We watched the developing story, refusing to believe and unable to turn away. A gunman had invaded a Connecticut elementary school and killed twenty six-and-seven-year-old first-graders and six adults. Earlier that morning the alleged shooter, twenty-year-old Adam Lanza, had killed his mother, with whom he had lived. Finally he shot himself.We saw the President speak, wiping away tears, struggling to remain composed. “Our hearts are broken,” he said. We saw interviews with experts, first responders, clergy, teachers, assorted officials–and parents. Those parents resolved to hug their children a little tighter when they tucked them in bed–even the big ones who tuck themselves in.
Our hearts are broken at the thought of 28 people dying senselessly. Our hearts are broken for those families in their overwhelming grief. Our hearts are broken for that school that lost 5% of its student body in mere minutes. Our hearts are broken for parents everywhere who will not feel completely safe sending their children off to schoool on Monday (or ever?), and for children who now have one less “safe place” to go.
Our hearts are broken. So is the heart of God. What do you say to those families who had lost someone at Sandy Hook Elementary? ”There are no words,” most television coverage concluded. Our simple presence speaks volumes. Quietly sitting with someone, helping out in simple ways, listening when someone wants to talk–or cry. If I were in that situation, I’d want them to know–with presence first, with words when the time was right–that God shares their hurt more deeply than they know. God shares the hurt of each of us and all of us who grieve this tragedy. If Christmas means anything, it means that in Christ God has entered our life more fully than we can comprehend in order to share the fullness of human life.
President Obama didn’t stop at “Our hearts are broken”. He said the time has come for “meaningful action” to stop this cycle of violence. Our first “meaningful action”, of course, is to comfort those who grieve. The Newtown community needs time and space for memorial services and other ways to grieve its loss. We don’t need a lot of political jousting while that happens.
Another meaningful action I urge you to take is to counter a hurtful message being spread by some alleged Christians. Conservative broadcaster Bryan Fischer and former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee have both linked the shooting to the removal of prayer from public schools. Fischer says, “We’ve kicked God out of our public school system. And I think God would say to us, ‘Hey, I’ll be glad to protect your children, but you’ve got to invite me back into your world first. I’m not going to go where I’m not wanted. I am a gentlemen [sic].” Huckabee claims that we have “systematically removed God” from public schools and shouldn’t be surprised at the results.
THEY’RE SO WRONG I’M ABOUT TO RANT AGAIN! The God we know in Jesus isn’t sitting on the sidelines pouting because Fischer’s hyper-narrow view isn’t the only game in town. The God we know in Jesus didn’t orchestrate this and other mass killings as a wakeup call for a nation that’s moved beyond Governor Huckabee’s “good old days”. Huckabee’s God is as unspeakably cruel as the mass shooters. Fischer’s God is a big passive-agressive baby. Neither reflect the God we know in Jesus. Please use every opportunity to offer a different perspective if this comes up in a conversation you’re part of. Butt in if the conversation’s going on and you’re not part of it. This poison cannot go unchallenged. I’m positive God’s heart breaks when those who claim to know and love him take his name in vain this way and distort his purposes so blatantly.
I believe the climate of violence in our culture breaks God’s heart over and over. Gun regulation is one piece of the puzzle. Can we now finally have an honest, civil, beyond-politics conversation? Can we admit that the Second Amendment’s vision of keeping muskets in citizens’ hands in order to provide for “a well-regulated militia” no longer applies–and move on? Can we involve some gun-owning and non-gun-owning parents and grandparents of first-graders? How about some NRA members in that category?
The climate of violence in our culture goes far beyond the gun store, of course. It includes video games, movies and television, boxing and its wrestling/martial-arts hybrid cousins, and the toys we buy our children for Christmas. It includes every situation in which force is the preferred method of problem-solving, from families to foreign policy. Legislation has limited effectiveness here. Schools, religious groups, and every organization that works with families can be extremely effective if they have the will, the courage, and the love to address this complex issue.
Let us also address mental health issues. Adam Lanza apparently had mental health issues, as have many other mass shooters. Is it possible to be mentally healthy and do such a thing?? Progress will require creative public-private partnerships. How about starting by giving mental health services and research enough money to do something meaningful? The field’s been cut repeatedly in most jurisdictions. If we can send people to the moon, we can surely figure out ways to prevent mass shootings by identifying and preventively treating those who show warning signs of this behavior.
Our hearts are broken by the tragic events at Sandy Hook Elementary School. So is the heart of God. It’s enough for now to comfort one another and to prepare our hearts to welcome ”Emmanuel”–God-with-us who comes to us even where we think we’re beyond God’s reach. Let us invite God’s powerful Spirit to empower us for action to heal the brokenness in Sandy Hook and in our nation. Let that powerful Spirit inspire and empower ”meaningful action” in our families, our communities, our churches, our schools, and in government.
Are our hearts broken enough to take meaningful action? Time will tell.