Thursday, December 20, 2012

God's Role in All of This

There has been a lot of talk about God's role in the Newtown, Connecticut shootings.  I have no more (but no less) a direct line to God than anybody else, but these things I know about God.  Others have been saying these things before me, but they bear repeating.
  1. This tragedy in Newtown was not "all part of God's plan," and it didn't happen because "God wanted another little angel."  We as human beings have free will.  The shooter made his decisions to kill children and adults, not God.  We also have free will in how we respond.  Go listen to the early interview with the father of Emilie Parker: "The person that chose to act this way was acting with a God-given right to use his free agency and God can’t take that away ... that’s what he chose to do with it. I’m not mad [at God, I'm assuming]. I have my own agency to use this event to do whatever I can to make sure my wife and daughters are taken care of."  Robert Parker has it absolutely right.  I was so incredibly impressed with the strength of his faith and his clear understanding.  God wasn't there in the finger pulling the trigger--that was the absence of God, because it was the absence of love, the absence of mercy, and the absence of compassion.
  2. This tragedy is not a "punishment from God for being kept out of schools" nor was it "God's judgement."  God did not choose this.  See point number oneAnd God isn't in the schools?  What a small God that would be!  God was there. 
  3.  It's not true that "God never gives you more than you can handle."  Again, see point number one--God did not give you this tragedy.  Secondly, sometimes we do reach a point where something is more than we can handle.  But please know that you don't have to handle it alone--that's why we have church, and why we have mental health professionals.  If this is more than you can handle, reach out for support.
What is, then, God's role in this tragedy?  God is in the creation of love.  God was present in Victoria Soto when she died trying to shield her students.  God was there in Anne Murphy as she died cradling 6-year-old Dylan Hockley in her arms, dying in an embodiment of a pietà.  God is there in the outpouring of sorrow from this nation.  God is there in the people who are responding with every fiber of their being and their last drop of energy, whether it's standing in vigil, helping to bring the community together, counseling the survivors and family members, burying the dead, or just struggling to fix this broken culture of ours.  God is there in the lights we light in the darkness.  God is there in the touch of a friendly hand.  God is in the love we create.  God is in our response.  

Sunday's Prayer

This past Sunday our church had a pageant planned, that we went forward with.  Mindful that it was an intergenerational service, I carefully crafted a prayer that would address the tragedy in Newtown, but without explaining the context to young ears that might not have heard of events yet.  This is what I wrote:

Spirit of Life,
Our hearts are heavy and full, our minds confused and anxious, our spirits burdened and troubled.  At times like this, we are grateful to come together in religious community, to hold the hands of those we love, to see the smiles and laughter on the faces of the young, and to recommit ourselves to the work of the world, the task of building love in this community and elsewhere. 
We take comfort in the circle of community, and in the stories of helpers and heroes.  Fred Rogers, Mr. Rogers, said, in words that have been shared much recently:
"When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, "Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." To this day, especially in times of disaster, I remember my mother's words and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers, so many caring people in this world."
We give thanks for the helpers and heroes in our world, those who labor to keep us safe and protected—the fire fighters, police officers, doctors, nurses, and, especially, the teachers. 
            Sure in our knowledge of the goodness of the world, and the inherent goodness of people, the kindness of strangers, the arc of the universe that ever bends towards justice, we rededicate ourselves to our community, we bind ourselves again to love.
            Blessed be. Amen.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Thanks for Teachers

As we hear the stories coming out of Newtown, Connecticut, one of the stories we're hearing is about the heroism of teachers.  The stories are being shared of the teachers who died and how their last actions were to try to save their children, and the teachers who survived and how they ushered their children to safety, keeping them quiet, secure, calm, and safe in closets and bathrooms.

I have a school-aged daughter.  My husband and I made the decision to talk to her about the tragedy in Newtown, because she's old enough that she'll look over and read the headlines or hear someone talking.  We keep news sources around us--a daily newspaper, a weekly news magazine, a news radio station--and she was bound to hear about it somewhere.  Other parents, with different habits or younger children, might effectively shield their children from the news, but we knew we couldn't.  So she knew a little bit about it when we sent her off to school again this morning.  And it was a normal school day for her, although nothing feels normal anymore to me about sending my child off to school.  I imagine that's a feeling that will last for a while.

Much of the day, I was thinking about my child's teacher, and how much I appreciate her and every other teacher my child has had.  I know that they're dedicated and caring people.  I know they love our children.  I know they would shield my child with their life.  Teachers don't get enough thanks in this day.  This has been a tough week for teachers in Michigan -- a week that began with the passage of right-to-work laws and ended with Newtown.  We ask these people to love our children, take care of our children, protect our children, and educate our children, and we can't give them enough thanks.  They deserve more pay and more respect for the work that they do. 

And my child knows how much the teachers care, too.  Today, she told me, they made an announcement at her school, and the principal told the student body how saddened they were by what had happened in Connecticut, but that at her school the teachers and staff would do everything they could to keep their students safe.  My daughter said that some of the kids in her class didn't know what happened, so her teacher explained it to them.  "She didn't give details," my daughter said, "just a summary."  Apparently she's been learning about summaries lately, so she was very clear on this.  Some of the children gasped at the news, she said, when they heard that children had been killed.  But they weren't scared, thanks to the reassuring tone of their teacher.

Of course I hate that my daughter has to know about this.  I hate that schools have to think about policies about how people come in the building.  I hate that children have to learn lock-down procedures.  And most of all, of course, I hate that violence was committed against children.

But I'll continue to send my child off to school, scary as it is--mostly scary for me, not her.  She can't live in fear of the world, in fear of living her life.  And because I will continue to send her off to school, I'm thankful for the love and dedication of teachers.  One teacher from Newtown said that as she huddled with her children waiting for the police to arrive, she told them she loved them.  She didn't know if that would be okay with parents, but she wanted if these children were going to die, for them to hear at this time that someone loved them.  I know my child's teacher would do the same thing if she were there.

So I'm writing this today for all the teachers in my life--my daughter's teacher, my sister who is a teacher in Detroit Public Schools, my congregation members who are teachers.  Thank you for the work that you do.  Thank you for loving our children.  Thank you for being there with them in the joyous times of holiday parties, and the dark and scary times huddled in a closet.  Thank you.  We love you for loving our children.