My focus became laser-like: pastor the church–preach, attend to staff, listen to stories, share tears, as we enter into the long journey through the valley of the shadow of death. My focus became 'my congregation' and nothing else. I could not attend to the needs of the community. I could not participate in conversations about 'understanding and healing'. I could not become an engaging member of the ministerial association: I could only pastor my church.
And yet, what I realize now did break was the foundation to my vocation: an abiding sense in the goodness of life and faith, the joy of being saved by grace, a belief in the goodness of others, and a sense of personal divine protection – or, in other words, I believe so God will watch over me and everything will work out. All these things where 'shot to hell' on February 7, 2008, and while I continued carrying-on my pastoral duties with a clear-minded determination, I did so with a broken heart. The scars of which are still with me to this day.
an abiding sense in the goodness of life and faith
At the core of my vocational identity as a reformed Christian pastor was 'the good news of Jesus Christ'. I have committed my life to the goodness of what God has done and is doing through Jesus Christ. On February 7, 2008, 'goodness' was attacked and, for me, destroyed. A trust in God's goodness did not answer the questions and it did not stop the hurt, the disbelief, or the bewilderment. God was no longer 'good'.
the joy of being saved by grace
I had always experienced my salvation through grace and my being called as a pastor joy-full-y. My call was clear and profound, life changing in remarkably good ways, and provided a foundation of joy for much of my ministry. And now there was only heartbreak and lament, quiet hugs with lots of tears, and hours upon hours of lonely, private crying and wondering and questioning and asking questions into the wind without one, single answer. The animating energy of my call shifted from a tempered joyfulness to something much darker and colder.
a belief in the goodness of others
Until the shooting, I always trusted in the innate goodness of others: all people are good and willing to help. This was the basis for my sense of the church — good people coming together to share their gifts in order to further the ministry and mission of Jesus Christ. After the shooting, people can be good or a threat. It is weird to sit in the front of a sanctuary, leading worship, watch a stranger walk in late, and think to myself: is he going to shoot me, or, how quickly can I get to the door?
a sense of divine protection
I trust in God; God will take care of me. I have faith in Jesus Christ; Jesus Christ will protect me. I know this sounds naïve but it is what undergirded my sense of vocational stability: those who give their lives to Jesus will be looked after. But I learned faith cannot stop a bullet and God does not protect those who believe from evil.
While the public demands for clergy are often clarified by a traumatic event, the foundations of one's vocation are often destroyed by that same event. I suffered alone, in the quiet of the morning, with a cup of coffee, prayers, tears, and a broken heart. I think I did okay as a pastor in the months and years following the shooting, but for a long time I was faking it – too crushed on the inside to let anyone know the foundation was destroyed and the house was in danger of collapse.