Saturday, December 22, 2012

Christmas I: It's The Memories

Dim memories.  I had to be 4.  Our last Christmas in the house in Sayre.  I'm sitting next to my brother, jealous of the gift he just received, but eyeing my own substantial stack of loot and remembering there is good stuff in there.


It's early morning, our very first Christmas in our new house in Waverly.  We are frog-marched down the stairs, my father in front, my mother in back.  When Dad opens the door, he immediately strikes a post in the doorway between the dining room and living room.  We are not to peek until we've all had breakfast.  It's a tradition we carry on for two decades and more that at least one child is in the house at Christmas.

I'm in sixth grade, I think.  Christmas is still two weeks away, an eternity to a kid.  I come home from school cold, wet - there's snow, so of course there are snowball fights - and Mom takes me to the front living room and says, "It's time to put up the Nativity Set."

"Why?" I ask.

"Because that's your job," she tells me, then walks out of the room.  It sits where it has always sat, a forgotten corner of a dark room, the least used in the house.  I always think that's just perfect.


It's two days before Christmas that same year.  My youngest sister insists we gather in the living room where the largest tree we will have for several years stands in the bay window, the branches and large-bulbed lights filling the room with the smells and color of Christmas.  She wants us to read, together, some Dennis The Menace Christmas comic books.  Until I'm married and on my own, I never let a Christmas pass without reading at least one of these, thinking of the gift my sister just gave me.

It's a couple days before Christmas.  I think it's 1984.  It's snowing.  I'm in a car with my youngest sister, her then boyfriend, and I could swear there's someone else along with us.  We're in the parking lot at the old J. J. Newberry's in Sayre.  A Christmas song comes on the car radio, and my sister's boyfriend starts to change the channel.  My sister reaches out and flips the knob back.  "It's Christmas time!  You have to have music!"


It's 1993.  My first Christmas as a married person.  I've enjoyed shopping at the Montgomery County Mall, finding all sorts of neat gifts and things for Lisa.  After a crazy Christmas Eve, that included an extremely rude woman in front of us at Christmas Eve service, I wake up about 5:30 because my wife's side of the bed is hot.  That's right.  Our first Christmas together, she has a little 24 hour bug that includes a nice fever.  It's just the two of us in our little apartment, the single string of lights on our Charlie Brown Christmas tree providing enough light for us to open our gifts to one another.  We take a break so she can nap.  We had a nice Christmas dinner planned, but we manage to fake our way through the day.  We have one another.  That's more than enough.


The living room in the parsonage in Jarratt is filled to overflowing.  One man, one woman, a very large Great Dane, two cats, an enormous Christmas tree, and presents presents presents presents for a five month old little girl's very first Christmas.  Even as we tell one another we're not going to overdo it because she's still so small, she won't remember any of it, she doesn't need that much stuff, we over-indulge, smiling and laughing for her until she figures it out and smiles and laughs as each present is opened.  A few bows get stuffed in her tiny mouth, but get taken out before they're damaged.

Another living room.  It's a bit smaller, so it seems even more crowded.  The same adults, the same animals. The same people, with yet another addition, doing all the things her big sister did: smiling and laughing; grabbing paper and tearing it; a bit of paper or bow getting shoved in her mouth.  We're joined by more family and soon the room is filled to overflowing.

What does any of this have to do with the incarnation of God?  One could say not a thing.  On the other hand, it is precisely to these mundane realities that God came, emptying the Diving Life to be a servant for us all.  God has been in each of these moments, and so many more untold or forgotten, filled with laughter and joyous surprise, lots of food and the occasional argument (what a Safford family Christmas would have been without someone yelling at someone else I don't quite know).  These Christmases live on because they remind me that even in the cold and dark of winter there is fun and family and food and, best of all, something new.

Let's Pretend: The NRA News Conference Edition

Rather than stare slack-jawed at the insanity on display yesterday, we're going to act as if Wayne LaPierre is not a demonstrably crazy, conspiracy-mongering whackadoodle.  Rather, we are going to pretend, just for a moment, that a couple of the things he says have some kind of merit, to be considered thoughtfully by all Americans.

First, there's his claim that the only thing that can stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.  How does he explain one of our worst recent mass-shootings at Ft. Hood in Texas?  That was an Army base where there were, I presume, more than a few "good guys" who not only had guns but training in how to use them, in particular using them in situations where someone is shooting back?

The crickets stopped chirping.

There was an armed police officer stationed at Columbine High School.

The crickets have left the building.

The other of LaPierre's statements that I want us to give all due consideration is his call for armed guards, whether police or volunteers, in all schools.  Setting to one side that history has already demonstrated the irrelevance of armed guards in preventing a mass shooting at a school, maybe we should think a little differently.  For example, all sorts of folks were sharing the story of the Marine Sgt. who stood watch outside his son's school yesterday in Merced, CA.  Turns out, however, there was less there than meets the eye.  No offense to the school officials, but I am far more worried about the fact they didn't vet this guy well enough before giving him the nod.  Sure, it turned out OK in this instance.  What about next time some school decides to say, "Sure," to some guy who comes along claiming to be a veteran with a child in school wanting to stand watch?  What if that guy not only isn't a veteran, but is a pedophile?  Or worse?  I don't blame the young Marine who only wanted "to do something".  I blame the school district for not doing basic due diligence, acting to protect the children in their care.

Furthermore, we have "armed guards" over our schools.  They're called police officers.  Now, I'm not a huge fan of police forces for any number of reasons; that doesn't mean I dislike or lack respect for police officers, most of whom are hard working men and women in a dangerous, depressing job.  There hasn't been a single peep about the fact that preventing crime, subduing criminals, and dealing with extreme situations is the job for our municipal, county, state, and federal law enforcement agencies.  Whether we put police on station in schools, or merely have them patrol nearby at frequent intervals, or make sure school Administrators have a direct line to police departments to ensure someone arrives in a timely manner in case of a crisis, it seems to me most school districts already do this.  Anyone with a child in high school will tell you this.  The only ones I hear ignoring or dismissing or demonstrating lack of respect for the role of municipal police officers is Wayne LaPierre.

Furthermore, the call to place armed guards demonstrates the basic lawlessness of the NRA's entire position.  Rather than trust local law enforcement to do their jobs, LaPierre wants ordinary citizens to volunteer to take the law in to their own hands, placing themselves and others at risk because, at heart, LaPierre and the NRA have repeatedly stated their distrust of and dislike for police.  Rather than work to create a safer, healthier society, one in which various officials work together to mitigate violence and the potential disasters that come when people invariably slip through the cracks, LaPierre is insisting we weaken the bonds that unite our local communities, trusting not our elected officials and those who work to protect us but "volunteers" who may or may not have the understanding, training, and expertise to act correctly in a situation of extreme stress.

More to the point, LaPierre's statement ignores the fact the problem isn't school shootings, or just school schootings.  It's shootings.  Period.  How many people have died in gun violence in the past eight days?  How many children have died from gun violence in the past eight days?  It's been invisible for any number of reasons, not the least of them being we as a society no longer consider gun violence as a category of social problem with which we all must deal.  Rather, it is only the occasional extreme example, such as last week's mass shooting, that is the problem.  Gun violence has become, sad to say, the new normal, the price we pay for living in a free society.

Finally, a word or two or three about Wayne LaPierre and the National Rifle Association.  For four years, he and his organization have raised a whole lot of money by creating a paranoid conspiracy theory about Pres. Obama.  Even though Pres. Obama has actually worked to expand gun rights in the United States, the NRA has consistently claimed that, at any moment, the President and his Administration is going to swoop down upon every home in the country and take away our guns.  Like most everything else the right has said about this President and Administration, the exact opposite is the case, but that hasn't stopped the message being repeated and heard.  Gun sales have been through the roof the past four years.  Gun manufacturers - the NRAs real constituency, not the two million Americans who joined because they took a gun safety class or enjoy hunting - have seen their net sales grow each year.  I do not believe for one moment that LaPierre believes any of the drivel he sends out to members about Obama's secret plans to take away our guns.  It is worrying, however, there are far too many Americans who hear it, believe it, and act upon it, buying up more and more guns, creating more and more opportunities for accidental shootings, suicides, and the occasional huge, whomping horror as occurred last Friday in Connecticut.

Part of having a discussion about gun control - not "gun safety"; gun control, folks; we have to stop this idea that if we just rebrand an idea it will suddenly be more appealing - is dealing with the world in which we actually live.  Wayne LaPierre and the NRA have created for far too many gullible Americans an alternate reality, one in which they live in fear, one in which police departments and law enforcement officials are "jack-booted thugs" rather than part of the way we ensure our communities are safe.  Rather than work to promote responsible gun ownership, the NRA has spent the past four years promoting paranoid fantasies, ensuring more and more profit for its primary constituency - the corporations who manufacture and sell firearms.  That is reality.

Wayne LaPierre's news conference was just another exercise in his years-long promotion of fear.

Friday, December 21, 2012

You Might Be Doing It Wrong

As we begin a long-overdue examination of where gun culture in America has gone, we can't avoid the way guns have become so entwined with masculine anxiety, as so many men seek to find their identity in instruments of destruction.-Paul Waldman
Cultural critics, feminists, and just run-of-the-mill folks who point out, repeatedly, that gender identity tends to be conflicted social space get a lot of flack from folks who refuse to see what's out there in front of everyone's face.  With the national heartbreak from Newtown, CT still fresh, it's been interesting to discover how Bushmaster, the manufacturer of the weapon used to kill 27 people last week, marketed gun ownership.  From the Paul Waldman piece linked above:
[I]f you're anxious about your masculinity, if you aren't quite sure whether those around you find you sufficiently strong and potent, the Bushmaster corporation has an answer for you. If you buy one of their semi-automatic rifles -- like the kind Adam Lanza used to murder 20 children and six adults last week -- you may "Consider your Man Card reissued."
That's the message of ads the company has been running, along with a particularly ridiculous social media campaign. Until today --the page has apparently been taken down, but parts of it are visible here -- you could learn on the "Man Card" section of Bushmaster's website that "In a world of rapidly depleting testosterone, the Bushmaster Man Card declares and confirms that you are a man's man." Then you could fill out a little form to bust on your buddies for not being manly enough, to "Revoke a Man Card." Just enter a brief description of the offense and put it into one of five categories: "Cry baby," "Cupcake," "Short leash," "Coward," or "Just unmanly."
Folks, like me, who consider quite a bit of our national desire for guns to be a sign of social and cultural illness really don't need to go very far to discover all sorts of ways this illness displays itself.  While egregious, this marketing campaign is hardly atypical.  Whether it's cologne or trucks or tools; whether it's "chick flicks" versus "action flicks" at the cineplex; it might even be what kind of beer you drink; all these products become stand-ins for how gender roles are clarified.  Last night, I was watching an episode of NCIS from season 3, in which two characters discover a third uses hand and body lotion, then proceed to question both his masculinity and sexual orientation.  I have to admit, while I'm a fan of the show, I was horrified by what I was watching.  Honest to God.  Are there really people in the world who are so unsure of their own sexual and gender identity that it's important to belittle others because of the products they use?

It isn't just lefties like me who tend toward gender-specific social criticism.  National Review Online featured an article by Charlotte Allen (no links to this heap of bilge) in which she wrote that the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School happened because there weren't enough men on campus.  As Charlie Pierce wrote in his scathing dismissal:
American conservatism has been rendered a parody of a burlesque of a puppet show. And Charlotte Allen should be shunned by decent people. Hell, people who think like this should be shunned by bacteria.
Is our problem one of gender?  Are men these days just not man enough?  Has feminism rendered males weak, unable to perform their function as protectors and providers?

It seems to me that, as this forms the backbone less of serious cultural criticism and more an advertising campaign for weapons whose sole designed function is to kill human beings, the answers to these questions is probably no.

For all you men out there: If you are really worried about being "a man's man", here's what you do.  First, if you're just not sure, uneasy in your own skin as a male, take off all your clothes and look down.  See that thing dangling there about half-way down?  Some of you might have to bend forward a bit to see over the gut.  You see it?  If so, then you've confirmed you're a guy.

Step two to being a man's man is really simple.  Hug your kids.  That person you really love - it could be a woman, it could be a man - should be told every single day how special they are.  Tell him or her, in all sorts of ways, how much his or her presence makes your life better.

Go to work, and do your job thoroughly, professionally, with dignity and pride.  I don't care if you're an office worker, a mechanic, a construction worker, a lawyer, or President of the United States.  When you're on the clock, be focused on that work, because whatever it is you're doing, it's effecting the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people, most of whom you'll never know.

Be polite to everyone you meet.  Even, perhaps especially, the folks who rub you the wrong way, who can't seem to say anything nice about the rest of the world.  It doesn't cost you anything, and you have no idea the impact small things like that can have.

Laugh when other people tell jokes.  Express sympathy to those who are hurting.  Give a helping hand to folks who ask for assistance.

Volunteer somewhere.  Do some work, whether it's ringing the Salvation Army bell, or building a house with Habitat for Humanity, or serving a meal once a month at a homeless shelter.  Whatever it might be, even a little thing makes you feel better.

Finally, if after doing all this, you're still unsettled about your basic gender identity, then seek help.  Seriously. Sitting and talking with a counselor isn't a sign of weakness or illness.  Shoot, it takes a real, strong man to admit he has problems and wants to deal with them.

If you feel this urge to buy a gun because the company that makes it tells you you're just not man enough, stop for a moment, think, and spend that money to help yourself and someone else.  That's what a man's man would do.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Caveat Emptor

First of all, full disclosure is in order.  I was in my early 20's when I read The Right Stuff and James Michener's fictionalized version of the same story, Space (the only Michener I've ever been able to read, by the way).  I defy anyone who's read either, but perhaps especially Tom Wolfe's breezy account of the early years of the space program - the whole thing could have been printed in caps lock mode and would have read far better - without coming away not only with a great deal of admiration for the men who fly combat aircraft, but quite a bit of admiration for the machines, as well.  Twice in my life I've been fortunate to visit the Air Force Museum at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Dayton, OH.  There's something . . . just something about those planes, whether WWII-era fighters, Cold War work horses like the F-4 and F-111 or our new-fangled aircraft that is . . . thrilling? Is that the word? . . . and makes me more than a little proud to be an American.

Having said that, I wanted to expand a bit on some complaints Charlie Pierce wrote concerning the proposed F-35 Lightning Joint Strike Fighter (JSF).  Linked to a story in the business section of The New York Times, Pierce takes aim at two facts: both the per-unit cost for the aircraft as well as the potential cost for the entire proposed program are not only enormous, but growing; several countries that had placed orders for the plane are backing out of their commitments, not only because of the cost, but because the aircraft, as it has developed, is not offering what was originally intended.

While dubbed a Joint Strike Fighter, much like the problem-plagued F-22 Raptor, the F-35 is not an air-superiority aircraft.  An Australian defense think-tank has a run-down of its own complaints about the F-35, and ends the discussion comparing the Lightning to other aircraft, concluding that, in fact, the F-35 resembles less an F-18 than the old F-104 Thunderchief.  Not just the design of the aircraft, but the missions for which it's best suited, the F-35 would be far better providing air cover and low-level tactical raids than Top Gun-like dog fights.

So the plane's actual performance doesn't match expectations.  Yet the real complaint is the cost.  This is, I think, less a product of industrial perfidy than it is the oddities of our weapon procurement system.  It begins with the statutory demand not only that designs meet specific military needs; these designs need to be approved based upon cost.  Specifically, for example, while Lockheed Martin received the contract for the F-35, in all likelihood, several contractors probably bid on the project, offering plans for an aircraft to meet the stated needs of the  Armed Services.  By law, however, the bid is awarded to the company that offers the lowest bid.  This system creates cost overruns.  I doubt there are many large-scale weapon systems that have come in on budget and time, not because the system for weapon construction is laden with opportunities for graft.  Rather, it might seem feasible to propose $X million for a particular weapon design; once actual construction gets underway, even small flaws in the original design can create magnified cost-overruns to compensate.

Once prototypes go through initial testing, more changes usually follow.  Then there are test flights, which just increase the demand for changes that create spiraling cost increases.  This process can take many years, during which the demands from policy makers change, which create issues for designers to incorporate these new demands.  Again - costs increase.

The entire way we buy weapons guarantees no system will end up either performing, appearing, or costing what was originally proposed.  I'm not sure what the answer to this conundrum is, although I do wonder if we really want weapons that are built by corporations that are willing to spend less on them than anyone else.  Even with design specifications and detailed regulations that insure safety and reliability, doesn't it seem at least plausible that a low-bid is, after decades of experience, just a low-end estimate?

From the look of the aircraft through its mission capabilities to its cost, the F-35 might well be, as Pierce says, a lemon.  All the same, it is a product of the way we have decided to order defense systems.  So, I wonder: Who's to blame?  Is it Lockheed Martin, who is only looking for a slight return on its many-year investment in the F-35?  Or, perhaps, is it an entire way of doing this business that does nothing but suck money from the public trough?

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Valuable Values

OK, it's been an entire weekend of listening to people parcel out blame among their pre-existing moral hobby-horses in regard to which of them is most to blame for the massacre in Connecticut. Guns. Video games. Bad Bruce Willis movies. I have my own opinion on all of them, except for the Bruce Willis movies because they don't pay me enough money to see enough of those to develop an opinion. Here's my feeling on all of them. You know what the real culprit is?
Profit. - Charlie Pierce
I love few things more than the constant barrage of noise about traditional values.  Really.  What, after all, does the word "value" mean?  Something is of value if and only if we can reasonably set it aside other things of greater or lesser value.  Otherwise, it is either worthless (of no value) or priceless (outside the set of those things upon which we bestow value).  All that talk about "traditional values" only shows the folks doing the talking have been nabbed and landed, and are currently drying on the stringer held up by capitalism.

Let's face it.  Not just in principle but in fact, everything is up for sale in this country.  We are one gigantic junk yard, filled with people willing to do just about anything to trade for cold hard cash whatever someone else is willing to pay.  Why else would "family" be thought a "traditional value" if it weren't something we were willing to trade, say, to a reality television producer to splatter dysfunction across the nation's screens for titillation and the marvelous frisson that comes from seeing someone's life that is far more screwed up that one's own?  The next time you hear someone talking about "traditional American values", remember they are only trying to part your money from you.

A simple test: What's of more value?  The tens of thousands of very real lives lost to gun violence or the right to own a weapon?  A 2010 study in the Southern Medical Journal, as reported by reports that having a gun in the home is 12 times more likely to lead to death of a resident or visitor than an intruder.  The evidence is pretty clear, it seems.  You want to protect your home?  Keep guns out of them.

Except, of course, that isn't the story we're told over and over again, by an industry that seeks to profit from our fear of The Other.  We are told over and over and over again that our homes and our families' lives and safety are so valuable, we should invest in a firearm for protection.  Even though the available data indicates that owning a firearm actually increases the danger to those in that home.

So, again - what's really of value?  The lives of those we love or the erroneous aura of protection we get from owning a weapon that is far more likely to be used in a suicide or accidental shooting than to protect our property or family?

Remember.  When you wonder if capitalism can alter our ways of thinking, consider again this simple fact: If you own a gun, it is twelve times more likely to be used against a resident or visitor than an intruder.  We aren't told that, however, because gun manufacturers have convinced us, for their own profit, that owning a firearm will keep our families safe.  

Monday, December 17, 2012


As a way of avoiding talking about guns and gun control, there has been quite a bit of attention paid to yet another American scandal - our woefully underfunded mental health treatment and support systems.  The general line of argument, repeated with neither thought nor empathy, runs something like this: Only someone with something very wrong, mentally, would go on a shooting spree that purposefully targeted children.  Thus, the shooter was crazy/mentally ill.  If we were more aware/paid more attention to/properly funded mental health screening and treatment, perhaps this event could have been avoided.

As far as logic goes, there is a certain soundness to it.  Alas, like many logical sequences, however, it bears little resemblance to any reality, most especially the one in which we live.

Which is not to say that mental health is either understood or treatment fully funded.  On the contrary.

Rather, the major premise - Adam Lanza was mentally ill - is not only not a given, it shouldn't be assumed.  There are varieties of mental illness that could, I suppose lead one suffering from them to acts of violence.  The reality, however, as this post as Feministe reminds us, is the exact opposite: Persons with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators of violence.

People with mental illness suffer enough stigma without bearing the brunt of our society's fears.  Fully-funding mental health programs is a worthy goal in and for itself.  Running around insisting people who are diagnosed with a mental illness pose a threat to others in society does nothing to help them, and much to hurt them, as well as their families and loved ones.

All the talk about funding mental health programs that are following in the wake of the Newtown shooting are as much a red herring as anything else that distracts from the singular reality that we have far too many guns, and far too easy access to them.  Which is not to say that we should not fund mental health programs.  We should.  We should do it, however, without fearing those we are treating.  The mentally ill are not dangerous. They are hurting and in need of help.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Not Playing Fair

From Wonkette:
We’re going to talk about it because our thoughts and prayers are not enough. They were not enough after Columbine (15 dead), or the Amish schoolhouse (6 dead), or Virginia Tech (33 dead), or Tucson (6 dead), or Aurora (12 dead), or the Wisconsin Sikh temple (6 dead), and they are not enough now that another 28 once living, breathing people have been added to the tally. To offer only thoughts and prayers is to say “Well, that’s a damn shame. Sure hope it doesn’t happen again.” We have done this every time. And every time, it’s happened again. So we’re going to talk about it.
From Cynthia Nielsen:
How many more lives must be lost before we enact change? How many children must perish? How many parents must pick up the pieces of their shattered lives after having lost their children? What will it take to change our hearts and minds about the needless, rampant gun violence in our country? Will it taking losing your children or mine? Are not these children and these children and these children our children, our brothers, our sisters?
From Gary Wills:
Read again those lines, with recent images seared into our brains—“besmeared with blood” and “parents’ tears.” They give the real meaning of what happened at Sandy Hook Elementary School Friday morning. That horror cannot be blamed just on one unhinged person. It was the sacrifice we as a culture made, and continually make, to our demonic god. We guarantee that crazed man after crazed man will have a flood of killing power readily supplied him. We have to make that offering, out of devotion to our Moloch, our god. The gun is our Moloch. We sacrifice children to him daily—sometimes, as at Sandy Hook, by directly throwing them into the fire-hose of bullets from our protected private killing machines, sometimes by blighting our children’s lives by the death of a parent, a schoolmate, a teacher, a protector. Sometimes this is done by mass killings, sometimes by private offerings to the god.
Look at the names above.  Especially the ones with the "6" and "7" after them.  Then tell me we are powerless, that there's just nothing we can do, isn't it so sad and too bad.  Read those quoted above and tell the families and friends of the named dead how wrong they all are, how it isn't the gun-worshipers and phony he-men who are selfish but all those expressing sympathy and support and most of all demanding that these persons should not have died in vain, that we in fact are the selfish ones.  Go read those names and pretend that, somehow, the problem is too few guns.

Please.  Say whatever you want to say about slippery slopes and people killing people and Agenda 21 and enforcing laws on the books, but before you say any of those things - things that are meaningless, repeated each and every time an event such as this occurs, and have nothing to do with the world in which real people really live - please make sure you read that list of names up above.  Memorize it.  Those are the names of the sacrifices we have made sure were carried out.

A Counter-Question In The Face Of Evil

So yesterday, I was on my way home from my very long day.  Weekend All Things Considered was on the radio, and the host was interviewing Eugene Peterson.  The first question asked is the one that, to me, seems to come most often from people who have not been brought up within any religious tradition: How do you maintain your faith in the face of an event like this?  This particular question is really nothing more than a kissing cousin to the classic expression of theodicy: How is it possible for evil to exist in a world governed by an all powerful, loving God?

It's been forty-eight hours or so since we became aware that, as horrible as things might be in Newtown, the reality was far worse.  If your Facebook feed (I don't hang out on Twitter, but I guess it's probably as bad there) is like mine, the only real topic of conversation is what happened on Friday.  We are, all of us, grieving.  Some of us, perhaps many, feel helpless in the face of mass death that is simultaneously so close yet so far away.  Some of us, perhaps many, are enraged without finding a proper target for our anger.  Many people are taking refuge in the comforting words and images that salve their wounded hearts.  To be honest, with the exception of the terrorist attacks of 2001, I cannot remember an event that has so gripped the emotional and spiritual lives of the nation the way the Newtown mass killing has.

And always, of course, is the search for meaning.  I know I'm rare in that I long ago stopped looking for "meaning" in events, good or bad.  What happened, happened.  In this case, what would meaning look like, beyond perhaps a reminder that evil comes in many guises, including great, huge walloping blows about our souls and hearts, leaving us gasping for air.

The theodicy question is, I suppose, fair enough.  For folks, whether within the Church or not, the claims of Divine sovereignty and overflowing love can ring particularly hollow in the silence that follows horror of such enormity.  And we should be fair enough to remind ourselves it isn't just Newtown, either, lest we privilege too much our own grief in the face of loss.  At this moment, perhaps, we should remind ourselves of the terrible loss of life in Haiti due to an earthquake, an event that was followed by a terrible plague; the death toll from the earthquake alone was astronomical.  The plague continued to kill those left behind, and the people of that land are still waiting for anything resembling a normal life.  Even as I write this, a Pacific typhoon bears down on Fiji having wreaked havoc through Somoa.  The cry of those who suffer, whether that suffering is the result of a planet that seems apathetic to human life or the result of human action, is one to which we should give heed.

Giving an ear, however, does not mean to privilege that cry.  For all those who demand from God a resolution of pain, whether from heedless nature or the evil, murderous intent of our fellow human beings, I do believe the answer from God is a simple counter-question: Why do you permit it?

God isn't a magician.  God isn't a wizard, able to wave a wand and cure the evil that lurks within all of us.  God doesn't have a button to push to help people get safely out of the way of dangerous weather or other natural phenomena.  While the earthquake that struck Haiti was little different than earthquakes that hit places as varied as Turkey, Japan, the United States, and Chile.  Haiti, however, is a land ravaged by other, all too human evils, leaving the people with fewer resources to protect themselves from the ravages of nature.  It isn't too hard to figure out that the very first Republic governed by people of African descent in the Western Hemisphere would face obstacles no other country would face - not only neo-colonial exploitation that stripped much of the natural beauty and resources from a once-beautiful and rich land, but the added burden of white supremacy that, by turns, withheld help or forced alien-supported rulers who stole and pillaged while others turned deaf ears to the suffering of the people.  Why does Haiti suffer, God asks us, when we all have the power to relieve that suffering and prevent any repeat in the future?  Don't blame me, God might well say, when all of you have done far too little to help Haiti and the Haitian people mitigate the terrors from a world that runs on its on scale.

As with Haiti, so, too, with Newtown.  How could God let this happen?  Well, says God, how could you let it happen?  This event isn't some odd, random occurrence, outside any human experience.  On the contrary, while certainly the scale of the horror is far greater than our usual experience, it isn't like we have never gone through anything like this.  And we keep going through them, offering prayers to God in the names of the families of those lost, thinking we have fulfilled our spiritual duties this way.  We cry and we hug and then we shake our heads and we move on with our lives until there is yet another multiple shooting, as there was in Alabama on Saturday.  Which doesn't include the singular events of gun violence, events that push that body count higher each day.

We have the temerity to ask God how such evil occurs, when we have the power, should we so choose, perhaps not to eliminate but certainly to drastically reduce the possibility any such event can ever occur again.  What happened in Connecticut isn't some oddity, outside anyone's ability either to comprehend or explain.  On the contrary, it is all too human for all the horror it contains, or perhaps precisely because of all the horror it contains.  At the end of the day, while certainly understandable, perhaps even a necessary part of the grieving process, sitting around and getting mad at God is little more than refusing to take a share of the responsibility.  God didn't let this happen.

We did.

Virtual Tin Cup

Amazon Honor System Click Here to Pay Learn More