“Three Little Words”
The Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting occurred on December 14, 2012, in Newtown, Connecticut, when 20-year-old Adam Lanza fatally shot 20 children aged between 6 and 7 years old, as well as six adult staff members. The incident was the deadliest mass shooting at a high school or grade school in U.S. history and the third-deadliest mass shooting by a single person in U.S. history.
The shooting of Michael Brown occurred on August 9, 2014, in Ferguson, Missouri, a northern suburb of St. Louis. Brown, an 18-year-old black man, was fatally shot by Darren Wilson, 28, a white Ferguson police officer. The disputed circumstances of the shooting of the unarmed man sparked existing tensions in the predominantly black city, where protests and civil unrest erupted.
The Charleston church shooting (also known as the Charleston church massacre) was a mass shooting that took place at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in downtown Charleston, South Carolina, United States, on the evening of June 17, 2015. During a prayer service, nine people were killed by a gunman, including the senior pastor, state senator Clementa C. Pinckney; a tenth victim survived. The morning after the attack, police arrested a suspect, later identified as 21-year-old Dylann Roof, in Shelby, North Carolina. Roof later confessed that he committed the shooting in hopes of igniting a race war.
On December 2, 2015, 14 people were killed and 22 were seriously injured in a terrorist attack at the Inland Regional Center in San Bernardino, California, which consisted of a mass shooting and an attempted bombing. The perpetrators, Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik, a married couple living in the city of Redlands, targeted a San Bernardino County Department of Public Health training event and Christmas party, of about 80 employees, in a rented banquet room.
On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen, a 29-year-old American security guard, killed 49 people and wounded 53 others in a terrorist attack—also considered by many to be a hate crime—inside Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, United States. He was shot and killed by Orlando police after a three-hour standoff. Pulse was hosting Latin Night and most of the victims were Hispanic. It was both the deadliest mass shooting by a single shooter and the deadliest incident of violence against LGBT people in U.S. history, as well as the deadliest terrorist attack in the U.S. since the September 11 attacks in 2001.
On July 5, 2016, Alton Sterling, a 37-year-old black man, was fatally shot several times after being tackled to the ground by two white Baton Rouge Police Department officers in Baton Rouge, Louisiana. Police were responding to a report that a man that was dressed in a red shirt was selling CDs, and he had used a gun to threaten someone outside a convenience store. The shooting was recorded by multiple bystanders.
On July 6, 2016, Philando Castile was fatally shot by Jeronimo Yanez, a St. Anthony, Minnesota police officer, after being pulled over in Falcon Heights, a suburb of St. Paul. Castile was driving a car with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her four-year-old daughter, when he was pulled over by Yanez and another officer. According to Reynolds, after being asked for his license and registration, Castile told the officer he was licensed to carry a concealed weapon and had one in the car.
On July 7, 2016, Micah Xavier Johnson ambushed and fired upon a group of police officers in Dallas, Texas, killing five officers and injuring nine others. Two bystanders were also wounded. Johnson was an Army Reserve Afghan War veteran who was reportedly angry over police shootings of black men and stated that he wanted to kill white people, especially white police officers. The shooting happened at the end of a peaceful Black Lives Matter-organized protest against police killings of Alton Sterling in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and Philando Castile in Falcon Heights, Minnesota, which had occurred in the preceding days.
On July 17, 2016, 29-year-old Gavin Eugene Long, a man from Kansas City, Missouri, shot six Baton Rouge-area police officers at approximately 8:40 a.m. CDT. Three of the officers died and three more were hospitalized, one critically.
Notice a theme? I copied all of these snip-its from Wikipedia, because I have lost track of the leading news stories surrounding mass or even single shootings in the United States the last couple of years. I started this devotional last December after the “most recent” mass shooting in San Bernardino; and had begun the “I LOVE YOU” campaign. Something I felt we needed to hear from each other.
I began telling perfect strangers that I loved them; the reactions I received were amazing.
I was in a rather difficult meeting for work that ended in frustration and anger; at the end of the meeting I told the organizer that I loved him as he began to walk out the door. He stopped, and said “Really? I haven’t been told that in a long time. Thank you.”
I was at a checkout line at Target and as the girl handed my change to me, I told her I love you. She stopped for a second looked at me smiled and said, "I love you too.”
I was working with a difficult client who called daily demanding this and that until I told him that I loved him. He stopped, took a second to realize what I had just said and again said, “Really? No one has said that to me since I was little.” His frequent calling has declined to once a month; each call ending with a question from him, “Do you remember what you said to me before?” Yes, and it is still true, and God does too I remind him. It is amazing how hearing those three little words can change everything.
How many times do we hear negative remarks or comments about some person or group on the news or social media and do nothing? How many times have we yelled and perhaps cursed under our breath at the person who cut us off or took a parking place we thought was ours-I know I have. I found myself not ending a conversation with a family member or friend by saying, “I love you” because I felt it was unprofessional or just uncomfortable. Even those who hold different political beliefs than we do-although I will admit that this might be difficult- need to hear that they are loved.
I believe that we need to remember that we are loved. We need to hear that our neighbor, friend, and families love us. We need to tell each other-including the person in line with us at the post office as well as the checkout person at the grocery store that we are all loved. I think it made a difference to those I’ve said it to over the last eight months. I began to feel a change in myself just by saying I love you to others.
I will admit that I began to slowly stop telling people that I loved them since that first month. It can be difficult to remember or say it as we see more violence in our world daily. When I heard of the shootings in Orlando, I became angry. I wasn’t able to think about telling strangers that I love them. But recently I was reminded that each and every one of us is a beloved child of God. Each and every one of us needs to hear that they are loved. So here is my challenge to you, even though it might feel uncomfortable or awkward; the next time you are at the store or a restaurant, or ending a conversation in person or on the phone; tell that person or persons “I love you” and watch their expression. It might surprise you the difference it makes. It might surprise the difference it makes in you. Let’s change our world, three words at a time.
P.S. I LOVE YOU
Holy One, help us remember that we are all your beloved children, that we are all loved, and we are all on this journey together.
Shannon has been a member of Saint Andrew since 2006. She is a Sunday school teacher in Chi Rho. She lives in Shawnee with her daughter, Libby. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.