Terrorism…what is it exactly?

I was kept awake for part of last night- not (miraculously!) because of my 2 year old who doesn’t like to sleep, but because of the many thoughts I’ve been having about the world lately.  In particular, another mass shooting- this time, at a church.  Naturally, this once again led to discussions around gun control, mental illness, and a broken society around our country.  But it also has led to another discussion about what exactly “terrorism” is.  Does terrorism have a religion?  A cause?  A color?  A gender?  A certain group?  A particular agenda?  These are all questions people are asking.

After the Las Vegas shooting, I was struggling to understand how this man who killed dozens of innocent people was not being defined as a “terrorist.”  So, like I usually do, I called my mom to ask her what she thought.  Her words have stuck with me.  All political speak aside, simply put, terrorism is anything that invokes fear in masses of people.  It doesn’t matter if the person or group committing the act of violence is white, black, brown, male, female, rich, poor….if they are causing fear throughout a nation, in families, in places of worship, in movie theaters, shopping malls, concerts….it is terrorism.

Because of terrorism, I’ve had several conversations with church members this week about how we can keep people safe in our worship on Sunday mornings.  A church that hopes to practice “Open hearts, open minds, open doors,” is having to have conversations around which doors and when to lock them before or during worship time because of fear- fear that while we are worshiping a peaceful, loving, and merciful God, that someone could come in and take us out.  It’s happened before, and probably will happen again.

Because of terrorism, I had to have a conversation with my husband about what we would do as a family if an active shooter came into church on a Sunday morning.  How would we get to Xavier?  What would he do?  What would I do?  As a pastor, how would I handle the fear and anxiety of myself and my people, and possibly grief and loss on a massive scale?

Because of terrorism, I have daily thoughts about what I would do if, while grocery shopping at Walmart with my son, there was an active shooter situation.  How would I keep Xavier safe?  What would we do? How would we survive?  And how would we deal with the trauma afterward?

Because of terrorism, I think about how I will have to raise my child in a fearful world, where guns are available to just about anyone, and that includes just about anyone with evil intentions for any reason.  Because of terrorism, I will have to teach my son to be very aware of his surroundings, and that he isn’t even safe walking on a sidewalk or enjoying a meal on an outside patio in a busy city for fear of someone barreling through with a vehicle with intent to kill.  I am fearful for the world he is growing up in.

That’s what terrorism is.  That’s what terrorism does.  Let’s not fool ourselves or get tangled up in semantics about what it is and what it is not, who is defined as a terrorist and who is not.  Terrorism makes people fearful to live their everyday lives.  Let’s name it for what it is.

As a pastor and a Jesus follower, I know that I am supposed to be about hope, love, forgiveness, and peace.  And I am.  But I have to admit that it’s getting harder and harder to preach this message some weeks.  But I’ll keep doing it anyway, until I can fully believe it for myself.  Because if I don’t keep believing and preaching it, terrorism has won.  After all, we worship and serve a God who brings life out of death, hope out of despair, and beauty out of the ugliness.  May this God help us to live our lives without fear, to find joy and hope in the beautiful things in our lives, and to be agents of hope and peace in this dark and broken world.

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