Tuesday, April 19, 2005
Where Was God?
This is a question posed by many of us after tragedies. I've wondered it at times? Even my wife asked me this question after reading about Saddam's genocide in Iraq. It is not an easy question to answer.
It is a question that is perhaps best answered by those who have been there. Those who have faced situations seemingly so evil, that many of us can't comprehend just how God could have been there and permitted them to happen.
The following articles were written by and about my cousin, Nick Baumgart, of Littleton Colorado. Nick was not only friends with the killers (Eric and Dylan) but also the boyfriend and prom date of Rachel Scott, one of the first massacred in the Columbine school shooting. Nick was there that day and speaks about his first hand account while attempting to answer the question…"Where was God?"
You will also find below, statements made by Rachel's father Darrell Scott in his address to the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee and other speeches given while touring together with Nick. Their statements don't call for a ban on guns, nor do they blame music, movies, or entertainment for the violence that occurred that day. Rather…they speak about God and bullying and parenting and what could have forced these two peers to turn on fellow students, including Nick himself. (http://denver.rockymountainnews.com/shooting/0811list1.shtml "... Classmate Nick Baumgart's name also appeared on a Harris list.")
"A truer friend you couldn't find," said Nick Baumgart, who escorted Scott to the prom a week ago. "You could be having the worst day of your entire life. All she had to do was smile."
May 5, 1999
There was a heart-wrenching bit of irony in some of the newspaper stories that came out the Saturday after the Columbine shootings. A young man named Nick Baumgart shared from his heart about a girl named Rachel. Just three days before this Colorado tragedy, Nick and his date, Rachel Scott, had gone to the senior prom together. There was a picture of the two of them: he had on his tuxedo; she was wearing a formal black dress. They talked and laughed about the play she was writing, the poems. I mentioned Monday that she was an active, happy member in the Celebration Christian Fellowship Church; I'm sure her love for Jesus tinged their last conversation. And now she was dead; murdered out in the yard of the school.
But then the ironic flashback. This Nick, who sat in his tuxedo with the pretty high school senior, also remembers a recent summer. He spent most of his Colorado days that summer up in a tree house with a kid named Eric David Harris. In elementary school he played with Dylan Bennet Klebold. And now these two former friends were responsible for killing his prom date, Rachel.
And you know, we look at these side-by-side images — and it tears us up. How did friendships go so wrong? How did two boys, often described as decent and caring, end up planning and writing in diaries for almost a year about killing their former friends and classmates? They plotted for a maximum kill, a high body count.
And this takes us back to the unanswerable question: WHY? In the L.A. Times' weekend religion section, that's all there was. "Age-Old Query: Where Was God?" There weren't many coherent answers. Back when the Oklahoma City bombing happened, Ann Landers threw up her hands at the thousands of "Why's" that flooded in. "I have no answer," she confessed. Billy Graham went to that Sunday memorial service and said much the same thing: "This human race has no answers. The mystery of evil is something we don't understand."
You would think that most of the world — as it looks at the simple joy of a Saturday night prom date, and then the horrors of April 20 — would at last look up at heaven and say to God: "All right! We GET IT! We see that sin is evil and righteousness is good. We understand now that Lucifer's plan is deadly and Yours is Life eternal, Life abundant. At last we comprehend that the wages of sin are death, that violence breeds violence, that for mankind to go its own way is a slow suicide. God, at long last, why don't You COME! And rescue us all! Because after these past 6000 years, at last WE GET IT!"
Friend, I know that many times I've prayed in earnestness and almost frustration because it all seemed so clear. This is the unspoken anguish behind the Christian's "Maranatha" prayer. God, we GET it!! We're slow and spiritually stupid, but not THAT stupid. After the Holocaust and then Rwanda and then Kosovo and the Lewinsky mess and babies born with AIDS and now Columbine High School, it's painfully clear, agonizingly clear, that Satan's agenda for this world is nothing but mass suicide.
And as the world has watched this unfolding drama over the past 15 days now, there are signs that we might be slowly learning. After this shooting, the churches were filled. People stood together in their grief. People were reaching out for some shred of faith, some assurance that death was not the end, that these funerals were not the final chapter. High school seniors gathered almost spontaneously in nearby parks, by the cars of their fallen friends, to hold hands and pray.
I mentioned Monday that we wouldn't look for silver linings where perhaps there are none. But this Nick, whose treasured friend Rachel is now dead, has found some. Students at Columbine High have bonded, he says. The cliques seem to be gone now. And he adds that maybe they're gone for good. The athletes, the preps, the nerds, the invisible clubs where some kids owned BMWs, Vipers, and Humvees . . . all those lines of division have been erased in Littleton, Colorado. What some called the giant "jock-ocracy" is now gone. The meanest kid he knew in the school, who teased and bullied, spent April 20 helping other students escape from the carnage. He helped girls cross the chain-link fence; he made lists of survivors. "He was nice. He cared." And this Nick Baumgart thinks that the change is permanent. The whole city is different now, he senses. All the merchants donating money. People embracing on the street. The unity is for real.
And yet, friend, here's the reality we have to try to understand. Tragedy hit . . . and so everyone went to church. With bullets whizzing around, and dead bodies in that library, and the horror of mass funerals, the town of Littleton reached out to God on April 20, 1999. But what about on April 19 and 18 and 17 and 16? Was it clear to everyone a day BEFORE that to live in relationship with God is the best way, the only way?
Four days before the shootings, a 16-year-old girl named Sarah DeBoer was going about her Friday business at Columbine High. She exchanged pleasantries that day with both Eric and Dylan. "They both were nice," she said later. "I've known them since my freshman year. They were probably the nicest people you could ever meet." Now, after the slaughter, how were things? "I turned and saw Dylan," she says, "and he shot at me."
And the point, again, is this: do we only understand the goodness of God when the evilness of the world is thrust into our living rooms on CNN? Does the devil have to shoot right at us before we turn our eyes to heaven? And really, perhaps this is what God is waiting for. Even after Auschwitz and Bosnia and Littleton, Colorado, so few people still seek an abiding relationship with God ALL THE TIME, not just during a crisis.
For years preachers have kind of joked about, and also lamented, what they call "C & E Christians." People who show up at church just for Christmas and Easter. They don't want a daily relationship with God; they just want to say hello — and goodbye — during the two major "(quote) church holidays." And now maybe we have "C & S Christianity," which gets people to church only following crises and shootings. We only enter the house of our invisible heavenly Father when our hearts are aching from a teenager's funeral. But when the hurts fade, we return to our own lives.
In his book with the challenging title, Disappointment With God, Philip Yancey writes about how the children of Israel had what we so often seem to demand. God showed Himself to them! He was real! He was right there! He gave them all the signs and wonders. They heard His voice booming from the mountaintops. They saw His manna every morning; they drank from the rock where He provided miracle water. And yet, they seemed to really look His direction only when they were hungry. Or when the water ran out. Or when the locusts or the Philistines swooped down on them. So few of them seemed to want God ALL THE TIME. Unless there was a shooting or a tragedy, they went their own way. The relationship was unendingly shallow, marked just by the little moments of crisis connection.
And so maybe this is the silver lining from Littleton, Colorado. As people seek God NOW, during a crisis, will they STAY with Him as the crisis passes? Healing will be slow in this battle-scarred community, but it WILL come. And what then? Will the prayers in the parking lots slowly disperse as the memories fade? Will church attendance revert to normal? Or will 1,870 students — minus the 14 we have lost, plus one teacher — and their parents, and their friends, and those of us who wept by our own TV sets, learn that to seek God ALL the time is the only way to lasting wholeness?
I have a good friend, a faithful, conservative Christian, magazine editor of a prophecy journal, who reads his Bible, never smokes or drinks, and — I would think — hardly ever even darkens the door of a movie theater. Except that last summer he quietly bought a ticket to see both the Hollywood films, Deep Impact and Armageddon. Why did he break his own rule? Because he's convinced as he studies the prophecies of these end times, that God might well permit the devastation suggested in those two films — a meteor crashing into earth and killing millions — before people will truly turn to God and permanently hang onto Him.
Is he right? I don't know. But friend, I do know that God is seeking a people who will seek HIM. Not just when they hurt or when bad news comes from the sheriff's office. There were tragic moments at Columbine High School where police officers came up to parents and soberly asked them to retrieve their child's dental records. A mother's worst fears were abruptly realized. And at that moment they would seek God.
But how about the other times? How about ALL the time? And how about all of US?
In the book of Revelation we find page after page of blood-soaked sorrow. Earthquakes and famines and death. Sometimes we call these things the seven last plagues, a great tribulation — and the murders in Colorado are just a foreshadowing of what might be yet to come. People living then will have a mass crisis of faith: seeking God and not finding Him. But through it all, we read in chapter 14, there is a group. Things are bad, but they don't seek God just when things are bad. Plagues are raining down, but that's not the motivation of their love. No, it says in verse 4: "They follow the Lamb wherever He goes."
Rachel Scott had that. Nick Baumgart still does. How about each of the rest of us?
Prom date reminisce the good times spent with his friend, Rachel.
By Stepanie Simon; Los Angeles Times, April 24, 1999
He's thinking about Rachel.
Nick Baumgart has a show - me face. He's just 17, a high school senior, with adolescent acne and eyes full of promise. He likes acting and cooking and his is an eager face, a what-will-the-world-unfurl-for-me-today face.
This week, though, pains haunts it. He tugs at his lower lip a lot and he does a lot of hard swallowing. His eyes are dry but red. He hurts. He, too, is thinking of Rachel.
Rachel Scott- an actress, a musician, a poet, a kid -was 17 when she was shot dead Tuesday. Nick had taken her to the prom the Saturday before.
Nick sees her as she was last Saturday night, the only girl at the prom in a sleek, black dress. (Everyone wore pooky pastels)
He tugs at that lower lip. He sees her in the limo, talking the crazy talk that made her so fun. She had a good time pondering, he remembers now, if elephants have toes. He sees Rachel in the restaurant, the only one in his group who dared sample the pate. He looks at the photo of her, so pretty, so bright, sees her laughing as she struggled to pin on his boutonniere.
Nick sees Rachel alive, and he's hopeful. "She's' certainly not gone. She's going to be a part of us."
Nick and his friends have spent hours remembering Rachel. Joking about how she used to imitate the spitting dinosaur from "Jurassic Park". Laughing at how she would take any dare you could throw at her.
They've decided to finish the play she was writing and produce it next year at Columbine. They hope, too, to publish her notebook of poems. As a tribute to Rachel, Nick's even considering a career in acting. He's always wanted to be a chef, but he met Rachel through the drama club, and somehow sticking with acting just feels like a good way to honor her.
"In a lot of ways, she's going to keep living." Nick promises, sure in this case it's not a cliché.
Surrounded by friends from his church youth group, Nick broke down and sobbed Tuesday night when a classmate told him she had seen Rachel dead in the schoolyard. Since then though, he has tried so hard to convert his hurt into hope. Unlike many of his friends, he evens wants to go back to school- not back to Columbine, but back somewhere- to finish out the last 19 days of his senior year. He thinks that will give him closure.
His mom, Bonnie, worries he's being too much of a trooper. "There's a lot buried in there," she says.
Holding on always to that image of Rachel in her black prom dress, Nick has decided it's not constructive to be mad. Or to feel scared or even ask why. Rachel, he says, "would absolutely kick our butts if she saw us making such a big deal over her."
So he's trying to heal through positive thinking. He's concentrating now on all the good that has com from the Columbine killings.
His Exhibit A: Students have bonded.
The meanest boy Nick has ever known- a guy who trips people and laughs, who teases kids till they cry- spent the hours of the shooting helping others. He boosted girls over a chain-link fence to safety and compiled lists of everyone who had made it out. He was nice and cared. Nick is sure the transformation will last.
"When you're running through the halls fearing for your lives, it doesn't matter who's a cheerleader and who's Johnny football star." he explains. "That's all so petty. I don't think anyone in the school could go back to it now."
Nick's Exhibit B: The community has bonded.
Littleton looks like so many affluent, anonymous suburbs. Strip mall after strip mall. Tidy lawn after tidy lawn. But business owners came forward by the dozens to donate food, money, flowers, even building supplies to fix up the school.
"It's ironic, that something like this could do that."
So far, there is no Exhibit C. But Nick's working on it.
Today is Rachel's funeral.
She will be remembered by her parents, her younger brother, and her many, many friends as a girl who found much joy in life and who spread much joy around her.
Rachel wanted to be a Broadway actress. And a poet too. She was beautiful, fun, and sparkled.
The other afternoon, Nick and his friends got together again to reminisce about good times with Rachel. "We spent 2 1/2 hours without a pause and we weren't even close to done." Nick recalled, smiling.
"I'm doing OK", he said, and rubbed his lip, "I'm OK."
"Rachel was the only one at prom in a black dress. Everyone else was wearing bright colors and pastels, but there she was in black. No one could have pulled it off more gracefully, and no other color would have looked better on her. She looked like a movie star arriving for the Oscars. She was like that though, never doing what everyone else was doing just because everyone else was doing it, and never being different just for the sake of being different." - Nick Baumgart Rachel's friend and prom date
Spreading Rachel's message
Bermudian schoolchildren have been hearing an unusual message of kindness and compassion this week - from survivors of the horrific Columbine High School massacre. Rachel's Challenge is a national movement founded by Darrell Scott, father of Rachel Scott, one of the 12 students killed by gunmen Eric Harris and Dylan Kiebold on April 20, 1999. Scott, his son Craig and survivors Nicole Mowlem and Nick Baumgart were in Bermuda this week to spread Rachel's belief that one act of kindness can spread a chain reaction. Craig even believes that had people shown more kindness to the killers, the events of that day might never have happened. A copy of Darrell Scott's book, "Chain Reaction" has been donated to Bermuda school libraries and all student have been given a Rachel's Challenge bag tag to show their support.
Darrell Scott's Message:
Darrell Scott, the father of Rachel Scott, a victim of the Columbine High School shootings in Littleton, Colorado, was invited to address the House Judiciary Committee's subcommittee.
What he said to our national leaders during this special session of Congress was painfully truthful. They were not prepared for what he was to say, nor was it received well. It needs to be heard by every parent, every teacher, every politician, every sociologist, every psychologist, and every so-called expert!
These courageous words spoken by Darrell Scott are powerful, penetrating, and deeply personal. There is no doubt that God sent this man as a voice crying in the wilderness. The following is a portion of the transcript:
"Since the dawn of creation there has been both good & evil in the hearts of men and women. We all contain the seeds of kindness or the seeds of violence. The death of my wonderful daughter, Rachel Joy Scott, and the deaths of that heroic teacher, and the other eleven children who died must not be in vain. Their blood cries out for answers."
"The first recorded act of violence was when Cain slew his brother Abel out in the field. The villain was not the club he used. Neither was it the NCA, the National Club Association. The true killer was Cain, and the reason for the murder could only be found in Cain's heart."
"In the days that followed the Columbine tragedy, I was amazed at how
quickly fingers began to be pointed at groups such as the NRA. I am not a member of the NRA. I am not a hunter. I do not even own a gun. I am not here to represent or defend the NRA - because I don't believe that they are responsible for my daughter's death. Therefore I do not believe that they need to be defended. If I believed they had anything to do with Rachel's murder I would be their strongest opponent."
"I am here today to declare that Columbine was not just a tragedy-it was a spiritual event that should be forcing us to look at where the real blame lies! Much of the blame lies here in this room. Much of the blame lies behind the pointing fingers of the accusers themselves.
"I wrote a poem just four nights ago that expresses my feelings best.
This was written way before I knew I would be speaking here today":
Your laws ignore our deepest needs,
Your words are empty air.
You've stripped away our heritage,
You've outlawed simple prayer.
Now gunshots fill our classrooms,
And precious children die.
You seek for answers everywhere,
And ask the question "Why?"
You regulate restrictive laws,
Through legislative creed.
And yet you fail to understand,
That God is what we need!
Men and women are three-part beings. We all consist of body, soul, and spirit. When we refuse to acknowledge a third part of our make-up, we create a void that allows evil, prejudice, and hatred to rush in and wreak havoc.
Spiritual presences were present within our educational systems for most of our nation's history. Many of our major colleges began as theological seminaries. This is a historical fact.
What has happened to us as a nation? We have refused to honor God, and in so doing, we open the doors to hatred and violence. And when something as terrible as Columbine's tragedy occurs - politicians immediately look for a scapegoat such as the NRA. They immediately seek to pass more restrictive laws that contribute to erode away our personal and private liberties. We do not need more restrictive laws.
"Eric and Dylan would not have been stopped by metal detectors. No amount of gun laws can stop someone who spends months planning this type of massacre.
The real villain lies within our own hearts. Political posturing and restrictive legislation are not the answers. The young people of our nation hold the key. There is a spiritual awakening taking place that will not be squelched! We do not need more religion. We do not need more gaudy television evangelists spewing out verbal religious garbage. We do not need more million dollar church buildings built while people with basic needs are being ignored. We DO need a change of heart and a humble acknowledgment that this nation was founded on the principle of simple trust in God!"
"As my son Craig lay under that table in the school library and saw his two friends murdered before his very eyes-He did not hesitate to pray in school.
I defy any law or politician to deny him that right! I challenge every young person in America, and around the world, to realize that on April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School prayer was brought back to our schools. Do not let the many prayers offered by those students be in vain.
Dare to move into the new millennium with a sacred disregard for legislation that violates your God-given right to communicate with Him. To those of you who would point your finger at the NRA - I give to you a sincere challenge. Dare to examine your own heart before casting the first stone! My daughter's death will not be in vain! The young people of this country will not allow that to happen!"