A choral piece dedicated to “all who grieve and in memory of the children and adults of Sandy Hook Elementary School.”
[Editor's note: This article first appeared in our December 2013 issue to commemorate the one year anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting.]
IN THE YEAR since the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., last Dec. 14, thousands more have died by gun violence, and the NRA seems to stymie sane firearm measures at every turn. How do we stave off despair, hold on to hope, and keep moving forward when the odds feel overwhelming? —The Editors
Bigger Than Politics
What do we say to those who are weary?
by Brian Doyle
WHAT WOULD I SAY to those who are weary of assault rifles mowing down children of all ages, every few months, for as long as we can remember now? Oregon Colorado Wisconsin Pennsylvania Connecticut Texas Massachusetts Minnesota Virginia do I need to go on? I would say that this is bigger than politics. I would say this is about money. I would say Isn’t it interesting that we are the biggest weapons exporter on the planet? I would say that we lie when we say children are the most important things in our society. I would say that the next time a tall oily smarmy confident beautifully suited beautifully coiffed glowing candidate for office says the words family values, someone tosses an assault rifle on the stage with a small note attached to it that reads Is this more important than a kindergarten kid?
We all are Dawn and Mary in our hearts and why we wait until hell and horror are in front of us to unleash our glorious wild defiant courage is a mystery to me.
I would also say, quietly, that this is bigger than rage and anger and snarling at idiots who pretend to hide behind the Constitution. I would say this is also about poor twisted lonely lost bent young men no one paid attention to, no one really cared about. And I would say that people like Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Scherlach, who ran right at the bent twisted kid with the rifle in Newtown, are the flash of hope and genius here. Those are the people I will celebrate on Dec. 14. There are a lot of people like Dawn Hochsprung and Mary Scherlach, may they rest in peace. We all are Dawn and Mary in our hearts and why we wait until hell and horror are in front of us to unleash our glorious wild defiant courage is a mystery to me. But it’s there. And there are a lot of days when I think the whole essence of Christianity, the actual real no kidding reason the skinny Jewish man sparked the most stunning possible revolution in history, is to gently insistently relentlessly edge us away from our savagely violent past into a future where Dawn and Mary are who we are, and you visit guns in museums, and war is a joke, and defiant peace is what we say to each other all blessed day long.
Brian Doyle is the editor of Portland Magazine at the University of Portland (Oregon) and the author most recently of The Thorny Grace of It, a collection of spiritual essays.
An Insanity of Rationality
This spiritual disease thrives on violence and calls it good.
by Joan Chittister, OSB
THERE IS A MADNESS abroad in the land, hiding behind the Constitution, brazenly ignoring the suffering of many who, over the years, have died in its defense, and operating under the banner of rationality. It’s a rare form of spiritual disease that thrives on violence and calls it good.
They want a proper response to violence, they tell us, and, most interesting of all, they insist that only violence can control violence. If “the good guys” have guns, this argument goes, “the bad guys” won’t be able to do any harm.
The hope? The hope lies only in those who refuse to feed this addiction to violence.
This particular insanity of rationality argues that violence is an antidote to violence. Then why do we find scant proof of that anywhere? Why, for instance, hasn’t it worked in Syria, we might ask. And where was the good of it in Iraq, the land of our own misadventures, where the weapons of mass destruction we went to disarm did not even exist and the people who died in the crossfire of that insanity had not harbored bin Laden. So how much peace through violencehave all the good guys on all sides really achieved?
The insanity of rationality says it is only reasonable to arm a population to defend itself against itself. And so, day after day, the level of violence rises around us as hunting rifles and small pistols turn into larger and larger weapons of our private little wars.
Clearly this particular piece of childish logic has yet to quell the gang violence in Chicago. It didn’t even work on an army base in Texas where, we must assume, the place was loaded with legal weapons.
What’s more, it does nothing to save the lives of the good guy’s children, who pick up the good guy’s guns at the age of 2 and 3 and 4 years old and turn them on the good guy fathers who own them.
So the mayhem only increases while white men in business suits insist that their civil rights have been impugned, their right to defend themselves has been taken from them, and more guns, larger guns, insanely damaging guns are the answer. Instead of hiring more police officers, they argue that arming students and teachers themselves, nonprofessionals, will do more to maintain calm and control the damage in situations specifically designed to cause chaos than waiting for security personnel would do.
It is that kind of creeping irrationality that threatens us all.
And in the end, it is a sad commentary on our society. We have now become the most violent country in the world while our industries collapse, our educational system declines, women are denied healthcare, our infrastructure is falling apart, and there’s more money to be made selling drugs in this country than in teaching school. No wonder gun pushers fear for their lives and sell the drug that promises the security it cannot possibly give while the country is becoming more desperate for peace and security by the day.
The hope? The hope lies only in those who refuse to feed this addiction to violence. These are they who remember again that we follow the one who said “Peter, put away your sword” when it was his own life that was at stake.
The hope is you and me. Or not.
Joan Chittister, OSB, a Sojourners contributing editor, is executive director of Benetvision, author of 47 books, and co-chair of the Global Peace Initiative of Women.
Skeptics might say that as a perimenopausal woman with a teenage daughter, I’m apt to cry at the slightest provocation, which may be true. But I believe something different happens when we expose our vulnerabilities in a community of faith.
A close friend told me her theory that we are being “seasoned” in church each week, preparing to be broken open in ways we cannot anticipate. So we pray the liturgy, sing the hymns, go through the motions. Yet this seasoning of our spirits prepares us to be tender-hearted, open to prayer working on us.
This makes sense to me. There are so few places where we can bring our raw emotions without a self-conscious need to explain or escape to the nearest bathroom, which happens when we get teary-eyed at work or in line at Home Depot. Perhaps church is one of those last safe havens, where we can cry in public for no reason.
Twenty-first century readers of the Scriptures are likely uncomfortable with the book of Lamentations and its stories of weeping, groaning, and grieving. But, the act of lamenting is not unique to biblical Israelites.
Today’s world is full of lament-worthy situations. One need only turn on the nightly news to hear countless stories from places like Detroit, Michigan, and Camden, N.J. – plagued by record foreclosures, abandoned buildings, corrupt government officials, and boarded up businesses – to understand the devastating impact of high unemployment, increased crime, and precarious civic finances that have taken a toll on communities. Further, the country’s working poor earn wages that are so meager they have a hard time providing basic necessities for their families. Many cannot make ends meet without help from public assistance programs, which ultimately leads to feelings of despair and a decreased sense of self-worth
Modern readers also lament over the following.
As we inched our way forward, the four lanes of the highway converged into one lane as we made our way around a terrible accident. We joined the long line of cars that passed the scene of the accident one by one, and we slowed — as did the others — to see what we could of the crash. But the moment we moved past the accident, the highway opened up to us, inviting us to freely and quickly accelerate.
And I began to think that tragedies like these cause us to slow down, and even come to a stop. They cause us to open our eyes for a moment and see that our actions have consequences. But on the other side of these tragedies, we tend to somehow find the freedom to move on, and to move on with strength. The only question is whether or not we will take what we see to heart, and resolve to be better drivers on the other side.
Sarah Decareaux was lying on the cold, concrete floor of a barn.
She closed her eyes, curled her knees into her chest, and told herself that what was happening wasn’t real.
She felt claustrophobic. She was having trouble breathing. Her vision tunneled, the same way it had when she’d been in labor. She could see only a few feet in front of her.
As climate change takes its toll on the Earth, many people are paralyzed by inaction—perhaps not out of fear or guilt, but because of despair. To confront climate change, we may need to first deal with our sense of grief, argues Katharine M. Preston in “Mourning for the Earth” (August 2013, Sojourners).
Watch this film essay to learn more about the five stages of climate grief.
“O Lord, our Sovereign, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory above the heavens.” And from those heavens descended a deadly cloud.
“Out of the mouths of babes and infants ...” The children of Plaza Towers Elementary?
“What are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them?” Indeed that is the question that troubles the heart of the faithful in times like these.
Can we still praise God? If so, how do we start? Can we possibly understand what happened in Moore, Okla.?
Don’t trust anyone who claims to comprehend the meaning of this storm. Don’t trust anyone who points with absolute certainty to a single cause for this storm. Don’t trust anyone who treats a tornado as anything but indiscriminate and cruel. These tragedies are not punishments or object lessons. Such natural forces do not reach their conclusion with a pat moral or a simple “they lived happily ever after.”
Each year 90,000 parents in the U.S. confront the profound suffering that follows the death of a child or adolescent.
Some of those rely on faith to help them through their grief. Others look to psychiatrists, who offer therapy or prescribe antidepressants to help ease their patients’ pain.
On Saturday, in a move that could add to the tension between religion and science, the American Psychiatric Association changed a controversial diagnosis regarding how grief relates to mental health.
The change “will affect every single person in the country, because at some point we’re all going to be bereaved,” said Joanne Cacciatore, founder of the Center for Loss and Trauma in Phoenix and a professor of social work at Arizona State University.
At issue are questions as fundamental as how long we grieve, what clinical label we assign to sadness, and when grief transforms into mental illness.
The modification also rekindles long-standing debates about whether spirituality or medicine offers the best pathway out of bereavement.
Yesterday Kay Stewart shared this at the cemetery as we laid to rest the ashes of her first-born daughter Katherine (“Katie”).
For Christ to have gone before us,
To have kept us from ultimate sadness,
To be our brother, our advocate,
The One who ushers in the Kingdom,
And the One to come,
Does not keep us from our digging today.
We still gather here and throw the dirt on our sacred dust,
We take the shovel like all those gone before us
And surrender to the Unknowable—
The place where
Love and Beauty and Kindness grow wild.
Where sorrow has no needs,
Where there is all beginning and
Today, three years to the day after my daughter Katherine’s (“Katie’s”) death (May 9, 2010), we inter her cremains. “IT’S RAINING, IT’S POURING” was written the day we learned that Katie’s incurable Leiomyosarcoma had taken a turn for the worse. In memory of Katherine (“Katie”) Elizabeth Slaikeu Nolan.
Gordon C. Stewart Feb. 11, 2009
It’s raining, it’s pouring
The old man is snoring
He went to bed and he bumped his head
And couldn’t get up in the morning
It’s a day like that. I bumped my head on the illness of a 33 year-old loved one. It’s raining sadness. I’m having trouble getting out of bed in the morning.
Terminal illness has a way of doing that unless you believe in miracles of divine intervention or you have extraordinary powers of denial.
Pastor Greg Laurie knows a thing or two about prayer in tough times.
The honorary chairman of this year’s National Day of Prayer (May 2) says prayer was the only thing that got him through his son’s death five years ago. When fellow megachurch pastor Rick Warren lost his son Matthew to suicide, Laurie was the man he most wanted to hear from.
Laurie, 60, who leads the evangelical Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, Calif., talked about prayer, grief, and what not to say when a friend’s loved one dies. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Something happened last week and I still can’t shake the funk of it off me. It happened in Boston and Texas; I saw it in Chicago as well, and the week before in Afghanistan. Last Sunday I tried to be a dutiful pastor and make sense of it from the pulpit, but ended up saying that I couldn’t make any sense of it. It wasn’t in what happened but the response. Not that they were making too much out of it — no, these tragedies were tragedies — but that maybe we weren’t making enough of it.
When the smoke of the bombs rescinded, we did what national pride dictates — we put “Boston Strong” all over everything and took up pledges to run the Boston Marathon (the first 10-miler will cause significant reassessment of this showing of national pride) — but we also began a collective process of national mourning and deep reflection, of asking, “How could this have happened?” When we knew nothing of the perpetrators, we asked instead about terrorism and mental illness — root causes (?). We expanded our search, into new territory that resembled 9/11 in some ways, back when we knew nothing and all parties were guilty parties. Accountability was spread wide, including home. This was not a search for a scapegoat but a search for the soul of a nation.
*If you have not read the Book of Job, this pastor recommends it as a must-read during this time of national crisis. There is much to digest; it requires no theological confession (only a sincere concern for humanity); and it reminds us of how little we know, how much we speak.*
The Book of Job provides a helpful but not fully welcome commentary on how we might read and understand the tragic shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Because that’s what we want right? Understanding? Things happen and we want to know WHY, so as to file them in our Rolodex of infinite human wisdom. Except … Job could do nothing to prevent the tragedies that befell him, and as he sat in the silence of his grief – having just lost his 10 children, his possessions, and his health – all he had was his three friends who came to sit with him. Except … sitting was not enough for them. They had to talk. They had to explain WHY this happened to Job. And in the process they forgot about Job.
Tragedies are always the occasion for extraordinary public debate: New Orleans moved from the victims to the state of FEMA in 2005; Columbine rushed us from victims to gun control; and Darfur moved from victims to foreign policy, as does Israeli-Palestinian conversation today push us away from the exiles themselves. Newtown, Conn., is no different, where a major cable news outlet was waiting in the parking lot to talk to children (not care for children, but talk to them about what was going on inside, focusing on their eyes and ears, but not their hearts). As if a 6 year old can wax eloquent on the horror they’ve witnessed. Sensationally irresponsible: some of the worst journalistic ethics I’ve seen in … well … let’s not go there.
This morning I read and sang this canticle.
Come, let us sing to the Lord;
let us shout for joy to the rock of our salvation.
Let us come before his presence with thanksgiving
and raise a loud shout to him with psalms.
For the Lord is a great God,
and a great king above all gods.
In his hand are the depths of the earth,
and the heights of the hills are his also.
The sea is his, for he made it,
and his hands have moulded the dry land.
Come, let us bow down and bend the knee,
and kneel before the Lord our Maker.
For he is our God,
and we are the people of his pasture
and the sheep of his hand.
O that today you would hearken to his voice!
Psalm 95:1-7 (Venite)
Then I lamented. I lamented the work of human beings to tear down what God holds in God's hands. I lamented that my friends in the peace movement callously sent a press release decrying the gun lobby within what seemed like moments after the smoke cleared in Aurora. I lamented the inane anti-Darwinian posture of other Christians. We're all looking for something to blame. We cannot simply sit in our sackcloth and our ashes and lament ... lament our own failure, lament the actions of someone raised in church, lament our inability to protect the innocent, lament our powerlessness.
We cannot and will not lament our powerlessness. We need to learn how.
“It was like a scene out of a movie.”
I’ve heard that phrase a few too many times in the past month.
On June 26, after the third consecutive 100-plus-degree day, residents of northwest Colorado Springs fled their neighborhoods with a few belongings shoved in their cars as a wildfire came barreling down the mountainside. The billows of smoke and inferno flames, calculated to be three stories high, could be seen from anywhere in the city. It was like a scene out of a movie.
In the early morning hours on July 4, I received the text that I had been dreading: “Cliffy is with Jesus.” After a six-year battle with cancer, my biggest cheerleader, friend, and mentor, Cliff Anderson, died in hospice. Two months prior, Cliff was sharing his wisdom and offering his typical words of encouragement at a retreat for GreenHouse Ministry, an intentional community that we started together in Colorado Springs. But shortly after that weekend the diagnosis became clear. This incurable type of cancer was going to win, sooner rather than later. Watching his decline felt like watching a tragic movie.
At the midnight premiere of the new Batman movie, Dark Night Rises, on July 20 in a suburb of Denver, a gunman opened fire on a packed theater, killing 12 and injuring more than 50 people Witnesses to the shooting said it was like something out of a movie. The scene was an eerie echo of another mass shooting in a different Denver suburb 13 years ago at Columbine High School. Could this really be happening again?