Three Words of Caution in the Wake of Another Mass Killing

People collect items used to hang a message written on fabric at a home a day after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elemen
People collect items used to hang a message written on fabric at a home a day after a gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Saturday, Dec. 15, 2012, in the Sandy Hook village of Newtown, Conn. The massacre of 26 children and adults at Sandy Hook Elementary school elicited horror and soul-searching around the world even as it raised more basic questions about why the gunman, 20-year-old Adam Lanza, would have been driven to such a crime and how he chose his victims. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

Life has an improvisational quality that one can only describe as absurd. There is no logic. No viable explanations. No rhyme or reason. One day a family is decorating the house in preparation for the holiday season. And the next day the unspeakable happens. It makes no sense. And any attempt to provide a reason for the tragedy of Friday would only lead to glib theodicies, insensitive sermonizing, and puerile platitudes. I would go as far as to say that all words at a time like this come across as cliché when we try to make sense of the nonsensical. The human language is neither complicated nor creative enough to capture the depths of this sort of pain.

Nevertheless, this tragedy still demands a response from those of us who have the privilege of serving in pastoral capacities. Therefore, prior to participating in a prayer ritual of remembrance, there are just a few words of caution I would like to offer in the spirit of compassion and community concern.

First, I would ask that we be careful and intentional about countering the prevailing and pervasive sentiment in our society that lays the blame for events such as this at the feet of the mentally ill. Sensational headlines and he 24/7 infotainment cycle often fall into the traps of focusing on the shooter in general, and then armchair behavioral health in particular. And the end result becomes that too many people remain trapped in closets of confusion and behind the screens of shame because it seems that the only time our society discusses mental illness is when tragedies such as Friday's occur. We should not hitch mass murder to an illness that tens of millions of positive and productive American citizens suffer from yet overcome everyday.

Second, we must cease believing that gun violence in this nation is a problem for someone and somewhere else. How many quiet, quaint, economically privileged communities must be terrorized by assault rifles, obtained legally or illegally? As long as one of the most powerful lobbies in this nation continues to view automatic weapons as some sort of divine right, and we live, in the words of my Harvard colleague Jill Lepore, "One Nation under a Gun," we are all susceptible to such random acts of terror. We must demand more from our nation. Our energy, grief and anger should not be reduced to the "Who" that commits these mass murders. But rather we have to work toward changing the cultural conditions that valorize violence. This is true whether it involves combatting the NRA, promoting stricter gun laws, and/or patrolling the games our children play on their video game consoles. Pulling a trigger is a crass and debase form of entertainment for anyone, let alone a child.

Finally, I would like to caution us from allowing fear to turn elementary schools into police zones. There is a temptation to fight fire with fire; guns with guns; death with death. I understand the initial reaction. I am the father of small children myself, and their safety is of utmost concern. But will armed guards at the door of kindergarten classrooms really make our children feel safe?

Despite the spectacle of terror that Americans have witnessed all too often in recent years, I still believe the best defense against violence is a better offense of love. We never know what the person sitting next to us is capable of. We never know what is going on in the mind and heart of some young person who we walk by everyday. This is why we should be quick to embrace, greet everyone with a smile, be liberal with warm words of encouragement, and get motivated to participate in random acts of kindness. For I remain confident that love remains the most potent and effective weapon against destructive and deadly behaviors. Don't wait until your neighbor's child or your student reaches the point of isolation and indifference toward human life to care about their well-being. Attack them with your love now.

And in conclusion I offer this prayer: Lord, have mercy...

From remarks delivered Sunday, December 16, 2012

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