By Steven Norris

     The fraternity of death has trespassed into the community of life. This unwelcome guest commands our attention — breaking into our lives, not from a safe distance, not just on our doorstep, but right into the center of our hearts. Its weapon is violence. Its victim is another young person in our streets.

     The poet, Wendell Berry, writes, “There are no unsacred places; / there are only sacred places / and desecrated places.” I walked the desecrated ground this week — only one block away from the place where our community gathers to worship. I did what pastors are supposed to do: I prayed. I said aloud the name of the dead, Emmanuel Dorsey.

     His name caught in my throat. That particular name pierced a deep place within my soul.  Not two weeks ago, I stood in the pulpit a block away and preached from the prophet Isaiah: “Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign. Look, the young woman is with child and shall bear a son and shall name him Emmanuel [which means, God is with us].”

     Today, the sound of Emmanuel” cuts across my lips, stinging as it stirs a mix of emotions. Theologically, it reminds me of God’s presence with us. Viscerally, it points toward absence and a whole host of questions that have no easy answers. “Why, O Lord? These are children killing children. Where were You? Why did You not intervene?”

     They are honest questions that defy simplistic platitudes and bumper sticker cliches. The consolation that I find today comes in the fact that I am not alone — that Emmanuel Dorsey’s mother is not alone. Christianity speaks of a God who knows firsthand the sting of losing a child to a violent death. Christians serve a God who knows what it is like to see one’s son pierced, and his life taken.

     Christianity testifies to a God who has taken the worst pain and horrific violence of this world and did not allow it to degenerate into revenge. It witnesses to a God who did not seek to drive out violence with greater violence, hatred with stronger hatred, or darkness with a more powerful darkness. Instead, Christianity points to a God who transformed suffering into peace, love, and light by the power of the Christ’s resurrection.

     Anger is an appropriate response in these moments. Cries for revenge are not, nor is helplessly wringing our hands as if there is nothing we can do. In the days ahead, I hope and pray that our community may turn our righteous anger into something transformative and healing. May we join together in this prayer, penned by W. David O. Taylor:

     “To the God whose holy anger heals; / To the Messiah whose righteous anger overcomes evil; / To the Spirit who keeps our angers from turning destructive: / Receive our wounded hearts; / Take our burning words; / Protect us from the desire for revenge. / May our righteous angers become fuel for justice in our fractured world / and for the mending of broken relations in our neighborhoods and homes. / For Gods sake—and ours—we pray. / Amen.”