Monday, December 17, 2012

Violence Towards Our Children

“Sometimes I would like to ask why God allows poverty, suffering, and injustice when God could do something about it.  But I am afraid God would ask me the same question.”  (Anonymous)

This is a quote that has been circulating the Internet of late in the aftermath of the tragedy that occurred in Newtown, Connecticut.  It is another one of those times when we search to make sense of the insensible; to understand what eludes our understanding; to comprehend what is incomprehensible; to find reasonable answers out of unreasonable circumstances.  But little seems to be forthcoming that we can adequately get our arms around.  There are only the continuing pictures that unsettle our emotions and bring us increasing tears of sorrow for victims and compassion for survivors.  Down deep we know they could have been us.

Some feel the need to speak out immediately and call for action to be taken.  And so immediately blasts out another one of their daily petitions and requests for $5 donations, this time for greater gun control.  On the other end of the political spectrum, former governor Mike Huckabee inexplicably tries to explain away the incident by saying that it occurred because we have taken God out of our schools.  Both of these actions and statements are vastly inappropriate to the moment, along with other similar speechmaking from the legions of national commentators (including perhaps this author).  Instead, this is time when respectful and contemplative thought are the better choice.

We try to understand how a young man could take up arms and so seemingly easily kill his mother, 20 small children, 6 protecting adults, and then ultimately himself.  They were all totally defenseless and unthreatening to him, and – except for his mother – likely completely unknown to him.  We wonder how someone could take another life, let alone 26 such innocent lives cut so very, very short.  How could one be so unfeeling towards others?

The only way to understand a seemingly irrational act is to think outside our normal rationality.  Because to a shooter, the act has become perfectly rational.  These mass shootings are not acts of violence, though violence is its by-product.  Rather, they are acts of power by the powerless.  They come from the frustration, loneliness, self-deprecation of a life felt to have been neutralized and marginalized by others.  Left to churn inside, that sense of powerlessness, valuelessness, and unworthiness finally erupts and looks for compensating expression.  And the greater this sense of lacking and inability to change that, the greater the need for a major demonstration of reclaimed power over “the outside world.”  So the scope of the drama necessarily gets bigger and bigger.  One killing is not enough; it must rise to 26 (or more if enabled) because the place of powerlessness has sunk so very deep.

So in the shooter there is no remorse for those who are his victims.  No regrets about the seeming inhumanity of his actions.  Because humanity is that sense of connection that makes us bond together as a community – and for the shooter, connection has long been lost.  His victims have become merely faceless props in his script, supporting actors in his personal stage play who have no voice.  For one who lives in humiliation and submission, what could be more redeeming to one’s soul than feeling the absolute power over another at the point of his gun?

Most of humankind find far less destructive ways to respond to those moments when we feel neutralized.  But these series of shooters can find no other way out of their feelings of desperation.  We cannot possibly know what brought this particular shooter to this depth of his despair.  But we can recognize that in his suffering he is also among the victims of this tragedy.  The future promise of his life also goes unfilled too soon.  We do not condone or minimalize what he has done.  But we are reminded once again of the Dalai Lama’s challenge to us: “Love the person.  Resist the act.”

And so they all now reside in the lap of God.  We leave it to God’s greater vision and understanding of the life purpose of each of us to make sense of all of this.  To do what is right for all involved, gathered together in the place after life that is God’s home.  Later we may choose to write our letters, sign petitions, sit in public vigils demanding a change in our social contract.  We may do this even knowing that, in today’s polarized America, it is highly doubtful that much will change anytime soon in our laws and arguments about guns and violence in spite of our immediate passion “to do.”

Maybe the real lesson being taught to us from that school in Newtown is not an argument about laws and processes and social responsibility.  These are simply arguments of the mind.  Perhaps the scale and profoundness of these 20 young children are there to speak instead to our hearts.  Speak in a way, and with a force, that the everyday singular acts of violence towards the innocents that we hear about do not seem able to do.  Before we engage the brain we need to wed with the heart.  Instead of closing ourselves to this inexplicable violence, we may need to open ourselves fully to the empathy and motivations that lie in our hearts.  We may need to eliminate our denials and intellectualization of what is happening around us, to us, and allow ourselves to be fully overwhelmed by the emotional power of these events and the suffering they bring.

We need to make it personal.  Because as long as we keep it a (ir)rational debate over petitions, we avoid the need for genuine action from the heart, touched into our soul.  Little of true significance in our relationships with each other will happen until we break through our hard exteriors and move inside of us to that place of genuine humanity.  Nothing will stop the shooters until we end their separation from us and help to restore spirit, rather than cold materialism, into their being.  So let us spend time making Newtown personal.  Personal to the parent, sibling, and neighbor that resides in each of us.  That is the place from which our future actions should come.  That is God’s challenge to each of us, and the challenge from the kids and teachers of Newtown.