December 21, 2012
I heard one of the reporters say that the horrific loss of life at Sandy Hook Elementary School was the worst act of terror and violence we have experienced as a nation since 9/11. I don’t know how we measure such things, but I understood what the reporter meant. I understood because of the deep familiar feelings both evoked: shock, sorrow, grief, the inability to process any of it, and the desire, powerless as it initially feels, to help and change things – to hope we can change things. To believe it: we can change things.
Like everyone else, I’ve been struggling with being part of a society that could get to the point where this could happen. What have we done wrong? Where have we lost, whatever we have lost? And as a minister, I’ve been struggling to respond to the same questions and more that others have of us who serve. One answer that comes easily is that more violence and more guns is not the answer.
From there, not so easy…
I remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy, and remember thinking that could never happen again, only to lose Robert and Martin a short time later.
I remember thinking after the murder of Matthew Shepard that no one could ever condone violence or homophobia again.
I remember the chaining and dragging death of James Byrd, Jr., sure that we would wake up to the inhumanity of racism, segregation, discrimination. Surely, after his death things would change.
And, I could add more…so could any of us. The prayer and hope we have is that out of tragedy some great change of heart and nation and world will come. Something will come of the pain and sorrow to honor those who suffered. Who continue to suffer…
The lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School have dulled me. It is the way of mourning, which I feel from this distance – far from being able to imagine the grief of the families and the community of Newtown during these days and those to come. We all now carry the loss of the children and adults with us. Distance, geographical or otherwise cannot be a balm to assuage our own sorrow. As hard as it may be to “stay close” in whatever ways we may – it is our responsibility to do so, or these lives lost will become part of what we once hoped for. That loss has already happened for the families. Let it not happen to us as a nation.
For many of us, this is a time when we remember the birth of a child who would live into and suffer his own great violence. As with so many traditions, the message he carried of peace, hope, resurrection, and a loving God was a radical one and a message that others sought to expunge, protecting their own interests and power. We face some of those same interests and powers now; those who seek to quiet what needs to be done, letting the news cycle add these lives to those too many lost before. Arming and protecting ourselves so that love becomes a quaint idea in an ever more violent world – is not an answer.
For me, this Christmas, especially, is a reminder that Jesus died loving us, knowing that he was loved, and promising the same to all of humanity. It occurs to me that the children and the lives lost in Newtown died loving, as well, filled with their joys and laughter, loving their families because they were loved by their families and their God. There is peace in that truth.
From there, we will all have to search our hearts about what we will do. As part of those seeking welcoming and inclusion in our church and this world for sisters and brothers who are Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender – we know the violence and marginalization; we know the societal illnesses of others directed at us. We also know that our response has always been to love others, as difficult as that might be, to get to know one another, come together, and discover that what we share is greater than any of our differences. And it begins like that…
Whatever we may do to end the violence and change this society on broad local or national scales, whatever we may do to try and somehow honor the great loss of our family in Newtown and in countless other places, let us begin by loving each other. If there is reconciliation that has been put off – let it be embraced and healed. Let every prayer and act be an act of love and kindness. Even when we don’t get it right, the attempt itself is an act of love. From there, change will happen.
In our faith, we believe that God welcomes us home in the glory of true resurrection. We believe that all those who have left this world, however they have left this world, are embraced in Love and Joy and Wonder beyond our imaginings. They are now with the Child we remember at Christmas, helping us in a different way. A much needed way.
Let us ask God and them, in all the Love they are and all the ways we know God – to be with us and guide us this day and in all the days to come. We have much to do and we are not alone.
In this Spirit and embrace, with these thoughts, promises and more in our hearts, and loving you all…so very much,
Merry Christmas from us all.
Ray Bagnuolo, Minister Evangelist
That All May Freely Serve