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A heart full of sorrows and determination -or- all the things I’m not saying on Facebook

December 17, 2012

Last Friday, my first instinct was to run to this blog like it was the Bat Cave. Surely, something must be done. Something must be said! The noise and violence of the Connecticut shooting had gotten too loud for me to take. I wanted to scream above it all. Drown it out. But I didn’t. Instead, I took time to hold my own children, to talk with them about what happened. To weep alone, to pray corporately and in solitude, and to rant at my husband (who already agrees with me and cannot echo back his own thoughts for grief and disbelief at what we all have seen).

Many people did run to their blogs, to the presses. My social feeds and email notifications have exploded with conversations about guns, God, and illness. One post cannot possibly contain those multitudes, but I am compelled to address some of those ideas in one place, my place, at this point.

To start, I have seen many, many people reiterating and defending comments made by Mike Huckabee, etc. that things like this happen because we’ve taken God out of the public square. I find that to be rhetorically ridiculous, given that even at times other than Christmas, He still makes the news constantly as part of political and social conversations. Not only is that a wholly inaccurate assessment of our culture, it’s an entirely bad theology. You cannot “take” God anywhere. He’s not a mouse in your pocket. He’s not a treasure in your heart. He’s the living, holy, omniscient, omnipresent God of all Creation! I think that demands an exclamation point.

Where can I go from your Spirit?
Where can I flee from your presence?
 If I go up to the heavens, you are there;
if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn,
if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me,
your right hand will hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,”
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Psalm 139: 7-12

Anyone who needs further Biblical evidence of God’s all-everythingness is invited to consider and meditate upon His response to Job in chapters 38-41 of that book. Godly Job lost everything, even his children, and once he reaches the point of questioning God, “Why? Where ARE you?” he gets a nice long set of questions back that explain exactly where God was.

Now, I know this “kicked God out of public schools” thing has become part of common evangelical discourse, but I just have to say, once and for all, stoppit. Stop it right now. Last spring, when I found myself an aimless stay-at-home mom, I prayed about a new opportunity to head up the PTA at my son’s elementary school. I thought, “I’ll do a little good and bring some Kingdom to my boy’s school.” When I got there, I saw that God was already there. He was in 98% of the teaching staff who renewed their contract at a Title I school instead of bailing for a school with fewer poor children. He was in the Monday afternoon Bible study, 70 kids strong, that happens after school is out. He was in the churches that supply sack lunches for our schoolchildren to take home every weekend because their families are food insecure. He was in the office secretary who, despite her naturally surly personality, loves Jesus and offers my daughter conversation every time we drop in on PTA business. He was in the principal who endures endless bureaucracy and parental inanity and yet still believes in the democratic mission of public education and has confidence in God’s call that she be there to love and serve families. He was in the music teacher whose Newsboys hoodie gave her away as a Jesus freak while she taught all our kids, a whole SCHOOL of children, the dance to Thriller. I was not surprised to see Christ in our school, I was shocked only by my hubris that I would be the one, or one of the few, to bring Him there.

I can confidently say that God was in that Newtown school on Friday. He was weeping. He was whispering in the teacher’s ears and welcoming children home. Stop telling me and the world that we can kick God out of anything. He will not be mocked, especially not in a frikkin’ sound bite that garners favor with the fearful.

Some of those comments re: God are an intentional distraction from the very real conversation and reform that needs to happen around our healthcare system and weapons availability. I know some advocates for gun control and mental healthcare have been pitting those priorities against one another, but I’m a girl who wants all of it. We need sensible gun control in this country. MORE guns is a stupid, stupid solution and should not be tolerated at this tragic and important moment. The rest of the world is looking at us like we’re the wild West and I for one don’t want my kids going to any school where a teacher is packing under his/her petticoat. No sir. We don’t make schools less vulnerable by making them more dangerous. We make them less vulnerable by making guns less available. Will it make them unavailable? No. But less available is good. Always.

I know some have said that evil men can do evil with or without guns. Well, let’s have them doing evil without guns for a change. This weekend, a story out of China provided a stark contrast to our own. A man, armed with a knife, injured as many children as were killed in Connecticut. It was horrific. It was evil. It was not fatal. Gun control is for me, a moral priority. Jesus was born into a world of violence. A world that killed children of His day. A world that would one day take His life. He calls us to be people of peace, not people of heat. Peace doesn’t come at the end of a gun. Too many of my brethren are living in fear of government, predators, intruders. Jesus made Himself vulnerable, wrapped Himself in mortal flesh and entrusted Himself to God. He never carried a weapon. When His followers did, He told them “that is enough!” or “put [it] away.” Those messages weren’t advocating conceal and carry, they were calling His disciples to a different way of life. He’s calling us to do the same and influence our violent society for peace.

We also need serious reform for those battling mental illness. A wise friend of mine posted on Facebook yesterday:

It sure would be nice if we had a national conversation about access to mental health care for the vast majority of people with mental illnesses who will never shoot anyone.

One blog post in particular by Anarchist Soccer Mom has made some headlines. In it, she openly talks about her struggles and her fear for her son who has yet to be completely and accurately diagnosed. She writes:

 No one wants to send a 13-year old genius who loves Harry Potter and his snuggle animal collection to jail. But our society, with its stigma on mental illness and its broken healthcare system, does not provide us with other options. Then another tortured soul shoots up a fast food restaurant. A mall. A kindergarten classroom. And we wring our hands and say, “Something must be done.”
I agree that something must be done. It’s time for a meaningful, nation-wide conversation about mental health. That’s the only way our nation can ever truly heal.

God help me. God help Michael. God help us all.

God can help her. His people can get involved. I think of a new friend who works with patients that struggle with intense illnesses like schizophrenia, etc. He is governed by His trust in God and is committed to seeing His patients through the worst moments of their lives. Another friend wrote this weekend about her brother’s illness and left her readers with a call to engage:

[Most] of us, whether we have an awareness of this or not, are in a position to be very helpful.

First, pray.
Pray for this issue continually.
Pray for the mentally ill in general – that they will know the healing power and peace of Jesus.
Pray for any specific people that you know of who struggle with mental illness.  Pray that they’ll be spared from the worst symptoms of these diseases.
Pray for their families, especially their parents.  Pray for them to be sustained by God’s wisdom and mercy to us all.
Pray for those people who venture into the field of mental health.  Pray that they’ll be granted knowledge of – and the ability to put into place – real solutions that are both effectual and merciful.
Pray for those saints who engage with the mentally ill in their ministries.  Pray that they’ll be rewarded for their great work and that they’ll see results in this world.
Since we are commanded to give thanks for all things, give thanks that you’ve been placed in a world currently dealing with this issue.  And, especially give thanks if you have the privilege of ministering to specific families of mentally ill persons.

Second, minister to anyone you know who struggles with mental illness.
Treat them with kindness.
Be normal.
Laugh.
Hug.
Visit.

Third, minister to the families of the mentally ill.

Do not stigmatize.  Having a mentally ill family member is not an embarrassment.  Are family members with cancer embarrassing?
Do not pretend there isn’t a problem.
Do not pretend you understand the problem.
Do not ever let the sentence, “well, if he was my child, I’d…” come across your lips.  You do not know what you would do.  I grew up with it, and I do not know what I’d do.
Do not attempt to diagnose.

Ask if and how you can help.  One great way is to minister to any siblings.  Grab them for the day.  Any respite is welcome when chaos is a reality.
Food is always a ministry.  Always.  Second only, of course, to laughter.
Follow the lead of the person in your life about how much and when to discuss the problem.  Some folks are very open and benefit from people checking in.  Some are tired and want to talk about the BCS standings.  Provide openings without prying.
Talk to your children about emotional struggles that all people have.  Talk to them about right reactions to their own emotional struggles, and reactions to those folks who they encounter who have much more acute problems.

Fourth, remember.

Always remember that, but for His grace, there go we all.

Honor the truth that sick people can do evil things.  The deeds are no less evil because they are sick, and the people are no less sick because they do evil things.

Remember that the vast majority of those who struggle with mental illness are not on the verge of engaging in destructive behavior.

I’d add that we can also look into ways to educate our public leaders about mental illness and to secure funding for research and long-term solutions that go beyond the incarceration that the Anarchist Soccer Mom fears may be inevitable.

In 1963, when a bomb was launched into an African-American Alabama church killing four little girls attending Sunday school, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a eulogy that is relevant to our situation today. I’m truncating the eulogy because much of it is unique to that event, but as with any sound preaching, the whole of it is wonderful and true:

This afternoon we gather in the quiet of this sanctuary to pay our last tribute of respect to these beautiful children of God. They entered the stage of history just a few years ago, and in the brief years that they were privileged to act on this mortal stage, they played their parts exceedingly well. Now the curtain falls; they move through the exit; the drama of their earthly life comes to a close. They are now committed back to that eternity from which they came.

These children—unoffending, innocent, and beautiful—were the victims of one of the most vicious and tragic crimes ever perpetrated against humanity.

And yet they died nobly. They are the martyred heroines of a holy crusade for freedom and human dignity. And so this afternoon in a real sense they have something to say to each of us in their death. They have something to say to every minister of the gospel who has remained silent behind the safe security of stained-glass windows… They say to each of us, black and white alike, that we must substitute courage for caution. They say to us that we must be concerned not merely about who murdered them, but about the system, the way of life, the philosophy which produced the murderers. Their death says to us that we must work passionately and unrelentingly for the realization of the American dream.

And so my friends, they did not die in vain. (Yeah) God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. (Oh yes) And history has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as a redemptive force (Yeah) that will bring new light to this dark city. (Yeah) The holy Scripture says, “A little child shall lead them.” (Oh yeah)

May I now say a word to you, the members of the bereaved families? It is almost impossible to say anything that can console you at this difficult hour and remove the deep clouds of disappointment which are floating in your mental skies. But I hope you can find a little consolation from the universality of this experience. Death comes to every individual. There is an amazing democracy about death. It is not aristocracy for some of the people, but a democracy for all of the people. Kings die and beggars die; rich men and poor men die; old people die and young people die. Death comes to the innocent and it comes to the guilty. Death is the irreducible common denominator of all men.

I hope you can find some consolation from Christianity’s affirmation that death is not the end. Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance. Death is not a blind alley that leads the human race into a state of nothingness, but an open door which leads man into life eternal. Let this daring faith, this great invincible surmise, be your sustaining power during these trying days.

Now I say to you in conclusion, life is hard, at times as hard as crucible steel. It has its bleak and difficult moments. Like the ever-flowing waters of the river, life has its moments of drought and its moments of flood. (Yeah, Yes) Like the ever-changing cycle of the seasons, life has the soothing warmth of its summers and the piercing chill of its winters. (Yeah) And if one will hold on, he will discover that God walks with him (Yeah, Well), and that God is able (Yeah, Yes) to lift you from the fatigue of despair to the buoyancy of hope, and transform dark and desolate valleys into sunlit paths of inner peace.

And so today, you do not walk alone. You gave to this world wonderful children. [moans] They didn’t live long lives, but they lived meaningful lives. (Well) Their lives were distressingly small in quantity, but glowingly large in quality. (Yeah) And no greater tribute can be paid to you as parents, and no greater epitaph can come to them as children, than where they died and what they were doing when they died. (Yeah) They did not die in the dives and dens of Birmingham (Yeah, Well), nor did they die discussing and listening to filthy jokes. (Yeah)…(Yes) Shakespeare had Horatio to say some beautiful words as he stood over the dead body of Hamlet. And today, as I stand over the remains of these beautiful, darling girls, I paraphrase the words of Shakespeare: (Yeah, Well): Good night, sweet princesses. Good night, those who symbolize a new day. (Yeah, Yes) And may the flight of angels (That’s right) take thee to thy eternal rest. God bless you.

Let’s take solace in the God of all Comfort and let this moment give us the courage to bring His Kingdom of peace and justice to bear on our hurting and hurtful world.

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