Empty Chairs At Empty Tables

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George Hochsprung, the husband of slain Principal Dawn Hochsprung, spoke to CNN this morning. I watched through eyes brimming with tears as he talked of his wife, almost like she was going to come back. That common tragic disconnect that occurs in the wake of such unbelievable devastation. In the interview, he spoke of his life no longer making much sense. Being 20 years older than his wife, he never imagined a day that he wouldn’t be with her. He always thought he’d go first. He says he should’ve gone first.

 

As the people of Newtown pick up the pieces from last weeks tragedy, I am reminded of the routine feelings that keep survivors up at night. The parents and children, husbands and wives, brothers and sisters, friends and colleagues, collectively crying out through sobs

 

It should’ve been me! It should have been me.

 

If they could, if it were possible, they would go back and take the bullets for their babies.

 

If they could, if it were possible, they would happily hand over their lives for their loved ones.

 

In the play Les Miserable there is a musical number called “Empty Chairs at Empty Tables.” A powerful lyric sent shivers down my spine in light of last week.

 

“Oh my friends, my friends forgive me that I live and you are gone. There’s a grief that can’t be spoken. There’s a pain that goes on and on.”

 

This is not simply a dark hour before the dawn, this isn’t just a trial. Losing a child and a wife and a colleague cannot and will not make sense to us because it violates every version of reality we cling to. It is incomprehensible. It is impossible for anything to ever be the same again. And quite often it leads to feelings of guilt of sustained life.

 

While thinking and praying about this, I was struck by the goodness and the Godliness in survivor’s guilt. Wishing one’s life away in the stead of another is the very definition of love. A love that is beautifully bold and knows no limits. A love that defies logic The very sacrificial love that melts our hearts before Christ. That sacrifice of it all with nothing held back is the heartbeat of the gospel message.

 

“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

–       John 15:13 (KJV)

 

For his sons and daughters

For her husband

For a student

For a stranger

For the gunman himself

 

George’s wife did just that. She gave herself over to the barrel of the gun to protect the children in her care. Reports have come out that as the teachers urged her to come with them and the children into hiding, she kindly refused, resolving to try to talk the man down. A holy act of sacrifice.

 

We can ask every question in the book as to why this happened. How it can be prevented. How evil threads its way through this world.

 

But I believe when we are brought down in agony by evil, what is most true about our spirits is what rises to the surface. Survivor’s guilt is the lingering reminder of a love so real. A love that death cannot remove. A love that is unselfish, caring less about our own well being than that of our loved one. A love some would say is ludicrous.

 

A father willing to walk the plank for his little girl emulates Christ. A mother making herself a human shield instead of coming home to her kids is the bedrock of kingdom come.

 

 

Praying for Grace and Peace in Newtown today,

 

RR

We Still Don’t Know How to Grieve

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I remember remaining silent as I sat huddled with friends around the TV. The news had just interrupted our show to tell us that Seal Team Six had taken out Osama Bin Laden. For the next half hour my buddies tried to one up each other on what they would do if it was them in front of Bin Laden. How they would bloody his nose a bit first, maybe waterboard him, and then kill him as slowly and painfully as possible.

 

It was a lot of weird feelings. I knew exactly what Bin Laden did. He was responsible for deaths of thousands of innocent lives. He was unrepentant and smug about it. He believed that God was on his side.

 

And yet, I still found myself torn. Two distinctly different forces were pulling me in opposite directions. While I should have been happy that “justice” was served, all I could think about were crowds outside the White House dancing and singing. The jeers and Huckabee tweeting  “rot in hell Osama”, all of it, made me feel so sick. There was no peace to be found that night. Collectively, we had found a reason to let our inner beasts roar. We desecrated prayer. At least the ones people mentioned on facebook. I saw prayers for locks on the Pearly Gates, and that the pit of hell would come alive with suffering.

 

It was the clearest and most understandable moment of cognitive dissonance in my life. The world was telling me throw a party, ding dong the wicked witch is dead! Fly the flag, relish in revenge, take the kids to the TV and say “guys! This is what justice looks like”.

 

But my faith, my conscience, the moral compass within me held back on throwing my hands in the air. I knew this couldn’t be justice. This couldn’t be Christ.

 

Over the past couple days I have seen Adam Lanza called an evil, vile, human piece of garbage. I have seen heartwarming posts of prayers for the families of victims, only to be followed by “burn in hell Adam”.

 

There is a devastation in our disconnect.

 

I understand the anger, I am angry and I think we should all be very pissed right now. But is our anger misdirected?

 

Maybe that’s something to think about.

 

Mental illness comes with all the shame as any stigmatized status in today’s society. Hollywood has made billions off of horror movies of psychos, scary schizos, and those with split personalities. People are terrified of it.

 

But maybe a facet of that fear is of ourselves. Maybe on some subconscious level we all fear our own insanity.

 

I have problems with anxiety. There was one bad spell where I told my parents I thought I was losing my mind. I didn’t believe I truly existed. There is nothing more frightening than fear of yourself. Fear of our fallen nature. Fear of becoming the monster.

 

It is time to think differently about evil.

It exists, but it is not always chosen.

 

As Christians we know that this man was not evil.

Satan is.

And all of us, even Jesus, have fought against his advances every day of our lives.

 

But sick people don’t have the same strength to fight back. That’s what we are here for.

 

Adam Lanza was the least of these. He was the one Christ called us to care for. He was sick and we failed him. We failed those families, we failed humanity, and worst of all, we failed the Father.

 

Calling this man a monster only makes Satan that much stronger. Every time we do, we are stealing every ounce of credit he deserves. He couldn’t ask for a better deal. He bets on our inability to see the monster behind the man whispering in his ear. We know spiritual evil when we see it. I know Satan loves nothing more than taking kids away from parents. In the days of Christ he would send demons to posses children, make them hurt themselves and their loved ones around them. This is NOT to say that Adam Lanza suffered from possession, but his weakness were exploited by the enemy. Satan is the culprit. We can hate him.

 

This man needed compassion and protection. He needed a society that didn’t shame him for his vulnerability towards violence. If we continue to wage war on the symptoms and not the causes, we should not expect any recovery. If we continue to ridicule those that feel isolated and misunderstood, it should not surprise us when they hit back. If we continue to neglect their need for attention, our children will bear the cost with their blood.

 

We need to rethink evil. We need to remember Satan. And we need to start seeing the least of these in every corner of life.

 

RR