Tragedy in Tucson: An All-Too-Real Parable Unfolding

The tragedy in Tucson on Saturday has brought us once again to the brink of asking all the right questions. What is it going to take for us to wake up to the truth that hateful and violent speech leads to hateful and violent actions? A parable has unfolded before our eyes this week. The question is whether we will heed its message.

Photo: Steve Rhodes, Flickr CCA Democratic congresswoman convened a "Congress on Your Corner" meeting with her constituents and was gunned down. Democracy at its best is violently under attack and fighting for its life in our world today.

A Federal judge stopped by the rally to thank his colleague across the aisle for their work together on a common goal regarding "border" issues and he is gunned down. The potential fruits of bi-partisanship left to die on the vine.

A 9-year-old girl, just elected to her student council, attended the rally with a neighbor to learn more about politics with the hope that one day she could bring people together. Could there be any more light-filled symbol of humanity's hope for the future than a child seeking to learn about how to participate in the democratic process?

And if that were not enough, we quickly learned just hours after her death that Christina Taylor Green was born on 9/11 and featured in a book called Faces of Hope: Babies Born on 9/11. Christina died on 1/8/11. Add it up: 8+1=9/11. Christina was 9 and she died in 2011. I'm not into numerology but . . . add it up. We missed the wake-up call on 9/11. Will we as a nation heed it nine years later?

How many times does the rooster have to crow before we wake up the sun? Civil speech leads to civil actions. Can we heed the call to stop using our words as "weapons" and find a way to use them as tools for constructive action with those who are across the aisle and across the street? Can we meet at the border of our ideological differences and build bridges based on our common goals?

In memory of Christina Taylor Green, for the sake of all our children, will we heed the wake-up call or will be hit the snooze alarm? Will we listen to the voice of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose birthday we celebrate next week crying out in the wilderness of our incivility warning us about the kind of verbal warfare that kills both soul and body?

Like an unchecked cancer, hate corrodes the personality and eats away its vital unity. Hate destroys a man's sense of values and his objectivity. It causes him to describe the beautiful as ugly and the ugly as beautiful, and to confuse the true with the false and the false with the true . . .

Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction. . . .The chain reaction of evil—hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars—must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation. (Martin Luther King, Jr., Strength to Love, 1963)

A parable is unfolding in our world today and it is no fairy tale story with a magic ending. Too many innocent lives have been lost. Too many families are grieving. Only we have the power to decide whether this will be a turning point in our public discourse and politics or a descending spiral.

We can heed the call to love our neighbor as we love ourselves, which for Dr. King had everything to do with how we conduct ourselves in the public square and call our national leaders to account, or we can turn our backs on this call.

Across the country, we can stop hitting the snooze button and we can wake up to civility. We can meet on the street corner, in the library, and at City Hall and begin a new kind of respectful conversation seeking to work together on goals we hold in common. I can't envision a better way to honor Dr. King or those who died in Tucson on their way to participating in the democratic process.

A parable is unfolding and we have a chance to write the rest of the story. Each of us has the power to influence what will happen next. Will we allow this, the hope of civil discourse and democracy, to live or to die? Will we wake up the sun and see the light? That is the question before us and it is a matter of life and death.

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