This week marks a year since the nearly incomprehensible school shootings in Newtown, Conn. Gaping holes in families, lives, and the greater community remain, as the question of why such a thing happened still lingers on everyone’s lips and in minds.
Looking back for answers sometimes only serves to deepen the wounds, rather than help heal them. The shooter demonstrated serious mental illness. He played violent video games, including one called “School Shooting.” He catalogued similar events as they emerged in the news. He holed up in his room, garbage bags on the windows, until his mother helped him buy the gun.
None of this offers us the peace we seek. What we want is an end to such terrible violence, and a relief from the lingering fear that haunts us while we know another incident is only a matter of time. As a parent of two school-age children, I was made painfully aware of the vulnerabilities in their schools as I’d drop them off, sending them, alone, into the building.
[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.
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The plight of Job is one of the most familiar stories from the Hebrew Bible. Many of us know Job’s suffering and the tortuous advice of Job’s “comforters.” The experience of suffering is universal. In the midst of our suffering, we seek to understand, to process, to comprehend. For individuals of faith, events of radical suffering plunge us into a theological crisis. Where is God? Is God causing this to happen? Is God allowing this to happen? Why?
The crisis deepens when we realize that the suffering does not match our preconceptions of how the world should work. We seem to think that if we output positive vibes into the world, the world (or God) will reciprocate. That would be fair. That would be right. That would be just.
However, in the reality of human experience we recognize that great fortune sometimes falls on the underserving, while horrible events beat down the most innocent among us.
Perhaps this is why so many of us can relate to the book of Job. Here we have a character who does everything right. From the first verse, we know that Job is “blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil” (Job 1:1). In fact, these characteristics draw God’s attention and praise.
Seattle-based folk group The Head and the Heart released their newest single, "Another Story," off of their anticipated upcoming album, Let's Be Still. The song beautifully wrestles with the grief and confusion that struck the country during the chaos that followed the Newtown, Conn., shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
On my first Patriots’ Day in Boston, I was enjoying lunch with several colleagues when someone rushed into the restaurant: There had been an explosion at the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Moments later, caravans of ambulances and police cars raced, and the reports of casualties rolled in.
In the hours and days that followed, social media became for me, and many others, a sacred space to share our prayers and words of disbelief.
Julia Ward Howe, best known for writing "The Battle Hymn of the Republic" in 1862, began working to heal the wounds of the Civil War once the war ended. By 1870 Howe had become convinced that working for peace was just as important as her efforts working for equality as an abolitionist and suffragette. In that year she penned her "Mother's Day Proclamation," exhorting women to:
“Say firmly: ‘We will not have great questions decided by irrelevant agencies.
Our husbands shall not come to us, reeking with carnage, for caresses and applause.
Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn all that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We women of one country will be too tender of those of another country to allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.
From the bosom of the devastated earth a voice goes up with our own. It says "Disarm, Disarm! The sword of murder is not the balance of justice.’"
The Rev. Frank Page, former president of the Southern Baptist Convention, was getting ready to work in the yard in the fall of 2009 when the phone rang. His daughter was on the line.
Daddy, I love you, she said. Tell Mama and the girls I love them, too.
Then she was gone.
Melissa Page Strange, 32, took her own life just after hanging up the phone with her dad.
“I do not want you to imagine what that is like,” he said.
For years, Page did not share the painful details of Melissa’s death, fearing that some Christians might speak ill of her if they knew. Mental illness and suicide were taboo topics for many churches, seen as a kind of spiritual failure.
Five men who know what it means to be president of the United States shared a stage in University Park, Texas. Then the incumbent among them flew to Waco, to mourn 11 first-responders, killed in a fertilizer plant explosion in the small town of West, Texas.
All presidents try to rewrite history to burnish their brief place in it. And in his new presidential library, George W. Bush will have his turn.
Barack Obama’s legacy is still a work in progress, though even sympathetic commentators are seeing him now, in his fifth year, as too slow to act, too cerebral to brawl, and too little respected by his political enemies.
In one role, however, Obama has excelled: “Mourner in Chief” — not one of his constitutional duties but oddly important.
WASHINGTON — Black clergy have launched a new coalition to fight gun violence, saying they are undeterred by the recent failure of legislation on Capitol Hill and all too aware of the problem of gun violence.
At meetings held Tuesday in Washington and Los Angeles, supporters of the African-American Church Gun Control Coalition called gun violence “both a sin and a public health crisis” and committed to a three-year action plan of advocacy, education and legislative responses.
“As people of God and as faithful members we have the obligation to stir the world’s conscience and to call on our nation’s decision makers to do what is just and right,” said the Rev. Carroll Baltimore, president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, which convened the coalition.
When a distressed child hugs a teddy bear, there is a moment of innocent comfort that not only soothes the child but the grownups around her, too.
No wonder, then, in the wake of the Dec. 14, 2012, mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., the donation of choice for many people was a teddy bear. The bears — huge, tiny, handmade, store-bought, rainbow-colored, traditional brown — began arriving within 24 hours of the tragedy. They came from churches, children's groups, Facebook campaigns, car dealerships, and individuals across the globe.
Undeniably, for some of the children in Newtown — and adults, for that matter — a new stuffed animal was just the right gift at the right time.