Short essays written for the La Jolla Veteran's Hospital newsletter in La Jolla, California
The title of this Chaplain's Corner is a verse from one of the last prayers said during the Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom (the Mass) in the Eastern Church. Many will recognize it is an almost verbatim quote from St. James’ Epistle (1:17). Among these “good and perfect” gifts is heroism. This brings up the issue of who is a true hero. Few in the United States, as well as the wider world, are not aware of the shooting which took place at the School Board Meeting in Panama City, Florida on 14 December, 2010. While not as dramatic as the crash water landing of a disabled A320 Airbus in the Hudson River,i nevertheless the actions by some that day were heroic in their own way. A reportedly mentally ill individual, whose wife had been fired from her position as a teacher, entered the school board meeting room with a loaded gun, and painted a large letter V on the wall (for Vengeance). He then let the female school board members go and started shooting at the male members.
The board Superintendent, Bill Husfelt, called out to the shooter and said “Take me.” [The firing] had been his decision, and he had had to sign the termination papers. He even started to rise from behind the Board desk to make himself a target, hoping the others would be let go. At one point, one of the female board members re-entered the room and tried to hit the shooter from behind with her over-size pocketbook. In the meantime, a retired police officer and Chief of Security for the School District, Mike Jones, entered the meeting room, crouched below the rear spectator seats, but still in the line of fire, and, in order to try to save the life of the school board members still in the room, opened fire on the perpetrator, hitting him several times.
The actions of the superintendent, the female board member and the security chief speak for themselves. What is even more spectacular about this encounter in this era of secular values and the marginalization of God is the spiritual heroism they displayed. They did not attribute the felicitous outcome to luck or fortune, but to God.
Superintendent Bill Husfelt said: "God was standing in front of me and I will go to my grave believing that." Security Chief Mike Jones stated: "There's only one answer [why]... we're alive, and that's by the grace of God," In an interview with Katie Couricii Jones confessed: "....by the grace of God that I was not on vacation and I came here. It's — it's miraculous what happened here, the lives that were spared." This God-fearing man even had a place in his heart for the family of the dead culprit: "...[I] try not to think about... the deceased. His family's without him.... My heart goes out to the family."
What does Jones do? He goes on to live his life of selfless giving. A police spokesman announced: "He is widely admired in Bay County for his generosity and the "Salvage Santa" program he began nearly three decades ago. He personally refurbishes bicycles and persuades merchants to donate toys to children who would otherwise be without at Christmas.iii Even the wife of the shooter expressed a godly understanding of the incident: "I don't fault you for (the shooting). I know you were just doing what you were trained to do, and I'm sorry that God had to choose you to do that because you are a very kind, sweet, generous man."iv
We should be prepared to use our gifts in ordinary and extraordinary times. Acknowledging, "every good and perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from thee, the Father of Lights."
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V. Rev. Fr. George Morelli Ph.D. is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Marriage and Family Therapist.
He is the Coordinator of the Chaplaincy and Pastoral Counseling Ministry of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese and Religion Coordinator (and Antiochian Archdiocesan Liaison) of the Orthodox Christian Association of Medicine, Psychology and Religion.
Fr. Morelli is also Assistant Pastor of St. George's Antiochian Orthodox Church, San Diego, California.
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