Tragic lessons: Learning from Wedgwood

Campus mourns victims from Fort Worth church shooting.

Tragic lessons: Learning from Wedgwood

Campus mourns victims from Fort Worth church shooting.

God works in mysterious ways . . .

On Sept. 14, Rabbi Harold Kushner lectured a joint Christian/Jewish audience about handling grief and sorrow. He pointed out that there are five gifts of religious commitment which all people of faith share:
The plague of loneliness.
Belief in one God.
Practical forgiveness.
A cure for the fear of death.

Reaching out.
People from all faiths showed up in force at the city-wide memorial service held in honor of the seven who were slain at Wedgwood Baptist Church. Right, Nicholas Syesta of White Settlement. Mayor Kenneth Barr ’64 told the crowd that Fort Worth is “still a good city and still a safe city”; and students from Columbine High School also spoke words of sympathy.

The next day, Fort Worth resident Larry Ashbrook entered the sanctuary of Wedgwood Baptist Church and opened fire on a youth rally, killing seven and injuring seven before turning the gun on himself.

The plague of loneliness. Isolation, it seems, comes into every human life. Having lost his parents and living alone at the time of the killings, Larry Ashbrook was an individual of many failures and frustrations. In his despair he saw no hope for the future. Dr. Andrew Lester, a professor of pastoral psychology at Brite Divinity School, says that every human must have a future story and something to look forward to in life. Ashbrook apparently anticipated nothing in his future. Faith in God and connecting with a religious community, Kushner said, “can cure loneliness.”

Belief in one God. Kushner told his TCU audience that they should “affirm life” and praise God as a part of their everyday existence. He said God gives human beings “the strength and perseverance to overcome” calamity in life. After the shooting, the Fort Worth community quickly focused on prayer for the victims and thanksgiving for the community itself. On the Sunday following the shooting, 15,000 people came to TCU’s Amon Carter Stadium — to pray, to show support for the victims and to give thanks for God’s blessings on the community. Rabbis, ministers, Roman Catholic priests and the Imam from the Tarrant County Islamic Association prayed together for the unity and restoration in Fort Worth. It was an amazing sight.

Reverence. I was one of the worshipers who attended Wedgwood Baptist that first Sunday service following the tragedy that had occurred in that same sanctuary. It was an upbeat and joyous place amid much sorrow. Church members call themselves “Wedgies” and showed resilience under all the media scrutiny. The pews were not full, but praises to God were loud and enthusiastic. Packets of tissue sat every two feet on the pews. The people of Wedgwood reclaimed their church, sang songs of praise and heard words of reconciliation and healing. Kushner had told his TCU audience, “Sophisticated people of the twentieth century have forgotten the comfort that can come from a religious faith.”

One of the most heartfelt moments for me occurred when the parents of Kristi Beckel came forward to join as members of the Wedgwood congregation. Kristi had planned to join on Sunday morning, too. The witness of Mr. and Mrs. Beckel said very clearly that some healing had begun. Kushner says that “only with time and distance can we see the tragedy in the context of a whole life and a whole world.”

Practical forgiveness. In seeking to forgive such senseless acts, Christians rely on God’s word. The pain remains but the Bible reminds the believer that the road of grieving and forgiveness has been traveled before and they are not alone.

Kushner says in his book that we first need to forgive God for not stopping tragedy. “God does not cause our misfortunes. Some are caused by bad luck; some are caused by bad people; some are simply an inevitable consequence of being human and being mortal, living in a world of inflexible natural laws.”

Considering what people of faith believe about God, no one will forget the events at Wedgwood Baptist Church, but we can be stewards of forgiveness.

A cure for the fear of death. Affirming life is the best cure for the fear of death. Kushner says that God’s power is in “summoning friends and neighbors to ease the burden and fill the emptiness . . . God gives us the strength and perseverance to overcome [calamity.]” Indeed, the citizens of Fort Worth have seen other tragedies this year. Last spring when three firefighters were killed while battling a blaze outside city limits, officials denied the families full death benefits. What did the citizens of Fort Worth do? They raised the money to provide abundantly for the families left behind — a lasting salve for death’s sting.

Kushner’s visit to Fort Worth on the eve of one of its saddest days is a coincidence; his visit was planned for many months to benefit the Brite Divinity School’s Jewish Studies program.

Still, God does work in mysterious ways. And His healing has begun.

David A. Becker ’73 is a writer and seminary student at Brite Divinity School.