I knew, the moment I got the news on Friday morning, that the shootings in Aurora would strike a national chord of pain and grief. Murders and shootings happen everyday in a vast number of communities throughout the United States. The ones that hurt us the most are the inexplicable acts of violence that are perpetrated on a number of innocent folks who are simply doing what any of us would do on a given day. We go to work, to school, to the mall, to the movies and many other events that bring large numbers of folks together. This was one such event that all of us could feel. Who hasn't been to the movies on any given evening to simply enjoy a good flick and an outing with family and/or friends?
I was sitting in my cardiologist's office waiting room...prepared to have an aortic duplex scan ... a routine ultra-sound procedure to check on the health of my aorta. I have a genetic condition that makes checking key arteries part of my "routine" medical year (it was fine, btw). While sitting there, at 8:45am, CNN was on the waiting room television and they were talking about a tragedy in Aurora, CO. My internal dialogue halted, and I became riveted to the television. I was dumbstruck! This can't be happening again....was what my head kept wanting to say. But, there it was, a sickening and disturbing event at a movie premier....a movie that is popular enough to pack a theatre at a midnight first showing (it actually nearly packed three theatres in Aurora that night).
Like most all of us, I was filled with a string of emotions...anger, grief, and a kind of sullenness that flattened the affect of the balance of the day. Because of the way I'm "wired," I connect quickly with tragic events. Something in me attaches to the event and begins to find ways to pray and think through it. Perhaps it is part of my theological and pastoral training; or 35 years of engaging local tragedies in parish ministry; or simply the empathic character of who I am; or a combination thereof. I simply wanted to sit and hold all of those folks....those killed, wounded and their loved ones ... in a large embrace. The only way I could do this was via a contemplative time of prayer.
I cleared my afternoon of planned projects (this is where retirement helps), closed the door to my study, put on a string of chants I use for quieting my mind and began a long period of deep reflection on what came to me as needed support in this attitude. Channeling blessing and Divine Energy is a process anyone can accomplish with practice. It allows us to be present to folks...especially when physical presence and hands-on care isn't possible or feasible. It connects us in a community network for which God has designed us.
CNN, MSNBC and other news networks do a lot to cover the details of national tragedies. Sometimes, it gets to be a little too much. I have never been one to "rubber neck" at a traffic accident or where emergency vehicles are gathered. I know that my best way to help in those times is by being out of the way and being part of keeping traffic moving. We have a natural curiosity to want to see what has happened to others...sometimes, it borders on the macabre. I have seen, and do see, enough by virtue of my work as a priest. I have been part of emergency room trauma teams and emergency response teams. I have blessed the dead, prayed with and comforted the dying and seen things that disturbed me to my core (there was even an emergency room doctor in one of my parishes who would see if he could rattle me or see me look pale at some disturbing situations...I don't disturb easily when in crisis mode).
I have watched the news and put together the story, as it is being told by survivors, the wounded and first responders. Unlike the people of Aurora, I do want to know about the shooter. As sick/disturbed as he may be to perpetrate such an act, he is a human being who entered a broken place in his life and did not emerge without a rage that spread like a virus into the surrounding community...an instantly deadly virus. [Here, I am using the term "virus" metaphorically...to speak of the suspect's yet to be known motivations and subsequent deadly actions]. We need to try to understand the cause and effect level of this tragedy in order to provide guidance for seeing such things before they happen in the future.
More important to me, however, is the pain of losing 12 people...most of whom had only begun to make an impact on the larger community through their vocations and ideas. No one knows what the world would have been like had they been allowed to continue the journey of life among us. Their stories and the stories of those who were wounded and directly traumatized by those long minutes of insanity in theater 9, are forever altered or shifted. I try to wrap my head around what that is like and how to engage it on a larger level...since I am 1500 miles away.
Then, there is the matter of "gun control." Now, this is something to which I can speak directly and have some affect on the whole. Up front, I own two pistols: A Sig-Sauer 9mm, P226 Navy, and a Remington .22 calibre revolver...collector's model. They remain locked away and only the Sig-Sauer comes out for a trip to an indoor shooting range. I was a marksman with a .45 calibre pistol in the military. I consider this "skill" only a part of my life journey and not something a talk much about. It simply is.
My grandfather taught me how to shoot and hunt. The Boy Scouts also taught me to shoot. Both were with rifles. My grandfather taught me to use a shotgun. His training came with stern warnings and an admonition: "Never shoot anything unless to you intend to eat it." He was damned serious about this. It was as stern a face as I ever saw on him, when he spoke it.
Saying all this, I am also an advocate of gun control. It makes me extremely upset to hear people say stuff like, "Several armed folks in that theatre could have stopped this..." Let me use as strong a phrase as I can in print to respond to this: Bullshit! I was trained to operate under pressure of surrounding fire and tear gas in the Navy. I would not consider pulling a weapon in a crowded theatre to "go after" someone committing an act of terror. If less trained folks tried that, the death toll would have been higher. I guarantee it. Things change instantly when adreneline and the environment get racheted up in a crisis. With only some exception, the witnesses had no way of knowing that the perpetrator was wearing kevlar based combat gear over most of the "kill shot" areas of his body. All that would have been accomplished by random folks shooting at him would have been to piss him off even more. Sick stuff people are saying in general about all this.
Without injury to the constitutional right to "bear arms," it is essential that we consider the process by which licensing of weapons sold to the public happens. It is essential that we consider the reasoning behind marketing high-powered and technically sophisticated combat weapons to the public. Every modern, advanced country has such laws -- except for the United States. My point also is that, by virtue of human nature, we are all capable of becoming murderers in a moment of heated anger or irrational emotional reactivity. We need to prioritize our consideration of responsible gun control laws. It is a moral imperative... not simply a legal or constitutional matter of "rights."
Finally, moral law trumps civil law. Our founding fathers understood this and wrote passionately about the moral basis for creating a democratic society. At the heart of moral law (moral theology) is the principle of Love. I capitalize this word, because it isn't a manufactured, conditional emotion. Love is the guiding force of life itself. It is the ongoing action of an invested Creator. God is Love, and our basis for life and engaging the world around us is living out of that place of Divine Love. The bottom line for me in understanding and coping with the tragedy in Aurora is how to be a better vessel of Love. How do I engage my local community in light of what we have witnessed in this past weeks actions? If Divine Love is not the principle upon which all our actions and interactions are based, we are lost for sure, in my opinion. The "go forward" from Aurora is to love better and for real!
In the Love of Christ Jesus,