When tragedy strikes, we search for a reason. Many of us plug ourselves into the 24 hour news networks or social media in order to get constant updates, hoping that one of those updates will give us a reason, that one of those bites of news will answer our questions and the answer will make everything understandable. Then everything will be okay.
But it won’t.
Because we are broken people living in a broken world.
We live in a world in which it is all too often easier to blame others than look at ourselves.
–in which men are mocked if they show their softer side, and are implicitly, if not explicitly, told that displays of physical strength are a sign of manhood and you are less than if you back down from a fight.
–in which people are encouraged to meet violence with violence. After all, this is our national way. It is what our government models for us.
— in which people are more interested in protecting their right to guns than in looking at ways we can reduce gun violence.
— in which it is never the right time to talk about gun violence (or any other violence).
— in which we have completely forgotten how to disagree civilly and regularly resort to demonizing (and threatening) those with whom we disagree
— in which mental health issues are surrounded by an air of shame or brushed under the rug, and in which getting help for these problems is difficult and expensive
— in which we repeatedly cut from our schools the exact people who most trained to recognize and help the kids who are on the road to violence — guidance counselor and social workers — and we over stuff our classrooms, overwork and underpay our teachers so there are too many kids and not enough energy or time to really notice who is in trouble
— in which we prefer the illusion of security provided us by guns, alarms, bombs, security checkpoints and ideologies to getting to know and *gasp* loving our neighbor.
We don’t just live in this world, we are active participants in it. We make the guns, we make the bombs, we argue angrily until we are red in the face, we spew hate, we ignore our brothers and sisters in need, we mock men who show tenderness or back down from a fight, we stigmatize the “weird” ones in our communities, we mock those who seek help for mental illness, we vote for people who continually make mental health care more difficult to afford and access, we blame each other instead of supporting each other (I’m looking at you, Monday morning parenting quarterbacks and other interweb commenters), we refuse to pay more taxes or elect different officials so that our schools are better, we vote to underpay our teachers, remove arts and counselors from the schools, we assent blindly to security checks and pat downs while people buy assault weapons.We hold tightly to what we have (money, possessions, food, love) because we are so afraid of not having that we neglect those who have real and true needs.
Many Christians hold more tightly to their right to bear arms than to Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek or to love your neighbor as yourself.
We bear responsibility every time someone is shot, whether in a mass killing in a school or a lone murder in an apartment. We have done this.
It is our responsibility (humans in general, Christians in particular) to work for a just, peaceful and loving world.
“Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
But instead of leaning into hope, we lean into fear. Instead of leaning into love, we lean into anger and resentment. Instead of leaning into God, we lean into material possessions and trust in our own power. And we have been doing it this way for thousands of years. We are in the same place as the Biblical prophets, only our weapons are much more destructive.
This is not about putting God back in school in some official capacity. God is there. God doesn’t need an invitation to enter into our live, into our suffering. God is there. Always. To walk with us through the pain, to guide us through the darkness and to be our light at the end of the tunnel. God is there. In fact, God wa there – in the form of teachers giving their lives for students, protecting their kids, showing love and calm in the face of danger. God was there in the first responders and in everyone who has shown up and who will show up to care for the victims, their families and the community.
God did not do this, God did not “let this happen.” We did.
How do we ensure this never happens again?
We choose love over fear.
Love and trust and faith and hope aren’t easy. And they don’t guarantee comfort or a life free of pain or danger. In fact, they pretty much guarantee the opposite. Loving and trusting will bring pain. Working for peace and justice in our world will put you in danger (of being an outcast of nothing else). Being a voice for the voiceless has a cost. Loving deeply, in the way Christ asks us to, WILL change you. And that is terrifying. But we must change.
Love is a surer plan for peace and justice than guns or bombs or security checkpoints or wars or ideology will ever be.
So as we search for something to do to comfort the people of Newport, CT, recognize that we just might be assuaging our own guilt, our own complicity in this act. This is not a bad thing, but it is an important thing to recognize.
Light a candle, say a prayer for those little souls lost in Connecticut.
Then use that guilt, use that pain, use that anger to CHANGE OUR LIVES AND THE LIFE OF THE WORLD.
To change your life: Instead of adding to the teddy bears that the kids in CT have received, find a local group home to give to. Go to a nursing home and visit someone who hasn’t had visitors in years (they are, in my estimation, the loneliest places in the world. Except maybe jail, but I haven’t been there). If you go to church, see if there are homebound members who could use a visit. Sign up for Big Brothers/Big Sisters or some other mentoring program. Tutor in a local school. Ask what teachers need for their classroom and donate it. Talk to the homeless people you pass on the way to work every day. Show them kindness. Buy then a coffee or a sandwich. If it feels right, invite a stranger to eat together. Engage in a political conversation with someone with whom you vehement disagree and listen. Really listen. Don’t shout. Engage. Love. Trust. Allow yourself to be moved.
To change the world: Become an advocate for schools, for mental health, for gun-restrictions, for global health, for the homeless, for victims of domestic violence, for the poor. Work to teach young men how to be men in a way that allows for tenderness and noes not allow for abuse or rape. Work with and/or on the behalf of someone who has no voice. Get loud. Create change. Make sure that the deaths of those children in Newport, in Columbine, the people at the movie theater in Aurora, the students at Virginia Tech, Darius Simmons (shot in front of his mother in Milwaukee this summer), Kasandra Perkins (girlfriend of Jovan Belcher, murdered by him late in November), and every single victim of violence in the United States and around the world.
Choose love. Act on love. Let it disturb you, let it change you and the world will be changed.