It’s Sunday morning. I’m sitting in my usual spot in the choir loft in my usual Protestant church in the usual South. These are not typical thoughts in my head at a time and place like this. I’m not much for Bloody Sunday thoughts, even if I really love U2.
But this Sunday was different. On the previous Thursday and Friday afternoon, my church received a string of detailed and threatening phone calls. They came from a single man using a small collection of phone numbers. He threatened to visit employees’ homes, including the pastor’s. He named members of our church. He threatened to shoot people outside the building. He threatened to kill the children in our daycare.
On one of his calls Friday afternoon, he said, “I’ll see you Sunday morning.”
The police got involved a couple of hours into the calls on Thursday afternoon. They “negotiated” with the man as they attempted to figure out his location and, perhaps, motivations. They kept at least one officer in the parking lot or on close patrol the entire weekend, and both entrances to the church lot were guarded by police cars on Sunday morning.
While the church leadership and police had to take the situation seriously, everyone involved knew deep down the threats were bluffs. Crazy people don’t give fair warning like this. They just show up, and unsuspecting innocent people just die.
Still, the staff sent an email to the congregation informing them of the threats and the ramped up security presence planned for Sunday. The unwritten message: “You will be protected, but there is no guarantee of your safety.”
My wife and I never once discussed not going to church on Sunday morning. It wasn’t an option. We would never let fear trump faith. This doesn’t make us heroes. The odds of that man showing up were less than the odds of me getting hit twice by lightning in the same week. Our bravery was at best a logical recognition of microscopic odds.
But as I sat up in that choir loft, and as the service began, and as I looked down at my family seated in the very front row, logic wavered.
If that man did come, if he came with an automatic weapon, if he entered the sanctuary from that particular side, my family would be the first or second group in the line of fire. If he came from any other entry point, I could get to them.
I could even possibly use the building’s pillars and structure to get to the assailant…
That last thought wasn’t about heroism, either. It’s the recognition that contemporary recommended strategy in the face of a single armed assailant is to bum rush him or flee. To hide or to cower is almost certain and inevitable death in such a relatively closed space. You either get to safety swiftly, or you risk your life to end the threat.
These were my Sunday morning church thoughts.
As the service reached a midpoint, as the odds of an assault drifted from the tenths of a percentage to the hundredths, my thoughts drifted to the conservative Christians in America who work so hard to find ways they are insulted, who insist they are being disenfranchised and persecuted at the hands of callous corporations and a relativistic, even hostile, government. And I chuckled in my choir seat.
Bless their hearts.
But I get it, I do. I can’t remember the last time I felt more religious than I did that Sunday. Feeling even the teensiest bit threatened revs up the adrenaline. It’s like Jesus Steroids. Life got more vivid. Love got stronger and more appreciated. Life felt… alive. This crazy man’s stupid, baseless threats were the best thing to happen to my faith in a good while.
After all my thoughts of being the Master Protector of Innocent Christian Souls and other random thoughts of assault and violence, my mind eventually went to the Christians and Muslims who have been beheaded in the Middle East. I thought of the devoutly religious, past and present, who have gathered in buildings or homes knowing the threat of death was real, was present, was in the high 90s rather than the fractions of a percent. I thought of how strong it must make their faith, to be willing, constantly, every single minute, to die for the right to own those beliefs.
As the preacher stood to send us back out into the world, I was flooded with gratitude. I was not grateful for our safety from a crazy gunman. Rather, I was grateful for the gift of seeing the possibilities we rarely have to consider, a pinprick hole of exposure to a danger that others experience as an almost-blinding, rarely-ceasing light.
We are blessed. All of us. All the time. Unto our last breath.
The more I remember that and believe that, the happier I am.