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August 4, 2019

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A woman sits during a vigil for the victims of an El Paso mass shooting in Juarez, Mexico, on Aug. 3, 2019
"Officials call El Paso shooting a domestic terrorism case, weigh hate crime charges" via the Washington Post. "The investigation in Texas continued while other authorities rushed to respond to a shooting just hours later in Dayton, Ohio, during which at least nine people were slain. The dual shootings in Texas and Ohio — separated by hundreds of miles and less than a single day — sparked grimly familiar scenes of panic and grief as public places were yet again terrorized by a hail of bullets."
"Again, if two lie down together, they will keep warm; but how can one keep warm alone? And though one may be overpowered, two can resist. Moreover, a three fold cord of strands is not quickly broken." -- Ecclesiastes 4:11-2
I write to you from our favorite coffee shop in El Paso, Texas, 7 miles from the Cielo Vista Wal-Mart where a mass shooting took place yesterday, killing, we believe 21 people. My wife and I moved here two short weeks ago to pastor a church in the North-East part of the city.

One thing we learned the day we moved here is El Paso—the whole city, a city of almost a million people—is one family. White, Black, Latinx, Asian, queer, straight, Army, civilian—Mexican or American. In El Paso, people offer others the opportunity to cut in line at the grocery store. They go out of their way to say hello. They share tables and speak to one another with respect, joy, and genuine interest. And yesterday, only two weeks in, we became a solid part of that family here.

When we watched the news we were confused by the reports of this being gang violence. It didn’t fit the area, the venue, or the city. Yet, reporters persisted in their story of gang violence—to them this shooting was just a tasty bite to squander and exploit a majority Latinx culture. To our congregants and neighbors, this whole scenario seemed impossible.

Yet here in the safest city in America, we found ourselves watching the number of deaths rise: 4, 10, 18, 20, and this morning, 21.

And why? Why did we have to endure this? Because a white man, an angry, hateful, privileged, white man wanted to attack the “Hispanic invasion.”

Here in El Paso, we have a saying, “Two Nations, One Heartbeat.”

This morning, my church felt not just two nations, but a whole world joining in their heartbeats with ours. This morning the Church wailed. We shouted. We sat in silence. We prayed. We sang. We worked. We tied ourselves even more tightly together in our three-fold cord.

What the exploitative news outlets and a gunman tried to do was untie that cord. They tried to leave us on our own but little did they know, that our hearts got stronger, beat harder and grew yesterday and grew, even more, this morning as our churches named racism, named gun violence, named darkness.

Name it in your city too. Name it in your rural towns. Name it on college campuses. Name it, like the writer of Ecclesiastes does. The write starts out with shouting MISERY, MISERY and ends his rant knowing that misery makes you find the strands and pull them closer, not further apart. Name it so that when this misery happens near you—and sadly, it might—you’re ready to get the hearts beating as one cord.

Many nations, one heartbeat, a three-fold cord.

I know not everyone can give blood (also, let’s work on gay men and those who have had sex with gay men able to donate blood), but donate blood. Our city needed so much yesterday and people showed up! However, if it was already stored, it could have been less hectic and been available immediately.

Also, if you’ve got even $10 to spare to help with funeral costs, Presbyterian Disaster Assistance is helping our PCUSA churches provide that service.
[This was my prayers of the people this morning at Grace Presbyterian Church, El Paso, Texas]

God with us, we come to you today a people changed by violence. When O Lord will we be a culture changed by peace? When will we take seriously the work of this table, this bread, this juice? You commanded that we sit and eat together; it is that simple and yet that hard.

Embolden us with the Gospel message—a story overwhelmed by acts of selflessness, a story that upsets status quo, a story that gives us the strength to flip tables where greed is practiced, a story that invigorates our ability to observe and then to act upon the atrocities and injustices around us.

We pray for Ohio and those who died while enjoying friends, music, and dancing. We pray for our country obsessed with violence. We pray for our El Paso—a city of two nations and one heartbeat—a city that was violated by a man with an idea that was not born here but born of racism, born of the privilege of being born in the USA, born of hate. Help us rise up and show the country, the world just how a heart does beat—that our heart beats louder because we are stronger for the varied colors of our skin, for the inspiration we bring to one another, for the tables we sit at together.

Even as the world turns on its TV and watches our city’s grief, we thank you for good moments that are not being shown, for the lines and lines of people donating blood, for the tireless efforts of the police, for the medical teams, for the chaplains. We come to you giving thanks for new ministries, for this gathered community, for birthdays and fiestas, for wedding anniversaries, for visiting grandchildren, for rain, for the mountains, and for the ability to gather together today.

With all of this, let our hearts beat together.

Beat to the love.
Beat to the joy.
Beat to the courage.
Beat to the story.
Beat to the hope.
Beat to the help.

To beat to the change you’re calling us to be.
With one heart, all God’s people said, Amen.

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