When Good People Say Dumb Stuff

When Good People Say Dumb Stuff April 16, 2013

In the wake of a tragedy like yesterday’s bombing, we ask the age-old question: why do bad things happen to good people?

And in the hours and days following such an event, we might also find ourselves wondering: why do good people say dumb things?

Through our collective prayers, we seek understanding; we ask for God’s comfort with the wounded and those suffering loss; we give thanks for our own loved ones, safe at home, by some stroke of grace or luck; we pray for justice and peace. These sacred petitions bind us together in face of unspeakable violence, and connect us with the God of our being. Our prayers speak blessed, simple truth into the chaos.

But out loud? Man, do we ever say some dumb stuff.

1. The blaming of God: Well, the Lord must have needed those angels…The Lord works in mysterious ways… God knows what he’s doing… Yuck, yuck, and yuck. What we hear, in these lame attempts at comfort, is a person of faith feeling the need to defend God for letting such an awful thing happen. Which evolves into, essentially, somehow claiming the horrible event as an act of God. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly bad internet theology can circulate in times of crisis.  In an effort to find God in the midst of terror, it’s pretty easy to inadvertently make God the terrorist. But of course, on the other end of the spectrum we find the…

2. Blaming of others… Anybody want to take bets on which televangelist or mega-preacher will go to blaming the gays/pro-choicers/and-or/absence of school sanctioned prayer for this one? Pat Robertson or James Dobson used to be our go-to guys in these moments, but these days, I’m more inclined to go with an up-and-coming hater like Marc Driscoll. I don’t know why we continue to be surprised that these straight white protestant affluent men seem to ALWAYS have an easy answer, ready for primetime sound bite, as to whose fault this is. We know it’s coming. Let’s just be prepared to roll our eyes and move on. In the meantime, we’ll contend with the

3. Inserting of oneself into the situation. It is one thing to share with the world that you had a loved one present at the disaster, and let folks know that said family member is safe and well. It is another to do the whole ‘OMG, my neighbor’s cousin’s boyfriend was THERE y’all, that could have been me!” Or, for example, the Phoenix evening news leading with “Phoenix couple just back from Boston!!” Like, ‘OMG, Arizona, of the 5 million people living in Phoenix, 2 of them were THERE. That could have been us!!” Why this need to closely connect with the site of the tragedy?  My best guess is that, we see these horrific images on the tv, and our hearts break for those whose lives will never be the same again. We feel that we somehow don’t have the right to feel so deeply for strangers, and so we find a way to make the tragedy our own.  Let’s all take a deep breath and remember that being a person is all the license we need to feel the pain of another person. No need to seek a connection of geography or gene pool… And speaking of news anchors, sometimes they say THE dumbest things because

4. when you play the gruesome images repeatedly, on a loop, for hours, you run out of stuff to say. So, commence the saying of dumb things in prime time. Perhaps we need to watch less, say less, and simply be in a spirit of prayerful solidarity. (see #3). Because also, watching too much media coverage of such a scene not only gives us nightmares. It makes us vulnerable to the

5. Inappropriate politicizing of a national tragedy. “See, a crazy person can kill people with or without guns! That’s why guns are great!!” or something like that… It’s one thing to think it. It’s another thing entirely to use a terrible act of violence as a defense of, or argument against, a political position. Period. Or to use it as opportunity to further demonize or negate a president (or other leader) that you don’t like. When people have died, it is not the moment to pull out the NRA memes, the anti-abortion memes, the school prayer memes or…well, it’s not the time for memes, period. Not even the ones with kittens and a warm fuzzy quote about God needing another angel in heaven (see #1).

In the presence of violence, our hearts break for the world in which we live–a place where even the most commonplace events have become scenes of terror and mass destruction. Really, all of these cringe-worthy responses are understandable variations on a theme: the human attempt to make sense of the senseless.

After all, it is easier to formulate an answer, or to blame others, or even to blame God, than it is to live with the truth: that the world is not as it should be, and that we are all a part of the greater brokenness.

But it is imperative that we learn to live with that reality. Because the sooner we do, the more we will be ready to move with a little more grace, speak with a little more mercy, and pray with a little more sincerity. The more prepared we will be for an in-breaking of God’s kind of justice; whether or not it goes with our meme theme, or mirrors our politics, or makes us feel better.

Talk less, pray more; judge less, love more; explain less, wonder more; and above all, work for peace, and refuse to let violence become our nightly form of entertainment. Having said all this, I don’t know what that looks like, in our fractured and hurting world. I don’t know how to embody these practices, to pray these prayers, and to work for the peace that will save us all. But until I do, I’m going to talk less… Ok, I’m going to TRY to talk less… I’m going to pray to learn how to talk less… And try, in my own broken way, to live in the fullness of God’s creative mercy.

I lift up my eyes to the hills—from where will my help come? My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth.                                      He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.                                  The Lord is your keeper; the Lord is your shade at your right hand. The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.                         The Lord will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.



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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Mandye Yates

    Thank you, Erin. Well said.

  • Carl Keith Greene

    I couldn’t say it any better.

  • Bob Fugate

    I turn to PBS or some other channel to get away from dumb repetative reporting. Yes we always look for a scapegoat. Who the scapegoat is depends on what channel you sre watching. You sure have a very createative imagination to gleem so many angles or concepts from one incident. You are truly amazing. I loved your comments!

  • Carol

    This is the best blog response to the Boston Marathon tragedy that I have found so far. Thank you.
    “The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing… not healing, not curing… that is a friend who cares.” –Henri Nouwen

    “We modern people are problem-solvers, but the demand for answers crowds out patience — and perhaps, especially, patience with mystery, with that which we cannot control. Intolerant of ambiguity, we deny our own ambivalences, searching for answers to our most anguished questions in technique, hoping to find an ultimate healing in technology. But feelings of dislocation, isolation, and of off-centeredness persist, as they always have.” ~ Ernest Kurtz and Katherine Ketcham, The Spirituality of Imperfection

    “Bromidic though it may sound, some questions don’t have answers, which is a terribly difficult lesson to learn.” –Katherine Graham

  • Eve Fisher

    Excellent – and true. No theologian, no saint, no visionary, no mystic, no one has ever solved the problem of the existence of evil, and the usual cheap bromides are, in the face of horrific acts like this one, offensive beyond belief. Silence and prayer, hugs and hope, faith and compassion carry us through…

  • Eli

    Thank you!

  • Charlsi Lewis Lee

    Well said, Erin. I have really enjoyed reading your blog.

  • Julie

    Thank you. Thoughtful and articulate.

  • Edward C. Robson

    A lot of this, I guess, comes out of our wish to see the world as a place where events make sense, where there is some kind of justice to events, because we cannot bear the thought of everything being chaotic and unpredictable. “Everything happens for a reason,” people say, “even if we cannot understand it.” It’s just a variation on #1, blaming God.

    I’ve learned to bite my tongue (usually), but I personally think stuff just happens. If there is going to be something good to come out of a tragedy, it won’t be because God planned or intended or allowed the tragedy in order to make room for the good that followed. It will be because someone worked to find a way to do something good in the midst of all the pain and grief.

    The one I find most offensive is the platitude about how God will never lay more burden on anyone than that person can bear. To me, that just blames the victim for being weak. The truth is, people get crushed by unbearable burdens all the time. That’s why we have to look out for each other, because, as I said, stuff happens that isn’t fair and doesn’t make sense.