Like all of you, I’ve been thinking about how to voice the feelings that wash over us all in the wake of the tragic shooting in Newtown last week. This post was published first at here at the Associated Baptist Press:
There are moments when words fail us, even those of us who wrestle words to a page for a living. Last week was one of those times.
What words can possibly console the parents of 20 little ones gunned down? Which words would you pick to articulate the reason for a sanctuary, defiled? How would you craft a phrase that might offer a promise: this will never, ever, ever happen again?
There are no words sufficient to answer these questions. Yet in the wake of last Friday’s shooting, the words come tumbling out as we feel around in the dreadful darkness to find something, anything to grab hold of.
Some speak platitudes about angels gone to heaven and God calling them home. Some spew hateful, ignorant words that add to the groundswell of despair. Some say this isn’t the time to talk about hard issues; it’s not respectful.
I reject all of these words. They are not words that satisfy any of the longing in my soul. Instead, they rip and tear and hurt even more, they add to the confusion we feel, they amplify the pain that is already roaring in our ears.
I want to claim different words. I want to hear something else. And so, these are some words I can say today:
- God does not need any more angels. The children who died in Newtown last Friday didn’t make some heavenly casting cut for which they needed to appear at the pearly gates. God did not call any one of them home; those little ones should have been at their earthly homes that night, chasing the pet dog or whining about what was on their dinner plates.
- Easy access to military weapons by civilians must end. The horrible truth we learned, again, in sharp relief last Friday, is that we live in a society where anyone can acquire a weapon that can obliterate a classroom of six and seven year olds in a matter of minutes. There’s no more time for debate; no one should have sitting in their living rooms weapons designed to kill large groups of people. It’s past time for our lawmakers to change our gun laws.
- The bloody, violent deaths of all those innocent people did not happen because God has been put out of our schools. God will be wherever God wants to be. Furthermore, it takes just a cursory glance at news reports to see that God was all over Sandy Hook Elementary school last Friday, in the sacrificial love of those teachers, in the urgent care of those first responders, in the compassion of that community. God was there.
- God does not perpetuate violence through the actions of tortured souls with assault rifles. Instead, God calls on us to respond to desperate families who deal day in and day out with devastating mental illness. On so many levels, we fail to care for the least of these when we ignore the diagnosis and treatment of people whose diseases baffle and scare us.
- Using the tragedy of others as a platform to promote agendas of hatred is a most vile expression of human ignorance. We saw evil in Newtown last Friday, and we’ve been seeing it ever since in the reprehensible behavior of those who would use this tragedy as an opportunity to spew hatred and exclusion. The children and teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary school did not die because of gay marriage, for example. Or even evolution, for that matter.
These words of the Psalmist are often quoted by preachers before they preach: “May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord my Rock and my Redeemer.” In these days when all sorts of words come from every corner, it seems this prayer is even more urgent, for, as we’ve learned so painfully this week, words can perpetuate violence.
But words can and must also build our resolve to do the right thing even in the face of such desperate wrong. We will not sit mute in the wake of all this sadness; we will, instead, claim good and right words, then live lives reflecting our resolve.
May it be so.