Some links on Newtown

I’ve gathered here some of what I consider to be the most important and thoughtful things I’ve read this week. If you’re still struggling to make sense of it all (and who isn’t) I hope you will find one or more of them helpful.

My friend and colleague Andy Jones points to Episcopal Bishop of Washington Marianne Edgar Budde’s Christmas letter in which she calls for Christians to lead efforts for gun control. The NYTimes has an article about the efforts of religious leaders. Dean Gary Hall of the National Cathedral is taking leadership in this effort. He preached a powerful sermon on Sunday on Newtown.

The article mentions a call for a moment of prayer at 9:30 AM tomorrow and asks churches to ring their bells 28 times. If I can get to Grace tomorrow morning, I’ll do it.

Some other thoughtful reflections on Newtown:

  • From Ian Douglas, Bishop of Connecticut
  • From Stephen Prothero: “Six Things I Don’t Want to Hear after the Sandy Hook Massacre”
  • From Rachel Held Evans (on Advent, Christmas, and Sandy Hook): “God Can’t Be Kept Out”

Katherine Newman offers a fascinating sociological analysis of the roots of school shooting rampages:

There has been only one example of a rampage school shooting in an urban setting since 1970. All the others have taken place in rural towns miles from places like New York or Chicago, or in suburbs in the Western states.

What is it about these towns where no one locks their doors that generates these deadly outbursts? We argued the very thing most Americans celebrate about small-town life—close-knit neighbors, friendly families, adults engaged in the schools and churches—become sources of stultifying depression for marginal boys. We interviewed kids who were attending the same high school as their grandparents, in communities where very few left town for college, preferring to stay home and attend the local community college or state institution. For most people, this is a sign of social solidarity. For Michael Carneal, the shooter in a 1997 attack at Heath High School (outside Paducah), that solidarity felt like a life sentence of exclusion.

Theological reflection in the same vein from Marilyn McCord Adams:

Those of us who have experienced rage or fear, would probably do well not to be confident about what we would have done in Nazi Germany. Maybe we should not overestimate our own mental health or degree of spiritual integration. Still, I venture to say, most of us could not have done what Adam Lanza did on Friday: shot little children, school teachers and staff in cold blood.

For that very reason, we need to heed Jesus’ warning that “otherizing” is spiritually dangerous. Otherizing undermines sympathy, pronounces the perpetrator “beyond the pale,” definitely not one of us. We could not have shot children and school workers in cold blood, because we identify with them: they are us, their children could be our children, their town could be our town. But it is counting killers as not one of us, that tempts us to acquiesce in state-sponsored cruelty, torture, and executions. Who knows? Perceived alienation may have prompted Judas to betray Jesus, permitted Adam Lanza to “otherize” the children and adults he was shooting at the school. Our instinct to “otherize” should make us shudder with the realization that we are more like traitors and socio-paths than we would like to admit.

Jesus’ injunction to love enemies is a hedge against otherization. My point is not that parents and citizens of Newtown, Connecticut should forgive the killer, today, tomorrow, next month, or next year. That would be another “quick fix.” Grief and trauma have their seasons. I would not say any of these things to them. I am speaking to us, who the dubious luxury of standing back and assessing, to remind that otherizing is part of, sometimes lies close to the roots of our problem.

Kottke.org links to “Portraits of gun owners in their homes.”

The photos seem to prove Garry Wills’ point in his powerful essay “Our Moloch.” He begins with some lines from Paradise Lost:

First Moloch, horrid king, besmear’d with blood
Of human sacrifice, and parents’ tears,
Though for the noise of Drums and Timbrels loud
Their children’s cries unheard, that pass’d through fire
To his grim idol. (Paradise Lost 1.392-96)

And then comments:

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Its power to do good is matched by its incapacity to do anything wrong. It cannot kill. Thwarting the god is what kills. If it seems to kill, that is only because the god’s bottomless appetite for death has not been adequately fed. The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.

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