This is not a blog post about gun control. Everything that can possibly be said about that subject, pro or con, has already been said millions of times since Friday. We are talking too much, too soon. In the words of my rabbi, “Judaism teaches that when there is nothing to say we should say nothing….Sometimes only silence gives voice to what has happened."
We Americans should all be sitting shiva.
But when, next week, we rise from our knees and begin working – together, I hope – to reduce the terrible problem of violence in our country, we must realize that our disorder goes much deeper than simply owning too many guns, and that any effective solution will have to go much deeper too.
When they are distressed, some people clean house or do push-ups I collect data. All week I have been amassing numbers and arranging them in rows and columns, trying to shed light on the question: Why are some nations violent while others are not?
*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.
O Flower of Jesse’s stem,
you have been raised up as a sign for all peoples;
kings stand silent in your presence;
the nations bow down in worship before you.
Come, let nothing keep you from coming to our aid.
In 2012 more than one hundred young people were killed by gun violence in Chicago. More than a hundred. If you start adding up the numbers, there was a time there in the summer where Chicago was more dangerous than Afghanistan. Well, parts of it were. It's a big place, you know.
As tragic as the shooting was in Connecticut —and I am truly not interested in minimizing the grief or outrage — we have to wake up and realize that more children are killed every year in the U.S. and we seldom cry in outrage. Not as a nation. There were marches in protest by Chicago churches.
The news media covered the march but not the murders.
President Obama addressed the nation on Wednesday morning to establish a commission led by Vice President Biden on stronger gun safety laws. Gone was the passion of his address at the interfaith service in Newtown and in place we have back the above-the-fray politician.
However, one point was clear. “If we are going to change things,” he said, “it is going to take a wave of Americans … standing up and saying ‘enough’ on behalf of our kids.”
Will Obama’s address beat the National Rife Association’s messaging strategy?
On Friday, Dec. 21, the NRA will hold its first a press conference after the Newtown, Conn., massacre—and America’s first reasonable conversation on stronger gun laws will come to an end.
In the wake of the recent school shooting tragedy in Connecticut, we will undoubtedly hear the lament, 'America is at the crossroads', as we struggle to contain an increasingly violent society. Sadly, this country left the crossroads some time ago. We have passed the tipping point, and are rapidly descending into the abyss of chaos when it comes to respect for human life.
Well-meaning voices are sounding the alarm that things are different now — innocent children have died in great numbers in Connecticut. This is true, but people are dying every day in towns and cities throughout our nation due to acts of senseless violence. The deaths in Connecticut represent an unspeakable new low, but we have been steadily arriving here for decades.
We will rightly pray for and comfort the families and communities of the victims. We should do no less. There will also be calls for greater gun control. However, we can count on this: we cannot count on our governments to get this epidemic of violence under control. Nor can we retreat to the false comfort of innocuous statements such as, 'Guns don't kill people. People kill people.'
I’m sure most of us have played the scene in our heads one too many times: little baby Jesus, presumably Caucasian, lying in a tiny crib-esque manger comfortably padded with hay — even though the song specifically says “no crib for a bed” — while the animals, which are perfectly behaved, quietly and reverently look on. Cue the wise men, in their strange, exotic garb, and sprinkle a few angels in there — you know, the ones that look like babies with wings and white togas.
That was my impression of the nativity scene as a kid, and the popular children’s Christmas carol, “Away in a Manger” didn’t do anything to help. It seemed to perpetuate the picturesque nativity image of most of the figurine depictions in our living rooms.
But, if only for a few minutes, put aside the notions that the “manger” probably wasn’t as clean and cozy as we thought, that it probably wasn’t a silent night — have you met a baby that’s gone through its first 24 hours without crying? — or that Jesus probably wasn’t snug in a crib conveniently left in a manger.
Even though the song may seem like it only deserves a cursory glance, as it was originally published in theLittle Children's Book for Schools and Families in 1885, I purport there’s something more to the childhood classic.
That cry has echoed ever since news of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn.
As the names of those who died are made known, that cry is followed by a question: Why? Why does God allow evil?
This agonizing question arises among religious believers after tragedies great and small. It’s also one that priests, pastors, rabbis, and imams will wrestle with.
The Rev. Jerry Smith of St. Bartholomew Episcopal Church in Nashville said that although this weekend marked the third Sunday in Advent, which focuses on hope in advance of Christmas, the church also has to talk about the reality of evil.
“We have to speak about this shooting and we have to recognize, this is the very darkness that Christ came into the world to dispel,” Smith told The Tennessean.
The Rev. Neill S. Morgan, pastor of Covenant Presbyterian Church in Sherman, Texas, says on the congregation’s website that now is a time for prayer.
But, says Morgan, “all the existential questions about God, justice, and love” will come. “We wonder what we can do to prevent such violence in the world, our nation, and our community.”
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.