There are some days when our brokenness is simply too much. Too much pain, too much suffering, too much caring, too much fear, too much hate, too much emotion, too much raw humanness. Yet, there is so much beauty in this jumble of brokenness, in the experiencing of ourselves and others as beloved, bewildered wounded healers.

Still reeling from the El Paso and Dayton domestic terrorist attacks, we welcomed a stranger to our little church, a stranger so broken that our listening responses tapped into a deep well of hurt and anger for him, confusion and fear for us. What if he’s a shooter? What if…? Then a tentative coming together, an overwhelming Sense of Presence, a gentle holding, a quiet tenderness for ourselves, for him long after he left, all of us seeking a way to deal with that deep reservoir of fear he tapped. And the question, that most important question of all; how do we truly love the other? How does faith in a loving God shape our responses even in the face of danger, real or perceived?

During worship, when singing the hymn “Faith of the Martyrs,” something fell into place, a new understanding of the challenge facing us as a tiny rural congregation in a wounded nation. Are we to be caring though wounded healers reaching out in loving acceptance or wounded warriors defiantly standing our ground?

The underlying struggle facing us is not really about guns or gun rights, but who we are, who we want to become as individuals, a people. Identifying the victims of our many gun deaths, both mass and individual murders, as martyrs to our faith in this dream we hold of our nation as one of freedom and hope for all,can change our understanding. Does this not give their tragic deaths dynamic meaning? As President Lincoln said of those who died in our earlier Civil War, “these honored dead shall not have died in vain.”

We dare not see our honored dead who died in our current struggle for the soul of this our country as simply “collateral damage.” They are our human shields, our sacrifical lambs dying on the front lines of battle. They are our honored dead, our martyrs of faith in our battle for something far, far better; freedom and justice for all. Within the pain and suffering radiating from each death and tragedy we are called to honor their sacrifice by coming together as caring community.

Yes, we are all broken, flawed, and afraid, but we are more than that. We are courageous wounded healers. We are children of God, faith filled sojourners destined to find a way to bridge our differences. We are compatriots joined in our longing for a better America.

Each shattering tragedy holds up a mirror for us to see ourselves, not just as we are, but who we can truly become if we unite in the cause of freedom and justice for all, not just the few.

Joyce Shutt is pastor emeritus of the Fairfield Mennonite Church.

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