Keep Hope Alive
By Rev. Seth Ethan Carey
As I awoke yesterday morning, I consciously wondered if I should read the news. I had a bad feeling, one born of experience rather than clairvoyance. And there it was in my newsfeed – Worst Mass Shooting in U.S. History – just as I knew it would be, sooner or later. I was dismayed, saddened, and forlorn. But I was not surprised.
Our nation found itself reeling, yet again, in the wake of tragedy; a recurring nightmare in which the stakes keep on getting higher, along with the body count. Fifty-nine dead, 527 wounded in Las Vegas at the hands of a one man with enough firepower for a small army. Every time this happens, there is a great deal of outrage and cries for tighter gun control, bans on assault rifles, and better care for the mentally ill; and I personally support each of these measures. But while the symptoms can and must be treated, we would do well to acknowledge the presence of a more fundamental disease.
There is a profound sense of apathy in the 21st century American ethos, a borderline sociopathy born of increased isolation from one another and distance from reality. I’m not speaking about individuals, so much as a dimension of the American zeitgeist. Tuned in to the 24 hour news cycle, our compassion is tested and worn down by each new horror that befalls the world. Late night talk show host Jimmy Kimmel remarked, somberly, that it was “as if someone had opened a window to Hell” in Las Vegas on Sunday night. But that window has been open for a long time, its ill winds slowly eroding our hearts; someone just decided to fire a few hundred more rounds of ammunition through it, and that got our attention, for a while. But we’d do well to remember that the window is still open.
This latest attack was unique, and not only in scale. Unlike other gunmen who have walked into schools, churches, or places of business, this shooter killed his victims from a significant distance. All alone in his hotel room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Casino, he fired upon a crowd of people in an adjacent area. He didn’t look into their eyes, or even see their faces. To Stephen Paddock, the assailant, they must have seemed like ants.
That’s what other people look like to someone who has ceased to care. Less than human. Ants. I worry that is how some politicians see the average citizen. I worry that’s how some of us see each other, when viewed from too great a distance or from across a vast political divide. But it’s not how God sees us, nor how Christ calls us to see one another.
I was at a candlelight vigil, last night, for the victims of this latest display of violence. We stood around downtown Glen Ellyn with our little candles, sometimes talking with one another, sometimes in silence. The wind picked up several times, extinguishing our light. It’s hard to keep hope alive. But we carried one another’s fire, relighting the flames that went out, refusing to submit to the darkness that pours into our world.
I stand guilty, sometimes, of giving into cynicism and despair, even apathy. I stand guilty of believing that things will never change. And then one of you comes along and rekindles my fire. We need to do that for each other sometimes, that we might embolden one another in our fight for justice.
I’m blessed to be part of a community that keeps my candle alight, and I hope our church can do the same for you.
Rev. Seth Ethan Carey