I try to refrain from being overtly political on my blog, but politics and theology (and ministry especially) are intimately linked, and the attempted murder of a Congresswoman, by definition, is a political issue. These are my rough thoughts following the massacre in Arizona, which took the lives of six people, and wounded 12 more, including Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. Most of this is cobbled together and fleshed out from my posts to facebook and twitter, and some other things I’ve seen around the web. I encourage you to read a couple other beautifully written thoughts: a prayer written by my colleague Carl Shepherd, and a reflection from Atlantic.com commenter. Both of these appear as facebook notes on friends’ pages, and so might not be accessible to all right now. Oh, and as always, what Keith said.
I wrote this weekend that I worship a guy who was assassinated, not by a fringe character, but by an entire system of fear, power, and dehumanization. That same faith teaches me to revere all life, to recognize and celebrate the power of connection– to self, to others, and to the Divine– and that we all have responsibility to one another as part of the human family, children of one Parent. In the wake of great tragedy, we can do little more than pray, whatever that looks like in our personal contexts. In my case, it meant mostly sitting gape-mouthed and brokenhearted, barely able to get much further than the thought “how long, O Lord?” and hugging my delightful, brilliant, promise-filled daughter (who is nearly 6, not 9, but that’s irrelevant) hard enough to take her breath away.
There are not words or ways to make sense of this. Even with a perpetrator in custody, even if a motive came forward, even if we could point fingers at our leaders and commentators and political characters. Nothing can bring back a 9 year old girl, a devoted public servant, a man on the brink of new beginnings, a husband whose body fell upon that of his wife, friends, loved ones, children, parents, our sisters and brothers. Nothing in this life.
I’d like to blame Sarah Palin and her “reload” message and her map with crosshairs on Arizona’s 8th district. I’d like to blame Jesse Kelley (Giffords’ Tea-Party-backed opponent), who held a campaign event where he invited people to shoot an M16 with him and “get on target to remove Giffords.” I’d like to blame the whole Tea Party, and Sharon Angle, and Glen Beck, and Bill O’Reilly and Fox News and anyone else who repeatedly used the metaphor of guns and violence to stir up excitement about their political ideals. I’d like to blame them because it would feel better to have a logical explanation. I’d like to blame them, if I’m honest, because I plain old don’t like them. I’d like to blame them, most of all, because I don’t believe that their voices or any violent voices should have a place in American political discourse. I’d like to see the Arizona massacre signal the end of violent language in our politics, media, and leadership. Then, like Pandora’s box releasing, finally, hope, something worthy would come of this senseless tragedy.
We can’t blame these people, these voices, entirely. I don’t believe Ms. Palin intended to call for violence or murder; I think she really is that ignorant of the consequences of words and actions. Her extreme poor judgment makes me ever more grateful she’s not a (pretty old) heartbeat away from the Presidency. She and others did not make this happen, but their insistence that it has nothing to do with their rhetoric (while simultaneously scrambling to remove all violent references from their respective websites) shows even more ignorance or bold-faced denial of their contributions to a negative discourse.
While I can’t blame them entirely, neither will I absolve them, because no one lives and functions in a vacuum– not even a disturbed, nihilistic young man with nonsensical conspiracy theories about currency and grammar. No one is immune to the poison that seeps into the lifeblood of our culture when we allow let alone promote the language of violence, dehumanization, and warfare as part of our political discourse. We have all contributed to this culture of violence; we all say and do things that perpetuate the dehumanization of our foes, our leaders, our political adversaries. Dismissing the shooter as a mentally ill “fringe character” simultaneously minimizes and trivializes our very real culpability in this tragedy and stigmatizes people living with mental illness, perpetuating our demonizing and demeaning trajectory.
How long, O Lord? How long will we live in violence? How long will we harden our hearts to your message of love, to the call to live in harmony with others, even and especially those with whom we disagree? How long will we continue the unbroken cycle of word and deed, calling again for the death of the shooter, for violence (and yes, it incites in me violent rage) against hate groups already planning to picket the funerals of the victims?
May we embrace instead true nonviolence, as described by another man, also assassinated by a lone gunman, in a culture and atmosphere of power, fear, and dehumanization:
Nonviolence means avoiding not only external physical violence but also internal violence of spirit. You not only refuse to shoot a man, but you refuse to hate him.
~Martin Luther King, Jr.
Heaven help us, because we most certainly can’t help ourselves.