The setting of any narrative plays a significant role. Personality, behavior, familial dynamics; these attributes that make up the fundamental characteristics of a human being tend to be deeply tied to the setting from which they come. In my personal narrative, I have experienced a special relationship to my hometown of Parkland, Florida. My family lived in several parts of South Florida, but when I reflect on my core childhood memories, that sort of Stranger Things-esque, pre-adolescent youth of riding my bike through the Florida woods, getting into some sort of trouble with my brothers, or meeting up with the neighborhood kids, I think of Parkland as my home.
When I think about my hometown there have always been two things I can say for certain about Parkland, Florida: First, no one had ever heard of it. The obscure suburb outside of Fort Lauderdale is the last place you can visit before reaching federally protected, everglades wilderness. You cannot find an exit sign with the city “Parkland” on its surface, you know how to get there because you have some friend who lives in a gated community, or (if you’re really lucky) you know a friend whose family owned a bunch of land you can go run-through.
Second, it was safe. It is practically common knowledge that Parkland was voted the safest city in Florida in 2016. These were motivating factors for my parents as they moved our family from the hectic complexities of Miami to the simple and safe city of Parkland. That said, you can imagine the disorienting feeling I experienced upon hearing the news that a tragedy had occurred at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.
I guess I always hoped Parkland would get well known because some hometown hero would make it famous, I never imagined something so terrible would lead it into the national spotlight. It seems like overnight our country knows about Parkland and safe is not the adjective that comes to mind in relation to it. I am compelled to speak out for the victims of my hometown because I feel a sort of kindred spirit with them. I feel the need to pray for the victims and families of Parkland, but to call prayer the sole Christian response in light of such a horrific event, I fear, is far too simplistic.
I feel the need to pray for the victims and families of Parkland, but to call prayer the sole Christian response in light of such a horrific event, I fear, is far too simplistic.
Prayer ought to be heavily ingrained into the lives of Christ followers. Prayer is not a reaction, but an action; something we must always do as part of our daily living in worship unto God. So yes, let us pray for the victims and their families. Let us mourn with others, and let us lift our voices in prayer expecting God to move. Let us be worshipers of God and followers of Christ.
Beyond prayer, however, I speculate whether a proper response to these events is tied to how we make real the eschatological vision of the kingdom of God. How can we articulate a hope of resurrection into a world laced with the experience of death? As a worship leader within the Pentecostal tradition, I feel that my role in the liturgical setting is to first and foremost be mindful of what the Holy Spirit is doing in a moment. What sort of things is the Spirit of God trying to communicate to us? How does the Spirit want to activate the Kingdom of God in our worship?
Prayer is not a reaction, but an action; something we must always do as part of our daily living in worship unto God.
As followers of Jesus, maybe our role in the cultural setting is to engage these sorts of questions. In the wake of any tragedy, be it national, global, or local, our response should be to listen. Easy as it may be to give our hearts over to apathy, it is in these moments that we must lend an ear to the hurting and broken and grieve what has been lost. Listening to the stories of victims and families affected by Parkland is a part of taking on the role of incarnational ministry.
Join us next Tuesday for Part 2 of this discussion.