by rob purdie
This past weekend, I’ve thought about my old home of Central Florida a lot. More so than anytime since we’ve moved to Oak Ridge.
On Friday night, June 13, following a live performance, 22-year-old singer Christina Grimmie was shot and killed while signing autographs at The Plaza Live in Orlando. Her killer allegedly targeted her because of her openness in sharing her Christian faith.
The very next night, June 14, a Muslim gunman killed 50 people at Pulse, a gay nightclub in Orlando. He called 911 after killing some civilians in the building in an effort to draw in police so he could attempt to kill them also.
The two locations in downtown Orlando are less than four miles apart.
Orlando is to Central Florida as Knoxville is to Eastern Tennessee. It’s usually where we go if we need that one particular item. It’s where we go to see concerts and sporting events. It’s the anchor to which all our smaller towns and communities are tethered.
So, as I watched and listened to this past weekend’s reports of death and hatred emanate from Central Florida, I couldn’t help but feel the ripples trip a wire in my memory that led directly to our old little city.
I had lived in Central Florida for about three years. Then, one day in the spring of 1987, my town of Palm Bay became the site of a mass murder. A man who would later die in prison killed six people, including two police officers. Palm Bay was our town. But the city changed that day.
I like to hope that Orlando, being a larger town and having more global connections than a smaller city, will be able to recover more of its heart and do it quicker than perhaps a smaller town might.
But hope is all I have at the moment to give Orlando.
I spoke to a local police officer from here in east Tennessee late Sunday afternoon. He has been suffering from health problems recently. He’s very muscular, but he’s a smaller guy. Seems he’s developed lower back and orthopedic issues. I asked him if anything has changed in his work environment.
“Yes,” he explained, “at one time we wore tactical gear only in very specific circumstances. Now, I wear a ballistic vest all the time and tactical equipment including a full tac weapons belt about 80% of the time.
“You and I grew up in a Mayberry world,” he said wistfully. “But, now . . . I mean, just look at what happened last night in Orlando. It’s a different world we’re living in today. We don’t have to like it. But God’s called us to live in it and make it better.”
As I prayed this weekend, I wondered to God about making it better. How God? It’s been so bad lately. How?
This is what He said to me.
“I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven;.” – Jesus Christ, Matthew 5:44-45.
In moments like these when that seems easier said than done, I just remember Who said it. And suddenly it doesn’t matter how hard it is to do. I just have to follow and do it.