From The Pastor At St. Paul's UCC, Freeburg, IL

School Shooting – Do I Have To Say Something?

I don’t know about you, but I am sick with the school shooting in Newtown; and I’m sick with the “news” coverage; sick with the quick analysis, sick with the rush to be first, the political posturing, with politicians and media cashing in on tragedy, the “key facts” and “what we know” articles when we have little clue what the “key facts” really are, and “what we know” is little more than “what we think we might know”. There is a strong voice in me that thinks the most appropriate response to this tragedy is humbled silence – to shut the hell up in the face of this, and incidentally to encourage others, especially our politicians and media folks, to shut the hell up too. It’s the beginning of repentance, which Jesus recommended in the face of tragedy (Luke 13:1-5). But what did he know? He wasn’t trying to stay in office, or be first with the news…

At the same time, I’m a pastor and I can’t be in this just for myself. Some of my sheep may be as sick as I am with this, but there are other sheep (many of them teachers and school administrators as well as parents and kids) who are hurting. I can’t abandon them. So I’ve been struggling the last few days with what to say to my sheep – especially what to say on Christmas Eve. It’s a poignant and emotional time anyway, but this year it’s almost unbearable. How do I give comfort without falling into the same cheap quick analysis that irks me from others?

Please pray for me, that I would bring some truly good news next Tuesday evening. If hearts are open, I very much want to preach the gospel.

In the meantime I’m sharing below what I wrote for our church newsletter. As you’ll see it reflects my scattered thinking, but I think it reflects where my heart is being pointed. I hope you might draw some courage and humlity from it too.

From The Pastor

As I write this, the airwaves are still full of news and chatter about the school shooting in Newtown, Conn. Perhaps by the time you read this, some of that will have died down. Or maybe not – the media has quite a taste for the tragic. Right now I’m still sorting through my own responses – anger, deep sadness and sorrow, denial and avoiding are all roiling around my heart vying for ascendancy. It’s very confusing, and I need to have something sorted out before I preach on Christmas Eve!

What can I say to you to give some comfort and help? These are the thoughts that keep recurring to me, and I offer them here in the hope that they may help anchor you in troubled and horrifying times:

  • The news media is a dangerous thing to listen to. In the rush to be first much gossip and misinformation is being disseminated. Listening to it will only increase the confusion and sense of chaos. Jordan Kern said at a recent SYF meeting that she tunes the “news” out for a while until things have settled down and the gossip and innuendo are sorted out from the facts. I think there is great wisdom in that;
  • Evil, the Darkness, is real. It’s not simply the absence of good, or the absence of education or regulation or legislation. There’s a malevolence and insanity to it. It’s not a metaphor, it’s real and causes real pain and horror and death. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12 “we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places. “;
  • We are fundamentally helpless in the face of this malevolence. Perhaps we have been taken in by the illusion that we can master anything if we only apply enough money, technology, education or diplomacy. If so, perhaps this incident will wake us up to our deep vulnerability that will not be conquered by any human effort;
  • Instead of calling prematurely for ways to “fix” the problem and be in control, we need to be compassionate for those who suffer every day in broken homes and broken lives. If we all are as vulnerable as I think we are, we need to be caring and compassionate for others every day, not just when terror reveals our vulnerability;
  • Jesus was asked about this sort of thing (Luke 13:1-5). His response may not seem very sympathetic but note that He’s not talking to the victims of tragedy but to those who ask Him about it. Perhaps they’re media types who just want to get his comments. Maybe they’re scholars who want to figure it all out. In any case, here’s what Jesus said: “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? 3 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. 4 Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? 5 No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.

He casts no blame on Pilate or the tower builders. Nor does he explain why the tragedies happen. He points to His hearers’ need to repent. If I had been in that group, I would have noted that He didn’t invite the media to repent, or the makers of violent movies and video games, or the political parties or government or schools to repent. He invited me to repent. So in the face of tragedies that I cannot master or explain, of what do I need to repent? Of my acting as though tragedy will never happen to me? Of my need to be in control? Of my need to find someone (else) to blame? Of my illusions of invulnerability? Of my living as though I don’t need God desperately every moment? Of thinking that the way I live has no effect on others? Of thinking I’m less sinful than others? Of living for myself?

Of what do you need to repent, and run to Christ for mercy? He welcomes such people you know. It really delights Him (Luke 15:7).

Now in the face of all this darkness and gloom, there is one more crucial thing to remember: “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John1:5). We may be confused or upset, but God is not. The cross shows us that He works in the very darkest of events for our good and His glory. Perhaps even now He is working in you to make you more tender, more compassionate, more humble, more open, more honest, more resolute in the faith.

I can’t explain everything. But I can repent of my selfishness and trust that in doing that, His light will shine through me.

How about you?

Finally, one more note – in looking for some history on school shootings, I found that there have been several tragedies of equal or larger scale of which I was not even aware (see here for a list – of these 10, I was aware of only 3). One more thing of which to repent.


2 responses

  1. Linda Adams

    The list didn’t included the shooting at Heath High School in West Paducah, KY. Don’t remember the date, probably around 1998, but I was at work at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant and remember the panic of employees with children at the school (about 5 miles from the plant) rushing to find out about their kids (one was killed and one wounded). 5 teenagers were killed while standing in a prayer circle in the lobby before school started. The shooter was a 15-year old who is still serving a life sentence. I also remember the aftermath: first was “instant” forgiveness; when the shock had receded, there were law suits. So much for instant forgiveness of the deceaseds’ parents and friends. Forgiveness is hard work and takes much time, years even, but with God’s help it can come. I remember at the time, of course feeling sorrow for the parents who lost their children, but also for the boy and his parents, who had also lost their son, not to death, but to a life in prison. His family was well-known and liked in the community, the father a lawyer. They had no clue their son was so disturbed. They still had to live and work in a community where their son was responsible for the death of the children of their neighbors and compatriots. The son struggles everyday with the memory of what he did.

    So sad for everyone.

    I received this poem today — very meaningful might be helpful.

    The Light In the Darkness

    Twas eleven days before Christmas around 9:38,
    When twenty beautiful children stormed through the gate.
    Their smiles were contagious; their laughter filled the air.
    They could hardly believe all the beauty they saw there.
    They were filled with such joy, they didn’t know what to say.
    They remembered nothing of what had happened earlier that day.
    “Where are we?” asked a little girl, as quiet as a mouse.
    “This is heaven,” declared a small boy, “we’re spending Christmas at God’s house!”
    When what to their wondering eyes did appear,
    But Jesus, their Savior, and He gathered the children near.
    He looked at them and smiled; and, they smiled just the same;
    Then He opened His arms and He called them by name.
    And in that moment was joy only heaven can bring
    As those children all flew into the arms of their King.
    And as they lingered in the warmth of His embrace
    One small girl turned and looked into His face.
    And as He could read all the questions she had,
    He gently whispered to her, “I’ll take care of Mom and Dad.”
    Then He looked down on Earth, the world far below;
    He saw all of the hurt, the sorrow and woe.
    Then He closed His eyes and He outstretched His hand,
    “Let My power and presence re-enter this land!
    May this country be delivered from the hands of fools.
    I’m taking back My nation; I’m taking back My school!”
    Then He and the children stood up without a sound;
    “Come now My children, let Me show you around.”
    Excitement filled the place; some skipped and some ran,
    All displaying enthusiasm that only a child can.
    And I heard Him proclaim as He walked out of sight,
    “In the midst of this darkness, I AM STILL THE LIGHT!”

    December 20, 2012 at 10:49 am

    • Thank you so much for your thoughts, Linda. I especially appreciated your thoughts about the perpetrator and his family, and what pain they have to deal with long after the general public has “moved on”. A Blessed Christmas to you, Linda!

      December 20, 2012 at 1:06 pm

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