These past few days have been difficult days for many. Last Friday, in Sandy Hook School in Newtown, CT., darkness fell upon many hearts and shattered the bright light in the eyes of God’s youngest hands and feet. Since that time there has been much talk and lots of debate about what to do, how to respond, and of course is there a way to prevent this from happening ever again.
Oddly, at least for me, in the past few days especially, many of the conversations in the United States have turned to greater armament for the general population. I just watched a piece on CNN that highlighted the call of some Republicans to get guns into the hands of teachers. The one senator said, (I am paraphrasing here) “This would not have happened if that principal had been armed. She would have taken him out at the door, meeting lethal force with equally lethal force!” I have to confess that this sort of logic sounds like lunacy to me. More guns? There are 9 guns for every 10 people in America – including Children here. More guns, more violence, and more vigilantism is not the answer.
Sadder for me still the Christian population is embracing the same logic. I cannot for the life of me see how anyone who is a follower of Jesus would espouse a message that calls for more violence. I was dumbfounded as I listened to the words of yet another Christian on the news, buying up weapons in a hurry before the government removes their ‘God given right to bear arms’ [as an aside – I know the Founding Fathers are revered in the US but ‘God given?’].
On the day of this tragedy I summed up my feelings with a poem. My last post was titled – Words are Hard to Find. A friend and reader took my words to be a shying away from dialogue and conversation about the sadness of it all. The poem was, in fact, first a use of words to encourage further conversation and dialogue and secondly a call not to say the most inappropriate things in the face of such a senseless situation. On the first goal, there was much good conversation with people about what we were feeling because of my post. Folks at St. Aidan’s chatted with me over coffee after church expressing their feelings about the pain of this time. Emails from people expressing their gratitude for opening a conversation were heartening. But I am saddened to say there was never an hope that my second goal would be achieved For instance, I am baffled by the words of the Christian Right who have suggested that God is unable to get involved. People are expressing the notion that the God of Light for whom we wait in Advent is responsible for this. Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee was the first to jump in suggesting that God is unwelcome in our schools and this incident should be no surprise to us. Then there is Brian Fischer – head of the American Family Association. He offered these words on his radio program.
“The question is going to come up, where was God? I though God cared about the little children. God protects the little children. Where was God when all this went down. Here’s the bottom line, God is not going to go where he is not wanted.
Now we have spent since 1962 — we’re 50 years into this now–we have spent 50 years telling God to get lost, telling God we do not want you in our schools, we don’t want to pray to you in our schools, we do not want to pray to your before football games, we don’t want to pray to you at graduations, we don’t want anybody talking about you in a graduation speech…
In 1962 we kicked prayer out of the schools. In 1963 we kicked God’s word out of ours schools. In 1980 we kicked the Ten Commandments out of our schools. We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentlemen.”
Facebook was rife with people sharing pictures and graphics wherein God answers a student’s prayer about violence in schools with a trite “I am not welcomed in your schools.” This stuff is not only not helpful – it is nonsense. These folks actually believe in a passive aggressive God. If this God they speak of can be anywhere, and does not show up when these things happen because of a lack of prayer in schools, this God is either powerless or must be passive aggressive. It is just ridiculous and frankly embarrassing that a Christian would espouse such foolishness.
Christmas is that time when we declare that God decided to come and dwell among us –This is a God who did not need an invitation to show up then and does not require an invitation today. God was, is, and always shall be present to us – even though tragedy happens. God is abundantly present in these dark days. In this season of Advent we talk a lot about preparing for a Light to come into the world that would dispel all darkness. I think we need to be reminded to be Light for the world and not just wait for it. We can look into the face of darkness and be light and be hope. Last Sunday was Gaudate Sunday – a Sunday we talk about Joy. Rejoicing was hard to embrace – but Joy sometimes is an act of faith. I talked on Sunday about how my family in 2008 had to embrace the Joy of Christmas shortly after laying two little girls to rest in less than twelve months. At times we were walking through the motions, but we needed to embrace Light even though we all felt pretty dark. There were other children in our family who needed Light, needed hope, needing joy that came with Christmas. Then there were the many who were Light for us in the midst of our darkness. The face of God was present to us in many and diverse ways. The Light of God is present to the people of Newtown today in many and diverse ways. Sometimes we can choose to be Joy for those who cannot. We can choose to be Light for those who sit in darkness.
Martin Luther King Jr. wrote that “Darkness cannot drive out darkness: only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate: only love can do that.” So we cannot reduce guns with more guns. We cannot lighten the darkness with rhetoric about an angry and passive aggressive God who would love to help but is busy licking wounds. We cannot lighten darkness by retreating inside of ourselves, removing lights and forgetting Christmas because we all feel dark. We will dispel darkness by bringing Light, by being hopeful, by working to make change, by seeking to love and serve, by striving to heal.
Hmmm. All of this is quite interesting. There are so many ways to go when reflecting on the tragedy of Newtown. The political animals among us (and they include; right wing Christians, the left wing gun-removers, and the press!) share a base sort of self interest. it is in their interests to use this tragedy for a wedge, a point of gain. Gain? Yes, gain. For that is indeed what they all hope to do. Gain from the deaths of the innocent? A story older than the Christmas story, I am afraid. Sad, so very sad.
Our condition (the human one) is to endure these things over and over again on the road to something we know must be better. I don’t see how God has anything to do with our tragedy. The mistake we are making is to believe that an outside force or force of any kind can somehow control, prevent or cause the horror that happens.
Certainly, we can adjust our thinking and our living and our societies but it must be according to mutual agreement. The one idea we should put aside is that terrible things happen for a reason and that we or someone/thing can do something about it. There is no reason, no deity, no government, nothing caused this. The hardest thing to accept is that it just HAPPENED. It appears that a single person, acting alone and for personal reasons wrought havoc.
You can take away guns, put God back in the classroom (where it has allegedly been removed), paint yourself blue and howl at the moon. NONE of that will make any difference– bad stuff will still happen.
We can make an effort to put these kinds of events in the past, to get over them and around them. That is all we can do, my friends–that is all.
Now leave those poor people alone and let’s all get on with our lives.
I had never thought that my absolute distaste for guns and horror that some people feel they must have their fun (shooting assault weapons) was some left wing issue. As you say, Bob, there will always be evil and bad things will happen. But should we not try to eliminate as many of the ingredients as possible? I am not saying that eliminating guns is the only answer. I will never say that God is punishing us for taking out formal prayer in schools etc. As Kevin said, God is not passive aggressive—a very apt metaphor. But based on earlier tragedies, the politicians ape their ‘our thoughts and prayers’ speeches and then life goes right back to the status quo. Only now we hear the ridiculous idea of parents buying armoured backpacks for their children. And were I still in the classroom, I could add armed agent to my other duties as a teacher.
Money for mental health is on the chopping block. The local paper here tells the story of a father who tries to manage his son’s mental illness and sometimes he locks his bedroom door at night because he fears his son. His son will not take his meds until his condition is so bad that he can be commited to hospital for a f ew days.
If I were one of those grieving parents or friends I would want others to do something as well as console me with their words, which words of course I am not denigrating. God comfort all of us who grieve.
Hi Evelyn! I wasn’t suggesting that we do nothing. I think we do need to learn from this and to do something. The danger is to react and act without consensus, such as the gun control proponents and the ‘God in the schools’ groups would have us do. We are born with a free will and only free will choices can make effective changes. I usually cite the changes in use of tobacco that have occured over the last few decades. The percentage of the adult population
that smokes cigarettes has dramatically declined. With a minimum of government interference (I.E. warning labels, education programs, hiding cigs behind counters etc.) people have chosen not to smoke. Gun control and religious education should be the same way — a personal choice based on rational evaluation. Free will.
I cant understand how such a wicked thing could happen, I like million of other are heart broken, Where and when will it end
Right on!1 Merry Christmas!!!!1
Very nicely composed Canon Kevin. I’m sure it’s not a sign of the end of days, but it is more than just a little disconcerting when a right wing zealot such as Mike Huckabee opines anything that would indicate he understands the mysteries of God and further offers that God has, for all intents and purposes, turned His back on humanity. As Piers Morgan would say, “Utter hogwash!” Our foods have become laced with preservatives and a whole host of toxins that have undoubtedly, in my opinion at least, led to any number of cognitive and emotional disorders in our youth. Add to that a country which places its 2nd Amendment above equality and social programs and you have a formula for disaster after disaster. Most of these recent crimes have been perpetrated by white males and as some pundits have espoused, had they been Black or of Arab descent, a racial motive would have been forwarded. The fact is, the United States has lost its way and Canada, under Harper and his minions, is heading in a similar direction. Let’s hope God does not hold the grudges Huckabee suggests because it may soon enough come to a point where we will all hopelessly cast our hands aloft and say, “God help us!”