Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Some Preliminary Thoughts on the Tucson Tragedy

[Note: I write a weekly column entitled "When You Stop & Think About It" for our church newsletter. What follows is this week's column. In the limited space available I can't go into much detail or work with much nuance. I hope to expand this into a fuller blog post.]

Being a public servant is dangerous and we should pray for those who serve.

That danger was tragically underscored again last Saturday morning when a gunman opened fire at a town hall gathering hosted by Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a Tucson, Arizona grocery store, killing six people and wounding fourteen more.

Rep. Giffords was seriously wounded.

The dead are Christina Taylor-Green, a nine-year old who wanted to learn more about the political process; Gabe Zimmerman, a 30-year-old aide to Rep. Giffords who was recently engaged; John Roll, the 63-year-old chief federal judge in Arizona; Dorwin Stoddard, 76, who was very active in his church’s benevolence ministry and who died shielding his wife, who was wounded, from the gunfire; Phyllis Schneck, a 79-year-old great-grandmother and widow; and 76-year-old Dorothy Morris, whose husband was seriously wounded.

I offer such details to remind us that these were real people with real lives and real families and friends who were gunned down in this senseless act. Let us pray for those families and friends who are grieving; let us pray for our leaders that they will be kept safe; let us pray for the kind of progress in our hearts and in our society that will make such occurrences less likely.

Such prayers are frankly not without self-interest; after all, such a thing could happen anywhere at any time to anybody.

Some politicians and pundits have since the shootings been debating the possible role that the very heated political rhetoric in our nation might have played in the assassin’s actions. It is more likely that the mental instability of the alleged killer will prove to be the predominant factor. Still, surely we all realize that words can be inflammatory and thus very damaging. On the other hand, words can douse fires and can be constructive and helpful.

Besides, the content of our words reflects the state of our hearts which is finally the place from which our actions come.

So, whether our words are spoken in a political, family, work, or church context, we do well to remember the song: “O be careful little mouth what you say”—and the words of James: “Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you? You want something and you do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts” (James 4:1-2)—and the words of Jesus: “You have head that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:21-22).

When you stop and think about it, what we all need to be really careful about are the kinds of feelings and attitudes and thoughts that we nurture in our own minds and hearts. It’s from those that come the good or bad, the constructive or the destructive, the loving or the hateful, and the helpful or the hurtful.

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