I recently returned from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. While I was there with 23 youths and adults from Lord of Life, 450 youths and adults from northeastern Minnesota, and 35,000 youths and adults from all over America, the horrible shooting in Aurora, Colo., took place. We were learning how to “love like Jesus” — through discipleship, peacemaking and justice, while a community was devastated by hatred and fear. It made for a sad but timely opportunity to reflect on what and how our faith will take shape in the world, in order to partner with God in turning the world into the world God intended it to be.
My friend, Kelly Jo Eldredge, lives in Colorado and she wrote this response to the tragedy in Aurora. I think she articulates how learning to “love like Jesus” makes a difference everyday and especially in the face of tragedy. This is printed with her permission.
“What’s up with Denver?”
Last week, a young man walked into a movie theater in Aurora, Colo., and opened fire, killing 12 and injuring 70. It’s hard to even look at those numbers, especially when they were tallied up right across town.
I have lived in Denver for the past five years, and I wish I was a native. I love it here. But tiny little pebbles of sadness turned to big boulders in my gut when I turned on the TV Friday morning and tried to digest what I saw on the news. I attended a church service over the weekend, and one woman mentioned that she received a text message from a friend early Friday morning that said, “What’s up with Denver?”
As this community gradually works through the stages of grief, I am beginning to see what’s up with Denver. I see hope. We are not willing to cave in to fear and anger. We have better things to do.
Yes, one man committed a horrific crime, and we may never fully wrap our minds around why on earth he would instigate such suffering. But thousands responded with nothing but selfless, caring, hopeful, loving acts. If you look at the numbers, love wins.
Emergency response teams were at that theater within a minute and a half of the first 911 call. They ran toward danger to help their fellow citizens. Friends sheltered friends and refused to leave their side, even when their own lives were in danger. Husbands protected wives; strangers helped each other escape. Hospital workers rushed to their posts in the middle of the night to treat the injured. Therapists offered their services to help those who witnessed the tragedy deal with their emotions. People flooded Bonfils Blood Center to give blood. Funds were started to help the victims. Kids set up lemonade stands to raise money to help. Heck, Batman even showed up at the hospitals to speak with victims personally — not as a superhero, but as a guy who cared.
People are reaching out to each other, finding ways to be of service, and that is what’s up with Denver. I have lived all over this country, and I am so proud to now call Denver my home. Not only do we have the Rocky Mountains, but we have people who love life. We’re hiking 14-ers, handing out sack lunches to the homeless in Civic Center Park, enjoying tee-ball games, tutoring immigrants, catching a concert at Red Rocks, volunteering in our children’s schools, heading up to Summit County for a day on the slopes, meeting friends for coffee at Tattered Cover Bookstore, and yes, going to the movies. Walk around Denver on any day of the year, and you will see people together doing stuff. It has not been my experience that this is a community of isolators.
But I don’t think Denver has a corner on the market when it comes to compassion and community. I was in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, and I witnessed the same way people turn to each other far more than they turn inward in a crisis. I was in Brooklyn Heights when the Towers fell, and I stood with stunned neighbors of every nationality on rooftops whispering words of comfort to one another as we looked across the river. Love won then, too.
I think our opportunity to grow here is to continually find ways to strengthen these bonds that hold us together. We need to weave the net of our society just a little bit tighter, so the lonely and disillusioned don’t have an opportunity to slip through.
It makes me sad to see that gun sales have gone up since the tragedy last Friday. That’s fear. We have a much stronger weapon in our arsenal — love — and that is not some new age-y, airy-fairy response. Every time we reach out to help another person in need, we all win. And that is a weapon we can turn on each other! What would happen if compassion got into the hands of a would-be killer ... or a curious toddler? Watch out!
I’m not naive. I’m just looking at the numbers. One lost guy versus thousands who have knit themselves together to heal.
Let us show you what’s up with Denver. Follow our lead.
Might we all learn to “love like Jesus” and partner with God in turning our communities into the communities God intended.