The Common Good

'No One Deserves a Tragedy'

Sojomail - April 19, 2007


"I'm a Jew who believes in daily miracles, and when such a miracle occurs, rather than saying, 'Why so late?' I am thankful that it is done."

- Elie Wiesel, Nobel Peace Prize laureate and holocaust survivor, praising President Bush for a newly announced plan to place tougher sanctions on Sudan to help end the genocide in Darfur. (Source: The Washington Post)

The plan has been delayed, however, at the request of U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, to leave time for further diplomacy. As The Washington Post reports, "Though lawmakers and advocacy groups welcomed elements of the proposed Plan B, they also described the president's willingness to give [Sudan's President Omar Hassan al-Bashir] yet more time - only "weeks," according to a State Department spokesman - as an illustration of a tepid response to the crisis."

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HEARTS & MINDS BY JIM WALLIS 'No One Deserves a Tragedy'

Monday morning in Blacksburg, Virginia, 32 students and staff at Virginia Tech were killed in the largest single shooting in modern American history. The shooter, an angry and disturbed young man, then killed himself.

Looking at the profiles of the dead, I am struck by their diversity. They ranged in age from 18 to 76; they came from nine states, along with Puerto Rico, Egypt, India, Indonesia, and Romania. They were male and female, African-American, Asian, Middle Eastern and Caucasian. They were all people who began a day little knowing it would suddenly end their lives.

This is not a time to seek easy answers or to assign blame. It is, rather, a time to pray, mourn, and reflect. While this tragedy can perhaps be partially explained by the easy accessibility of guns in our society, by the saturation of violence in our popular culture, by the fact that the visible signs of Cho Seung Hui's troubled life could have been taken more seriously, by concerns about university security, or by any number of other things, ultimately there is no simple explanation. And there are generally no single causes for such horrible events. In the Virginia Tech memorial convocation Tuesday evening, Professor and poet Nikki Giovanni said:
We are sad today, and we will be sad for quite a while. We are not moving on, we are embracing our mourning. ... We do not understand this tragedy. We know we did nothing to deserve it, but neither does a child in Africa dying of AIDS, neither do the invisible children walking the night away to avoid being captured by the rogue army, neither does the baby elephant watching his community being devastated for ivory, neither does the Mexican child looking for fresh water, neither does the Appalachian infant killed in the middle of the night in his crib in the home his father built with his own hands being run over by a boulder because the land was destabilized. No one deserves a tragedy.
All of us at Sojourners/Call to Renewal join in the national mourning. We offer our prayers and send our condolences to the families and friends of those who died, those who were injured, and to the entire Virginia Tech community. We pray that the comforting presence of God will be felt in the midst of such deep heartache. Sorrow can sometimes prove redemptive in ways no one could have imagined beforehand. It’s time to let sorrow do its reflective and redemptive work, to hold the hands that need to be held, to let our tears open our hearts to change those things that lead to such tragedy, and to trust our pain to the loving arms of God.

+ Read and respond to comments on this article on the God's Politics blog


+ See what's new on the blog of Jim Wallis and friends

Rev. Dr. Donna Schaper: Worship in a Time of Catastrophe
When a gun gets loose on a Virginia campus, or a high school rampage occurs in Colorado; when a building blows up in Oklahoma City, or a plane hits a tower in Manhattan - people follow their horror and disbelief with liturgy and love. I’ll never forget the little shrines of stuffed animals in Manhattan and Oklahoma City, or the three crosses erected on the hills outside of Columbine High School (which were later taken down by students who "didn’t believe" any more). These street liturgies are the reflex ritualizing that comes when things happen that can’t be explained. They are ritual attempts to explain what can’t be explained.

Shane Claiborne: When Violence Kills Itself
I’ve always heard the old adage, "violence is a weapon of the weak." But after events like the Virginia Tech massacre, it’s easy to think that violence has ultimate power. After all, we’ve learned history through the lens of war. And we read the news through acts of violence rather than the hidden acts of love that keep hope alive. But there is a common thread in many of the most horrific perpetrators of violence that begs our attention – they kill themselves. Violence kills the image of God in us. It is a cry of desperation, a weak and cowardly cry of a person suffocated of hope. Violence goes against everything that we are created for – to love and to be loved – so it inevitably ends in misery and suicide. When people succumb to violence it ultimately infects them like a disease or a poison that leads to their own death.

Diana Butler Bass: The Silence of a Murderer's Mother
Other than being the mother of one of the murdered students, I can imagine nothing worse than being the mother of the murderer, a murderer who committed suicide. How isolated she must be. She, too, is grieving, mourning the loss of her only son, mourning her dreams for him, and mourning her memories of his childhood. She has little – except confusion, guilt (however misplaced that may be) and questions.

Julie Clendenin: Talking to Children About Tragedy
Monday was a heavy day. That night, my family sat down for our usual routine - some quiet moments before dinner when we sit and pray together. My two younger daughters, ages 9 and 7, were in their places as their daddy began to pray, "God, we're so grateful for all the good things you give us." But this night, he included something else in our prayer. As he asked God to comfort the people and families affected by the students at Virginia Tech, the girls both looked up. "What happened?!?" they asked, almost in unison. My husband's answer was short and simple: A young man was upset and confused and did something that is completely beyond our understanding. There is no way to know why he did what he did and it's very sad that no one was able to stop him.

Brian McLaren: Sorrow Can Make Us Better, Not Bitter
When tragedies like the Virginia Tech massacre occur, we all share certain questions. Why did this happen? How could this happen? Should anyone be blamed? Should someone be punished? Often these questions lead us to seek a kind of rational explanation - so that the irrational can be folded into our sense of order in the universe. Often these questions send us on a search for someone to blame - a person, a group, the devil, even God.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler: Kurt Vonnegut, 'Christ-Worshipping Agnostic'
I'm not an evangelical who reads only what affirms my theology, or failing that, tries to pretend that the artists I like somehow conform to my beliefs. (I tire of the endless debates in evangelical circles about whether Bono is a "real" Christian or not - as if meeting certain criteria would make his music or his activism any more or less legitimate.) I prefer to engage artists on their own terms, and allow them to challenge, provoke, and encourage me to hone my own beliefs - even if my faith is the target of their criticism or satire. Kurt Vonnegut, who passed away last Wednesday at age 84, was and is my favorite author. If I'm honest, it's mostly because he's hilarious. Yes, he uses coarse language. Yes, he seemed to have difficulty with women, both as characters in his books and in his real-life relationships. But his ability to engage a suffering world with humor is what has endeared me most to his work.

Video: Tony Campolo on Jesus and Taxes
Tony Campolo offers some thoughts on "rendering unto Caesar what is Caesar's." + Watch it.

+ Read more about war tax resistance in the SojoMail archives

Diana Butler Bass: Don Imus, Duke Lacrosse, and Our Pornified Culture
While most of the media has been consumed by Don Imus’ racial slur against the Rutgers women’s basketball team, I have been thinking about that other case: the case of the Duke lacrosse players. My friends will probably laugh, because, for the sake of full disclosure, I went to Duke. But more than familial loyalty has me contemplating the Duke lacrosse case. The contrasts between it and the Imus situation – contrasts that emerged when the two stories collided in last week’s media cycle – are worth exploring as revelatory about our culture.


Pentecost 2007: You are invited to a reception on Capitol Hill!

You are invited to a Capitol Hill Reception at Pentecost 2007 with senate and congressional members to discuss faith, values and issues. The event is open only to attendees of Pentecost 2007: Taking the Vision to the Streets in Washington, D.C. - June 3-6.


Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA)*
Rep. John Boehner (R-OH)*
House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (D-SC)
Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-KY)*
Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
And many others!
* invited

Click here to learn more about Pentecost 2007, June 3 - 6 in Washington DC!

For more than 10 years, Sojourners/Call to Renewal has been convening and mobilizing church leaders, lay leaders, social service providers, and activists young and old from across the ecumenical spectrum to build a movement to overcome poverty through our annual Pentecost mobilization. Join us this June and be a part of the conversation!

Click here to register for Pentecost 2007


For God's Sake, Save Darfur

Time is running out for the people of Darfur. Four years of genocidal violence have left an estimated 400,000 dead, 2.5 million innocent civilians displaced, and 4 million men, women, and children completely reliant on international aid for survival.

On Sunday, April 29, churches across the country will be joining together in prayer and action as part of the Global Days for Darfur. As Christians, we have a unique role to play in generating the personal, congregational, and political will necessary to empower and convince President Bush to lead boldly in bringing an end to the genocide.

Sojourners/Call to Renewal has developed a free toolkit of prayers, readings, and other resources you can incorporate into your worship on that Sunday.

+Click here to get the toolkit and take action to end the genocide in Darfur.


by Al Staggs

Dietrich Bonhoeffer
"When I watch Al Staggs as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, I am confronted by the deepest moral questions of what it means to be a witness and how I am using my life." --Bill Moyers

(DVD's of the performance can be purchased for $22.95 by check or by Pay Pal online)

Oscar Romero
"Staggs played Romero well and moved this university deeply." --Fr. Thomas Rosica, C.S.B.

Clarence Jordan
"I want to thank you for your outstanding did a superb job of impersonating Clarence. --Millard Fuller

CONTACT: Al Staggs

"For the Peace of Jerusalem" - Churches for Middle East Peace advocacy conference - May 6-8, 2007, Washington, DC. Featuring Lincoln Chafee, former US Senator; Daniel Levy & Ghaith al-Omari, Israeli and Palestinian drafters, Geneva Accords. Details:

The Summer Peacebuilding Institute at Eastern Mennonite University still has course openings in all four sessions, running May 29 - June 19, 2007. For course offerings and to apply online, go to .

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