Tucson: What Have We Learned?

In the wake of the horrifying shooting spree that took place outside a Tucson supermarket last weekend, the airwaves have been clogged with talk that mostly centers around two things:  the details of what actually happened and who we should blame.

While those are both pressing and important concerns (especially the details that help us to celebrate the lives of those who were killed or wounded), we would be remiss if we did not take some time to think about what we’ve learned since Saturday morning.  As a society, we’ve got a bit of a problem when it comes to difficult and/or catastrophic events: we rarely take time to truly process, grieve, learn.  We jump straight from calamity to blame to action, and rarely look back (until, of course, it is too late and our reactionary measures have helped to cause another catastrophe).

So, let’s take some time to practice together.  What are we learning in the wake of the Tucson shooting?

My learnings include the following:

  • Words matter. It’s not about blaming one person for an event.  It’s not even about blaming an entire movement or group of people for an event.  It’s about acknowledging that words have both creative and destructive power and should be used in thought-full and care-full ways (something that most all of us seem to have forgotten).  If we Church folk really do believe that God’s creative power is/was exercised through Word, if we really take seriously the belief that Jesus is the Divine Word, the Logos, then we have to be more intentional with our use of language – and be willing to be held accountable when the words we choose are destructive.
  • Guns still kill people. Yes, you’ve got to have someone deranged or serious or desperate or enraged enough to pull the trigger… but guns still make it a heck of a lot easier to do so.  Does this mean we should ditch those 2nd amendment rights?  I don’t know.   But I do know that our love affair with guns is wedded to our love affair with violence.  Eventually, if we truly yearn for peace, we’re going to have to start talking about that with honesty and transparency.
  • Mental health care is crucial. You’d think that this would be obvious by now (what with suicides on the rise amongst both military personnel and civilians alike, depression rates climbing, etc.) and yet so many people who need help never receive it – even when their words or behavior cry out for it.  In a society where mental illness is considered weakness, it is little wonder that people don’t get help…  We must do better than this – and church folk can begin by talking openly about mental illness.  We’ve helped to create the stigma by propagating ideas like “depression is just a lack of faith”, so now we must repent of that petty judgment and fearfulness by working for the wholeness of those with mental illness.  If one is wounded, so is the whole Body.
  • Good leadership requires humility. So, when we leaders make mistakes, we need to own up to them.  It can be difficult and painful to do this, and sometimes we need to set boundaries as we are held accountable (for example, while some politicians are absolutely guilty of using violent rhetoric they should not be held personally accountable for the shooting in Tucson), but we DO need to own up to our errors in judgment or intention.  If we don’t, we are poor leaders.  And if we try to shift the blame onto others or make the situation about us instead of those who are hurt, we are abusing the power others have entrusted to us.  Period.

    I’m hoping that this will become a conversation of sorts and that, together, we might begin to shift the dialogue taking place towards mutual learning and relationship.  So, tell me, what have YOU learned this week?

    Words that Reveal – Words that Conceal

    Words have always fascinated me – just as much for what they cover up as for what they reveal.

    For example, there are lots of words that some Christian folk use for ideas and people who challenge their traditions or beliefs.  I’ve read some of these words recently in the comments left on Amazon about the books of the Where’s the Faith? series as well as in the comments section of friends’ and colleagues’ blogs.  Words like “unChristian” and “unBiblical”.  Phrases like “slippery slope” and “lukewarm”.  In a comment about our Oh God! book, one “reader” (I use scare quotes primarily because I am skeptical about whether or not the commentator actually read more than the introduction to the book) went as far as to state that we had produced a “good handbook for incurring the wrath of God.”

    Well, damn.

    Statements like that hurt, and for a time I found myself grieving the fact that anyone would rub the wrath of God in our faces – we who had come together to write a book that was honest and real and raw and faithful.  I mean, we knew that our approach to sexuality would tick some people off, but comments like that wounded nonetheless. Yet, now that the hurt has worn off a bit, I find myself wondering what those comments are really about.  Are they words that reveal?  Or, are they words that conceal?

    I’m inclined to think that they are the latter.

    If this is indeed the case, what in the world could such hateful and hurtful statements be hiding?  On the face, they seem designed for the primary purpose of revealing our sinfulness (with a secondary purpose: hurting the god-less authors and putting us in our place).  But as I have sat with these words, listening to them echo off the surfaces of my mind, I’ve noticed something at work that is akin to sonar: as the words bounce and reverberate, they provide valuable information about what exists hidden in the darkness (both within ourselves/myself and within our accusers).

    If we listen carefully, these words betray the presence of the very things they are designed to conceal:  fear and pride.

    This is not to say that any one of us (myself very much included) isn’t periodically off course  and in need of someone to help us find our way back.  Sometimes we are blazing a new trail that seems inconceivable to those who have come before us (or who cannot see beyond their own context), and other times we are simply wrong.  But regardless of which position we may find ourselves, the fact remains that someone who wants to help us back on track doesn’t do so by insulting or hurting us.

    Those who hurl epithets and judgment like bricks, those who almost gleefully lash out and brand others with a searing “H” for heresy, those who post scathing blog comments or send sanctimonious letters have no desire for the wholeness of the other – those of us who do this to one another are mostly trying to hide our own uncertainty, our own fear that we might not be as thoroughly right (or righteous) as we pretend to be.

    Instead of engaging the ideas and the people who challenge us, so often we give in to the temptation to lash out.  It is far easier to boldly pronounce “blasphemy” than it is to enter into that vulnerable, risky space where dialogue happens.  Dialogue is sometimes perceived as “dangerous” because it always contains the possibility for change.  The other folks in the conversation might give us new insights or help us to see that we’ve been holding onto a faulty assumption.  They might sway us with their logic or convince us that we don’t yet have it all figured out.  Rather than take this chance, sometimes we reject dialogue outright and insist that our way is the only way (and then commence with destroying those who are different from us).

    That may very well be pride at its worst.  When we look down our noses and wish damnation on our neighbors or enemies (or when we revel in our certainty that they are hell-bound, ignorant, unenlightened, etc.) our own pride has pushed us so far from all things Christlike that the ways we are “right” no longer amount to much.  For even though we may be correct on the finer points of doctrine or the meaning of a portion of Scripture, when we prance about without humility or love for neighbor and enemy, we have missed the point.

    I’m still working out what all this means.   I don’t have all the answers by any means.  But I want to shed my fear and my pride.  I want to be in dialogue with you, even if you think I am lukewarm, unBiblical and unChristian.  I want to be in dialogue with you, even if I think you are ignorant and mean-spirited.  Chances are good that we are far more (and far better) than our biased opinions of one another.  We may never change each others’ minds, but we can love each other and pray together that God will make us whole.  And part of that relationship, part of that process requires using words that reveal instead of conceal.

    May the light of Christ shine upon and within us as we learn to love each other more deeply, differences and all.

    Creativity… #reverb10

    PROMPT:  December 6 – Make.

    What was the last thing you made? What materials did you use? Is there something you want to make, but you need to clear some time for it?

    (Author: Gretchen Rubin)


    I’ve never considered myself a creative person.  That was always my sister’s gift.  While growing up, she was praised for her creativity:  painting, creating a distinctive and unique style of dress, responding to a school project prompt (make up your own product and create advertisements for it) by selling the Pope…  Ultimately, she majored in Art History and minored in Art Performance.  This led to a masters degree in Art History and a career in the wide world of museums, digital photography, image digitization & acquisitions and the like.  On top of the career, she also knits and crochets the most incredible yarn art, is a printmaking diva,  crafts stunning jewelry and basically oozes creative energy.  I’m incredibly proud of her and hope to build a collection of her artwork throughout our lives.

    In comparison, words were always my gift.  I was praised for my ability to string words together in compelling ways: giving persuasive speeches in class, convincing others to take particular routes as we sought to address a problem, writing essays and stories…  In high school, our student activities director (who passionately disliked me primarily because I have a mouthy-streak) let me go on a student council trip despite our shared dislike of one another because “you’re the best bull-$*&#er I’ve got.”  Ultimately, I majored in Religion and minored in History.  This led to a masters degree in Theology and a career in the wide world of ministry and writing/editing.  As far as I can tell, my sister is similarly proud of me and owns at least one of the books I’ve worked on.

    She is the creative one and I am the “words” one.  This has been a huge part of the framework in which I have understood the both of us over the course of the past decade or two.  And while there is truth woven into this framework, I’m beginning to see that there is also unnecessary limitation.  By understanding us within these boundaries, I’ve essentially said that she can’t craft words well and I’m not creative.  Neither of these things is true.

    This realization was ignited this year as I unlocked a very creative space within myself.  It wasn’t an intentional thing – it first began as a part of the Lenten studies we had at our church.  Each Wednesday we met together and joined in an experiential form of prayer:  praying in color, creating and praying with prayer beads, creating and contemplating crosses made from “found objects” (junk).  During this process, I discovered that I thrive in opportunities for creativity.

    Most recently, two creative practices have emerged through this unlocked door:

    • creating gifts via crochet.  My husband’s side of our family made a decision to celebrate Christmas by making gifts for one another using our own skill sets and talents.  For the first time in my life, I have followed crochet patterns – and have discovered that while I can’t knit worth a damn, I crochet rather well.  The practice turns out to be quite meditative, and it is thrilling to watch simple yarn turn into beautiful and purposeful objects.  (I would post photographs, but then the family would know what they’re getting!).
    • writing daily.  I’m a fairly smart cookie, but it had never occurred to me that writing was my primary creative activity.  I suppose that in my mind I wasn’t engaged in “creative writing” because I don’t write fiction.  Whatever the reason, I have always thought of my word-smithing as something practical rather than creative (as if creativity can’t be practical!).  Anyhow, as I continue in this discipline of writing every single day, I am discovering that the creative parts of my brain/spirit are energized as words flow from mind through fingers to keyboard.

    In 2011, I’d like to take this newly understood creativity for a spin.  Using words as my medium, I would like to paint a picture of challenge and hope for the Church.  I’m still working out the particular topics and themes of such a project, but I know that I want to create a full-length book throughout the course of the next twelve months.  And, as I continue the process of understanding my own creative impulses and gifts, I would like to spend much of 2011 talking with my sister about her gifts (including her words).