Who could fail to “notice” the horrific images cascading out of the senseless massacre of children and adults in Newtown, CT, last Friday? And who was not transfixed by the President’s Sunday night TV address in which he named the victims, especially the children – all 20 of the six and seven year olds, many shot multiple times. On Sunday we saw candles on the Altar at St. Philips, and heard words ancient and modern speak of grief, lament, and hope because, as our good Rector John is wont to say, “What we pray is what we believe.”As I write I flash on little Mary in Advent’s sonorous Magnificat hymn in Luke 1: “
My soul magnifies the Lord … for he has looked with favor on the lowliness of his servant”(NRSV), and reflect on J. B. Phillips, Anglican cleric and biblical interpreter of no small note, who captured the delicious nuance of the Greek when, in his The New Testament in Modern English,
he rendered vs. 48, “For he has deigned to notice
me, his humble servant …” In the pall of that Friday which was anything but good, we confess our “faith tremendous” that God notices and cares, and we affirm with Irish Dominican poet Paul Murray that “God loves us so much that if we should cease to exist, (God) would die of sadness.” [i]
So — we mourn, we hug our children and grandchildren, we pray for the victims and their families, and for a nation convulsed by tragedy. Beyond this level of noticing, hopefully, we will also act responsibly and forthrightly. The Connecticut tragedy appears to be galvanizing the nation to look more closely at the complex issues surrounding efforts at common sense gun safety including, but not limited to, a ban on assault weapons, appropriate funding of mental health initiatives, consistent/standardized background checks, closing the gunshow loopholes, school campus security, not to mention addressing the whole culture of violence that threatens to engulf us — and to engage in a serious conversation about meaningful solutions.Clearly there are people of goodwill on both sides of this decades-long debate, reflected perhaps in a non-partisan national poll only hours old at this writing indicating that 54% of the American public favor some responsible form of common sense gun safety. We’ve heard this song before: after Oklahoma City, after Columbine, after Aurora, after the Clackamas Mall — and who will ever forget Gabrielle Giffords, irrationally gunned down with several of her supporters at the busy intersection of Oracle and Ina in northwest Tucson. Will now be any different? Will a gridlocked Congress rise above crippling partisanship, stop cowering before the threat of powerful lobbyists, and do what is right for the country we all love? Is the continued death of our children the price we have to pay for our “freedom?”
There are signs of a crack in the dike: prominent gun rights advocate Rep. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va) is now arguing vigorously for regulation because what is happening “doesn’t make sense;” NYC Mayor Michael Bloomberg advocates for banning assault weapons; and TV and sports personalities are publicly turning in their weapons as an act of conscience. The debate has begun to simmer; the issue is whether intention becomes achievement in the dicey political arena. The trick will be for people on both sides of the issue to find a thoughtful middle ground — we Episcopalians name this pursuit the via media — a middle ground where personal freedom and public safety meld in a quest for a human community God intends, in contrast to the polar opposite absolutes of no guns at all, or the pervasive idolatry of guns as a way of life. Surely we can figure this out.
We, in the Beloved Community, are not powerless. We can pray for discernment and courage, engage our faith in the Ultimate questions shadowed in December 14 via congregational venues, vote, write letters, sign petitions, boot up the email, activate Twitter, engage on Facebook, converse factually and passionately with neighbors and friends, e.g., do what poet Ella Wheeler Willcox urged on us decades ago when she wrote, “the few who dare must speak, and speak again, to right the wrongs of many.”[ii] In that moment we will begin the slow trek from noticing to really seeing.