It happened again. It will probably happen again still. Innocent people will die in the midst of going about their usual day. They will be shot down and killed by someone with a gun and lots of ammunition.
Whatever you think about gun control, certainly you grieve the loss of life. I think about the parents whose lives are forever changed, for whom getting up in the morning and out of bed is, in my opinion, a genuine heroic act. The loss of a child is the greatest loss any person can sustain; that’s an acknowledged fact among mental health professionals.
I know parents who have lost children to sudden illness, long illness, violence, and accident. Unless we have also lost a child, especially to violence, I think the only compassionate position is to listen to the feelings of these parents like the ones who most recently were victimized by gun violence in Santa Barbara: their anger, despair, emptiness, frustration, fear, regret…all of it. They cannot understand why the world hasn’t stopped and cried out, “Enough”.
There are some who ask, “Where was God?” and then use what looks to them like the absence of God as an excuse for giving up on God. I can understand this sentiment, but I don’t agree with it. It is a sentiment that assumes God is pulling all the strings, like the puppeteer at a marionette show. This sentiment reveals what may be an unconscious desire to not have to grow up.
The story of Pinocchio is about a puppet who wants to be a real boy. He doesn’t want strings to hold him down. He is given the gift of freedom, to decide for himself what he wants and when he wants it. He experiences hardship and violence when untethered from the puppeteer. Pinocchio’s actions caused pain for someone else: his creator, Geppetto.
God does not control us with strings. There is risk in life. We mitigate that risk in all sorts of ways. I believe Jesus shows us a way to mitigate the risk most effectively in his commandment to love our neighbor. There are many ways our society abandons our neighbors from the time they are young children without access to adequate let alone a decent education. There are ways we abandon our neighbor by un-funding and underfunding mental health support for individuals and families.
Jesus calls us to a way, a life that involves the activity of being a good neighbor. Our neighbor is the person we might not cross the street to greet, or the person who we never imagined would be someone we’d sit with and visit. Jesus invites us to be real and as Maya Angelou put it, recognize, that you are no less human than someone else, and another person is no less human than you.
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