I said my piece, more or less, at the end of Sunday's sermon, but I'm continuing to read and reflect. I agree with Jon Stewart, that the stories of the victims and those who stepped in to provide aid are truly inspiring. Whether it's the congressional intern, just days on the job, who cradled Rep. Giffords's head in his lap and staunched the bleeding, or the man who died while shielding his own wife, or the people who bravely wrestled the ammo away from a madman... it's almost heady, this stuff. The bad was very, very bad. And I wish these folks had not been given the opportunity to show what they were made of on Saturday. But show it they did.
"The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it." As I looked at Jared Loughner's grinning, Joker-like mugshot, I realized I favor the King James Version even more now: "the light shineth in the darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not." Yes, I know that "comprehend" meant something different back then. But I'll take that play on words. Whatever darkness compelled Loughner to do what he did, and then to offer that sick grin to the world---the light that beamed back at the darkness was so bright. So incomprehensible. The darkness doesn't even get that kind of light.
Regarding the role (or not) of political rhetoric in creating a toxic environment and goading on the desperate, the sick and the armed, there's some really good stuff out there. This one by Stephen Budiansky is a current favorite for articulating a "let's take a look at this" position. (Not: "let's make some laws curtailing speech," or "let's arrest Sarah Palin and Sharron Angle for being accomplices." Both are strawmen.) The comments are respectful and interesting too.
Andrew Sullivan is my clearinghouse at the moment, and he's doing a great job presenting lots of different voices. I won't reproduce all of his links, but he's highlighted several liberal and moderate voices, and also many conservatives. Some have hunkered down and refused to engage in any self-reflection whatsoever, but others have been thoughtful and circumspect. As one conservative commentator put it,
I don’t think that questioning the possible role of political discourse in this tragedy merely represents callous opportunism on the part of the Left; it is a salutary human instinct after a tragedy of this dimension to search for any possible collective responsibility, even if that collectivity rarely includes oneself.
Palin failed to appreciate the question being posed to her. That question was not: “Are you culpable for the shooting?” The question was: “Having put this unfortunate image on the record, can you respond to the shooting in a way that demonstrates your larger humanity? And possibly also your potential to serve as leader of the entire nation?”
I thought this was a pretty infantile response, and thankfully, not very characteristic:
Our spirited political discourse, complete with name-calling, vilification—and, yes, violent imagery—is a good thing. Better that angry people unload their fury in public than let it fester and turn septic in private. The wicked direction the American debate often takes is not a sign of danger but of freedom. And I'll punch out the lights of anybody who tries to take it away from me.
I'm a big fan of the first amendment---my first job after college was for these guys---and agree that for the most part, the ill-advised words of doofuses and dolts are the price we pay for a free society. But it's simply not the case that if only people will publicly "unload" their ire, that things won't fester. As I have written here many times, venting does not diffuse negative feelings. It exacerbates them. This has actually been studied, folks.
All of this stuff has implications for Christians. We affirm that the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We believe that our sacred story has power; it's not just an entertaining story; it does something. And like the capital-W Word, our lowercase-w words also become enfleshed. Words make things possible. Words create and destroy. Words aren't cheap, they're costly. In the words of Teresa of Avila, "Words lead to deeds. They prepare the soul, make it ready, and move it to tenderness." Or they don't.
Image: Daniel Hernandez, the intern who is credited with helping save Gabrielle Giffords's life. When he heard the gunshots, he ran toward them.