As time has passed, I’ve done some deep pondering and soul-searching regarding the best way to respond to high profile tragedies. . . particularly those like the horrifying December 14th massacre at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.

Over the years, I’ve watched  as attention-seeking vultures descend almost instantaneously for reasons that I don’t fully understand. In today’s media and social media saturated world, those seeking an opportunity to grow their audience through pronouncements and opinionating are afforded a stage. It runs the gamut from the endless and dramatically-staged (and usually ridiculous) speculating of 24-hour news outlet hosts, to the “experts” who throw bits and pieces to their Facebook and Twitter followers, to those who choose simply to post their lay opinions on YouTube.

As the Sandy Hook students and their families load up this morning for their first day back at school, I believe this is the best time to say things. . . and only those things that are truly worth saying. Let me confess that for me personally, it was difficult to keep quiet. After all, we talk about these kinds of things here at CPYU, we’ve got an audience that’s usually eager to listen, and there’s that personal ego-fueled temptation to weigh in so that your own voice can be heard. Still, I knew that the right thing to do is to remain quiet. I believed that same thing back during Columbine, and I’m even more certain of it now as I think about how our media culture has changed since then.

Communities need time to be with themselves in the wake of these things. They need to listen to each other. They need to have their own embedded helpers help. They need to talk, cry, and pray amongst themselves. They need to bury their dead without all the attention. And they need to be able to take their first steps back to living their lives. What they don’t need is a host of self-proclaimed or recognized “experts” descending on them either in the flesh or electronically. . . unless of course, they ask them to be there.

There are lots of reasons why our nosiness and noisiness need to be squelched. As I already mentioned, the healing process doesn’t need our intrusive noses and noise. We need to rise above the temptation to build our audiences. . . and then we need to remain quiet. . . with the only noise being the noise of our prayers on their behalf. And, our emotions need to settle so that when the time is right to speak, we’ve had some time to think, pray and process the story. To speculate on facts, motives, and outcomes in the heat of the moment and from afar is horribly irresponsible. It hurts victims and their families. It muddies the waters. It can even impede and derail the efforts of law enforcement and the effective workings of our judicial process.

Now that we’re almost three weeks past the shootings in Newtown, here are some random thoughts I’ve been processing for the last 21 days. They are admittedly incomplete. Still, I think that’s OK. Who can truly understand and sort out the “whats?” and “whys?” and “hows?” of this story and others like it? After all, we’re not God. . . which is something we all need to realize before we open our mouths in response to these types of things. So here’s a short summary of just a few of my thoughts as I process it all theologically. . . and I’d like to hear what you’re thinking. . .

  • There’s nothing new under the sun. These types of things have been happening since our first ancestors decided to do their thing and shalom came undone. We may personally and locally experience horror that we’ve never personally experienced before, but none of it is new even though it may be new to us.
  • We all want to blame someone or something. We all want to find an easy and quick answer. There’s not any kind of legislation or legislation of anything that can stop the human heart from doing what it wants. (By the way. . . I’m not a gun owner nor am I speaking in veiled ways solely about gun control legislation.)
  • We are all horribly broken people who live in a horribly broken world. We shouldn’t be surprised? Yes, our brokenness and the way it’s exhibited should make us grieve and grieve deeply. . . but we shouldn’t be surprised.
  • This is why He came. 
  • We can’t shield our kids from brokenness. It is a fact of life. In fact, it is the very fact that should drive them to see their need for the One who came to undo what we have done. Our sense of our need for a Savior is in direct proportion to our awareness of just how broken we are.
  • We need to speak to our children about brokenness in age appropriate ways.
  • We should speak about God’s redeeming work and His Kingdom priorities in age appropriate ways.
  • Why do we so easily and quickly blame God? 
  • Thanks to my friends Marv Penner, Rich Van Pelt, and Jim Hancock. . . and thanks to the difficulty I’ve experienced in my own life (which is very limited and minuscule in comparison to what was experienced in Newtown), I’ve learned that trauma victims need lots of time and lots of listening ears. They need to tell their stories. . . over and over and over again.
It’s no coincidence that I’ve been reading Dallas Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines over the last couple of weeks. Willard writes, “Our ‘Why?’ in the face of evil signals a lack of insight – willing or unwilling – into the forces that inhabit the normal human personality and thereby move or condition the usual course of human events. Above all, it shows a failure to understand that the immediate support of the evils universally deplored lies in the simple readiness of ‘decent’ individuals to harm others or allow harm to come to others when the conditions are ‘right.’ That readiness comes into play whenever it will help us realize our goals of security, ego gratification, or satisfaction of bodily desires. This systematic readiness that pervades the personality of normal, decent human beings is fallen human nature. To understand this is the first level of understanding the ‘why’of the evil people do. This ever-present readiness fills common humanity and lies about us like a highly flammable material ready to explode at the slightest provocation. . . . Once we see what people are prepared to do, the wonder ceases to be that they occasionally do gross evils and becomes that they do not do them more often. We become deeply thankful that something is restraining us, keeping us from fully doing what lies in our hearts.”
One last bullet point. . . .
  • There but for the grace of God go I.

One thought on “Newtown Returns to School. . . .

  1. Walt,

    Thanks so much for your “lines.” As an educator that lived that day in a classroom with young children the age of those at Sandy Hook Elementary, I can’t imagine what it would be like to be descended upon and invaded by all those that would view someone’s extreme misfortune as a means to a story. What many do not comprehend is that those students become a teacher’s children for those hours that they are in a classroom. To hear people that have no clue doing the post trauma speculation, is a real invasion.
    I deeply appreciate the perspective you have given to this. The perspective of the “fall of man.” All follows from that. Yes, there are things that must be done from a security standpoint, but to find and ultimate fix, it isn’t there.
    Thank you with your blog injecting the spiritual element to our social issues. In it you remain practical, guarded, but in all ways a perspective from a Christ centered world view.

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