Published in Connections Magazine (Mar/Apr 2013)
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Lessons From Newtown
by Marcus J. Carlson
There are a few moments in my lifetime I will never forget. Many of them are personal; some of them are communal. I will never forget my wedding day. I can still envision the moment each of my children was born. I will not likely forget my ordination or many other important events in my life.
I will also never forget the day the shuttle Challenger exploded or the Berlin Wall came down. I will always remember where I was on September 11, 2001, when I heard the news. Living in Colorado Springs, I will never, ever forget the Waldo Canyon fire that devastated our community. I won’t soon forget the shootings that have plagued Colorado—the shooting at Columbine and the Aurora theatre shootings. I will also never forget the very moment I learned of the shooting in Connecticut.
In the wake of the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, we all find ourselves impacted. Those of us who have been given the great gift and call of being parents have another reaction as well. As I watched the news, I thought first of my own children,—my son Micah who is in second grade and my daughter Abigail who is in kindergarten. I thought especially of Abby’s class and the joy of volunteering in the room of over 20 joyful young children. I could not help imagining and thinking, “What if?”
I wanted to go and get my kids from school right away—not to rescue them, but just to be with them. I cannot say I have ever hugged my children as hard as I did that night. I won’t soon forget the conversation I had with them both about the tragedy, or watching the news with my son as we processed this tragic event.
I know Jesus mourns with us, and there are more questions than answers.
I wonder what kind of emotions struck the disciples as Jesus went to the cross. I begin to feel their pain, our pain and my pain once again. We do not live in the most encouraging of times. Life often feels a lot more like Good Friday than Easter. While it seems
that everything has changed, some things will never change. Suffering is a reality of life that will exist until we are either called home or Jesus comes again to reclaim all of creation. Reacting against suffering is natural; it is not something we need apologize for.
Yet, there is a dramatic difference between reacting against suffering and being destroyed by it. While reacting is normal, very few reactions are healthy in the long term. As I listened to and read the news, and watched the debates regarding the cause of this tragedy unfold in coffee shops and social media, I, too, was tempted to get caught up in the debate. After some careful reflection, I realized the debate was moot. I cannot imagine parents who have lost a child in such a painful way wanting to argue about gun control or video games as they try to muddle through the first Christmas without their precious son or daughter.
Herein lies one of the major faults of our society today: we choose blame and fear over hope and redemption. Blame and fear have nothing to do with the Easter story, the Gospel message or the Kingdom narrative. We all know Good Friday is not the end of the story, and neither is the tragedy in Newtown.
While searching for answers and seeking someone or something to blame may provide some relief in the short run, it is not the answer. It is not what will bring health and restoration, nor is it at all consistent with the Easter story. While blame might feel good and seem productive, it only serves two ends: to create more fear and division, and to relieve us of any ownership or personal responsibility in the situation. Blaming guns, video games, parents, gay marriage or any other object or issue will not change our culture and will not bring health and healing. Blame does not help us to see and experience God’s redemption.
Additionally, living in blame is an abdication of responsibility; it prevents us from coming together and finding healing. We cannot look to the government or any other institution to solve our problems. Not only is that not going to work, it is not what we want and need. While answers may provide some level of comfort, answers alone cannot solve the problem.
If we as Christ followers continued to spend every Easter blaming Judas, we would miss the joy and hope of the resurrection. Likewise, our blame does not bring hope or healing to the parents or communities that need it the most.
The first lesson from Newtown as we journey to Easter: focus on God’s redeeming power instead of on blame.
When I think about what has changed in the world over my lifetime, I have many observations. Certainly one of the most passionate is that many adults are no longer invested in the lives of our children and youth.
Another important observation is we have become a fear- based culture and society. Everything from politics to gas prices has become about fear. When I think of the Newtown tragedy, I cannot help thinking of the resulting fearful comments, reactions and behavior. The problems of living in fear and being a culture and society focused entirely on fear are too many to name here in this article. It certainly is not healthy, does not bring healing and is not at all what God intended for us.
In Scripture, when someone encountered God, the phrase “do not be afraid” was one of the first statements uttered. From Moses to Mary, God reminds us to not be afraid. Living in fear does not leave much room for hope. If we lived as if the soldiers were still looking for Jesus, we would never be able to rejoice in Easter.
Easter is about many things, chiefly hope. We cannot live in fear; we must live in hope. We know that even in the midst of great tragedy, there is hope—and it will always be more powerful and life-giving than fear.
The second lesson from Newtown: hope will always trump fear, but we must choose hope.
The band Mumford and Sons accurately points out in the song Awake my Soul that “where you invest your love, you invest your life.” I believe the only answer is investing our lives in people around us—and not just our family and friends, but our neighbors, churches, schools, communities and the world that God created out of love.
If we want things to be different in this world, then we have to be different. Unless we choose to live in hope, seek to build relationships and look for God’s redemptive work, then nothing will change for the better.
Each one of us must choose to make a difference in the lives of everyone we encounter to prevent another young man from growing up to be a murderer of innocent children. It is going to take the community of faith, living out the Gospel daily, to write a better Kingdom story in the lives of our children. Only then can they live in hope instead of fear.
As the precious, innocent children lost in Newtown join with Jesus, I know they would tell us to not be afraid and to live in hope and redemption instead of fear and blame.