My Columbine

What affected me most was the teens. Covered in blood and stained
with emotion—their stories were vivid and painful as they desperately
tried to convey the twisted violence they had witnessed with anyone who
might offer a chance to explain this new evil to them. It would be
their faces, covered in blood, with eyes fixed on me asking, “Why?”
that would haunt my dreams. Who can look into the face of lost innocence
and survive? It was like watching helplessly while someone was being
raped. My stomach turned as the innocence of their youth was taken from
them by a bloody and ruthless adversary bent on destruction and death.

I
wanted answers. From the moment I left Columbine high school 10 years
ago, I wanted answers. I needed to know “why.” I was 24 years old,
ready to take on the world and fresh out of seminary—but all the
training 40 grand could buy was suddenly derailed by the simplest question: Why? Why
evil? Why kids? Why here? Why me? Why now?

In the coming
days and weeks as events unfolded, I discovered a deeper horror:
isolation. Withdrawing from family and friends, I found it hard to
relate to others. Small and insignificant issues erupted into big
mountains as I grasped at straws while edging closer to the cliff. The
nation-changing event known as “Columbine” slowly became my own private
“Columbine” as I silently suffered. I suffered with what I saw, what I
did and, most importantly, what I thought God didn’t do. Why didn’t God
show up for me like He did for others?

Christians today often seem to celebrate only the big moments. Christian books and videos are filled with
tons of celebrations of how God showed up in some big way to save the
day. Well-meaning preachers parade a constant stream of feel-good
stories in pulpits across America. But what about the other times? What
about the times when God simply chooses to not show up?

During
the 10 years since Columbine, I have come to understand Scripture
differently. Hidden beneath the felt-board stories and trite
explanations is a deeper sub-story—a subversion of the popular health
and wellness Gospel preached on every street corner these days. What is
this subversion? It’s a slow and painful waiting. Just a quick look at Scripture will reveal this. Many of the Bible’s big characters had to
wait. Abraham, Moses, Joseph, John the Baptist all believed in a
promise that was decades away. Skimmed over in the “verse of the day,”
quick Bible school readings are reference to this slow and painful
waiting. Genesis 40 tells of Joseph lying in prison for years for a
crime he did not commit. One day, as if by a stroke of luck, he finds an
official of Pharaoh who promises to put in a good word for him when
he gets out the next day. In perhaps one of the most understated lines
in Scripture, Genesis 40 ends with these words: “ The chief cupbearer,
however, did not remember Joseph, he forgot him.” Genesis 41 starts by
saying “When two full years had passed.” Two full years! Two years of waiting and prayer; two years of expecting to be released any day; two years of hoping.

Last
week I found myself waiting on Columbine once again. This time my
waiting had a timeline. As I sat on the plane waiting to go to Denver
for the 10th anniversary of Columbine, I could not help but ask more
questions. Why was I going back? What did I hope to gain? Would anyone
recognize me? I had visions of parents stopping me and saying, “Hey, are
you the guy who sat and prayed with me when I found out my daughter was
killed?” Each question spurned more questions, an avalanche of hope,
desire, pain, all flowing down into my valley of darkness. What would
happen? How would my personal Columbine end for me? I was desperately
searching for my feel-good faith moment, looking behind every corner
for hidden meaning, replaying every conversation for a sign or a signal
that would finally reveal to me why I had to bear witness to such pain.

It never came.

The
anniversary came and went. I went to the candlelight vigil and the
memorial service and nothing happened. No one recognized me. My
anticipated feel-good faith moment never came. Spend too much time
hanging out in the halls of faith and you will see faith’s dirty little
secret: nagging questions. They chase us at every turn and haunt us at
every intersection of life. Why? Why here? Why me? Why now? Stealing
away our joy, we never escape them. When one of life’s great questions
gets answered, another always surfaces in its place like a lost buoy at
sea, bobbing into our consciousness, causing us to drift into
confusion. A deeper look at our Bibles will reveal to us that these
questions are not new. The Old Testament writer of Psalms 13 says this:

“How
long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your
face from me? How long must I wrestle with my thoughts?”

Listen
to this ancient passage and hear the rhythms of faith pulsating hard.Why? Why here? Why me? Why now? These questions, as painful as they
are, do something to us. Questions destined to destroy our faith, once
embraced, do the exact opposite. When we embrace these tough and brutal
questions, we find a real and authentic faith, stripped down from all
of the false gospels. When we stand in the presence of the Creator and
lay bare our questions, faith suddenly becomes real and deep, we play
for keeps. When we have the courage to stand strong and embrace the
questions we cannot answer without God, we move away from felt-board
faith and into a new hope.

My Columbine didn’t end.

And I am OK with that.

9 Comments

Money

2

Money commented…

Columbine has haunted me for ten years as well. I was not there that day, but that's my home and I can't get it out of my system.

I'm curious when you say: we find a real and authentic faith, stripped down from all of the false gospels."

So... what is that faith - you say you have found it, but you don't describe it. Make it tangible for me. Help me understand it. Otherwise it seems as trite as the faith you are fleeing from. This is meant to be an honest question and not an attack. I certainly understand if its something that I have missed or that is too rich or difficult to put into words.

Paul Talley

2

Paul Talley commented…

Dear donthaveone,

That is a great question. I am sorry I did not have enough space to explain that better. While there are many false gospels today I truly believe that the most dangerous one is the sudo-christian thought that faith is squeaky clean and above struggle. Questions, failures, struggle, messiness, all have a place in our faith journey. Faith, when done right is incredibly messy. (For a good read see Mike Yaconellis book Messy Spirituality). Many today fear messy faith. Imagine for a minute a health and wellness preacher who has made a living off of a happy God sharing on Sunday something like a struggle with pornography. No doubt his church and his audience would not know how to take this messy revelation. Now imagine a church where everyone from the leadership on down shares openly just how messy their faith truly is. Questions, sins, struggles are all openly expressed and wrestled with as a community. When we hold up each of these churches to the book or Acts, which one seems to be more like New Testament churches? So for me that faith I describe is being able to stand up in my church (I am a full time Youth Minister) and say, Guess what, I have the same messy faith questions you have. Lets try and figure them out together. It seems simple, but its actually a big leap for many of us. Most of us spend way too much time trying to make everyone around us think we have all the answers.

Alan,
I too have had to bury a teen from my youth group. I will be praying for your group as you struggle with this.

Paul

Paul Talley

2

Paul Talley commented…

Dear donthaveone,

That is a great question. I am sorry I did not have enough space to explain that better. While there are many false gospels today I truly believe that the most dangerous one is the sudo-christian thought that faith is squeaky clean and above struggle. Questions, failures, struggle, messiness, all have a place in our faith journey. Faith, when done right is incredibly messy. (For a good read see Mike Yaconellis book Messy Spirituality). Many today fear messy faith. Imagine for a minute a health and wellness preacher who has made a living off of a happy God sharing on Sunday something like a struggle with pornography. No doubt his church and his audience would not know how to take this messy revelation. Now imagine a church where everyone from the leadership on down shares openly just how messy their faith truly is. Questions, sins, struggles are all openly expressed and wrestled with as a community. When we hold up each of these churches to the book or Acts, which one seems to be more like New Testament churches? So for me that faith I describe is being able to stand up in my church (I am a full time Youth Minister) and say, Guess what, I have the same messy faith questions you have. Lets try and figure them out together. It seems simple, but its actually a big leap for many of us. Most of us spend way too much time trying to make everyone around us think we have all the answers.

Alan,
I too have had to bury a teen from my youth group. I will be praying for your group as you struggle with this.

Paul

Ben-Peter

53

Ben-Peter commented…

Great points about waiting Paul. Patience is not my best quality.

Phillip

2

Phillip commented…

I'm new to relevant and was just checking out the website and came upon your article. I thought it was great, and definitely hits home at this point in my life.

I too, have recently lost someone very close to me, and I am having a very hard time right now. My fiance passed away March 31, and I thought that I was dealing okay, but I just recently celebrated my birthday. I proposed on my birthday last year and we were getting married in August. The last couple of days have been very hard. I keep asking, Why Her? Why Me? and Why Now? These are questions that I don't know that I will ever get an answer to...

God promises to give peace that surpasses all understanding Phil. 4:7 and I know that God doesn't answer on my terms and in my time, but sometimes its hard to believe that God allows these things to happen. Do you believe that God allows these things to happen to us, to our loved ones? I'm just really struggling right now, I know that God is bigger than all of my problems and that God will give me peace if I allow Him to, but I feel like I'm supposed to just be okay with not having the answers, and maybe I am. But how do I get to that point?

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