I suspect I am not the only parent in Southern Missouri who is hugging my children a little bit tighter this Christmas.
The tragic events in Newtown, Connecticut, have touched every family this season. That community has endured a week of funerals and suffered the loss of its most innocent citizens – 20 sweet first-grade children.
And every parent of a child, at any age, knows they have been affected by the violence that has left empty places at the holiday tables of those families. Every teacher and school official, every family with a member of our armed services, everyone who knows a law enforcement officer, firefighter or first responder, every American who lives with the daily concern that they might lose someone they love – have all been touched.
This feeling exceeds simply sharing in the grief or sadness or the sorrow of the victims’ families. Our empathy identifies us as human, and it demonstrates how connected we are as members of families, of communities, and as Americans. Even our anger at the irresponsibility, neglect, illness and rage that all contributed to these sad circumstances is a part of being human, being connected, and wishing for the highest standards of respect for human life in our land of freedom and equality under the law.
In this regard, Congress reflects the values of the people it is meant to represent in total. There is nothing political about my discussions of this issue during the last week I have spent in Washington. Just as the country stopped and caught its breath in horror, so have its elected representatives.
And as the country moves forward in the wake of this disaster, we have to move together. The problem of such senseless violence, senseless acts against children, driven by extreme mental illness, perpetrated in sacred public spaces like elementary schools – this problem is not political and it cannot be solved by politics. We will assuredly not agree on all of the proposed solutions to the problem, but we must agree in good faith to stop it.
Violence of this terrible kind will not be ended by a narrow approach, a shortsighted one, or one that attempts to assign blame in the process of healing. It will be solved by each of us going to the wellspring of empathy brought on by news of the massacre and examining what is necessary to prevent such madness from happening again.
Partisan news sources won’t accomplish this for us; they won’t even be helpful. This is an issue that must be solved in the silence of our own hearts, around our family tables, with as much reflection on our freedoms as on our faith.
Since it is already impossible to remove this topic from the Christmas season, I ask all of us to spend some of this holy time reflecting on where we are willing to take a stand, praying for the families of the victims, and hugging our children – no matter how old they may be.