Monday, December 17, 2012

We Need to Feel This

The inexplicably horrendous massacre at Shady Hook Elementary School has been a body blow to our nation. We are not only struggling to try and explain why this has happened - we are a people who need explanations - but why it keeps happening.

Of course the people whose lives are irrevocably changed and in some cases damaged are those of the parents, siblings and close friends of those who died last week. No parent 'gets over' the death of a child. It is almost cliche, but there is nothing more unnatural than burying your children. I can identify with that, but I also can identify with some others in Newton.

I, like other pastors, can identify with clergy and counselors who are trying to console those who are grieving. There are no easy explanations. There are no simple answers. Many will argue for tougher gun control laws and more effective mental health care, but a mother, father, grandparent, aunt or uncle will as 'Why did it take the life of these children to bring this country to action?' Still others will summon the magnanimity to say that if it took the death of their child to bring the nation to action then it was worth it to save another parent from this grief.

We won't be able to blame either for their reaction.

As a 25 year old preacher, an associate minister of a relatively small church in south Dallas, I was called as interim pastor and a few months later as pastor, to lead that church after the death of the pastor and two church members (one of which was his sister. Her son also in the car, survived). Ministry to my late pastor's family was one thing. There were extenuating circumstances beyond my experience, that made it particularly difficult.  Ministry to the church was something else. The idea that we must move forward as a congregation, while at the same time not forgetting the man who had, for 12 years, comforted them in similar situations, baptized and married their children and been their spiritual leader.

Those days are a blur to me now. If I said anything that was helpful, it was because God miraculously allowed those inadequate utterances to have meaning. If I led in anyway that kept that church at an even keel, it was because I had the support of wiser men and women who stood strong as I literally learned the names of people I had been going to church with for 9 months! Comfort and support was what we gave to one another, not something I did for them.

Looking back on it, this was hard. I didn't know enough to realize it at the time. Healing did come. It came with time. It came as we learned how to be a community, beyond platitudes and religious catch phrases. It came as we struggled with grief and I learned to stop comparing myself to my predecessor and members learned that embracing a new pastor didn't mean disloyalty to the previous one. It came as some members 'acted out' until they learned that life could continue - together, differently. Healing came, with births, deaths, comings and goings; it came as we embraced and discarded traditions and as we learned anew how to live together. Healing came, as we worshiped and served others, and learned how to serve one another.

While I've never experienced anything like Newton, this situation and other smaller ones helped me understand that faith, community and family make a difference. The people who 'make it through' are those who either have people to lean on or who have people who will not permit them to try and get through incredibly tough times without leaning on them. It's those who isolate themselves in their grief and pain that never quite seem to pull through.

Pray for the people of Newton, Connecticut. Pray for the students, teachers and faculty members you know. They feel the impact of this more acutely than we imagine.

Pray for this country. There is, in our nation, a tendency to want to get past the emotion and make rational, logical decisions. I think we need to feel this. I think we need ask ourselves and one another, what personal right do we value more than the lives of our fellow citizens? We don't need this to be an abstract question. We need to look at the faces of the children and teachers who lost their lives and ask ourselves what steps would we want taken to eliminate the prospects of this happening to our loved ones.

And we need to know that the comfort of pastors, counselors, friends and loved ones, comes all too hard at times like these.

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