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San Bernardino massacre

The subject of my meditation this week is the San Bernardino massacre. My observations are personal and spiritual and not intended as an attempt at a comprehensive treatment of the event and its implications. It is too fresh and raw, and too close to home for that, and others are better qualified for the task. I am also disgusted by the instant experts opining on social media who are loathe to let the facts inform their judgments and thus immeasurably add to the grief of the victims and their families. I would hate to add to that pile of toxic rhetorical waste.

................................................


The Inland Regional Center where Tuesday's terrorist attack wreaked such suffering and death is roughly three miles from the Loma Linda University Health campus. Many of our students intern there and with the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health whose in-service conference and Christmas party in the auditorium of the IRC was the target of the shooters.

The University has alumni employed by those agencies and many service contracts in support of their programs. The physical proximity and relationships made this especially personal for the University and Medical Center communities.

It was about 11:20 a.m., Wednesday, December 2, when the news first came into a Loma Linda board room where the topic of the moment was how to protect mental health workers against escalating patient violence. Our hospital CEO told us, "There is an active shooting incident going on at the Inland Regional Center with two, maybe three, shooters."

Five of the victims were brought to the Medical Center emergency room and we expected more until this chilling text was sent out to senior administration--"We just got word that everyone else on scene is deceased so we will not get any more victims unless there is another event."

My colleagues and I on the legal team were not really involved in the unfolding events. Attorneys were not the professionals needed that day. But we observed the unfolding situation very carefully, prayed hard, and encouraged where we could.

It was a day of dark, sinister evil. There was chaos with confusing news reports and the campus computer network crashing because so many people were streaming them, helicopters buzzing like a war zone, sirens, a bomb threat, swarming media trying all kinds of methods, both legitimate and devious, to get the victims' stories, and vicious, but vacuous twitter rants and arguments both anti-gun and pro-gun, all the while misspelling San Bernardino as "#San Bernadino."

There was also great calm and amazing compassion repeatedly displayed. Gestures of kindness, both large and small, are welcomed in the most desperate, life and death moments as at no other times.

I will remember forever the LLUMC ER Trauma Team preparing a fully-equipped, fully-staffed triage set-up for fifty patients in twenty minutes. ER nurses ran out and held up sheets to curtain off the arriving victims from the prying eyes of the media and "looky-loos."

Our Public Affairs team and Medical Center CEO were so protective of patients in press briefings that the morning anchors on the major Los Angeles news radio station complained they "could not remember a hospital being this conservative about patient privacy." I was proud to hear this.

Offers of help poured in by email and phone call from physicians, hospitals and trauma counseling teams from around the world. The Medical Center's vendor of patient ventilators knew we were stretched with the increased demand on equipment and sent a truck with new ventilators and the offer "Just use whatever you need."

The CEO of the University of Colorado Medical Center, painfully familiar with the aftermath of the Aurora theater shootings in 2013, emailed our CEO offering help as did other CEOs experienced with mass casualties. Trauma surgeons reached out to trauma surgeons. I received numerous emails from attorney colleagues across the country stating their thoughts and prayers were with us.

As our trauma surgeons heroically worked to repair the gunshot wounds, Dr. Tait Stevens, the Medical Director of our Blood Bank, voluntarily patrolled the ORs with a cooler full of bags of fresh blood so there was no delay in filling orders.

That evening, an order was placed with Angelo's, a popular local sandwich shop, for food for families, law enforcement and ER staff. When the food arrived, the Angelo's representative declined payment saying, "Loma Linda has been good to us. It's the least we can do."

Later that evening, Domino's delivered pizzas for the entire ER staff purchased by an anonymous emergency room nurse in Austin Texas. The next evening, pizzas arrived for the staff courtesy of Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston where many victims of the Boston Marathon terrorist bombing were treated.

At a brief campus memorial service, our gifted chief of Pediatric Intensive Care and a devout Muslim, who developed the best medical transport team in the state and has saved the lives of countless children in our community and around the world with no regard for anything else but their need for mercy, worshiped and wept with Christians who hugged him even as he hugged them in the bond of those who make the relief of suffering their life's work.

Our healers, and those of us who support them, prayed and prayed even as we worked because we believe in a God who makes life sacred and treats death as the enemy (See, John 10:10; 1 Cor 15).

The national media picked up a New York Daily News headline, "GOD CAN'T FIX THIS" over a picture of the scene of the shooting. The article went on to criticize people of faith for praying to God to care for the victims, families, community and country for the wounds of the terrorist attack instead of taking up legislative action against gun violence.

The critics do not understand Christians pray for comfort, and wisdom and strength to take action, not as a psychological placebo or political statement. We trust our God far more than any government or movement when facing terror and evil.

Others can cavil, whine, rant and politicize while denying or rationalizing the human capacity for evil, but we pray to a loving God and then go to work for healing, justice and peace. "We love because he first loved us" (1 John 4:19).

Long ago, the prophet Isaiah warned of those "who call evil good and good evil, who put darkness for light and light for darkness, who put bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter" (Isa 5:20). When terrorists walk into a holiday party and, in the name of their god, slay co-workers who just six months before gave them a baby shower, but others hesitate to call it evil for fear of giving offense, the perversity Isaiah warned about has come true.

Yet, this is the season when we celebrate the greater Truth, Christ, the Light of the World, whose love defeats death and its purveyors. "What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it" (John 1:2-3). With faith in the Light, and love as the only true answer to hatred, we wait for the eternal dawn.

"O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him" (Ps 34:8).

Under the mercy of Christ,

Kent

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