Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Walking around angry

I’ve been walking around angry since Saturday’s shootings in Tucson. I’ve functioned just fine in public, but underneath, I’ve been in a rage. I can’t believe it happened.

I’ve dealt with it by shooting my mouth off on Facebook in a way that some people thought was inappropriate. It’s very easy to assume motive before the facts come in, and now it seems that Jared Loughner may have been so sick and so out of touch with reality that any connection to Sarah Palin or even the radical fringe of the Tea Party movement would have seemed sane by comparison. While liberals eat crow, conservatives are blaming them for trying to score cheap political points.

But I don’t think politics has anything to do with it. If anything, accusing the other side of playing politics is yet another way of perpetuating the madness.

We’re all scrambling to understand what happened, and it’s very important for our sanity that we each explain it in a way that fits our worldview. Conservatives want to make sure we understand that an individual is responsible for his/her actions, while liberals want to demonstrate that no individual acts in a vacuum, free of influence, and that as a society we have a responsibility to each other. Both of these perspectives are true.

But no matter Loughner’s motives, Sarah Palin’s crosshairs—and any other violent imagery used in politics by anybody at all—are classless at best and dangerous at worst. Why dangerous? Not because your average citizen is likely to shoot an automatic weapon into a crowd, but because your average citizen is likely to feel supported in his tendency to demonize those with whom he disagrees. In the same way that soldiers at war create offensive names for their enemies and then use them to rally each other to kill, we in America feel more disconnected from those with whom we disagree the minute we start using violent metaphors against them. This disconnectedness helps us feel better, for the moment. Disrespect falls into a downward spiral, and the only way out is to recognize the full humanity of every other human being in the world. Christians call it “seeing Christ in the other.” It is not our natural tendency.

Personal responsibility does not necessarily lead to Ayn Rand-ian heartlessness, while social responsibility does not necessarily lead to socialism. As Americans, we will always walk a tightrope between extremes, and not just this set of extremes.

Another factor I see at work here is America’s addiction to the quick fix. That tendency causes so many social ills I’m afraid to start listing them here. All of us are affected all the time: “Whose fault was this? How can we fix it once and for all? Take away the guns! Revoke universal health care! Shoot child molesters in the head! Stop creeping socialism! Send the immigrants back! Eliminate the competition! Nuke Iran!” Rather than walk patiently through our lives dealing with our enemies as fellow human beings, we all want to get to a settled point and stay there. Problem is, there’s no such place.

It is the human condition always to be in flux and never to be safe. In our prosperous society, we have created the illusion that this isn’t so, that we can wall ourselves in with our money and privilege and electronic gadgets and never even have to talk to our neighbors. Then someone like Loughner comes along, and we wonder why someone didn’t deal with him in time. When there’s someone who may be too sick to truly be responsible for his own actions, who is responsible?

I was hit especially hard by the story of Christina Green, the girl who was born on September 11 and who was looking forward to a career in politics when she was shot in the back by Jared Loughner. Who will avenge her death? Nobody—because murder should not be avenged. Ever. Nothing will bring Christina back, and nothing will make it better except time and the slow, patient, redemptive work of God. I hate this situation. I want it to be different. But this is the way it is.

I could blame God for creating this world and placing us in it, but that doesn’t help. For one thing, I have a daughter, and my wife and I decided to create her. If we wanted to guarantee less pain in the world, we would not have brought another person into it. That’s the case for everybody out there who decides to have children. They, like we, only get to stay here for a short while. Many people die violent deaths. We take that chance every time a baby is born.

Maybe violent death isn’t the worst thing that could happen to someone. But that doesn’t make this situation OK. It’s not, and it never will be. And it’ll never be erased. When the history of the world is said and done, Saturday’s shootings will still be part of the story.

Today, my sadness and anger tell me that’s all wrong. But my faith tells me that somehow, in some way, there’s a joy that completely overwhelms all the sadness and anger and pain, and that we all have access to this joy. That’s hard to believe today, but I write it down in a rambling blog post and share it so we won’t forget it.

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