those days – today – all I can do is just… cling.

Cling to heaven and hope.

And the One who promises both to those who believe.

Wendy

P.S. In the aftermath of this tragedy, let’s resist the urge to rant or politicize. Be silent. Seek God. Pray. Pull together. Give blood. Donate to the Red Cross. Thank our first responders. And hug our kids… tight.