Last week my wife, Marti, and I were invited to spend a couple of days with some new friends who live north of Chicago. Our hosts, Randy and Linda, showed us incredible hospitality. It was a memorable trip for so many reasons (even though the Cubs lost).
But the thing I will always remember about this trip is the tour of Randy and Linda’s community, Highland Park. Highland Park is a beautiful place, right on Lake Michigan. We were able to walk through much of the town and we met some truly beautiful people.
You might recognize the name of the community, Highland Park. On July 4, just 2 months ago, they experienced what so many communities have experienced and are continuing to experience across the United States: a mass shooting. The Highland Park shooting resulted in seven people dead and nearly fifty people wounded. But as far too many communities have learned, the numbers of dead and wounded barely tell the story of an entire community traumatized by a troubled young man who had easy access to an assault weapon. No one in Highland Park was untouched by this horrific act of violence.
In an instant, at 10:14 am on July 4, an annual community parade – like the one held in your community – was transformed into a half-mile long crime scene. What should never happen at all just keeps happening again and again and again. Indeed, in the two months since the Highland Park shooting, mass shootings have happened 156 times, according to the Gun Violence Archive. They define a mass shooting as at least 4 people who have been shot.
156 times. 156 communities. So much trauma, so much violence, and all of it absolutely unnecessary.
As I walked through the streets where the gunman wreaked terror and chaos, perched from on top of one of the businesses, I kept thinking about the prophet Micah’s dream. In his dream, Micah says that at the end of days,
The mountain of the Lord’s house shall be established as the highest of the mountains and shall be raised up above the hills. Peoples shall stream to it, and many nations shall come and say, ‘Come, let us go up to the mountain of the Lord, to the house of the God of Jacob, that God may teach us God’s ways and that we may walk in God’s paths.’ For out of Zion shall go forth instruction, and the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. God shall judge between many people, and shall arbitrate between strong nations far away; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But they shall sit under their own vines and under their own fig trees, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken. (Micah 4:1-4)
Though little is known about the prophet Micah, he vividly describes in the previous chapter a desperate situation for the people of God. The political and religious leaders are corrupt and are actively involved in the oppression of the poor. They “hate the good and love the evil.” (v. 2) Micah accuses the leaders of declaring war against the hungry as their desire for personal gain and accumulation of wealth has caused bloodshed and widespread corruption across the land. Justice in the courts is skewed towards the affluent and religious teaching can be bought by political leaders.
This sounds eerily familiar to what has been happening in the United States in recent years.
This is why, for me, Micah’s dream is not just some utopian hyperbole that has no connection to where we live and what we face today. Micah’s dream of genuine security and peace is birthed in the midst of corrupt leadership, institutional breakdown, and widespread oppression and fear. It is in the midst of our fear and loss that we most need the promise found in Micah’s dream; a dream that entails both individual and national peace and reconciliation. It is often in the midst of brokenness when God shows up because people are in most need of a Messiah when they are experiencing the deepest suffering and pain.
But Micah’s dream does not relegate us to passive observers. We are not called to merely receive. We are called to participate. The work of beating weapons into plowshares and no longer studying warfare means that we are active participants in our society’s transformation. We have laws we must change, we have a culture we must transform, and we have values we must embody and pass on to our children.
But today, when we know more mass shootings will likely occur, I pray Micah’s dream brings us a measure of hope. May that hope sustain us and carry us forward.