They’re here. A wall didn’t keep them out. Stricter travel restrictions didn’t keep them out. Governors locking the front doors of their states didn’t keep them out. The terrorists are here. They’ve always been here.
Terrorists promote terror. They change who we are and how we live through fear. They cause us to live in a perpetual state of terror. Are you terrified yet?
What does terrorism look like? It’s not just roadside bombs and suicide vests and Middle Eastern men with beards.
Terrorism looks like a young man who walks into a church Bible study, lets its members welcome him and pray for him, and then shoots them all.
Terrorism looks like an angry man who goes into a movie theatre with automatic weapons to kill as many people as he can, for no other reason than… he can.
Terrorism looks like a police officer who shoots a young man with a knife who is walking away 16 times and not even taking the time to call an ambulance.
Terrorism looks like a man who breaks into a house and shoots a pastor’s wife in the head.
Terrorism looks like a young man who enters a public library at story time just because he wants to kill some kids.
Terrorism looks like religious extremists taking guns inside a concert hall or a Planned Parenthood building.
Terrorism looks like the string of school shootings we have to mourn several times a year. It looks like killing of citizens, who represented no immediate risk, by officers sworn to protect and serve. It looks like gang violence that indiscriminately takes the lives of the young and old.
Terrorism doesn’t look like any one religion, race or ethnicity. It looks like anyone who is willing to cause pain to someone else. It looks like anyone who enjoys making people live in fear.
These acts of terrorism happen in homes, churches, malls, schools and streets throughout our country; in big cities and small towns.
These terrible acts change how we live. I’ll be honest, I’m a little nervous going into a movie theater. I used to sit in the very middle of the theater, but now I am more strategic in my choices. I sit facing the door at restaurants. I’m scared for my child to go to school.
Yet, with all these acts of terrorism committed this year, what have we done about it? No, stricter gun control laws won’t work on their own, but neither will locked-down schools, citizens carrying concealed weapons or better mental health care. There is no one solution, and so since it seems so daunting we just haven’t done anything.
And yet, we are scared of refugees who are fleeing for their lives, most of whom are not men of fighting age (the same demographic who are responsible for most of the killings here regardless of race, job, religion or ethnicity). We’re doing everything we can to keep potential threats out who have been in the vetting process, while we’re doing everything we can to do nothing about the terrorists living among us. The reason is simple: We want to deceive ourselves that it’s them and not us.
Let’s not deceive ourselves. Let’s let the truth be in us. Terrorism is real. It happens around the world everyday. It happens in this country every day. Perpetrators have a thousand different agendas or none at all.
The question for us in the midst of this kind of terror is not What are we going to do because of it? – but Who are we going to be in spite of it?
Acts of terror have been present in our world since the beginning when God created light. God didn’t erase darkness, but God gave us the light.
Advent is beginning, when we remember that a light has come into the world that the darkness cannot overcome. It is the dawn of redeeming grace. Jesus Christ was born into a world of terror, but chose to live as a light to all people.
Perhaps we, too, can choose to be light. Guided by the Advent wreaths we will light for the next few weeks, we can be the light that shines in the darkness. We can be light that the darkness cannot overcome. We can be the light of hope, the light of joy, the light of peace and the light of love. We can even be the light of Christ to a world shrouded in darkness.
The terrorists are here. They always have been. But so has Christ, so has the church and so have you. God gave you the light. Let it shine, let it shine, let it shine.
STEPHEN McKINNEY-WHITAKER is pastor and head of staff at United Presbyterian Church of Peoria, Illinois.