‘THIS IS NOT WHO WE ARE’
By AMY WILSON FELTZ
My family and I moved to El Paso six weeks ago to serve at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church.
St. Paul’s — and my house — are located about a mile from the Walmart where the mass shooting took place on Saturday, Aug. 3.
Since that day, several people in our new church community have expressed sorrow that the tragedy of the mass shooting in our neighborhood happened so soon after my family and I moved to El Paso.
“This is not El Paso,” they say. “This is not who we are.”
I can already see that. Since the day we moved here, my family and I have wanted not just to reside here but to become a part of this great city.
Why wouldn’t we?
It is not hard to see what a lovely place this is, even in the short time we have lived here. The people are warm and friendly. This is a place where difference and diversity are not merely tolerated but valued and appreciated. This is a place where people love each other for who they are, regardless of skin color.
Jason and the kids and I are honored to live in this city, to truly make it our home. We can see that racism and hatred and violence have no place here. That’s evidenced by the fact that the person who perpetrated this senseless and heinous attack on the people of our new city did not live here. He drove from another community to strike terror and fear, to bring death and destruction, to espouse a false narrative that says we are not all equal, that we do not all belong, that some of us don’t deserve to live simply because we’re not all one color.
Again, even in my short time as a citizen of this city, I can tell that kind of thought and action is certainly not El Paso.
Many of my friends and colleagues around the country have reached out this week, knowing that I live and serve so close to the scene of the shooting. They have asked me what they can do, how they can support not just me and my family but the families of the victims and the survivors in the city. And, yes, thoughts and prayers and sympathy are appropriate. And, yes, donations of blood and money and other expressions of kindness toward the families involved are needed and helpful.
But something else is required of us in this time in our world. We must advocate for change in every way that we can. For change in policies and changes in leadership where necessary so that true transformation can take place. Loving each other and holding each other close and lamenting are important responses right now in the wake of this tragedy when the grief is so raw that it almost doesn’t seem real, but so is being bold enough to do what we can to stop similar tragedies from breaking into our lives, to answer terror and fear with strength and faith, to proclaim the new life that God brings from death, to speak the truth that says we are equal, that we all belong and that we all deserve to live because we are the children of God, the Spirit of God lives within us and Jesus called us to a better way of living in the world.
There are many ways we can do this; truly the paths of action might be different for each of us. Regardless, along with our hopes and our prayers, along with our acts of kindness, I pray that we put our hands and our feet and our voices where hearts are as we refuse to let violence — and the false narratives that lead to it — stand.
Because my new friends are absolutely right.
Violence is not El Paso. Hatred is not our country. Divided is not the way we were created to live on this earth.
It is past time to get united, for the sake of these states of America and for the world. And that peace and that unity begin right where we live, with us.
Amy Wilson Feltz is pastor of St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in El Paso. She formerly was associate pastor of Aldersgate UMC in Abilene.