It’s taken me awhile to get my scattered thoughts together after this, yet another, mass shooting and terrorist attack. I have heard and read the rhetoric that inevitably follows: the media pundits’ spins, op-eds, politicians’ statements, clergy declarations, tweets, and Face Book posts. I’ve liked a lot, hated a lot, but haven’t weighed in, mostly because I’ve been so aghast and confused about what to do in this rapidly changing scape of our reality.
For some, this tragedy is a call to ban guns or strengthen gun control laws. For others, this is evidence for why we need guns: If we don’t have them, they argue, only terrorists and criminals will have guns. Conspiracy theories abound. The argument goes on and on, and many of points are valid on either side of the issue.
And again the vitriol against Islam surfaces. We are told by some that terror is Islam’s technique to spread itself throughout the world—through a reign of fear and destruction, and they cite history to prove this. And others, both Islam’s highest level clerics and other educated experts in world religions, say that the perpetrators cannot be true Muslims, any more than so-called Christians who spew hate toward LGBQs—or immigrants—or others who don’t believe as they do, can be called Christians. If you for a moment don’t think Christians engage in violent speech that incites, just check out these “pastors” in the following clips: http://fox40.com/2016/06/13/sacramento-baptist-pastor-applauds-orlando-shooting/; https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TCIE0vqk6Uo
I’ve heard politicians and so-called Christian leaders say that such shootings occur because we’ve taken (Christian?) prayer out of schools (never mind that I taught in schools in Hawaii where the most of my students were Buddhist). Rather than taking any concrete action, people blithely say, “I will hold Orlando in my thoughts and prayers.” I don’t know about you, but that just sounds hollow. I’m not convinced thoughts and prayers will magically prevent attacks or change anyone’s circumstances; prayer just doesn’t work that way. Prayer will, however, work on our own souls. So if we are going to pray, and I think we should, let us be prepared to have God use us as the responders, the comforters, and the activists.
As the complex arguments play out in this increasingly polarized society, I invite you to a fairly simple reflection that has everything to do with compassion. Actually, Mr. Rogers, who was a Presbyterian minister and beloved children’s TV show star, finally inspired my response to my confusion. He once said, “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.’” Can we be the helpers?
Can we be the compassionate ones? Can we be mindful of our fears, aware of our prejudices, and engage in critical thought? Even more important, can we lay our fears and prejudices at the foot of the cross, risky as that might be, for the sake of others? Even in our polarity over issues like gun control, the nature of Islam, acceptance of the LGBQ community, and the power of prayer, we can always choose our words and actions to err on the side of compassion.