Random Musings on a Random Act

by Dennis Sanders on December 15, 2012

The horrific shootings in Newtown, Connecticut has left a lot of people stunned.  It wasn’t simply the number of people who died, 27, that has left people speechless, nor was the fact that it took place in a school.  What has stunned folks is the fact that this took place in an elementary school and 20 of the victims were between the tender ages of 5 and 9.  No wonder President Obama could barely contain his composure when speaking to the nation yesterday.

The event has brought about a number of thoughts, so I decided to talk about all of them here in this post.

Facts vs. Facts.  Washington Post columnist Ezra Klein has gotten a big buzz from a post he wrote yesterday about the massacre.  He puts forth several statements complete with charts that he states as the facts concerning gun control.  One could look at these statements and take them as myth-busting truths.  Then you read someone on the other side of the debate, like Nick Gillespie who can produce facts and charts as well.  Is one of them lying?  Not necessarily.  It could be that both Klein and Gillespie are finding facts that fit their own bias.  What this shows is that we can’t really talk about this as if only one side has the facts while the other side is made up a liars.

Let’s Have a Conversation!  I’ve become a bit skittish when I hear people saying that we need to have a national conversation or debate on whatever issue.  My aspie brain tends to take this literally and I imagine people calmly sitting in some cafe in Buenos Aires discussing the pros and cons of gun control.  The reality is that having a conversation really means “My side is right and I want to tell everybody and I want the other side to shut up.”  Frankly, I wish people would stop saying they want a conversation when what they really want is to win or stop an argument.

Aspies: the Potential Psychopath Next Door.  Rod Dreher reacts to some news reports that the gunman in Newtown, 20 year-old Adam Lanza, might have had Aspergers.  Dreher, who has a son with Aspergers has this to say:

An aside to this: As most readers know, I have a son with Asperger’s, so it’s painful to read that Adam Lanza had Asperger’s — painful, not because we think that our son is more capable of this kind of thing than anybody else (and besides, it sounds like his Asperger’s is far less pronounced than Lanza’s), but because we know that we’re probably about to go through a phase in popular culture in which Aspie kids, who have a hard enough row to hoe, are going to be looked at as potential mass murderers. God help the Aspie boys and girls on the playground for the next few weeks.

I have a better idea now what American Muslims must have felt like after 9/11.

I totally agree with him.  Young boys with Aspergers are now going to be looked at as potential murderers- which is going to make their life more of a living hell than it already is.  It might not be any better for those of us who are adults with Aspergers.  So after going through life with people scared of big, tall black men like me, they can now be totally scared you-know-what by a big, tall and autistic black man.  Great.

More guns, more gun control.  Jeffery Goldberg, a writer for the Atlantic, wrote a fascinating piece in the current issue about guns in America.  You might expect that he would write about restricting guns, but he proposes the exact opposite, albeit with some controls.  Where so many give a black and white response, he is able to give a more nuanced answer that should be the course on how we deal with guns and gun violence.  Here’s a taste:

There are an estimated 280 million to 300 million guns in private hands in America—many legally owned, many not. Each year, more than 4 million new guns enter the market. This level of gun saturation has occurred not because the anti-gun lobby has been consistently outflanked by its adversaries in the National Rifle Association, though it has been. The NRA is quite obviously a powerful organization, but like many effective pressure groups, it is powerful in good part because so many Americans are predisposed to agree with its basic message.

America’s level of gun ownership means that even if the Supreme Court—which ruled in 2008 that the Second Amendment gives citizens the individual right to own firearms, as gun advocates have long insisted—suddenly reversed itself and ruled that the individual ownership of handguns was illegal, there would be no practical way for a democratic country to locate and seize those guns.

So, how does one of these gun-thingies work? As I was reading a post at the National Review website, a thought occurred to me: I really don’t understand guns.  I couldn’t tell you the difference between various styles of guns.  I never grew up around guns and when I did hear about them, it was mostly in negative terms.

I think that’s a problem.  A lot of the people who might support stricter gun laws know very little of guns.  All we might know is that guns shoot and tend to hurt people.  We don’t understand why people would want to go down to the shooting range and squeeze out a round of ammo.  How in the world can we ask to restrict something we might not really understand?

I’m thankful for folks like blogger Mike Dwyer, who is a hunter and has helped me see another side to guns than the side I grew up hearing about.  Dwyer is a “gun nut” as some might think, but a guy that likes to hunt and sees the good and bad of guns.  I think that’s important to remember: guns can be used for good as well as evil.

It’s Gonna Be a Blue Christmas. Being a pastor, there is a theological dimension to all of this.  The slaughter of ones so young brings to mind the story that’s told in Matthew 2.  King Herod, a puppet ruler installed by Rome, finds out there is a young child that is being called the King of the Jews.  Herod doesn’t like someone else sharing the spotlight with him, so he orders soldiers to go to the town of Bethlehem where Jesus was living with his parents.  The soldiers come in and kill every male child under the age of two.  In verse 18, we find this passage:

A voice was heard in Ramah,
weeping and much grieving.
Rachel weeping for her children,
and she did not want to be comforted,
because they were no more.

This passage is actually found in the book of Jeremiah, but the author of Matthew uses it here to highlight the horror of the event.  There is great sadness in Bethlehem among the mothers who cry in agony for their young ones who have been taken away from them.  We can only imagine there are many mothers in Newtown tonight who cry the same tears as those mothers in Bethlehem did oh so long ago.  Ross Douthat wrote in his Sunday column about how this tragedy and that tragedy so long ago, shed light on the meaning of the holiday season and the role of God in our lives:

It’s telling that Dostoyevsky, himself a Christian, offered no direct theological rebuttal to his character’s speech. The counterpoint to Ivan in “The Brothers Karamazov” is supplied by other characters’ examples of Christian love transcending suffering, not by a rhetorical justification of God’s goodness.

In this, the Russian novelist was being true to the spirit of the New Testament, which likewise seeks to establish God’s goodness through a narrative rather than an argument, a revelation of his solidarity with human struggle rather than a philosophical proof of his benevolence.

In the same way, the only thing that my religious tradition has to offer to the bereaved of Newtown today — besides an appropriately respectful witness to their awful sorrow — is a version of that story, and the realism about suffering that it contains.

That realism may be hard to see at Christmastime, when the sentimental side of faith owns the cultural stage. But the Christmas story isn’t just the manger and the shepherds and the baby Jesus, meek and mild.

The rage of Herod is there as well, and the slaughtered innocents of Bethlehem, and the myrrh that prepares bodies for the grave. The cross looms behind the stable — the shadow of violence, agony and death.

In the leafless hills of western Connecticut, this is the only Christmas spirit that could possibly matter now.

In a few days, I will lead what is called a “Blue Christmas” service.  These services have caught on in the last few years, to give space to those who might be greiving this time of year.  It’s easy to see Blue Christmas worship as kind of an outlier to a festive season, but I think Blue Christmas sums the entire season.  It is a time when we wait for deliverance and we find God with us as we suffer.  The coming of the Christ-child is a sign of God making room to stand with us in our suffering and through the cross to even suffer with us.

I don’t have easy answers right now.  And maybe nobody does.  All we can do is come together and hold each other, trusting that God is with us no matter what.

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

Bruce R. Gilson December 16, 2012 at 5:31 pm

Being Jewish, I’m not going to comment on the last part of your post, with its New Testament background. But I can certainly understand your concerns about people with Asperger’s being typed as potential mass-murderers, though I have no suggestion about fixing that. I do, however, feel it is wrong that you say that just because we do not understand guns, we are unqualified to call for more regulation. I might defer to people who understand them better in terms of allowing them to refine specific details, but it is just too clear to me that we need to make guns harder to obtain, and somehow reduce the number that are already out there. Guns serve no purpose other than to kill, and that much I know even if I don’t know how to recognize a Glock or the like.

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Bennett Conner February 9, 2013 at 4:22 pm

Between 9,000 and 10,000 people are murdered each year with guns in the U.S., most garnering little attention. Local news coverage of such events typically provides scant information or context to enable citizens to understand the role of guns in these incidents. Invariably, the only time that gun violence and gun policy are discussed in the national media is after a horrific shooting rampage.

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