Shane Evan Tomlinson was one of the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando. He died on June 12 because of hate, but he came alive to me today because of love. Today, June 24, I had the privilege of walking into my home church's auditorium and sitting down next to Shane's friends and family who decided to have his service at our church. To me, his name is no longer flat letters that sit on a page, but it is three-dimensional and conjures up thoughts of MTV and Michael Jackson's jealousy of Shane's moves, Sister Act and Joyful Joyful, fashion and style and perfectionism.
A close friend of his, Kristen, said he had a premonition a few nights before he died, and he said, "The only complete protection we have is God and sometimes he needs you more than this evil world." She then said, "Whatever the motives were of that shooter, they were not accomplished. There is more love ... and we are stronger for it."
Shane's father, Stephan, talked about the 13-hour drive to Orlando he and his wife took. They had an opportunity to fly down, but decided to drive. "I thought about the verse that says, 'Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death.' We were in that valley for 13 hours. But I'm glad we drove. My wife and I had the opportunity to lift God up ... and we still lift Him up because He is the author and finisher of our faith. Knowing that God was with us really gave us peace."
Stephan reminded us all that there were 48 other families grieving, the whole nation grieving over this tragedy. But he said that Shane's friends created a safety net for the Tomlinson family. "And I gained more sons and daughters than you can imagine."
Darkness cannot drive out darkness;
only light can do that.
Hate cannot drive out hate;
only love can do that.
Hate multiplies hate,
violence multiplies violence,
and toughness multiplies toughness
in a descending spiral of destruction....
The chain reaction of evil --
hate begetting hate,
wars producing more wars --
must be broken,
or we shall be plunged
into the dark abyss of annihilation.
-Martin Luther King, Jr.
When human beings are simply flat names it's easy to say they are defined by only one characteristic (that we love or we hate). But when they come alive to us and we see them in 3D as image bearers of our God, we recognize what MLK Jr. says is true. Only love can drive out hate. Only love can bring a multitude of sons and daughters when you lose a child. Only love can have you cry out to God when you walk through the valley of shadow of death, rather than yell at the enemy and sell your soul by choosing to hate. And love starts with seeing in three dimensions. Shane was a brother, a son, an uncle, a friend before he was anything else, including an entertainer. In the end, we realize all along that it is our relationships that define us, nothing more and nothing less.
My 27-year-old cousin, Matt Ruocco, died almost one month ago. I won't tell you the tragedy his death was or the defining characteristics of this "gentle giant". I won't tell you where he worked or where he lived. All you need to know is that he was my cousin. It doesn't matter that his skin color was different than mine, or that we didn't live long in the same state. All that matters is that he is my cousin, and like Shane, he is no longer on this earth. But I love him, and I mourn for his loss. His name may be flat to you, but he is 3D to me because of my relationship to him.
If we learn nothing else from death, may we learn what the Gospel spells out—that every human being has value not because of their characteristics, accomplishments, or opinions. They have intrinsic value that God gave in creating them and no force on earth—even hate—is strong enough to take that value away.