The Common Good

God's Politics

Five Children’s Questions About the Sandy Hook Tragedy

I’ve seen plenty of articles responding to the shooting in Sandy Hook, Connecticut. Some are angry, some pastoral, still others, prophetic in their call for change in various forms. I have little to add to the conversation at that level, but I have heard questions from many children, some from my own kids. I thought I’d offer some responses I’ve shared.

What happened? 

Something terribly sad. A man hurt some children and adults in a school in Connecticut. Some of them died. The teachers and students were very brave, and the community is working together to take care of those who survived and those who lost someone they loved. Even the President went there to be with them.

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In Newtown Churches, Many Questions — and Tears — But Few Answers

NEWTOWN, Conn. — Dealing with the pain of the school shooting that claimed 28 lives will take faith, support, and joyous Christmas celebrations, church leaders said at the first Sunday services held since the tragedy.

At houses of worship around town, people gathered in pews, crying, kneeling, and hugging each other through services that focused on remembering the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, uniting the community, celebrating the meaning of Christmas and preventing similar disasters.

Yet even this beleaguered town's day of worship provided a moment of fear when congregants at St. Rose of Lima Roman Catholic Church fled the building, saying they were told there was a bomb threat. Police with guns drawn surrounded the church. No injuries were reported, but the church canceled all events for the day.

Earlier in the day, services at St. Rose, much like other places of worship in the area, were focused on the tragedy.

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Fred Phelps’ Son Condemns Westboro’s Plan to Picket Newtown Funerals

The estranged son of a Kansas pastor famous for protesting the funerals of soldiers and AIDS victims has condemned his family’s plans to picket the funerals of the 26 people — including 20 children — who were killed when a gunman stormed a Connecticut elementary school.

In the wake of Friday’s massacre in Newtown, Conn., members of Westboro Baptist Church in Topeka, Kan., posted Twitter messages saying they would picket outside Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown. The messages provided no information on the time of the planned picketing.

"Westboro 'God hates Fags' Baptist Church is planning to picket at Sandy Hook, to praise 'God's judgment,'” was posted by Margie Phelps, the daughter of Westboro leader Fred Phelps Sr. Her sister, Shirley Phelps-Roper, tweeted Saturday that the group would "sing praise to God for the glory of his work in executing his judgment."

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What Are You Singing: Good King Wenceslas

When I go home for Christmas, I always end up pulling out the old Christmas songbook from inside the piano bench and working my way through while my mom cooks dinner. I don’t really read the music as much as I read the chords and play by ear. Good King Wenceslas is a beautiful song musically, but is one of the most fun songs to play because of the never-ending chord changes. 

I never really considered what the song was about, being raised in a school system that taught of the tyranny of monarchies and the Revolutionary War. Medieval leaders ruled in an age of knights, castles, and oppressed peasants. But then there was Wenceslas (who I now know was the Duke of Bohemia).

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God is Here?

One commentator suggested that it was precisely because God was not there that this heinous act happened. Gov. Mike Huckabee claimed we should not be surprised to see this kind of violence since we have removed God from our schools and our society. His sentiment is to say, “God is NOT here.” If that is the case, then it surely can explain the existence of pure evil that we saw displayed on Friday.

However, thinking like that of Gov. Huckabee suggests that we somehow have the power to remove God from our schools and our society. This kind of God is quite small, weak, and impotent  — one that is dictated by the mere whims of humanity. This is not the God of whom Matthew spoke.

Matthew spoke of the Almighty God fully embodied and revealed in the person of Jesus. So much so that he claimed he was Immanuel: God with us. He is here not in spite of the pain, nor did he come to explain it away. God is here in the midst of our suffering.

The hope of Advent is that God responded to the suffering of humanity by entering into it with us. He did not stand outside of it and look in with a wincing face and hope that everything would somehow work out. Nor did he see humans who removed him from their schools and societies and say, “Well fine, then, have it your way!” Not at all.

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I Found Peace in Kabul

Afghanistan is one of the most desperate, beat up places in the world. Forbes magazine has called it the most dangerous nation on earth. Over 30 years of war have left 2 million people dead, and much of the country in chaos. But even in the most troubled places on earth, there always seems to be a little group of people who refuse to accept the world as it is and insist on building the world they dream of, a little group of people who believe despite the evidence and watch the evidence change. 

A few years ago, I began to hear about a little group of young people in Afghanistan doing exactly that. Many of them had seen their loved ones, friends and family killed. They were tired of blood. Tired of war. And so they began to organize, and educate, and train themselves for peace. They studied the heroes of nonviolence, Gandhi and King. A few of them even travelled to India to learn nonviolence and community from Gandhi’s ashram. Now they have their own ashram in Kabul, where dozens of them live together and work for peace.

And they have begun to build a movement: marching in the streets, planting trees, building parks as monuments of peace. They started wearing blue scarves as a symbolic reminder that there is one blue sky that connects us all, and now their little movement is catching the world’s attention. It is a movement of friends without borders.

The motto of their movement is this:  “A little bit of love is stronger than all the weapons in the world.”

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Why I Support Wind Energy

Nearly one-in-six people in the United States live in an area with unhealthful short-term levels of particle pollution. One in six. I was one of those one in six, growing up with moderate to severe asthma. I was hospitalized several times. My health was poor throughout my childhood and didn’t really show full significant improvement until after college.

It’s something I learned to deal with, not to focus on. Yet the truth is, I grew up in a part of the country with severe pollution. In our drive for cheap energy, society paid a social cost.

Luckily I grew up in a part of the world and during a time in history when medical advances kept pace with asthma, in my case just barely. My father also had asthma, as did his father before him. If I had grown up during my father’s time, I likely wouldn’t be here today. If I grew up in another part of the world I know I wouldn’t be here today.

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The Top 10 Stories of December 17, 2012

Quote of the Day
"Our first task, our first job: caring for our children. If we don't get that right we don't get anything right."President Barack Obama on the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School where twenty children and six adults were killed.
(Washington Post)

1. Egyptian constitution wins backing in first round.
The Muslim Brotherhood, which propelled President Mohammed Morsi to power earlier this year, urged voters to approve the draft constitution in a two-day referendum, which will continue Dec. 22.
(USA Today)

2. Gun control debate begins to simmer after massacre.
Democrats say meaningful action in the wake of the school shootings in Connecticut must include a ban on military-style assault weapons and a look at how the nation deals with individuals suffering from serious mental illness.
(AP)

3. Obama, Boehner: movement along the fiscal cliff.
Sources say House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, has offered to raise the top income tax rate, affecting Americans who make more than $1 million annually. President Obama, however, wants to raise the top two tax rates, covering taxpayers who make more than $250,000 a year. He says the government needs more revenue to help reduce a national debt that now exceeds $16 trillion.
(USA Today)

4. Rise in renewable energy will require more use of fossil fuels.
One of the hidden costs of solar and wind power — and a problem the state is not yet prepared to meet — is that wind and solar energy must be backed up by other sources, typically gas-fired generators. As more solar and wind energy generators come online, fulfilling a legal mandate to produce one-third of California's electricity by 2020, the demand will rise for more backup power from fossil fuel plants.
(McClatchy News)

5. To start immigration reform, study Texas solution.
A good starting point for a legislative package is the so-called Texas Solution. Although I don’t agree with all points on the list, it’s a start. And, importantly, it includes a verifiable, temporary guest worker program. In addition, we should start a documentation process that includes a photograph, biometric data like a fingerprint and other identifying information.
(Politico)

6. U.S. plans for possibility that Assad could lose control of chemical arms cache.
As Bashar al-Assad’s hold on power steadily weakens, U.S. officials are increasingly worried that Syria’s weapons of mass destruction could fall into the hands of Islamist extremists, rogue generals, or other uncontrollable factions.
(Washington Post)

7. A Syrian airstrike kills Palestinian refugees and costs Assad support.
Government forces for the first time hit Syria’s largest Palestinian refugee neighborhood with airstrikes on Sunday, killing at least eight people in the Yarmouk district of Damascus and driving dozens of formerly pro-government Palestinian fighters to defect to the rebels, fighters there said.
(New York Times)

8. Obama expected to nominate Kerry to head State Department.
U.S. President Barack Obama is expected to nominate Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman John Kerry to succeed Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, sources familiar with the process said on Saturday.
(Chicago Tribune)

9. EPA cracks down on soot pollution.
Over objections from the oil industry and power companies, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency issued new air quality rules today to slash the amount of fine-particle soot allowed from smokestacks, wood-burning stoves, and diesel vehicles.
(USA Today)

10. Syrians sounding alarm over growing food shortages.
With bread scarce in major cities and towns, infant formula in extremely short supply, and fuel costs skyrocketing, civilians in war-ravaged Syria face an acute food crisis that might end in starvation for many, according to activists from around the country of 22 million.
(McClatchy News)

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Grieving With or Gawking At: A Response to Responses of Tragedy

In the time following our latest national tragedy in Newtown, Conn., many have wondered where God was in the midst of these horrific events. While such questions are indeed significant and deserve extended consideration (and thankfully, many have already addressed the subject), instead of wondering where God was, perhaps the time is upon us to also consider where we are

While it is imperative to contemplate and debate the role and presence of God during such catastrophes, it is also critical to consider our collective response as a human community.

We often learn of tragic events through the lenses of news media, and of course, the various outlets possess mixed motives and results. While there is nothing inherently wrong with sharing the stories, there is fine line between seeking facts and invading privacy, and this boundary is too often crossed. In the hours immediately following the recent shootings in Connecticut, countless camera crews, photographers, and reporters crowded around devastated children and traumatized families. While some merely wished to share information and build awareness, others seemed to be more interested in ratings and profit. And so, while the debates surrounding media ethics in the aftermath of tragedy will surely continue, most would agree that even the most sensitive of camera crews, photographers, and reporters do not always create the most ideal setting for those enduring tragedy. For the sake of those who experience loss in the most heartbreaking of circumstances, we should demand something better.

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What We Parents Must Do

Our deepest question now is whether what happed on Friday — and what has focused the attention of the entire nation — will touch the nation’s soul or just make headlines for a few days. 

I think that will be up to us as parents — to respond as parents. The brutal shooting of 20 six- and seven-year-old school children in their own classrooms touches all of us, and as the father of two young boys I’m especially struck how it touches parents. From the heartbreak of the parents in Newtown to the tears in the eyes of Barack Obama as he responded — not just as the President, but also as the father of two daughters — to the faces of the first responders and reporters who are parents. I have felt the pain and seen the look on the face of every parent I have talked with since this horrendous event occurred. Virtually every mother and father in America this weekend has turned their grieving gaze on their own children, realizing how easily this could have happened to them. The emotions we’ve seen from the Newtown parents whose children survived, and the feelings of utter grief for those parents whose children didn’t, have reached directly to me. 

Saturday, the day after the Connecticut massacre, Joy and I went to our son Jack’s basketball game. The kids on the court were all the same ages as the children who were killed on Friday. I kept looking at them one by one, feeling how fragile their lives are.

Our first response to what happened in Newtown must be toward our own children. To be so thankful for the gift and grace they are to us. To be ever more conscious of them and what they need from us. To just enjoy them and be reminded to slowly and attentively take the time and the space to just be with them. To honor the grief of those mothers and fathers in Connecticut who have so painfully just lost their children, we must love and attend to ours in an even deeper way.

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