Words can not express how I sad, outraged, and fearful I feel in the wake of yesterdays' shooting. As a father of two children of the ages of those killed this really hit home, but I would like to think about how do we minister to our neighbors in times such as these. Lots of people will have lots of questions. Lots of us will be providing answers that may make ourselves feel good, but may or may not be helpful to others. I would like to just quickly go through some of the questions I have seen in media, social networking and conversations with friends.
Where was God?
The question that always comes from these events. How can a good God let this happen? Some will answer that God is not really there, others (even people of faith sometimes) will say that God was powerless and could not be there. Others will answer that God was in the midst of the suffering (my default response as a Christian) and still others will say God was in the actions of those who executed the countless acts of self sacrificing love to protect and comfort those involved. As our society has fragmented, how people answer these questions may depend as much on what group they are in as it does on personal reflection. Those in the secular media will err on the "God was not there" side, those of us in the Church will find stories of God's presence in many of the details as they come out over the next few days. The real point for those of us who want to be there for others is, what are the real ideas and emotions behind these responses? Those who speak of God not there, may have something deeper that they are trying to grasp. Those of us who affirm God's presence may be wanting to make sure that our friends and neighbors have hope to meet uncertainty of living in this mixed up world. So my prayer will be for the Spirit to lead me and all those who care the wisdom to listen through the conversation to the deeper realities.
Do we do politics?
This seems to be the most divisive question. The default answer that many people come up first is no. It is not the time. President Obama said as much in his response yesterday. Lots of posts on my Facebook news-feed said something similar. The emotions are too raw, people need time to grieve, it will upset those who are have been victimized by this shooting are some of the default answers. There is some truth in this but not the whole truth. I would encourage those of us who minister to listen to those on the other side. There will be a significant portion people who hear behind this response a lack of resolve to make the necessary changes to help avoid these types of events in the future. People who want to make sure that we don't change the wrong things, or change too much, will also fear that emotions will lead people to make choices that will have unintended consequences down the road. There will be people on all sides of the spectrum who will say now is precisely the time to use political processes to either make changes or guard cherished values. Please understand these people care just as much about those who suffer tragedy as those who need time to mourn or process do. It is just another way that people cope with the horror. So my prayer will be for the Spirit to lead me to listen to those who have a different response than I do, take it in, and think about it seriously.
How do we tell our children?
I am an advocate of limiting children's access to the media. We do not leave the cable news on in our home. Images have power, and have been shown in neurological studies to rewire the brain. So we need to be careful. I am also an advocate of telling the truth to our children in ways that they can handle. This means being upfront that people, and yes children died. I am not a big believer in using euphemisms to talk about death to children. I think that talking around death only confuses children and merely communicates our our anxieties. Young children can basically only think concretely, but are masters at reading emotions. This does not mean you need to tell them every detail, but you should find a way to communicate the essentials. It is also important to communicate your love and your willingness to be there for them. Kids need stability especially when they hear about tragedy. When they go to school on Monday the other children will be talking about this. So my prayer is for the Spirit to help me communicate to my children the tragedy in the most healthy way and to let them know how much I love them.
I know there may be other things on people's minds, but these were the three that stood out to me. I am sure there is much more to say and to listen to.
I wish you a blessed remainder of Advent.
P.S I had actually written another piece for this space called Requiem for Advent but decided to pull it when I heard the news because I used some metaphors that might not have been appropriate in light of yesterday's events. (it can wait till next year)