A Pastoral Response to Newtown


I’ve had a lot of anger and sadness swirling around me the past few days, a lot of which is concerning the Newtown shootings. Sadness obviously at the senseless tragedy of it all, and anger at the perpetrators of these kinds of crimes. There’s been a lot of responses to the tragedy, but none of them seem adequate. However this post is about the best I’ve seen and I’m reposting it in its entirety.

Newtown- A Time to Listen

I live maybe 50 miles from Newtown, CT. But it shouldn’t matter how far you live from there in miles, what happened there should hit close to home for all of us. It is one of those things that is simply not supposed to happen.

As I read the commentators, the blogs and the other statements, I hear all the normal lines and a few new ones. “Arm people in the schools.” “Ban assault weapons”. “Put God back in the schools.” “It’s time to listen to the gun lobby.” “It’s time to confront the gun lobby.” What most of these lines have in common is that they blame others for this tragedy.  “If only our country had (fill in your own favorite), this would not have happened.” Translation- “If everyone had only listened to me and people who agree with me, this would not have happened.” I fear that this incident will yet again drive people to their own corners with others who believe as they do and from those corners they will shout at people in the other corners because this is what passes for dialogue in our society. And, as usual, nothing substantive will change in our society and divisions between groups will simply widen.

Now, to be clear, I do have my own point of view on guns that I believe has wisdom and would help.  However, as a professional health care chaplain, I have the great good fortune to have been taught a different way.  The first thing and I think the hardest thing we learn as chaplaincy students is to listen first and speak second- if at all. The first person we are taught to listen to is ourselves.  Before I can listen and truly hear others, I need to listen to my own anger, my own powerlessness and admit to the part of me which would love to have someone or something to blame and punish for this tragedy.  All of that acknowledgement is a necessary prelude to hearing the anger and hurt in others.

Then I have to remember the lesson that has been reinforced so many countless times in my professional life- most of all people want to be heard.  Yes, they also want to be agreed with, but very often being truly heard is enough. And, if you don’t let them know that you hear them and take their feelings and point of view seriously, you cannot expect that they will hear and respect your point of view.

So I am hoping that maybe this tragedy is so horrible and enough people understand that the old debates have not helped, that maybe we can resolve to find another way.  Maybe we could start with the idea that living in a country where people walk into movie theaters, malls and now even elementary schools and kill people is unacceptable and it’s so unacceptable that everyone needs to listen to everyone else who thinks they have a way to help even if they are sure that the other person is wrong. And maybe we can even start with the understanding that there is no simple solution and its highly unlikely that any one of us possesses the whole truth.

But in the end, I am convinced that respectful listening to all others and they to us is foundational, and without it these incidents will not go away.

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