Chattanooga, Tennessee is a beautiful, small city bordering the Tennessee River. I’ve been blessed to have visited Chattanooga many times over the years – either individually, with friends, or with family members. Some of the best food I’ve ever eaten was there. Some of the nicest people I’ve ever met lived and/or worked there. The city planners there have done a masterful job of ensuring that Chattanooga remains clean, charming, and scenic. When I received a breaking news alert on my smartphone early Thursday afternoon, I was stunned to hear about a shooting which had taken place at the Navy Operational Support Center and Marine Corps Reserve Center in downtown Chattanooga. 4 United States Marines were killed. A navy Seaman died yesterday of his wounds. Two others – including a police officer – are clinging to life. Since then, I’ve been praying. I’ve been reflecting quietly. I’ve been thinking about seeds.
Before I continue, I would be totally remiss if I did not acknowledge my fellow Americans and my brothers in Christ who lost their lives Thursday simply for being present at work. For doing their duty. Sergeant Thomas Sullivan. Sergeant Carson Holmquist. David Wyatt. Skip Wells. Wells was a 2012 graduate of Sprayberry High School in Marietta, Georgia. Navy Petty Officer Randall Smith. I join everyone in honoring their memories – alongside the victims who survived. My thoughts and my prayers are extended to their family members, friends, classmates, congregants, and fellow soldiers. Semper fi. Hooyah. May God grant each of you eternal rest.
I’ve been thinking about Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, the 24-year-old naturalized American citizen who allegedly planned and carried out this horrific shooting. He was not on any US terror list. The FBI was not aware of him being affiliated with any terrorist organizations.
Numerous investigations are underway concurrently. At this point, it remains unclear if Abdulazeez died as the result of a self-inflicted gunshot wound or if he was killed by Chattanooga police officers after gunning down those unarmed Marines. Reports have surfaced that Abdulazeez was considered very Americanized by those who knew him. Originally from Kuwait, he enjoyed country music. He was sociable, but quiet. Abdulazeez played sports in high school. He was considered smart academically – having already earned an engineering degree. People interviewed by the police and/or the FBI stated that they were shocked that Abdulazeez had committed such a heinous crime.
What seeds were planted in Abdulazeez’s life? In light of the fact that the FBI has stated officially that terrorism is the basis of its investigation, why did he do this? Was it solely his idea, or someone else’s? What fertilized the seeds within him? Was it radicalization via ISIS? The mass shooting Abdulazeez committed was clearly poisonous fruit on his part. His harvest was undoubtedly a deadly one.
What about your seeds? How about mine?
We’re so very fortunate to live in the United States of America. Here, we have many inalienable rights. The freedom of the press. The freedom of speech. The freedom of assembly. The freedom of religion. The right to bear arms. The right to vote. The ability to criticize – or praise – our elected leaders in all levels of government without fear of retaliation/retribution. The right of protection from self-incrimination. The right to face our accusers in court before a jury of our peers. And yet, in spite of all these rights and freedoms and privileges, many Americans aren’t happy – they’re unhappy. Many Americans don’t love their neighbors and fellow citizens – they hate them.
Look around. Hatred is trending. Somebody hates the blacks or the whites or the browns. Somebody hates the gays or the straights or those who straddle the middle. Somebody hates immigrants – despite the fact that America is a nation of immigrants. Unless you’re Native American, you’re definitely from someplace else. Somebody hates the Muslims… or the Catholics… or the Methodists. Somebody hates our brave men and women in uniform – be they law enforcement officers or members of the armed services. Somebody hates our elected officials – Democrats, Republicans, and Independents. Somebody hates our American president. Somebody hates our influence within the world. Somebody hates our culture, our diversity, and our traditions. Somebody hates God. Somebody hates all of God’s people. Somebody hates life. Somebody hates everyone – including himself/herself. Somebody even hates freedom. Can you not recognize these seeds of hatred, discord, and destruction? Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez planted such seeds within himself. Those seeds cost him his life – and also the lives of several innocent people.
Politicians spewing hatred soar in popularity, while politicians promoting peace wither on the vine. Lunacy.
Hatred is not of God. Those who know love know God. Those who don’t… don’t.
All lives matter. Words also matter. Any and every achievement in this life has at its origin a thought. That thought is a seed. Every word spoken is a seed. Every action taken – whether holy or unholy – is caregiving to a seed. When your harvest comes, will your fruit be good? Or bad?
Having said that, what type of seeds are you sowing on social media? What type of seeds are you sowing in your church? What type of seeds are you sowing at your school – or in your home? Think about the children. What they see, they’ll want to be.
Some people want us to live in peace. Other people want us to live in pieces. Which side are you on? The true answer can be found in the seeds you plant every single day.