“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 MoveOn.org
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