When children are taken it makes us more concerned about how fragile life can be. There is nothing one can say to lessen the hurt from such a loss. It is appropriate that we all share in the loss. Children are our greatest hope. The death of one child is hard to bear and the tragic death of so many impacts us all. Pray for America.
The loss of a precious child is beyond my own experience. But those who have tell me it is the saddest experience in life, an experience of indescribable suffering and loss. In times like these I can only offer my presence and my tears as I sit with them in their grief and confusion. But at the appropriate time I can also offer words of hope and comfort from the God I know and have experienced as the God who doesn’t stand at a distance but enters our suffering, who comes to us, and promises, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
There are two perspectives we must categorically deny with the disasters in Oklahoma, and for that matter elsewhere: That any of these things are God’s will, especially the death of young children; and that the most resilient of persons and communities can move forward without the love, support, and prayers of others. God didn’t cause these tragedies; the natural order did. His Divine Spirit is bringing healing salve to wounded spirits and broken hearts. God didn’t want or cause this tragedy, but He certainly is there powerfully at work to help.
It is unfortunate that the legal term, “act of God” is applied to tragedies like tornadoes. In I John, it states, “God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.” So I hope there is confidence that God never sends anything destructive but is the source of the extraordinary acts of kindness and compassion that always responds to such events.
The mystery of human suffering is never more acute than when children suffer and die. The human evil of things like the school shootings and the non-human caused tragedies such as the Oklahoma tornadoes are both overwhelming to our human psyche. And too often, we hear Christians give shallow attempts at explanation that imply God doesn’t care, or worse, is like a monster who picks out certain people to die. For me, comforting the victims and helping with recovery do not solve the mystery, but help us identify with the Loving God who suffered the cruel loss of Jesus.
I am a lifelong Memphian who was raised in South Memphis. My home was right in front of the former South Side High School, and my grandparents lived next door to Ben and Francis Hooks and her parents on Edith Avenue.
I grew up playing outside, walking to my grandparents’ home from church and school. I’d walk from Booker T. Washington High with my classmate to the home of my high school sweetheart’s parents in what was then LeMoyne Gardens. I attended LeMoyne-Owen College, going to games and parties on campus and in the community. I always felt safe.
But that sense of security has been challenged over the years. My mom and I were robbed in our driveway my senior year. I saw two teens get shot and killed outside of my front door. My high school had a reputation for violence. The places I went grew more “secure” with guards on parking lots, buzzers on doors. Security systems became a way of life. I learned to be more cautious, less carefree.
Today I live in Whitehaven. My neighborhood was hit by car vandals a few years in a row. And yet I still feel safe. I walk my dogs, ride my bike, go to movies, evening worship. I do not allow fear to drive me. I am cautious, but I do still feel safe day and night in my hometown. I have traveled and visited places throughout the country and a few places around the world. In comparison, I feel safer here than 90 percent of those other places.
Our concerns about safety are real, not imagined. Last weekend, our Binghamton guesthouse, where we host visiting medical students, was broken into. No one was hurt, but thieves took electronics and clothing. Property crimes — particularly those that involve forced entry into our cars, homes or businesses — take a huge toll on our collective sense of safety. In too many of our neighborhoods, there’s a tacit approval of stealing and a willingness to purchase stolen goods. Until those values change, we’ll continue to be anxious for ourselves and our property.
I feel safe in Memphis. I’ve lived here most of my life except for six years in the Los Angeles area working with young people through Young Life Urban Ministries. My wife and I both grew up in Midtown. We lived in Orange Mound in the late 1970s and early 1980s.
We came back to Memphis after L.A., and moved to the community around Ridgeway High School and Balmoral Elementary where all four of my children attended great public schools and all attended college. Now we live in High Point where we can get on the Green Line and run and bike for miles.
What a great city, Memphis. And each and every neighborhood where we lived has been warm, friendly, and yes, safe. You know, half of all Americans live in 42 places and Memphis is one of them. More than 75 percent of Americans live in cities of 50,000 or more. Half the world’s population lives in urban areas.
We are now a global city, not a village. Urban life can cause fear, alienation, and sensory overload. But cities also provide culture, healing, diversity, and so much more that’s positive. So we can choose: Fear of the unknown, fear of people who are different from us, fear of certain neighborhoods that we’re convinced are dangerous. Or we can choose to be neighbors who care, love and strike out at fear. Perfect love casts out fear (I John 4:8). I wonder if we really believe that. I do.
I believe Memphis is a safe place to live and work and raise families. I grew up here and chose to live and work in Midtown and raise my own children here, all public school products. One of our children lives here and is raising his family here because of his love for Memphis. Our two other children come as often as they can because they too love Memphis. In the words of one of our great presidents, “The only thing we (as a city) have to fear is fear itself.”