Thursday, December 20, 2012

Where do we go after the Shootings in Newtown?

At the one week anniversary of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, a community school, the church bells toll across the country, and the media satellite trucks slowly leave Newtown. Where will they go next?  Will we as a nation continue to focus our attention on the epidemic of gun violence or has our addiction to violence grown so serious that we cannot even recognize it?

President Obama spoke compassionately and eloquently at the Interfaith Service last Sunday and again to the Washington Press on Wednesday. 
An impertinent reporter’s question made the evening news.  Coverage did not include the president’s words that in the 5 days following the massacre, people had died all over this land each day: a police officer gunned down in Memphis leaving four children without their mother; two killed in Topeka; three people shot inside a hospital in Alabama; and a 4-year-old victim of a drive-by shooting in Missouri.  “Where have you been?” we should ask ourselves.  Where have the cameras gone since Newtown?

The memorials have been helpful for a grieving nation. Here in our town our church held a prayer service open to the public and all sorts of people, previously strangers to one another, came. The nation has learned how to bring candles and Teddy Bears to memorials.  What else can we do well together?
PBS New Hour shows in silence at the end of broadcasts the names and pictures, as “they became of available,” of military personnel killed in Iraq and Afghanistan. This week  they showed in silence the names and pictures of those killed at Sandy Hook Elementary.  What would it mean if every week they showed the names and pictures, as they became available, of those killed by gun violence in this nation?

Where will the cameras go to help us not to forget, to help us recognize our own addition to gun violence and to give us the courage to act?
To South Chicago? To Midwestern smaller cities? To the mountain states? Everywhere!  

I’ve listened this week to stereotypes of “other” parts of the country.  “Rural” to some implies people who love having guns.  “Urban” or “Inner City” implies “dangerous,”  non-white.  And yet the mass shootings at schools have as often been by white males in suburban or ex-urban  settings.   
Our family lived for nine years in an inner city area in Connecticut, our children attending a community school. The school was at that time “legally condemned” which meant they did not have to provide a safe playground or music, the arts, physical education, etc.  So we in the neighborhood worked together to provide these things for everyone’s children.   While schools and school safety has increased in some places since then, the gap between the rich and the poor has intensified.  Do you “move to a safe place where there are ‘good’ schools”?  We’ve learned that gun violence happens everywhere. And we need  good,  safe community schools for everyone’s children wherever they live.   President Obama has continued to say, “all children.” 

It will take all of us, President Obama said, mothers and fathers, sons and daughters, law enforcement officers, mental health workers, pastors, gun owners, all of us.  It will take courage. What images have we seen? Yes, we are told we see “guns flying off the shelves” at Walmart.   But I’ve also heard of buy-backs going on all across the country: a city in New Jersey; a small town in Illinois; local neighborhoods; even churches and stores.  Thousands of guns have willingly been turned in.  Will news cameras show us this? 
We have to believe that this nation that has 5% of the world’s population and ½ the guns can change if we want to be an example in the world. We have to believe that we can cure ourselves from the epidemic of gun violence that plagues this country. And we can start, as President Obama said, with what the majority of Americans want, banning the sale of military-style assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips.  He called on Congress to confirm the appointment of a director for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, something they have refused to do for 6 ears.

Or we could go the other direction, buying  bullet-proof backpacks for our children, arming teachers. Foolish!  The epidemic grows. Fear begets fear.

Guns beget guns.
And ads for semi-automatic weapons to the contrary, guns don’t make men more manly.  The power to shoot more and faster does not make one stronger or wiser.  Men also beget life. It’s not about shooting,  but nurturing life.   Can we shape communities of compassion and care, claiming together the blessed power of giving and preserving life, all life, everywhere? What will we see?

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Holy Days and Holidays: What Do You Believe?

Four days in a row mark diverse holidays and holy days: Dec. 6, St. Nicholas Day; Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day, 71 years since the attack and the U.S. entry into WW II; Dec. 8, the beginning of Chanukah at sunset; Dec. 9, the Second Sunday in Advent.  In this pluralistic society amid many traditions, people might ask themselves, “What do I believe?”  Behind the decorations, “In whom or in what do I trust above all things?”
Years ago, when our oldest son, Mark, was only 3 ½, a woman in a shopping mall abruptly approached and loudly said right in his face, “Have you been good?” Was she assuming he feared if he were bad he would receive coal rather than a gift from St. Nocholas for Christmas?  We were trying to teach Mark the unconditional love of a gracious God. What would he believe?

How do we remember Pearl Harbor Day?  Some remember that actual day.  Others have only heard about it. War intrudes in the midst of holidays. What do we believe about bombs? And war? And veterans? And a path toward global peace today?
Chanukah, “Festival of Lights,” celebrates the miracle that the oil for the Jewish Menorah, only enough for one day, lasted for eight.  In what do people believe today? In the gifts given? In the miracles? In the God of miracles?

Advent Sundays prepare for the coming of Christ. During Advent’s time of waiting, who is this Jesus in whom people believe?  When our youngest son, Kirk, was seven, his turn to select a daily Scripture to read for evening devotions fell on Christmas Eve. He picked the long chapters 18-19 from John’s Gospel on Christ’s suffering, sentencing and death. Had Kirk made a mistake? But we listened. Somehow he believed, even then, you can’t have the baby Jesus without Good Friday and Easter.
That’s not to say this should not be a season of joy, even fun! However, centering on one’s basic beliefs helps focus gift-buying. Even Santa is put in perspective.

Middle son, Joel, now a grown man, teaches public high school music. He, of course, doesn’t proclaim or teach religion, but he invites students in the midst of the music, to quietly consider their own beliefs.  “Where do you place your trust?   What do you believe about the world? About each other?  About the poor? About….?”
By avoiding distractions and resisting that stress, going deeper into one’s beliefs can guide our devotion and our actions.