An open space for global conversation
We are in mourning. Shock, grief and anger wash over us in waves. For many, the media (old and new) has become the place we turn in order to deal with such an event. In traditional societies, we would have physically gathered together as a community to process our pain. This week, Occupy Cafe will attempt this virtually on behalf of its members, including founding steward Ben Roberts, who is a Newtown resident.
A friend wrote Ben an email saying that she hoped that "we can use this as a catalyst for new ways of making sense together." We would especially like to hear from one or more people who have gone through something like this and come out the other side with their spirit intact. Perhaps they even discovered some sense of mission and purpose that is their own form of "making sense" of something that seems to defy the very notion with its randomness.
Join the online conversation by posting below. Our Cafe Calls are complete for 2012 and will resume on Jan. 7, 2013.. Perhaps we might all contemplate this question:
How do we respond to this tragedy in ways that serve life?
Image: memorial display on Church Hill road in Sandy Hook, CT
The post above echoes my own thinking about our struggles to create community. This was my reply...
You hit on a key theme, Sarah, in the loss of community. Even in a "small" town like this, where we will all probably know a family who lost a loved one, we struggle to feel connected in our grief, sitting at home and watching the news with tears in our eyes.
We went to the St. Rose vigil last night and stood outside in the crowd and it was better than nothing. But the sense of connection was weak. I quietly hummed Amazing Grace, wishing others might pick up the tune. But we all just stood there, numb. The more religious among us said the Hail Mary over and over again. It actually made me feel less connected, being a Jew/atheist. Funny how a religious song seemed soothing, while a prayer did not. The power of music, I guess.
Turns out that just after we left to visit our kids and grandson nearby, the crowd outside broke out into Silent Night. Very moving, from what a friend told me this morning. I'm so glad to hear that happened.
After talking with Ben this morning, I have been searching to learn how others have handled - gotten through - this type of trauma and tragedy. Then, I remembered the Amish Nickel Mines school house. The Amish came together to support each other and also, reached out to the family of the man who murdered their girls that day.
The Amish from Nickel Mines area were deeply touched by the outpouring of comfort they received during that time. They continue to pay it forward by reaching out to others who suffer similar losses.
It's hard for people to talk about [the cultural dimensions of this] because it's like water and we the fish-- hard to observe. But, I can think of nothing more important than drawing attention to our cultural drivers of violence at this time. Too many people are throwing their hands up saying "crazies will be crazies" or something like that. The fact is that we have much more violence here than in other industrialized countries, so to attribute violence to human nature is just wrong.
I know who trains our armies, but many of our trained killers lose it when they come back home. Did we do something horrible to them?
Yes, Jerry we did. We taught them to repress the natural human aversion to killing a fellow man. To repress their horror at the idea of bloodshed. The army is very clear and conscious about this being a core element of basic training.
There are analogous aspects of the broader culture that anesthetize us as well. My wife is particularly disgusted by the fact that in the very popular video game Grand Theft Auto, you can get points for shooting a prostitute. This is just one tiny example. I will share a post from the NCDD list serve below that provides many more.
What strikes me in this moment is that all this violent stuff, as well as the competitive and materialistic framings so common in our culture, feel absolutely hollow to me know. I used to get that in my head. Now it's in my gut. So I think it's possible that we might have a movement to turn away from anything that isn't about kindness and the serving of life. Not because it's legislated, but because we just aren't entertained by it any more. Because it turns our stomachs.
Here's the long, and very eloquent post I mentioned:
Is There an Excuse to Wait?
As I was reading the new autobiography of Kofi Annan – “Interventions: A Life in War and Peace” last night wherein he describes the unraveling of Somalia in the early 1990s, I was struck that the same forces that allowed that kind of massacre to take place were at work in Newtown last week. I believe that second amendment absolutists are partially right, that guns are only part of the problem. The more fundamental problem is one we’re more afraid to address than gun control.
It is this notion of revenge or vengeance that plagues us. And on a more crowded planet with finite resources we might expect those tussles could become more frequent. But we have been shown that there is another way to live – Jesus, Gandhi, King, and Rachel Corrie demonstrated the way to peace. But thus far we have rarely been brave enough to travel that path.
Meanwhile our culture celebrates vengeance. Click on TNT or a multitude of television network programming and we become mesmerized and numbed by the violence often shrouded in some vindicatory guise. How many of the blockbuster films are built on this theme featuring the caricatures of James Bond or Jason Bourne or a myriad other macho guys destroying the enemy. Even President Obama seemed to take pleasure in the gunning down of Osama Bin Laden and the use of unmanned drones to obliterate others, regardless of innocents who may be ‘unfortunately’ nearby.
NFL highlights celebrate the crushing blows on opponents, while hockey fans relish a check that sends the opponent to the ice. Our modern day gladiators help foster the honoring of vengeance and retribution. Even our economic system celebrates running the competition out of business so that they can grab more of the market. The political system more and more seems to be us vs. them. Do we really believe for even a minute, that spiraling gun deployment, especially with semi-automatic weapons (are not these weapons of mass destruction – and thereby illegal under international law?), or of stationing more armed guards in every public place will protect us from the epidemic of violence that is so glorified in our economic, political, and cultural systems? I think not.
I believe we need to first recognize the ways that violence and vengeance are endemic to our current culture. Then we need to name them and turn away from them - individually, in families, churches, mosques, temples, and synagogues, in communities, states, nations and as a human family. We need to take the profit out of those activities and the makers of them.
There are many among us who have done this and have been showing us the way. They are the peacemakers. Support them, join them – with time, money, talent, whatever you can give. Locally that includes the Peace Education Center, Michigan Peace Team, Greater Lansing Network Against War and Injustice, Amnesty International, and Pax Christi to name a few. Peacemaking takes courage, more courage than taking a gun and aiming it at an enemy. Find your courage and join with the other peacemakers nearby. Our children and grandchildren need you be brave.
A.J. Muste, Fellowship of Reconciliation leader and active for many years in the War Resisters’ League perhaps said it best, “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way.” Let’s take the first step today. We need a revolution of the heart.
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I am the president of our local Unitarian Universalist congregation, in the nearby city of Danbury. In that capacity, I received this email from a member of the administration at Virginia Tech:
The school shooting yesterday that happened in your back door brought back our experience of five years ago in Blacksburg. I am aware that no words can make an impact on the shock, unreality, and grief that you and other members of your congregation are feeling -regardless of whether any of your congregants were victims in the school.
All I can say and offer is that eventually, laughter will return to your lives, even though your lives will never be the same. Five years later, I think of the Virginia Tech shootings perhaps weekly as opposed to constantly and hourly. None of these shootings will ever make sense. People and communities are amazingly resilient, and that resilience can be celebrated without taking away anything from the experience of grief.
I recall an initial belief that no-one could possibly understand, but please know that, unfortunately, there are a variety of communities and individuals that do have a sense of what you are experiencing, and will do whatever you ask of us to make things better. If sharing this message with anyone will help them, please share as you see fit.
In love and communion,
Associate Director, School of Education
Office of Academic Programs
dear Ben, I am so sorry... I have been thinking of you and the others I know from Newtown, ever since hearing about this enormous tragedy... and feeling stunned about the magnitude of the loss, especially for the parents of the children. May there be meaningful opportunities for people to come together in their grief, so that it does not isolate us further... glad that there will be calls here as well...
There is an Op-Ed in the NY Times. The writer is Gregory Gibson. He wrote at book about his son's murder, in a school shooting - "Gone Boy: A Father's Search for the Truth in His Son's Murder".
Given what I understand of school policies and the legality with which the weapons were obtained, my only thought and what has emerged for me during the last 24 hrs is - There is an ethic of violence in society. Hearts and minds must change before events like yesterday's will cease. Even so, I continue to believe that human beings are fundamentally good. I try to be the best human being I understand how to be. It is a small part but it is what I can do.
Crack open yet again all my bleeding, now stinging paradoxes. Throw me into dark, frightening, desperate confusion, as I find myself grasping for sense and safety instead of unity and love.
I was ready to tell you the story of my life. But, the ripple of tears and the agony of my heart wouldn't let me. I began saying a word here and there and all along I felt as tender as a crystal ready to be shattered.
In this stormy sea we call life, all the big ships come apart board by board. How can I survive in my lonely little boat with no oars and no arms?
My boat did finally break by the waves as I tied myself to a single board. Though the panic is gone I am now offended. Why must I rise with one wave and fall with the next? ... Rumi & Dyck
Sublime, thank you Dyck.
"If allowed to, grief doesn’t just break the heart,
but breaks it open,
ultimately breaking us open to unbroken Being."
"Huge heartache, huge hurt, huge opening —
carrying us through the deepest sorrow
into a spaciousness as naturally compassionate
as it is vast.
In such spaciousness,
such exquisitely raw openness,
there is, eventually, room for all."
~ Robert Augustus Masters