Adventus

"The central doctrine of Christianity, then, is not that God is a bastard. It is, in the words of the late Dominican theologian Herbert McCabe, that if you don’t love you’re dead, and if you do, they’ll kill you."--Terry Eagleton

"...doesn't philosophy amount to the sum of all thinkable and unthinkable errors, ceaselessly repeated?"--Jean-Luc Marion

“The opposite of poverty is not wealth; the opposite of poverty is justice."--Bryan Stevenson

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Day After

How odd is it that this should be the text that comes up in my prayer book for Tuesday:

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and the god of all consolation, who consoles us in all our afflication, so that we may be able to console those who are in any affliction with the consolation with which we ourselves are consoled by God. For just as the sufferings of Christ are abundant for us, so also our consolation is abundant through Christ. If we are being afflicted, it is for your consolation and salvation; if we are being consoled, it is for your consolation, which you experience when you patiently endure the same suffering that we are also suffering. Our hope for you is unshaken; for we know that as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our consolation.
Or that this should be the prayer:

O Great Consoler, you are near us in times of trouble. Give us courage to see your will in everything, that we may accept suffering as Jesus did, patiently bear each other's infirmities, and offer comfort to one another, through the grace of your Holy Spirit. Amen.
Coincidence? Serendipity? Working of the Spirit? Or simply the conditions that prevail?

How odd is it, after all, that police would get a report of a shooting, and decide it was a matter of domestic violence, nothing more? How odd is a shooting anymore, that a college campus wouldn't think to shut down? How odd is it that, after one fatal shooting, a campus of 25,000+ on 2600 acres, wouldn't think to shut down? How odd is it that two fatal shootings, unrelated to each other, would occur within walking distance of each other on the same college campus, on the same day? How odd are shootings that police and campus administrators would not consider two deaths enough warrant to close a school immediately? How odd is it that we don't have a more accepted response to such an incident?

If there is one shooting on a campus, is that reason enough to close the entire campus? Could it even be done? The biggest school I've ever attended was UT Austin, with a student population of almost 50,000. I doubt you could shut down that campus in a day, especially if the shooter wasn't in a high tower taking out whoever walked by. But are shootings so much a part of the fabric of American life that two fatalities in a campus dorm can be considered a "domestic dispute," and life on campus should be expected to go on, uninterrupted? There will be particular, almost unanswerable, questions aimed at the administrators of Virginia Tech. They are not being aimed from here. From here, the questions are aimed at all of us: who are we? What society have we shaped here? What is going on?

Preliminary reports are that the shooter of the people in the classroom was a recent immigrant. That is even more disturbing than a jilted lover. What is it about our society that people feel free, or are free, to come here and vent their rage, their imbalance, their emotional instability, their insanity, their whatever-the-reason-for-rampage? What have we done? What have we wrought?

It is not coincidence that a prayer book written by Benedictines to guide believers in daily prayer life would include a prayer for consolation that would fall on the day after a senseless slaughter like this. That doesn't reflect on the prescience or wisdom of the writers of the book; it reflects on the society we have shaped. The applicability of such prayers is not surprising; it is to be expected. And that is the problem. Beyond the immediate grief and horror, there are the questions about our immediate reaction to the causes for our grief and horror. Are shootings so common that one does not presage another? Are they so common that two unrelated shootings can happen in one day in one place?

What have we wrought? It is popular in 'liberal' scriptural studies circles to point out the economic critique of the gospels, a critique based largely on the contents of Luke's gospel and the cleansing of the Temple. This is not to say that is not a sound critique, a valid stance against the world. But how do we critique the world we have made when horrors like this happen? Random evil? Economic injustice? Spiritual laxity? Nothing seems to apply, except that we accept a high level of violence, we don't blink at killings until they rise to a number above 1, or 2. At that point, suddenly we are concerned; and just as suddenly we have no answers, and we don't point fingers of blame. We criticize the NRA, or the police involved, or call the shooter "crazy," and we move on, glad, as ever, that we are not among the dead.

What have we wrought?

"O Great Consoler, you are near us in times of trouble. Give us courage to see your will in everything, that we may accept suffering as Jesus did, patiently bear each other's infirmities, and offer comfort to one another, through the grace of your Holy Spirit." That is not a popular sentiment, even in Christian circles. We don't want to be encouraging suffering, and we don't want to be accepting it. But in thinking that, we turn this prayer inside out and aim it back at God. Perhaps, as Christians, we who believe should instead, on a day like this, turn the prayer around:

Give us courage to see our failings in everything, that we may accept responsibility as Jesus did, and so bear patiently each other's infirmities, and offer comfort to one another, through the grace of your Holy Spirit.
It isn't an either/or prayer; it can be both/and. We need to accept responsibility for what we have done. We who are believers (let the reader understand) also need to accept the consolation of God.

Amen.

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