Hurricane Sandy to Sandy Hook: An Advent Reflection

Posted: December 16, 2012 in Advent, Christianity, Memorials, Social Justice
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Wisdom says the fears of the wicked will all come true, as will the hopes of the godly (Proverbs 10:24). During occasions of disaster and tragedy such as have impacted us on the East Coast recently, it feels as if this promise of a reconciled future is far off or perhaps will never be fulfilled. In this season of Advent we have found waiting difficult.

Our recent storms have begged us to consider our foundation. The Statue of Liberty, tempest tost in the New York Harbor by Hurricane Sandy, survived with her recently refurbished crown intact but her footing unsure due to the destruction of much of Liberty Island’s infrastructure. It appears the base on which Lady Liberty stands is crumbling and we all feel it. Liberty herself has joined in our tension filled anticipation, looking out maternally over a devastated region. We attempt to take solace at this time in remembering another Mother awaiting a Savior.

Sandy followed on the heels of Hurricane Irene. These sisters of devastation swept homes into the sea, capsized businesses, knocked out lights, crippled public transportation and claimed lives. Their forceful winds and waves of destruction laid bare a power crisis leaving at least 8 million of us in the dark, some for weeks, while provoking deeper questions of the meaning of power.

Inevitably, an uproar of attention and assistance follows when people who are used to being in power lose it. In the aftermath of the storms, neighbors expressed concern for each other who had lost their power. Utility company crews worked through the night to restore power. Electricians arrived from across the country for the benefit of the powerless. In real time we observed the connection between power and resources in our culture. And when any who are in trouble are embraced with love and helping hands it awakens hope and gratitude.

Sandy Hook memorial 12-14-12Here in Connecticut, Sandy may have spared us the difficulty experienced by those in New York and New Jersey, but we are the epicenter of pain this week after losing 27 lives in the second deadliest school shooting in our nation’s history. With 20 of the victims lost children ages 6 and 7, no sense will be made of this tragedy. No understanding of motive or gun-control debates will bring them back to celebrate Christmas with their families. Their wrapped gifts under the tree will remain forever unopened. We can only hold each other and our heads in mourning, crying out to God on behalf of their innocent blood spilt, for their parents’ unspeakable grief. We attempt to take comfort in remembering another Father in anguish over His innocent Son murdered. We pray again that the hopes of the Godly are realized and that our waiting is not in vain.

Today heartfelt prayers and gestures of support are overflowing for those directly affected by the catastrophe at Sandy Hook Elementary School. Rightfully so. Let us not forget each of these little souls stolen from us as well as the teachers and staff who courageously served them on a daily basis before being forced to make the ultimate sacrifice of a friend. Kind words and acts of love directed toward Newtown recreate faith in the goodness of humanity. Yet we know the people of Newtown, Connecticut are not the only ones hurting in our country.

If we have eyes to see, other innocent victims come into view, souls somehow considered more tolerable casualties. Their executions carried out at a slower pace, but alarmingly steady. Not simultaneously and with no media fanfare. Rarely are the continually oppressed recipients of such widespread goodwill and generosity. Somehow viewed as acceptable victims, they are not aware they too have a voice, frequently occupied with more basic needs such as simply surviving off limited finances and inadequate education. Standing up for one’s rights often takes a backseat to drowning out harsh realities through self-injurious actions which can lead to generational imprisonment. We ask who is intent on restoring power and equality of opportunity and justice to these brothers and sisters?

These acceptable victims include our people of all ages who are continually losing their lives in the senseless violence occurring in our inner cities. For over a decade and a half, Sacred Heart Church in Camden, New Jersey has held a remembrance service on the last Sunday of the liturgical year to honor those murdered in their neighborhoods and offer comfort to their families. This year Sacred Heart read aloud the names of an unfathomable 63 human beings murdered between November 2011 and November 2012. Greater than one a week in a city of only 77,000 residents. The vast majority from gun violence, but not all. In September, a six year old boy named Dominick Andujar had his throat slashed when he tried to come to the rescue of his older sister who was being sexually assaulted. Days prior in August, a two year old boy named Zahree Thomas was decapitated, his head found in a freezer.

It may be because these stories are too hard to for us to hear that they are not more widely circulated and that we are not more adamantly outraged and driven to action. But Sandy Hook has proven this untrue, leaving us to wonder why we have normalized the tragedies occurring in Camden, the poorest per capita city in the United States. In part, our collective despair for Connecticut or Colorado seems to be a communal lamentation for the loss of the “safe place” in our culture realizing that Sandy Hook could have been the neighborhood school our kids attend or Century 16 in Aurora the local movie theater we frequent. We want to shield our own children from danger and harm and now realize that we cannot guarantee their safety. We have not understood that in failing to see ourselves in places like Camden, we have created a false narrative of us versus them. We have forgotten Dr.King’s proclamation that “whatever affects one directly affects all indirectly”, ignoring the nightmares experienced by our brethren, now shocked when evil has attacked here as well.

We are afraid yes. But now is not the time to shrink back from our public places or rush to homeschool all of our children. If we run away from evil, it will find us. Neither can we escalate the myth of redemptive violence or its hateful rhetoric looking for a scapegoat. We must confront evil in sacrificial love as many of the teachers did in this latest tragedy, saving the lives of students as a result. We remember a Parent who willingly entered into our distress and in so doing lost His Son, and believe this is the Way forward, that good can overcome evil.

We now grieve our loss of those whom the world was not worthy at Sandy Hook Elementary. But let us grieve all our lost sons and daughters and their dreams massacred. Let us support each other through these storms, physical and mental, regardless of geography and access to power. Let us continue to wait together expectantly and actively for the Prince of Peace, hoping that in finality our chains will lay broken at our feet and that our tired, poor and huddled masses will one day breathe free on solid ground. In our fear and brokenness we trust that the fears of the wicked will all come true, as will the hopes of the godly. Thank you for your continued prayers.

Comments
  1. Randy Fisher says:

    Very well expressed. 🙂

  2. Thanks for a wonderful blog! Surely I feel God’s leading you. I wonder where such words lead . . . . to transformative redemptive ministry? . Powerfully written.

  3. Blair says:

    Similar scenes of grief over gun violence in Newtown, Conn., and Chicago (AFP/Getty Images)
    (The Root) — Shortly after the Jovan Belcher tragedy I was asked on a television program whether or not the NFL player’s high-profile murder-suicide and sports announcer Bob Costas’ courageous comments about gun violence in the incident’s aftermath would have any impact on gun control in America. I answered that they would not. The reason? Because as I noted during that interview, historically our country has only addressed the issue of gun violence when it touches the lives of those with whom our leaders are most likely to identify. Rarely are those likely to be incidents involving people of color suffering domestic violence or teens of color from low-income communities who are victims of urban gun violence.

    Instead the gun tragedies that have actually moved our elected officials to significant action on gun control have been those incidents in which victims are most likely to remind our leaders of their own friends, families and communities, incidents like the 1993 shooting on a Long Island Rail Road train, which killed commuters from New York’s professional class or the 1999 Columbine High School shooting, which made gun control the cause célèbre of white suburban moms, culminating in the Million Mom March in 2000.

    Now it appears another incident is poised to finally move our leaders to action once again, 13 years after Columbine. The murder of 20 children and six adults in the quiet and normally safe enclave of Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14 is forcing a conversation about gun control that the shooting of 26 residents in one night in Chicago this summer — resulting in the deaths of two teens and injury of 24 others — could not. As previously noted in an analysis by the now-defunct the Daily, more Chicago residents, many of them urban youth, were killed by gun violence in the first half of 2012 than American soldiers were killed in Afghanistan during the same period.

    Just think about those numbers for a moment.

    Yet I don’t recall elected officials of either party making the rounds of the Sunday morning news shows, explicitly to urge action in honor of those kids. But that has happened in the wake of the Newtown tragedy, just as it happened briefly in the wake of the Aurora, Colo., movie theater tragedy. But the difference between the incident in Aurora and the latest one in Newtown is that Aurora took place months before an election, a time in which very few politicians, including the president, feel their most politically courageous, particularly when it comes to provoking the ire of the political giant that is the National Rifle Association. As I wrote at the time, apparently there are four branches of government: the executive, the legislative, the judicial and the NRA. Perhaps it would have been more accurate for me to write that the NRA was the most influential undeclared candidate in the presidential race, not to mention every Senate and House race, too.

    Now with the election safely in the rearview mirror, here’s hoping our leaders will drum up a bit more courage before another tragedy unfolds. Some already have begun to.

    After Columbine, some newly inspired gun-control activists, many of them upper-middle-class mothers from predominantly white communities, expressed regret to mothers of color for not being involved in the fight for gun control earlier, when gun violence claimed the lives of kids who didn’t grow up in leafy suburbs and whose deaths were not likely to garner extensive coverage on the nightly news. The activism ignited by Columbine resulted in more stringent gun control laws and more diligent enforcement of existing laws, particularly on the state level.

    Now, more than a decade later, the cycle appears to be repeating itself. Here’s hoping that this time around, the activism the Newtown tragedy sparks will have long-term impact on communities like Newtown nationwide, and as a result, also impact urban communities that appear on the outside to have little in common with the tony Connecticut suburb, but are now united in the shared tragedy and heartbreak of young lives cut short by gun violence.

    Keli Goff is The Root’s political correspondent. Follow her on Twitter.Like The Root on Facebook. Follow us on Twitter.
    Tags:Newtown Newtown massacre Racial gun violence Sandy Hook blogging the beltway chicago and gun violence chicago gun violence gun control gun control and Sandy Hook gun violence and sandy hook elementary school shooting newtown school schooting

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