Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Reflections on what happened in Tucson this past Saturday

It's not easy to be away from home when a terribly sad event happens. It brings a sense of helplessness and separation that can't be fixed when there's work to be done, snow storms taking place, and little that one's presence in the community would help to resolve or repair. I was away from Tucson, the place of my birth and the community that I shall always call home.

I was driving on the road in New Jersey when I first heard the NPR report that Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been critically, thankfully not mortally wounded (as first reported). I listened to online radio reports and observed the live news updates even as I tried to craft the final version of my Sunday sermon. (My 8:00 am sermon actually spoke more directly to the tragic events taking place in Tucson). I've watched the news and listened to commentators such as Rachel Maddow who wisely and appropriately remind us that it isn't just Tucson that's a victim of the wild, wild West gun-free control mindset that pervades our nation's psyche. Hundreds of victims are murdered or injured by the misuse and abuse of firearms each year.

I've prayed and contemplated, along with millions of other people of faith about what Saturday's events mean for us. I've wondered about how life on the streets of Tucson has been for the past 70 hours or so since Jared Lee Loughner walked up and shot Rep. Giffords (Gabrielle) and subsequently sprayed dozens of bullets into the gathered crowd killing a nine year old girl who was born on 9/11/2011, a devout Catholic who was a accomplished Federal judge, and four other good people.

I then read +Kirk Smith's words to the Diocese of Arizona about the shooting. His comments regarding the events of this past weekend and the very true and necessary presence of God's help in times of troubled prompted me to offer these remarks in his comments section as well as here:


I went to school with Sheriff Dupnik's daughter in Tucson. I respect the sheriff for his candor and honesty when he said "...Unfortunately, Arizona I think has become sort of the capital,... "We have become the mecca for prejudice and bigotry.”

I'm delighted and thankful that the Diocese of Arizona and its bishop have been public and prayerful voices and agents of peace and reason in a political and social environment where talk radio commentary is so vitriolic and political leaders continue to draft legislation that is both punitive and prejudicial. I preached on the theme of righteousness ("dikaiosyn?") - the term that Matthew's Jesus uses to describe the purpose of his baptism (Matt. 3:15) and God's Reign (Matthew 6:33). Baptism is not only about our own redemption as Christians - it's the ritualistic means that we accept God's invitation to become peacemakers and agents of righteousness into the world in which we live and pray. I've physically been away from the diocese for a little more than two years. I grieve seeing and being with my friends and family there even as much as I am thankful for the ministries that I have been called to in places away from the state of my birth and the city and university of my youth and first ordained ministry.

I was quite shocked and appalled to hear of the attack on Rep. Gifford, her staff, and gathered community member's on Sat. morning. What took place in front of the Safeway on Ina Road is not indicative of the Tucson community that I know and love. And yet, that tragic and violent event against a remarkably moderate, wise, and compassionate legislator took place nonetheless.

I intend to be with you (in Arizona and especially in Tucson) in spirit as you pray and mourn the deaths and injuries of the citizens who were harmed or murdered even as you give thanks for the bravery and public service of Sheriff Dupnik, heroism of people such as Daniel Hernandez, and the healing skills of surgeons such as Dr. G. Michael Lemole Jr. I ask that you continue to be Christ's light in the urban centers of our home - where so much poverty is evident and so much hatred lies beneath the surface. I hope that you will continue to proclaim Christ's Gospel and be a reasoned voice of fairness and shared rights and responsibilities in a political environment that advocates ineffective benefits for the wealthiest citizens even as it denies health coverage to organ transplant patients who need such surgeries to survive.

I pray that +Kirk, the ordained and lay leaders of the Diocese of Arizona, and the parishioners of The Episcopal Church there as well as Episcopalians around our nation and the world will continue to live into our baptismal covenants by:

*persevering in resisting evil,
*seeking repentance and returning to the Lord,
*proclaiming by word and example the Good News of God in Christ,
*seeking and serving Christ in all persons,
*loving God and our neighbors as ourselves striving for justice and peace among all people respecting the dignity of every human being

Blessings to us all along The Way:

*especially to the victims and their families for healing,
* comfort, and compassion for the alleged assailant and his family for Christ's compassionate and just light to shine on the pain of his soul and mind as well as the darkness of rage in his heart,
*wisdom and courage for the broadcasters, bloggers, and politicians of Arizona and around the country to use their influence and wisdom to bring about an end to the violence across this land and stop victimizing their opponents
*God's urging for us to participate in a shared effort to make this nation a more equitable, less violent and richly diverse place to meaningfully live.

Lastly - I pray that this Season of Epiphany may be a not-so-ordinary time of healing, Grace, and gift-sharing and receiving to my sisters and brothers in Christ as well as all citizens of Tucson who especially need Divine mercy and God-given love in the coming days.

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