Category: Religion and Spirituality

Pandora and the Pilot or What I Learned From Dia de los Muertos

Like most of the aging pilots I know, the most dreaded date on the calendar is the annual appointment with the Flight Surgeon, the day a previously undetected medical condition might come to light and ground us permanently leaving us to walk among the mere mortals who have never joined John Gillespie Magee Jr. as he “slipped the surly bonds of earth.”

There I am, standing before the dreaded eye chart, straining to read the 20/20 line with my left eye. The 20/40 line remains clearly in view, but the ability to read no lower on the chart than 20/40 only qualifies me for the “Third Class” medical certificate. I’m striving for the “Second Class” certificate which qualifies me to be paid for performing pilot duties in any aircraft and in a variety of activities except flying for the scheduled airlines.

Now, there is no practical reason for me to maintain the “Second Class” medical certificate. Flight Instruction, the only professional aviation activity I have ever engaged in, requires the “Third Class” certificate. No, the only reason I have continued to maintain the “Second Class” certificate is for the status of knowing that I could apply for any number of professional flying positions that require that qualification.

I did manage to eke out a sufficiently accurate reading of the 20/20 line of the eye chart that day, but the near miss by one of “the thousand natural shocks that flesh is heir to” set me to thinking about why continuing to meet the FAA’s standards of the “Second Class” medical certificate and the continued permission to fly airplanes is so important to me.

Until now, I explained my attachment to my pilot certificate and flying airplanes as the fulfillment of my childhood dream of becoming a pilot. I was the kid who ran outside to watch every aircraft as it flew overhead. I built model airplanes, read books on aviation, memorized performance data on the airplanes of the day, and fantasized about the heroics of famous aviators and aviatrixes.

I was crestfallen when, as a third grader, I came home from a visit to the optometrist with my first pair of glasses. I already knew that military aviators had to have perfect 20/20 vision to qualify for flight training. That weakness of my mortal flesh however did not diminish my enthusiasm for flight. I would soon learn of “general aviation” the realm of flight occupied by private pilots, airshow pilots, and pilots who build their own airplanes. There remained a whole world of flying opportunities open to me.

After graduating college I entered active duty with the Air Force. Upon arrival at my first duty station, I immediately joined the flying club and began taking lessons. For the next year, my free time was consumed with all things aviation: ground school, flight lessons, and reading every aviation magazine I could get my hands on. After earning my private pilot certificate I enrolled for advanced flight training. Each achievement led to earning additional licenses and ratings. The cycle has continued to this day. Even now, there are flight experiences that I long to add to my logbook.

Coming home from the flight surgeon with my re-issued Second Class medical set me to exploring why the prospect of not passing my next medical exam and having to face the reality of giving up flying someday was so distressing. This brings us to Pandora, the myth, not the jewelry or the Internet radio station.

[The language snob in me feels compelled to interject that it still rankles me that the word “myth” has come to mean a falsehood or misconception. I hold to the classic meaning of myth: a narrative that expresses the most profound and often elusive truths of our human existence.]

As you may recall Zeus presented Pandora, the first human woman created by the gods, with an elaborately decorated jar as a wedding gift. Pandora opened the jar releasing its contents, many demons and evils. Realizing what she had done, she tried to replace the lid, keeping the last of its contents, Hope, in the jar. The explanation of this myth as it was first taught to me held that amid the many demons and miseries that Pandora unleashed on the world, Hope was the one that could remedy the “the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune.”

I later came upon the interpretation that Hope, rather than being a blessing was instead one of the curses that torment our mortal coil. Hope tempts us to remain too long in the misery of a failed relationship; to persist in a dead-end job long after we could have taken the initiative to leave; in short, to refuse to see the truth of our circumstances.

I had to acknowledge that for the 40+ years I have been involved in aviation I have invested my hope in my status as a pilot. I have hoped that being a pilot would set me apart from the average guy. I have hoped that my status as a flight instructor would win me the respect of others and most importantly of myself. The result has been that this misplaced hope has tormented me with the fear that my flying days will some day end. This fear fed my insatiable desire to add more hours to my logbook and ratings to my pilot certificate. This anxiety caused me to look past the joy of each moment I have spent in flight. Hope has led me into a life of achievement and misery.

This brings us to Dia del los Muertos. Early in our time in Santa Fe, I was struck, even appalled by my frequent encounters with the art and imagery of the Day of the Dead. Skeletons dancing in the streets; Catrina adorned in her aristocratic finery; the skeletal couple at the marriage altar. I found myself turning away from these icons in my ignorance of their bold and shocking proclamation.

Then, on the last Sunday of October our first year here, we visited the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Santa Fe. Rev. Gail Marriner explained that Dia de los Muertos provides the occasion for families to look past the pain of grief and loss and to remember and celebrate their ancestors’ lives. It is an occasion to again experience the love that those who have passed brought into their lives. I came away with the realization that being reminded of our mortality challenges us to celebrate every moment of our lives and to live without fearing the end that is certain to come.

Now, I didn’t leave that service and decorate our house with depictions of Catrina, or plant marigolds, or learn to bake pan de muerto. I did come away with a new appreciation for the art and icons of Dia del Muerto. And more to the point of this essay, my recollection of that awareness now calls me to acknowledge that the day is coming when I will no longer be able to pilot an aircraft. It further encourages me to appreciate each flight experience between now and that day more fully and with gratitude that I have been able to be a pilot at all.

Returning to Pandora for a moment. It occurs to me that we are asking the wrong question when we ask if Hope is an angel or a demon. Hope is always calling to us to “take arms against a sea of troubles.” The question is not whether we choose to hope. The question is where shall we invest our hope.

The world sends us constant messages offering us opportunities to invest our hope. Invest in drugs to restore our sexual vitality; in cosmetics to revitalize our appearance; in the second opinion of a cancer treatment center to reverse our disease; in the latest analgesic to relieve our pain; in firearms to keep us safe from the deranged gunman; in a well managed portfolio to sustain us in retirement; in the elite sports league to provide opportunities for our children; the latest video game to avoid our boredom; the latest smart phone to end our isolation; and on and on and on.

I’m not a “blood of the lamb” kind of guy for two reasons. First, I’m not convinced that “Christ died for your sins” it is the most compelling expression of the Christian proclamation; but more importantly, like you, I’m not a first century Jew struggling with the theological crisis that arose from the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. That said, despite his use of this imagery, I find the hymn of Edward Mote relevant and instructive:

My hope is built on nothing less
than Jesus’ blood and righteousness;
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.

On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand
All other ground is sinking sand.

Unless we invest out hope in something lasting and transcendent, Pandora’s Hope joins the ranks of the other demons she unleashed on the world and becomes the most insidious, vicious, and destructive of them all.

The Poor are not a Problem to be Solved

Recently, I posted two somewhat provocative statements on my Facebook wall. I was a bit disappointed by the relatively few comments generated by the following:

The poor are not a problem to be solved.

The opposite of poverty is not wealth,
The opposite of poverty is justice.

The first statement was conveyed to me in a conversation with my Spiritual Director several years ago. Regrettably, I did not note the source of the second (Probably a Facebook post).

It is not a topic we like to discuss. Haven’t we all been annoyed by panhandlers asking for money as we enter the grocery store? Pastors and parishioners alike are vexed by how to handle the person stopping by on Sunday morning asking for gas money so he can make it home to his family, buy medication for his children, or complete an emergency car repair. After hearing enough of these requests, it is easy to slip into cynicism and conclude that it is all one big con game.

Advice to the troubled parishioner or the harassed shopper sometimes alludes to Jesus telling his disciples “for the poor you have with you always” in an attempt to mollify their discomfort with ignoring these requests. Politicians often cite this passage to give their plans to cut welfare programs an air of respectability. I also hear it used in fatalistic resignation to the enormity of the task of assisting the poor.

The statement, in fact, comes from the narrative of the anointing in Bethany found in the Gospel of John, chapter 12. Judas asks, “Why was this fragrant oil not sold for three hundred denarii and given to the poor?”… But Jesus said, “Let her alone; she has kept this for the day of My burial.  For the poor you have with you always, but Me you do not have always.”(John 12:5,7-8, NRSV)

Far from dismissing the plight of the poor, Jesus is saying that concern for the poor is not the only agenda for his followers. This passage foreshadows his death and burial and affirms that the disciples have responsibility for both the immediate concerns of Jesus and his followers, as well as an on-going ministry that clearly includes concern for the welfare of the poor.

Looking at the ethics and teaching of all three Abrahamic Traditions, we find that hospitality to the stranger; protection of the sojourner; and care for the widow and the orphan are foundational ethical teachings of the prophets of each tradition.

So, in response to statements such as “the poor are not a problem to be solved” and “the opposite of poverty is not wealth, the opposite of poverty is justice,” I would say that we dare not appeal to Jesus (“for the poor you always have with you”) and say that the plight of the poor is a constant in society, regardless of the political and economic system of the day.

On the contrary, I challenge people of faith to be critics of the status quo. Follow the lead of the prophets and bring the highest principles of your tradition, not the values and structures of the status quo, to the debate. Rather than try to “solve the problem of poverty” acknowledge that whatever political/economic system is in place, some will be poor, some will be prosperous, and some will rise to the top and enjoy wealth.

The challenge of the faithful is to continue to examine the structures and dynamics of the status quo for the ways, intended and unintended, that confer advantages on some and disadvantages on others. See if the economic system of the day is designed to form and perpetuate a permanent underclass whose labor is available for exploitation by the wealthy and powerful. And finally, ensure that the political process gives equal access and equal voice to the concerns and needs of poor, the prosperous, and the wealthy.

A postscript for the church: For those of us called to ministry, it can be a subtle, but real temptation to be caught in the trap of trying to solve the problems of the poor. See Henri Nouwen’s treatment of the Temptations of Jesus (Downward Mobility, The Selfless Way of Christ, Sojourners Magazine). He finds in Jesus’ response to the temptations to do something relevant, something spectacular, and something powerful and influential, the true calling of Christians: to be faithful to the highest calling of our tradition.

As we try to find ways to respond to the panhandler at our door, I think much wisdom can be found in the narrative of Acts 3 in which a beggar confronts Saint Peter at the temple asking for alms. Peter says “Silver and gold have I none; but such as I have give I thee.” (Acts 3:6, KJV)   It may be tempting to think that preaching the Gospel and maintaining a prophetic critique of the status quo isn’t “doing” anything about the plight of the poor. On the contrary, keeping the ethics of our tradition in the forefront of the minds of the people and constantly looking for ways to make a more just society is “silver and gold” enough. It is “doing” what we are called and uniquely qualified to do.

A New Vision

2014

In my reflections since I posted my thoughts on gun violence last year, I have reached the perspective that addressing gun violence by enacting new and more restrictive gun laws is rather like addressing climate change by issuing snow shovels and air conditioners to every household in the country.

More effective ways of addressing climate change include accepting the scientific method for analyzing the problem, gathering data relevant to the problem, and collectively agreeing on reasonable and effective changes to our ways of living and doing business that will not further aggravate the problem. (This, of course, assumes we can agree that there is a problem in the first place).

With over 100 million gun owners owning over 300 million guns, (not to mention the tens of thousands of individuals who earn their living in the arms industry) any action to address the issue of gun violence that alienates and demonizes these individuals is doomed not only to failure, but to create a backlash that will only make matters worse.

I think a recent Gallup Poll (October 28, 2013) points the way to a more productive direction to focus our concerns.  When gun owners were asked why they purchase guns, the number one reason (60% of respondents) answered, “fear”.  This immediately raises the obvious question:  Why are so many people so fearful?

Some of us are fearful of a changing world; others of new ideas and new ways of being in the world.  Yet others fear unfamiliar cultures and religions.

In any case, many of us have no place to turn with our fears, except to turn inward and reject new technologies and new ideas; to reach for our chosen symbols of power and autonomy such as our firearms; or retreat to the certainty and security that fundamentalism (whether religious, economic, or political) offers.

We believe that if we surround ourselves with like-minded individuals who share our fears and gravitate toward our idea of a safe haven we can shout down those who disagree with us and create a utopia for ourselves where we don’t have to concern ourselves with the needs, desires, hopes and fears of anyone else.

During the Christmas season just passed, you may have heard these words from the Prophet Isaiah of the Hebrew Bible:

He shall judge between the nations,

    and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

    and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

    neither shall they learn war any more.

Isaiah 2:4

These words, familiar to many, are set in the context of a vision of a new and transformed world in which all of the nations of the world come together in search of a new way of being together in the world.

In this prophetic vision, the change comes when the people are confronted with the judgment of God on the status quo of their world.  I think it may be useful if we think of the judgment of God not as coming in some future time as envisioned in these writings with the coming of a Messiah; or in the end times as some believe.  I think it will be useful if we see the status quo of our own time as the judgment of our time and our ways.

Since the horrors of the school shootings at Columbine High School, we have seen shootings at Virginia Tech; a political rally in Arizona; a theater in Aurora; and Sandy Hook Elementary School; not to mention, in the same time frame, wars that have produced not peace but a perpetual state of chaos and violence.  Surely these are judgments on a society that lives in fear and turns to armaments (read gun rights) and violence (read war and militarism) and coercion (read legislation) to allay our fears.

The answer lies, I believe, not in praying for the end times to come when a God will intervene from on high; nor waiting for a Messiah in the form of a political leader who will lead us into a new ways of being; nor in turning to our legislators to enact new laws and restrictions on how we may choose to live our lives.

I am quick note that in the Biblical vision from Isaiah it is not through legislation that the people turn away for their love of armaments and violence.  It is not through confiscation of their swords that the people seek a peaceful and safer world.  It is the people, themselves, empowered by a new vision of a transformed world who beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.

The answer lies, I conclude, in a change of heart; a decision on the part of each of us, the fearful and the proud, to cease our worship of power and of arms.  It is a change of heart that comes when we, the people, are confronted with a new vision of righteousness, and justice, and mercy; when we cease to find comfort and safety in our arguments and our isolation and turn instead to find safety in a new vision of community and dialog with each other.  It comes from acknowledging that we are all in this world together and that security for each of us is found in an ongoing pursuit of the common good for all of us.

Spiritual but not Religious

Starting this thread, I am reminded of Home Room Class my sophomore year of High School.  Stacy Albert Thomas sat behind me.  On the first day of class that Fall, the teacher handed out a survey.  As the rest of the class worked away in silence, I could hear Stacy reading aloud his responses as he filled in his questionnaire.  When he got to hobbies, he said, as only an overly bright and under-challenged teenager might, “Experimental Theology.”

Experimental Theology!  Can you even say that in Waco Texas, Jerusalem on the Brazos?  I waited for the rumbling thunder and lightning bolts.  The sky remained clear, hot, and silent.

In a small way Stacy, you helped set me on the path of working out my understanding of theology for myself.  Thanks.  If you are out there somewhere in cyberspace, look me up.  It is time we had a reunion.

I recently learned that “spiritual but not religious”, or in cyber-speak “SBNR” is a search term that will land you on a sites devoted to this subject.

The first blog that I visited via this search term remains under construction, so I could not find an answer to the question that always comes to mind when I hear the statement “I’m, spiritual, not religious”, namely what are your objections to religion?

I am sure there are as many answers as there are people who utter those words.  From my own observations, let me start the discussion with what I think underlies this statement.

I’m spiritual not religious:

  • †  I don’t go to church anymore, but I am still a good person
  • †  the religious tradition that I once practiced no longer meets my needs
  • †  I think much of what goes on in church is irrelevant
  • †  I find other pursuits more meaningful
  • †  I was wounded as a child by what I experienced in church, so I won’t go anymore
  • †  I don’t like being told what to think and believe
  • †  I am just too busy and don’t have time for church
  • †  I don’t like the people I meet in church

I invite you to add others to this list while I work on my next post.

Things We Can Do About Gun Violence

In a Facebook post following the Newtown Connecticut school shootings, I made the statement that there must be a thousand things we as a society and as a nation could do to address gun violence and mass shootings.  Appropriately, a friend replied “post ‘em if you got ‘em”.

So, I’ve decided to ignore the hyperbole of my original statement and begin posting every thought that comes to me on the subject.  I also invite readers of this blog to add to the list.  It is my hope and expectation that in the course of listing responses to mass shootings in particular and the gun culture that underlies the 21st Century American Zeitgeist we can find reasonable changes that can and will contribute to safer and more peaceful communities.

Here are some thoughts to get the dialog started:

1.  Do nothing.  Nothing needs to change.  Our right to keep and bear arms is more important than the lives that are lost to gun violence each year.  After all, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  If killers don’t have guns, they will find other ways to continue the killing.

2.  Wait a thousand years and see if we evolve into a civilized society.  That’s about how long it has taken European countries evolve into societies that have lower levels of gun ownership and significantly lower murder rates.

3.  Trust the marketplace.  When people decide they no longer need assault weapons, they will stop buying them.  When people stop buying them, the manufacturers will stop making them and the importers will stop importing and selling them.

4.  We could look at other nations where the death rate from gun violence is lower than ours and find out what they do differently.  See what strategies and policies work in those countries then adapt those strategies and policies here.

5.  We could stop waiting for “someone” to do something about gun violence and think about things we can each do as individuals.  Here are some suggestions.

6.  We could attend neighborhood association and homeowner association meetings where we live and discuss the issues that surround gun violence and mass shootings. Then, take our concerns to our city councils and county governments.

7.  We could petition of our state legislatures to make changes to our state’s gun laws.

8.  We could join with individuals such as Gabrielle Giffords and contribute to lobbying efforts that provide alternative perspectives to those proffered by the NRA.

9.  We could form and support a think tank to develop model legislation and lobby for its enactment in our local and state governments.

10.  We could demand access to the facts about gun violence by asking Congress to release the data that various agencies collect on gun violence and have those data studied by universities and agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and National Institutes of Health.

11.  We could gather facts for ourselves.

12.  Attend a local gun show.  Find out what weapons are for sale.  Find out how easy it is to purchase a gun.  Find out how easy it is to obtain a high-volume magazine.  Find out how easy it is to obtain instructions on how to convert a semi-automatic weapon into a fully-automatic weapon.  Journal or blog about your experience.

13.  Purchase a handgun at the gun show.  Go to a shooting range and learn how to use it. Journal or blog about your experience.

14.  Obtain a concealed carry permit for your newly purchased handgun. Journal or blog about your experience.

15.  Carry your newly acquired and licensed handgun for a month. Journal or blog about your experience.

16.  Take your newly acquired and licensed handgun to a local law enforcement agency or gun buy-back program and turn it in. Journal or blog about your experience.

17.  After a month without your licensed handgun, journal or blog about your experience.

18.  Reflect on the above experiences then advocate for the gun laws you would like to see in effect in your community.

19.  Get to know your state representative and your member of congress.  Meet with them and discuss your newly informed ideas on gun control.

20.  If this experience has been informative for you, invite/challenge others in your community to undertake this same course of action.

In future posts, I will continue this discussion and expand it to a broader discussion of the factors that contribute to a less violent society.  In the meantime, please join the discussion.  I welcome comments that challenge as well as support the ideas presented here.

Final Thoughts on Mass Killings

Part One: How we have been set up for all this violence.

A recent radio interview with Senior Analyst for the Violence Policy Center Tom Diaz provided me a missing piece for my understanding of how to look at gun violence in America.  What follows is my reflection on the role of the arms industry and its unwitting ally the entertainment industry in creating an America in which these mass killings occur and why these occurrences are inevitable.

Gun manufacturers in America are just another example of a profit-driven enterprise that, having saturated its traditional market, seeks to exploit new market opportunities.  What separates gun manufacturers from other enterprises that trade in potentially lethal products like the pharmaceutical industry, the auto industry, and the tobacco industry is that they have been given the gift of a tangential mention in the Bill of Rights.

While legal scholars and commentators currently state that the Supreme Court has settled the question of whether the Second Amendment protects individual gun ownership; I find myself holding to the interpretation of the Second Amendment that says that its intent was to protect the right of citizens to participate in local militias.  This later interpretation would disestablish the arms manufacturers’ protected status and subject them to the same regulatory apparatus that has served the American People so well by protecting us from unsafe products and practices by all other American corporations and industries.

So, the arms manufacturers, through their handmaiden the NRA, have sold us the notion that any regulation whatsoever of their lethal industry is an assault on our personal liberty and a threat of oppression by a menacing “government” that is dead set on depriving us of all our constitutionally protected rights.  If we submit to any limitation on the right to keep and bear arms, what will be next?

They have convinced the American public that we can protect ourselves from an increasingly dangerous and menacing world by the ownership, possession, and concealed carrying of lethal handguns and assault rifles.

They have fought – to their profit and to the demise of 30,000 Americans each year – reasonable data gathering, study, and regulation of handguns, hunting weapons, and anti-personnel assault rifles.  Thus, allowing them to expand their market base to ordinary citizens who have no reasonable need for their products and to continue to increase their corporate profits in the face of declining sales to sport hunters, law enforcement, and the military.

Part Two:  Are we really that gullible?

Do violent television programs and video games incite violent action or do they provide a means of vicariously expressing our violent nature and result in a more peaceful society?  I’ve heard arguments expressing both perspectives.  While this is an interesting question for further study, I think there are some inferences that we can draw on the impact of our fascination with violent entertainment.

First, let me state unequivocally, I am a willing and active consumer of the products of our violent entertainment industry.  My television viewing has included such titles as Perry Mason, The Rockford Files, Law and Order, Law and Order, Criminal Intent, The Sopranos, 24, Homeland, and recently, Breaking Bad and The Wire.  Although some of these programs do not directly depict violent acts as graphically as the series 24, they all depend to one degree or another, on the plot device of a violent crime, usually a murder.

As those of you who know me can attest, I have yet to be accused of a violent crime as a result of my television viewing.  Further, I would like to think I would be considered low risk for the kinds of criminal behavior depicted in these television dramas.  I have of late however, given thought to limiting my consumption of dramatized violence to see what impact such a change might have on my serenity and sense of the world because I am given to speculate that dramatized violence is a major factor in the widespread belief that we live in a dangerous and menacing world.

Over recent years and decades the studies I have encountered continue to show that Americans’ fear of being a victim of violent crime is far greater than our actual risk of crime and violence.  Consequently, I think we have been set up by our entertainment to be receptive to the fear mongering that the arms industry relies on from the NRA to promote the sales of their anti-personnel weaponry.

The other and perhaps more insidious effect of dramatized violence is the creation of the violent warrior-hero who commits acts of violence to avenge the deeds of the villain and restore order.  There are two consequences of the glorification of these violent warrior-heroes.

First, they sanction and valorize the use of violence.  Jack Bauer, violent warrior-hero of the series 24 slaughtered hundreds of minions of the masterminds of the conspiracies foiled.  He effectively used harsh interrogation techniques and even resorted to murder to gain the information he needed to succeed in foiling his fictional villains.  All this at a time when our national conscience was struggling with the actual use of harsh interrogation against suspected conspirators.  Did Jack Bauer’s success in these fictional episodes contribute to our willingness to accept the use of torture and interrogation techniques that have repeatedly, over the centuries, been shown totally ineffective in evoking useful intelligence; even though they are effective in convincing witches and heretics to confess their sins? (Not, I hasten to add, their actual sins, but the sins their inquisitors accused them of.)

Further, how many times did we see Jack Bauer draw his handgun, fire a few rounds, and kill his intended target?  Let me remind you that Jack Bauer is a fictional character, enacting a script that reads  “Jack fires.  Terrorists #3 and #4 fall dead.”  There are NO real-life Jack Bauers.  No human being alive could make the kill shots depicted in these televised fictions.  Yet I think every concealed-carry permit bearing, gun toting, NRA member, gun owner believes he could prevent the next mass shooting if only HE were there.

It is time for us as individuals and as a nation to grow up; put away our childish fantasies and super heroes; and give up violence as a solution to anything.  It is time to band together and repudiate the lie that “the only solution to a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.”

Aren’t we Americans smarter than that?  Aren’t we Americans more creative than that?  Aren’t we Americans deserving of better solutions to the challenges that face us?  I hope so.

Reflections on Sandy Hook: Part 2

Members of the religious right are being heard to make statements such as “something has gone wrong in America and that we have turned our back on God…I think we have turned our back on the scripture and on God almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on.”

Were I to use those words, I would be saying something quite different from what usually follows from the right.  They will follow such words with a condemnation of whatever social issue they feel represents the great evil of our time.  Where I agree with the statement is that I think the events of Sandy Hook, Aurora, Columbine and the numerous other mass shootings of recent years are the inevitable result of the attitudes and values that we as individuals, and we as communities, and we as a nation have embraced.   Or, if not embraced, we have not challenged or offered alternative perspectives in the public discourse when these unspeakable events occur.

For starters, I think it is counterproductive to speak of the shooters in these episodes as “monsters” though their deeds are indeed monstrous.  I think it is a mistake to label them “evil” though their actions certainly conform to every definition of “evil” that I know.  I think it is more important to see these perpetrators as persons not much different from ourselves.  Then we can ask more productive questions such as “what went wrong for them?” Or “what influences have guided my choices that I did not fall into the depths of despair that spawned their actions?”

I am given to ask, “Have our spiritual leaders and spiritual institutions failed us?”  For, surely there are significant spiritual dimensions to these tragedies.  Have our spiritual institutions become so caught up in institutional survival that we have neglected the care, nurture, and training of our souls?  Have we sought power, influence, and prosperity at the expense of our prophetic vision?  Further, have we as parishioners and congregants been unwilling to be challenged and insisted only on a message of comfort and reassurance?

More questions than answers.  Who will join me in the conversation?