Thursday, December 20, 2012

The Weapons of Our Warfare

Many of us continue to try to make sense of the senseless tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut. People of faith have offered helpful and not so helpful explanations and prescriptions after the tragedy.

I agree with my Christian brothers and sisters when they say that atrocities like Sandy Hook reflect issues of the heart and mind. I agree that laws do not address those issues well. No law or collection of legal actions can guarantee that Sandy Hook will never happen again. Nor will they address the core issues that lead a person to commit such atrocities.

But my friends and I diverge when they suggest that because this involves matters of heart and because we have no ironclad guarantees resulting from our action, then nothing can be done. Some of my friends, people I respect greatly, suggest or explicitly state that no law can be enacted, no regulation can be administered, no personal or communal soul searching is necessary, no action is relevant, and no remedy is available to make these atrocities less devastating, less costly, and less common.

Twenty-seven wooden angels commemorating the victims of the Sandy Hook school shooting.

Photo by EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images
I reject this belief of my dear brothers and sisters. Ours is not a faith that says that because evil is in the heart and violence is in the world, there is nothing we can do about it. Nor are we prohibited from addressing and minimizing the effects of sin. We were not called to this Christian life to sit back and watch sin run rampant. Sin will always be with us in this life, and according to our Scriptures, the human heart will continue to be wicked. But we do have resources to address both the wickedness and its effects. We are people who offer hope. And there is more to our calling than waiting till everyone follows Jesus or waiting until Jesus returns. On the contrary, we have a proud Christian history of addressing sin and its effects using all resources at our disposal, including the championing of legislation.

We Americans are, after all, a nation of laws, not of weapons. The right to bear arms itself is enshrined in legislation. But laws can be ineffective, overly restrictive, or just stupid. We have heard a sickening array of those proposals in the past week. But if all legislation falls into that category, then I suppose we should try anarchy until Jesus comes. We don’t do so because laws do serve a purpose.

Since I agree with my friends that laws don’t effectively address the heart and mind core issues, then why have laws? Because they address the common good. By advancing the common good, we limit the impact of deceitful hearts. We do our part in the Kingdom of God—not that we will see it fulfilled next week or next year or whenever some legislation goes into effect, but we “kick at the darkness ‘til it bleeds daylight” (Thanks, Bruce Cockburn).

I am horrified by Christian cries against any gun restriction for anybody under any circumstances. I understand the libertarian stance, and I recognize that a Constitutional law professor can establish legal justification. But I cannot reconcile those cries with my Christian calling.
I’m afraid that my friends’ rhetoric reflects more than a difference of opinion between them and me. I’m afraid (and I here’s the part I especially hate saying) it reflects a commitment to something else above the full Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m no perfect Christian, nor do I expect them to be, but I expect us to proclaim the truth of Jesus more loudly than we do the fallible documents of the state or our own pursuit of "rights." And I expect that Gospel to be effectual in all aspects of this life as well as the next. Like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I believe 
We need to recapture the gospel glow of the early Christians, who ... refused to shape their witness according to the mundane patterns of the world. Willingly they sacrificed fame, fortune, and life itself in behalf of a cause they knew to be right. Quantitatively small, they were qualitatively giants. Their powerful gospel put an end to such barbaric evils as infanticide and bloody gladiatorial contests....If the church of Jesus Christ is to regain once more its power,  message, and authentic ring, it must conform only to the demands of the gospel. (from "Transformed Nonconformist," in Strength to Love, 1963)
Gospel proclamation takes courage, it takes willingness, it takes guts, it takes desire, it takes a refusal to sit back in proud judgment and a willingness to enter into the fray with an open heart. The answer to wickedness is not resignation.  It is love. Tough love often, complicated love sometimes, even sacrificial love (as in “I might have to give up some secular rights”) but it takes love. Courage and love, both affairs of the heart, can address sins of the heart. And they can give us the will and the means to dare to entertain policies and actions that limit the potential effects of that sin...until Jesus returns.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The Way It's Supposed to Be: Reflections on Sandy Hook

I finally remembered the unicorn. It had been in our car since Sunday when our granddaughters, five-year-old Chelsea and 18-month-old Zoey, went to church with us. We took the girls home after Sunday lunch, but Chelsea left the little stuffed toy in our car.

That Friday morning, December 14, 2012, we drove to their house to take Chelsea and eight-year-old Damon to school as we do many schooldays. All week I had kept forgetting to return the unicorn. Until that day.

We arrived at their house and found Chelsea as we do every schoolday, dressed and sitting in her little girl chair in the middle of the living room, watching “Charlie and Lola” on TV. Damon was nowhere to be found. We knew he was in the house somewhere, and older people were around but asleep. I finally spotted two legs sticking out from under the Christmas tree like the Wicked Witch of the East under Dorothy's fallen house. After we pulled him out, we laughed a little and gathered up the children and their things.

Before we left the house, Chelsea grabbed a pink box that opens at the top and has two opening drawers in the front. She gave it to me and said “You take this home and put stuff in it.” When we got to the car, she elaborated to Meemaw, “ You put stuff in it, and Peepaw puts stuff in it. Then you can bring it back to me tomorrow or Sunday.” We took in our instructions obediently. I’m pretty sure she just wanted us to have something else of hers since we returned the unicorn.

 Whitsitt Elementary School is only about four blocks from the house, but as the weather is getting colder we prefer driving the kids to school. Once we pulled out of the driveway, Meemaw   started the prayer.  “God we thank you for this day. And we ask that you be with Damon and Chelsea at school today. We ask for their protection. And we pray that they will be obedient to their teachers and kind to their classmates. We pray that everyone will be kind to them. We pray that they will know that You are with them. In Jesus’ Name.  Amen.”  

As we approached the drive up to the school, Meemaw said, as usual, “Wave to Mommy.” Chelsea and Damon’s mom, Chrissy, is a crossing guard at their school. We always wave to her as we drive up to the school.

We parked and headed into the building and walked the short entry hallway. From there, the second through fourth graders turn right and the pre-K through first graders turn left to get to their respective classrooms. At this point we typically wait for Damon’s decision. He might want to go to breakfast, might want to walk alone to class, or might want to have company walking to his second- grade class. “Company” usually means Meemaw, since I am designated to walk with Chelsea, who always just wants to get to class as soon as possible and would be just as happy to walk all by herself.  

Chelsea and I both love the walk, but we are really in different worlds, I think. I am an observer, amazed and delighted to see how the children at Whitsitt respond to one another every day. The school exudes kindness, friendliness, and safety. And yes I have to mention the racial make-up of the student body. It’s perhaps 80% Latino with a handful of black students and white students. That make-up matters to me, mainly because it doesn’t seem to matter to the children. Brown, black, and white pre-K through fourth grade boys and girls walk hand in hand or arm and arm. They are not supposed to speak, because it’s Zone Zero in the halls, but they smile and wave and sneak in a “Hi Chelsea” whenever they can. Chelsea is obediently silent, but also smiles and waves. And she soaks it in.

On this day Damon decided to walk to class on his own, so Meemaw hugged him and said goodbye before joining me and Chelsea. As usual Chelsea’s mood grew more quietly excited as she walked down the hall. We finally got her to her class, where she stopped to hug Meemaw, and I kneeled down so that she could half-hug me. She doesn’t like this moment because she’s already in school mode, but she always accommodates us. By then she was beaming. Mrs. Williams greeted her at the door, and Chelsea entered her kindergarten classroom, her second home, safe and sound.

After the events at Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Connecticut, that day, we made a point of going to Damon and Chelsea's house after school. We just wanted to see their little faces. When we walked in, Chelsea wanted to know if I had brought back her pink box. I reminded her that I have until Sunday. She giggled, “That’s right. I’ll see you Sunday!”