21 December 2012

28 Bells

The Governor of Connecticut has asked the States and churches to join in a moment of silence and tolling of bells in memory of the victims at Sandy Hook School. It is a good and decent idea, and many churches will join in. The question has arisen, how many times the bells should toll.

A case is made by some for 27 bells. One for each person Adam shot. It is the 28th bell for Adam, for the young man who pulled the trigger that has stirred some conversation and controversy. Many churches across the nation will it appears from the web comments will rings tolls.

When in 1999, the Columbine shootings happened, an Orthodox monk obtained permission to erect fifteen crosses for each victim. Two were torn down by angry people because they were in mourning for the shooters.

Anger at perpetrators is a feature of our secular culture. In Illinois we have a law prohibiting State Colleges from offering classes in prisons. This is a particularly stupid law: prison guards agree that offering such things actually makes their jobs safer. The law saves the State not one dime: it is pure vengeance. Florida has so limited where convicted sex offenders can live after release, that the parole officers allow them to live under the freeway bridges. Join any conversation about the death penalty and I promise you will hear citizens who want to change the executions so they are more painful. In fact, the sequence of shots used by Federal officials is designed not to be merciful, but to assure the prisoner suffers without showing the witnesses anything to upset them.

This is a clear difference between secular and religious thinking. Secular culture wants to take vengeance. Faith does not. St. Paul says in Romans:
Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, "VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY," says the Lord.Romans 12 v19
Paul is referring to a number of similar instructions in books as old as Deuteronomy, the oldest book of the Bible, and Leviticus. Passages making the same point are in Psalms, Proverbs, 1 Samuel, Jeremiah. Paul and his disciples make the same point repeatedly, as does the author of Hebrews.

Anger at a dead man is sort of a waste. I am angry though. Angry at a system of, "medicine" that offers nothing to the victims of mental illness, and less to the families. Angry that we are not pouring money into research for better medications and treatments. Angry at a society that responds to those who recover and seek to move on with prejudice. Angry especially when the bigots masquerade as church leaders or bishops.

There is no way to diminish the horror and pain of the shootings. But ask yourself, at whom are we to be angry? Adam was a sad young man with mental issues. We offered him no hope, no medical options that were not fraught with both failure and side effects. We do not even try to do better. And our health care plans treat mental illness indifferently. We would never tolerate that treatment for any other malady. And the final blow, were he to get better, we would still treat him as the problem.

We can do better. We can spend the time and money to develop therapies that actually work. We can make former mental patients a protected class instead of a life sentence. We can make a society wide effort to decouple the link between combat weapons and manhood. We can ask ourselves why anyone needs a 30 round magazine for a legitimate purpose. We can do many things we do not do.

Does that make the shootings OK, or justify Adam? Of course not! But in this time of aftermath, when the political and social systems are focusing on anything but themselves, perhaps we need to hear that 28th bell and ask ourselves if Adam was not our victim?

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