The shooting in Tucson — is it close enough this time?

January 14, 2011

TUCSON, Ariz.

Sunday morning, as I drove from Tucson to Phoenix to visit one of our churches — Pinnacle Presbyterian Church in north Scottsdale — I had lots of quiet time to listen to the news and think and pray about the horrific events of yesterday: a congresswoman, shot by a young man with the intention to kill her, then shooting eighteen others and six of them dying.

The nation’s attention is once again directed to a moment of sorrow and pain, and an opportunity to ask, “What are we doing to ourselves?” (For a really fine first-response editorial check out Matt Bai’s comments in the New York Times, “A Turning Point in the Discourse, but in Which Direction?”)

Nearing the Valley of the Sun, I found myself wanting to ask, “Is it close enough this time?” You know, tragedies like this happen often — daily — in our world. Most of them are so distant that it’s hard to “feel” them in a personal way.

(I once heard a church leader espouse the discipline of watching the evening news and picking one tragedy each day to “feel”, by imagining details of the event in personal ways – a discipline to work against the numbness of information overload.)

So, even though none of us, I suspect, is a relative of one of the nineteen victims, is a Congresswoman close enough? Or a federal judge? Or a nine-year-old? Or two Presbyterian victims — Phyllis Schneck of Northminster Presbyterian Church and Congressional aide Gabe Zimmerman, a life-long Presbyterian social worker?

Is Tucson close enough this time? Does this incident “feel” like a defining moment for you and for the church?

Three thoughts: Wes Avram’s sermon at Pinnacle was a gift from God. I believe that all of our sermons and prayers this morning were gifts from God. God’s gift through Wes was in part an invitation to model peacemaking by pointing to the promised realm of God’s peace, by re-membering ourselves to the vision, by making a witness through our prayer services to the reign of God in Jesus Christ.

There is a time coming when such things as Saturday will not happen anymore. Even today, such things don’t have the last word in the Christian community. So, first, let’s make our witness to God’s reign by gathering together for services of prayer — ecumenically, locally, wherever you are. Let Presbyterians take the initiative and invite others in your near community to gather and re-member the vision.

Second, will we use this moment to make a public witness and not a political one? I’m planning to address this at the upcoming de Cristo Presbytery meeting, but for now, consider that we live in a time in our country when all of the church’s public witness has been politicized.

So, already voices are claiming that Arizona’s gun laws are too lenient, the political banter across the divide is too acidic and so life must change, change the gun laws, etc. And the church will be invited to join in the debate, and let politics guide our public presence.

How about a different kind of public witness, such as: the Presbyterians who don’t own guns signing a pledge to never purchase one; or the Presbyterians who do own guns, turning them into the police — in some public way on the steps of the courthouse.

How about Presbyterians expressing hope that our leaders (legislators and police) can create a safer society than we know today?

Or, perhaps more challenging, how about Presbyterians signing a covenant to resist the political “vitriol” (as Pima County Sheriff Dupnik has called for) and to be civil in their disagreements both in our society and in the church.

Third, will we use this moment to pay more attention to young people?

We’re an aging church, and may not have as much contact as we once did with the youth of our day. Back then, we had more opportunity to notice the loners, the teenagers being treated like outcasts, struggling to find their place and to find their voice (remember the two young men who terrorized the Columbine High School in Colorado not that many years ago).

We may have had an easier time of it to discover, to encourage, to connect, to love some of them. It may be harder today — but not impossible — for Presbyterians to engage our neighborhoods and schools with an eye to love the “lost”.

I can remember there was a “second mother” for me growing up — my best friend’s mom — who listened to me and encouraged me when I was really upset with my own folks. We had community in our neighborhoods.

Technology facilitates certain kinds of communication and community, but there’s some kinds of communication and community that must be addressed in face to face ways.

Will we pay more attention — after this time?

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