The Common Good

Shooting a Reminder of Our Swords of Words

God's heart broke just as ours did upon hearing of the victims in Tucson. It's a tragic reminder of how cyclical violence is, and how our words have consequences.

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Speculation is running rampant on why Jared Loughner allegedly "planned ahead" and ultimately carried out a shooting at a suburban Safeway supermarket, killing six people and wounding 14, including Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.

Did vitriolic rhetoric lead to the shooting of innocent victims? Is it just another isolated incident from a psychologically unstable suspect?

We may never know for sure. Loughner allegedly acted and planned with clear intention. But rather than assigning blame, we all must confess the places where violence creeps into our own lives. Regardless of why Loughner did what he did, the shooting reminds us all that violent communication is evil and only breeds more evil.

We all possess what the prophet Isaiah called mouths as sharp as swords. And so it seems that right now, as violence has once again strangled our nation's soul, the words of the Prince of Peace aptly remind us to put these swords back into their place: "For all who take the sword will perish by the sword" (Matthew 26:52).

We live daily with the choice to use our words to inspire hope or propagate fear. It's natural for people to disagree, but when disagreeing turns to demonizing, we must turn from such evil ways and put away our swords of words.

For too long, people of faith -- myself included -- have mirrored violence or the threat of violence in our language. Political opponents are "targeted." Athletic opponents must "kill" each other. The list goes on. Such words that vilify others have no place in our communication. Do we continually analyze our word choices?

Loughner was clearly upset with the state of politics. Though his increasingly odd behavior caused growing alarm, he had devised a plan, acquired the proper hardware, and no one was going to stop him from carrying out his mission.

It all sounds eerily similar to the 1995 Oklahoma City bombing. Since then, it seems no event has generated as much attention regarding whether extremism, anti-government sentiment, and political passion create a social climate that promotes violence.

We need to rediscover how to disagree without demonizing. As people of faith, we ask God to cleanse us of our violent ways, so that we may realign ourselves with God's reign on Earth as it is in heaven.

As we approach Martin Luther King Jr. Day, let us remember his words: "We must work unceasingly to uplift this nation that we love to a higher destiny, to a higher plateau of compassion, to a more noble expression of humanness."

Sheldon C. Good is a former Sojourners intern. He is assistant editor for Mennonite Weekly Review and blogs at The World Together.

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