Eastern Montana was rocked by the news this week of a man from Sidney who was killed in a random shooting in Las Vegas. Violence is a terrible thing, but when it hits this close to home, life suddenly tilts sidewise. Everything becomes askew as we are forced to look again at our own mortality and the suddenness of the end of all things.
Violent death is nothing new. It stalks our land, the world and takes away the secure cocoon we attempt to build around ourselves. The Bakken brought new people and new problems into our sphere of reference and I don’t think we have sifted through what all that means for us yet. Someone has said the only constant in life is change and the older we get the more that is so.
After hearing of the shooting our anxiety levels rise and we have a tendency to say things like, “Well, I guess I won’t go there any more” or “it’s best just to stay home.” But violence happens next door as well. We can never escape from that sense that nothing is safe even when we install security systems and pass laws for carrying concealed weapons to protect ourselves.
The instant nature of news reporting also heightens our concerns. I once read it took six weeks for the news of President Lincoln’s assassination to reach places on the west coast. Immigrants who came to this country did not learn of deaths at home until months after it happened. Today, we are a news flash away. Everyone knows and everyone knows now. The recent local paper noted a father and son from Glendive traveling in London saw the terrorist attack on Westminster Bridge, only moments after it happened. The people who were killed were just walking across the bridge on a Spring day when death came.
No one wants to spend time thinking about tragedy and mayhem, but these reminders make it real and whether we are hearing about 200 people killed in a bombing in the Middle East or several hundred refugees drowning in the Mediterranean as they attempt to find new life makes our security all the more precious.
The United States for generations was an isolationist nation. There has always been that strain of isolation running through our history. The two oceans were to protect us from the foreign entanglements of European monarchies except they haven’t. The Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans have shrunk to puddles in the face of technology — new communications techniques as well as more sophisticated military weapons. When North Korea is practicing its missile capabilities to reach our western shores, there is a collective shudder that runs through us all.
It is interesting to note that our enemy these days is hard to pin down as a living, breathing entity. Rather we identify our enemy as “terrorism”, that is anyone who wishes to disrupt the status quo. It can be a home grown terrorist as well as someone from outside our culture. Fear is a powerful way to conquer people. A dictator rules by fear. Fear is giving up our freedoms for that sense of security for which we all yearn. Terrorism equals disruption equals fear equals a surrendering of our liberties for security. No people are safe from that.
I was recently listening to an Old Testament Bible scholar talk about the children of Israel at a time when their world had fallen apart. Their leaders both religious and political had failed them and they were angry, condemning and afraid. Everything was gone and there was nowhere to turn. The scholar noted that was when God said, “I will make a new promise with you. It will not be something you can quantify, something you can measure, but rather it will be written on your hearts.” God always keeps God’s promises. In fear we come. Once we are willing to accept God’s promise and live as people with a new destiny — caring for the poor, lifting up the defenseless, speaking for the voiceless, putting our money into programs that bring life rather than military weapons, not using our money to defend the rich but rather the powerless then, with our perspectives going in the right direction, our fear is replaced by hope and new life.