The news coverage has taken on a life of its own. Newsrooms and producers actually have a working template from which they orchestrate the coverage of mass shootings and terrorist attacks. The anchor person is placed on a carefully constructed multi-media sound stage. Above them is the word BREAKING. Trailing or looping beneath them is a steady series of bullet statements…body counts, statistics. How stunning that we have come to call these ‘bullet’ statements!
The requisite experts are brought into the coverage. These folks are actually on retainer to the network and are there to provide a scripted set of talking points. “Cue the former CIA guy…Next up… the shot of the teddy bears and bouquets. Where are those 9/11 stats?”
We are so getting so used to this, that networks are competing for ratings. One “expert” discussing the carnage in Paris actually said, “It doesn’t look like we are going to hit 200 (confirmed dead) tonight.”
I found myself thinking about the EMTs and ambulance drivers… and what they were seeing touching and smelling. I thought of all the cell phone messages. “Are you O.K?” I thought of those who were shot like ducks in a pond…and the horror of it. Then I thought of those who didn’t get shot but were next to those who were.
I was getting to a place somewhere between numb acceptance, and rage at those who kill in the name of their god. Then I had a memory that put things into perspective.
A few weeks after the World Trade Center was attacked, the City of New York began to take family members who lost loved ones to Ground Zero—to actually see where their loved ones perished. I was part of a team of Navy Chaplains (serving with Coast Guard units) who accompanied these grieving family members.
It wouldn’t do to discuss too much of what I saw and heard, but I will tell you something that the Lord prompted me to do that actually provided some comfort. I told this one person “We are going to go see Ground Zero. This will be the hardest day of your life. I have made this trip with a number of families, and I am going to ask your permission now to remind you of something when we get down there.”
When these folks actually saw the devastation that was Ground Zero yawning out as far as the eye could see, I saw every reaction imaginable… screams, vomiting, fainting, cursing, inarticulate groans that seemed to come from their souls.
After what seemed like a long time, I went to the person I spoke with earlier. “Do you remember that I asked you if it would be alright to tell you something once we got down here?” Through sobs she nodded her assent. I asked her to turn her back on the sad landscape of burning rubble and destruction.
I then asked her to close her eyes and turn and face it again only this time, “Open your eyes and this time look at all the people in the heavy equipment. Look at the firefighters gently removing rubble to find your loved one…look at the searchers and their dogs—many of those workers had not yet been home and were sleeping next to their machines.
“You will never know their names but they came here prompted by a love that is stronger than the hate that did this.” Just then a crane operator turned off his machine, made eye contact with this lady, and covered his heart with his hard hat. To speak of it in any more detail would be wrong, but suffice it to say that I saw and felt the Love of God in that moment.
Past the quest for ratings and the voyeuristic pursuit of the grisly details there are other stories emerging from the terror attacks in France… like the West Point football team running onto the field waving the French flag at their football game today…all of the calls to prayer…the countless messages of condolence.
I know that we will hear more and more stories of sacrifice and compassion and selfless love. For now, let us rest in this thought. None of this escaped the gaze of Him who sees all and knows all and loves us enough to enter our suffering. Let us call out to God and tell him what is on our hearts. Let us pray for the church in France that the Lord will raise up laborers—no—comforters—to be his expression of love to the broken hearted, and the wounded and the traumatized. It is in Jesus’ Name that I pray.