As the leader of a caring, spiritual community, I feel called to offer words in response to the mass shooting that occurred in New Zealand a few days ago. Frankly, it is a struggle to bring forward expressions of solace, reassurance, and comfort given that this situation has been manifest so many times before in recent years. It seems inadequate or insufficient simply to recite past laments. The minister’s blog on Pakachoag’s website includes lengthy commentary in response to similar tragedies in Parkland, Florida, Charleston, South Carolina, and Newtown, Connecticut, and there have been other shootings as well, and I wonder if such words, my own words, constitute enough of a response.
To be sure, every fiber of who we are as members of the human family can only be driven to our knees at the losses so many people experienced in this immediate and other kindred wanton acts. I begin to feel, though, that expressions of compassion and prayerful utterances are insufficient to these situations. It is not enough simply to say this and other such acts are the result of deranged minds unleashed in violent ways . . . and by that imply there is little we can do to keep them from happening, presently or again in the future.
It may be true that the mind of a mass murderer is governed or driven by inner forces that most people cannot comprehend, but those minds are, as one commentator on the subject noted, “emboldened” to action by the current state of public discourse that embraces prejudicial and inflammatory rhetoric, and that is something we can address. We need, in my estimation, to be unequivocal to the point of outspoken in defending those who do not meet other people’s norms and hence are used as scapegoats upon whom to lay the woes of society and thence treat as objects of wrath.
Many people today feel beset, maybe even besieged, by forces and changes that are unsettling to the point of disturbing. Still, ascribing responsibility for broad societal ills upon Muslims, as this current shooter would have it, or blacks, or migrants, or gay and lesbian, or (outspoken) women, or any other person or class who in some minds “dares” to envision the world in other than norms predominantly informed by a white, Western ethos is grievously, and in the case of mass shootings, catastrophically, misguided.
Distorted language and ideas born of the notion that “different” is suspect, even deviant, can serve to ignite the tinderboxes of hate and rage that dwell within some people toward others who are dissimilar. We need individually and collectively to work to take away those sources of ignition by unequivocally affirming the values of diversity and celebrating the richness that can come from receiving and uplifting the worth of all people, and not just those we perceive as in our own image.