Joy: The joy of home1

by | Dec 12, 2021

Oxford High School students gathered for a candlelight vigil… Credit: Nick Hagen for The New York Times

Tuesday, November 30, was supposed to be an ordinary day for the 1,600 students attending Oxford High School. The vast majority of them got up the same time they ordinarily got up — got dressed following the same routine they ordinarily followed — and went to school along the route they ordinarily used to get to school.

I suspect that most of us prefer ordinary over the alternative for daily routines. I know I do. While sporadic episodes of unexpected events can be delightful, there are some things where the ordinary is more practical and comforting.

Going to school is one of those things where parents, in particular, prefer ordinary for our children.

But for Ethan Crumbley, that particular Tuesday was anything but ordinary.

A morning meeting with his parents and school administrators interrupted Ethan’s and his parent’s daily schedule. After which, the parents returned to their schedule and insisted that Ethan return to his. While the vast majority of students rarely, if ever, find themselves in such a meeting, this was not the case for Ethan. The meeting took place after a teacher observed a disturbing drawing featuring a gun and a victim, accented by a laughing emoji and the words, “Blood everywhere.”

Now I realize that in our justice system, it is proper to use words like alleged and suspect rather than words that suggest we already know the outcome to be decided. This understanding is essential given our assumption that all are innocent until proven guilty. And given the complexity of our legal system, which looks at splitting hairs into thousands of strands of minutia until a person is found guilty or innocent with great specificity.

Of course, the rest of us reduce such complexity into the reality of the horror and grief that we experience as a result. Even if we don’t know a single student — or parent — or teacher — even if we don’t even know where in Michigan Oxford is found on a map — we’re affected in very profound and uncomfortable ways.

And for the families and friends of Hana St. Juliana, age 14; Madisyn Baldwin, age 17; Tate Myre, age 16; and Justin Shilling, age 17 — their grief is only beginning, and healing may be elusive for a long time. 2

We simply don’t get over such violent affronts. We are both affected and marred when violence is done — even when we don’t know anything happened.

And yet — we feel helpless to do anything about it.

In what is described as a rare decision, the suspect’s parents, James, and Jennifer Crumbley, are charged with involuntary manslaughter. The legal term is “involuntary” even though they voluntarily purchased a tool designed and manufactured to take life away, supposedly as a Christmas gift for Ethan.

Seldom heard from and protected by numerous layers of legal veils are the persons behind the profits made by selling the 9mm Sig Sauer SP 2022 pistol to the suspect’s parents. The weapon was manufactured by SIG Sauer. The company is currently headquartered in New Hampshire. This company was initially founded as SIG Arms, an importer of German manufactured weapons.

The company eventually began manufacturing its own models of guns and, by 2016, was selling an estimated 43 thousand weapons a year. Ron Cohen, President of SIG Sauer, Inc., will not be prosecuted for his role in this murder or any other destructive use of the weapons designed, sold, and manufactured for profit. Nor will the owner of Acme Shooting Goods, who sold the weapon.

Nor will any of the designers, manufacturers, store owners, employees, officers, or Board Members of other companies that produce and sell weapons designed for killing. They won’t be prosecuted because we don’t roll that way when it comes to protecting our rights to purchase weapons for home use. By the way, did I mention that a semi-automatic handgun is designed and constructed as a killing machine?

A weapon’s intended “use” whether at home, school, the workplace, or elsewhere is for the sole purpose of killing. And that’s what Ethan had in mind whether or not his parents ever considered that their son might actually use the weapon for its intended purpose.

Meanwhile, the Sunday before the shooting, churches around the world celebrated the start of Advent. The name Christians chose to designate the four weeks leading up to Christmas. Advent is a holy time of preparation, reflection, and celebration.

On the first Sunday of Advent, we celebrated the hope represented by Christmas. Last Sunday, we celebrated the peace promised by God that came as a Messiah. This week we celebrate the joy of God’s presence and actions in the world. Next week we celebrate God’s love and recommit ourselves to loving others as we love ourselves.

Meanwhile, there is cause for grief, regret, despair, and anger.

Most of us recognize that joy is as intentional as it is a result of external events that evoke joy. We sometimes think of joy as an attitude more so than a response. Joy can appear calloused in the face of tragedy. Yet joy is nuanced, coming in a multitude of intensities and moods.

The pervasive joy that rises above crisis, drama, and violence comes out of a sense of realizing that God is still in control. And for many, Advent is a time that reminds us of this reality. During Advent, we remember that God chose to live among us and promised to be with us always.

“A day is coming,” said Isaiah, “When people will sing, ‘Give thanks to the Lord!’” These words are among the numerous predictions of God’s intention for Jesus Christ to be born as both a sign and a solution. Isaiah challenges us all to “Tell all the nations” about God’s plans (Isaiah 12:4).

A day is coming when people will sing, “Give thanks to the Lord!”
Isaiah 12:4

Paul writes about joy in his letters. For example, in Paul’s letter to the church in Philippi, Paul encourages the people to “always be joyful in your union with the Lord.” He reminds us to ask God for what we need that is getting in the way of our joy.

He goes on to point out that God’s Spirit has a miraculous effect on us whenever we’re able to shift enough of our focus from problems to gratitude. Paul notes that this feeling of peace is outside human understanding. I agree. It’s hard to understand how we can find joy, even as Christmas approaches, given the problems surrounding us (Philippians 4:4-7).

Nevertheless, I promised myself that I will look for the joy of Christmas even as I grieve over the needless loss of life. I will celebrate each week, sing thanks to God. Even as my heart breaks over our divisions and inability to work together to end the use of violence, I anticipate that God’s peace will prevail, and I will find joy. And I invite you to do the same.

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Pastor Tommy

1 Katelin Maylum, Tommy McDoniel, and Terrance Williams. “Home for Christmas.” Flint, Michigan. © Asbury Church, 2021.

2 Albeck-Ripka and Sophie Kasakove. “What We Know About the Michigan High School Shooting.” © New York Time, December 3, 2021.

A Community in Love with God, Each Other, and our Neighbors.