I've spent time with Gabrielle Giffords. We were not friends or hardly even acquaintances, but on several occasions we shared a dais or a banquet table when she was the featured speaker, and I was asked to do an invocation or a closing prayer at a high school graduation or some other such event. I found her to be warm and kind and someone who was easy to talk to. We once had quite a conversation about the automotive business over a meal. She had taken over her father's tire stores, and I had some experience in the independent auto parts warehouse business, so we commiserated over the reality that big businesses had come in and shoved little folks like us aside. I had the privilege of engaging her on border issues in a telephonic town hall where she listened rather than talked and where she asked lots of good questions and where she invited representatives of every affected group to speak to the issues. I appreciated her very much. She subsequently called to ask for my support in her election.
It is weird to realize that someone you shared a meal with and found so compelling is a target of a deranged individual. A deranged individual I did not know but who has his own story and his own history. He is not just a name. He, too, is a person.
The pain is palpable here in Tucson. As in all tragedies, the talking heads and newspaper writers try to explain the inexplicable. They should save their breath and their ink. Sin is in this world. It permeates every corner. Those suffering from schizophrenia in my church write and say things much like what I heard and read from this person who allegedly shot so many people. It could have been one of them who committed this act of violence. It would not have surprised me if they had.
A judge happens to go to his corner grocery store and sees that his friend and Congresswoman is there and decides to go say hello. A kindly neighbor takes a little girl who was just elected to her school student council to go meet a Congresswoman she can use as a role model. A man who very much loves to help people loses his life doing what he loves to do. A man lays down his life to shield his wife from flying bullets. People, going about their business, suddenly have their worlds turned upside down.
So many tears flow. So much pain oozes from every pore. Somehow, we must find an explanation. In the rush to explain it all, of course, everything gets politicized. Gun control enthusiasts talk about gun control. The Tea Party gets blamed for its rhetoric. Mental health advocates decry the treatment of the mentally ill. Safety experts talk about the ways in which folks could have been protected. Perhaps it happened because Arizona is part of the wild west. Perhaps if we spent more money or made more laws then tragedies such as this could be prevented. People are basically good, we think, and all we need to do is reeducate the bad ones. The problem of evil could be fixed if we would all just cooperate. So advocates advocate on every side. Of course, none of what we will do will matter. There will be more tragedies. More trouble.
"In this world, you will have trouble," Jesus said. And we have lots of trouble. It is good that Jesus tells us the truth. Insanity, murder, death, destruction, hopelessness are all around us in Tucson. We do awful things to each other. Horrendous things. Things about which we can barely speak. “In this world you will have trouble,” indeed. But Jesus didn’t stop there. He went on. He said, "But fear not, I have overcome the world." How I long for this city - my city, this beautiful city that I love - to bow its knees before the King of kings and the Lord of lords. To meet the One who has overcome this world. To submit to his will and his ways. To learn to love what is good and to hate what is evil. For Tucson to move from being a city of darkness to being a great city of light.
I drive its streets and drive up its mountain to pray for it. I pray against the evil. I pray for healing. I pray for hope. I know that it must start with me. I pray that I would become more of who I should be so that I would be useful and not a greater part of the evil.
I pray: Please, God, hold close all those so devastated by this awful moment. Touch, also, all those whose tragedies didn't make the national headlines. Please, I beg you, draw this city to yourself so that on that great day we will gladly bow before you when we will forever know the goodness that lies beyond this present suffering. Work in me what you must so that I would be useful to you in this, your great work.
(Guest contributor Rod Hugen pastors a church he planted in Tucson, Ariz.)