Wednesday, December 19, 2012

My View- Transcending the Tragedy of Sandy Hook

The horrific shooting at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, has torn families asunder and unleashed untold grief. In a time of the year that should hold hope and joy, sorrow and unspeakable pain have become the emotions that are dominant. Grieving families and a shocked nation struggle to make some sense of this tragedy.

The answers will not come easy.

The appalling specter of innocent children being gunned down is beyond comprehension. Children that were focused and excited on Christmas were ripped from this life by an angry and deranged young man. They did nothing wrong, were not in harm's way. And that makes this tragedy more unfathomable. The shattering of their innocence in a violent end amplifies this tragedy.

We are speechless, our words fail us in times like this. As a nation, we are mourning with families that are trying to comprehend the enormity of their loss.When our words fail, we sit down- literally and figuratively- beside those that are suffering and offer the only thing we can offer, our presence. We embrace them in their suffering and let them know that they do not walk alone on this dark path.

Out of our grief and questioning why this happened, there comes another emotion, a burning anger directed toward the shooter, Adam Lanza. Heavily armed and wearing a bulletproof vest, Lanza broke into the the school and began his indiscriminate rampage before finally taking his life. In the aftermath, he is easy to hate, a deranged, troubled young man who is unlovable and loathed for the heartache he has perpetrated. Coping with the sorrow and shock of this tragedy, the anger and the hatred flow easily.

In the moments and hours after the shooting, many people were saying on social media that all of us should hug  those we love and tell them we love them.

Rightly so.

But what about those that are unlovable? The people that are different, those that are not like us, the outcasts.

Do we just love family? Those that have the sames likes and tastes as us? We would all admit that there are some that are more easy to love than other.


Less than 24 hours had passed since this horrific tragedy before some pundits began to attack the "gun culture" in this country as the major contributor to the shooting. Other pundits bemoaned the fact that we had forced God out of our schools and that created an environment ripe for a troubled young man to perpetrate this atrocity. Calls for stricter gun laws from one side and the necessity for God from the other.

The reality is that both sides are right- to a point.

There is a culture problem in this country, just not a gun culture problem. No, not that the ethnic or religious background of my neighbor is different than me. The culture problem that we face today is that we have generally lost our sense of transcendence, of things greater than ourselves. The common good has been supplanted by an ethic of "what's in it for me?" and "how do I get mine?" Make no mistake, I am working and trying as best I can to "get mine" and supply the needs of my family, but when that is my sole ethic, my sole motivation, my focus becomes very limited and self centered. And when we feel like we haven't gotten what is ours, it is easy to have anger and frustration become overriding emotions. 

We have all known people that that cause us to marvel because they think outside of themselves and seek the greater good of others. Dawn Hochsprung,  Principal of Sandy Hook Elementary, and Vicki Soto, a teacher, were just two such people. They were slain defending their students. Unarmed, they rushed into harm's way not thinking about their safety but instead intent on protecting their charges.

Perhaps the courage and character of people like these two heroes is drawn out in challenging times. Yet they lived every day outside of themselves. "What's in it for me?" was not in their makeup; instead they looked to the greater good of those around themselves.

They were transcendent in their thinking and in the way they lived.

In a culture that has become so inwardly focused, a culture that has abdicated the responsibility for living outside of ourselves to institutions and agencies, an environment has been created that allows those who are in trouble to be nearly invisible and for those slipping into madness to fall through the cracks, to surface once again in a breathtakingly demented act that stuns us.

Until the shock and pain diminish and we gravitate back to our normal routines.

Those that say that since we have taken God out of our schools and lives and have become a more secular nation, thus creating an environment for this awful event are right, too.

Up to a point.

I will speak personally on this point. I cannot presume to know what is on the heart of anyone that reads this.

If I rely on my own innate "goodness" to define right and wrong, I will often times fall woefully short of treating my fellow man as I should. I want what is best for me. Putting others and their best interest first is not natural. My reliance on my goodness is insufficient.

By living in a transcendent relationship with my God, I have a firm value system that is, in my mind, unwavering. There is absolute good, and there is absolute evil. More importantly, I do not define what is good and what is evil. "Do not kill" is an absolute, a line I would never cross. "Love your neighbor as yourself" is also an absolute, but much tougher for me to follow and live every day. In fact, if it were up to me, I wouldn't try that one. Yet, in a transcendent relationship, I am called to do that every day, no matter how miserably I fail.

But attempting to impose my belief system on others will also be an abject failure. And attempting to force God on an individual, a community, or a society that does not want him will, too, be an abject failure.

Instead, if  I live a transcendent life, one that puts the interests of others first, I will become the influence, the good, that can change those around me. Transcendent living is not often heroic, like what was done by Dawn Hochsprung and Vicki Soto, but is often very mundane. Yet, it is the sometimes mundane things that can make someones life a little easier and lets them know they are valuable, and in turn change a life.

Thankfully, we do not have to frequently witness the transcendent actions of those thrust into acts of bravery and heroism like Dawn Hochsprung and Vicki Soto. Yet I would submit that daily living in a transcendent manner is just as heroic. Treating those who are rude to us with kindness is difficult, and in this day, not something that I like to do. Transcendent living causes me to step outside myself and see the perspective of another, to walk in their shoes, and to feel empathy. That is, at times, painful. It is certainly not in my nature.

Looking beyond ourselves- transcendentally living- allows us to see the outcast, the hurting, and yes, the unlovable. More importantly, it calls us to action.

And that will change lives.


There is a call for more laws, more regulations, to limit guns. There will be heated debate about this. There will analysis and argument, no doubt volatile and angry at times, about the causes for this shooting. Angry accusations from left and right are already flying. There will be those who are fearful of an erosion of their rights. Even now there is a strong sense that as a nation, we must "do something".

If the debate is just about this tragedy and its causes and the laws we want to hide behind; if we are just content to "do something" so that we feel better; then the heroism of the staff at Sandy Hook and the tragic loss of the lives of so many innocents will have no lasting impact on our nation and on us as a people.

Laws will not eliminate evil, nor will they change lives. If we are going to change as individuals, as a society, it will be a change that occurs because we have begun to live outside of ourselves.

Heroically, in little daily actions that make a positive impact on others.

Loving the unlovable; overcoming evil with good.

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