Sunday, December 16, 2012

#38: Newtown #2

Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. Isaiah 1:18

Why drag the Bible into this? Because even though I identify myself as  Liberal Christian, the Bible is still the foundation for my ideas about right and wrong. I'm not very "churchey" any more, but my relationship with my Creator is as strong as ever. All of this is intended to make the point that I believe we were designed to be rational creatures.

It seems that our culture is in a struggle to suppress that rational part of our architecture. In religion, we do what Paul cautions against: we gulp the milk, but choke on the meat of the gospel. We embrace the comfort Jesus has to offer, but barely dabble in the ministry he calls us to do among our neighbors. In education, we belittle critical and creative thinking in favor of submissive obedience and the mechanical recitation of facts. Public schools are mandated to be institutions where workers are prepared, not incubators for informed, engaged citizens. Much of our art is created to excite, rather than to elevate. The press tends to craft stories to stimulate sentimentality or anxiety rather than to inform the people about how their business is being conducted. And in politics... oh, politics.... It has been suggested that in our post-modern world, the highest value is not truth or love or justice or freedom, but power. Politics and government are becoming a zero-sum game where the goal is not to find what is best for the nation, but to defeat one's opposition. Compromise is interpreted as cowardice. Diversity is corruption. Disagreement is malice or stupidity.

And in all these things, reason - the sapiens part of our species - is not only short-changed, but seems to be mouldering. It's a loss we can not afford.

The ability to express without attacking; to hear without defending: these are fading arts around the world. The corruption of Islam. The tyrannies of Africa. The criminal terrorism of Latin America. The slave states of Asia. The xenophobia of Europe. It is as if we are experiencing the retro evolution of our species. If reason was the tool that allowed humankind to succeed, then its disappearance will surely bring about our failure.

As we struggle to digest the horrors of Newtown, we are bound to disagree about causes and solutions. Our world teaches us that the reason for our disagreement is the ignorance or ill-intent of those who don't think like we do. Isn't it more likely that we disagree because neither of us is exactly right? That the truth lies somewhere out there, in a place that we can only find by reasoning together instead of battling? 

It will demand courage. It will demand forgiveness and humility. Most of all, it will demand love and respect for one another. We're going to have to swim against the tide and admit that winning really isn't the only thing. It's going to be hard. But I believe it is our only hope for survival as a species and as creatures made in the image of the God who calls us to live out our full nature.

Come, let us reason together.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

#37: Newtown #1

"Pennsyltuckian" was my first blog. It was intended to be a place where I could dig deeply into matters of spirit and my long, often puzzling relationship with my Creator. Because I've devoted so much of my energy to matters of wellness, fitness, and just plain staying alive for the past few years, I haven't written here for a very long time This morning, I felt moved to open these dusty pages again.

How to begin? My friend Melissa spent many years as a public defender, protecting people from being steamrolled by a system they didn't have the resources to fight on their own. Some of them were probably innocent, wrong-place-wrong-time people who fell into the justice machine by mistake or malice. Others were almost certainly very bad people, guilty of much more than Melissa or her colleagues could even imagine as they stood between their clients and the state. As I stared into my computer screen yesterday, head shaking, eyes blank and misty, she said, "People always want to understand 'Why? Why did this happen? Why did they do it?’... But when something is this horrible, there is no ‘Why.’”

Grief is not an intellectual exercise. Not at first. At first, grief is pain. When someone cracks you in the ribs with a baseball bat, your first response isn’t to analyze the geometry of their swing. Your response is authentic and unrehearsed and from the gut. There is a kind of cowardice in dragging out tired old position papers about gun control and the 2nd amendment just because you can’t or won’t allow yourself to feel what humans feel when they care about each other. And if you don’t care enough about these kids and parents and teachers and shooters and cops and neighbors to endure that pain for a few hours, then I don’t have any time for your ideas about public policy.

A paradox of humankind is that we are not only feeling creatures, we are also thinking ones. A decent respect for life requires us to grieve and acknowledge our loss, but then to consider how we are going to respond to that loss. I believe it is a sin to refuse to feel. I also recognize the spiritual danger of indulging feelings like hurt or loss or anger for their own sake. You have to demand more of yourself. You have to think. Then you have to act.

Think? It’s not as easy as it sounds. We’re used to letting others do a lot of our thinking for us. First parents and preachers and teachers; then friends and mentors and experts and, Lord help us, pundits: all eager to explain it all in bumper-sticker-sized chunks that allow us to pretend to organize the universe. We wave our Claxton flags and our ACLU cards and our Bibles and our Constitutions in the air like matador’s capes and never take the trouble to actually think about problems that we know in our hearts are far too complicated for the simple solutions that our culture wants us to accept. And this too is a kind of cowardice: refusing to wrestle with a question because we’re afraid there is no solution.

So this is an invitation to begin something new. Let us grieve together. Let us feel the pain of our neighbors who have lost so much, so fast. Let us honor them all as our sisters and brothers in the human family. And then, after a decent interval, let’s begin to think… not as the experts tell us to think, but as our own good sense and experience teach us about what action to take when there is no “Why.”