They held the funerals of five victims of the Pennsylvanian Amish school shooting today, and a community has to find it within themselves to reach out to the family of the man who pulled the trigger, as noted in the BBC’s report. We can start talking about the causes of this sort of thing – lax gun laws or the influence of culture? Is there an epidemic or is does it just appear that way thanks to the media? – but ultimately there aren’t any good answers. Although the contrast between such a modern-seeming crime and a community that seeks to remove itself from the problems of the 21st century makes gives this latest event a particularly nasty twist, the fact is that children are dead, killed in an act of meaningless violence.
And yet the families of the victims are forgiving the family of the killer, and in some ways I find that harder to deal with. My faith is built on the foundation of forgiveness and redemption, yes, but seeing it in action in such extreme circumstances has a real impact. Maybe it’s my built-in pessimism – I can accept that violence happens, but forgiveness is something more powerful and unfathomable and difficult and essential. If we go with vengeance, then we’ll get more school shootings. Lay down your arms, even when every instinct wants to strike down your enemies, either physically or metaphorically. And that’s easier said than done.
But there is hope. It’s been one of those weeks, stories emerging that contrast with one another and offer a different way of approaching the world. Last night I heard a podcast that told the story of To Write Love On Her Arms, the story of a young woman tormented by depression and self-harm, and how she got through that with the help of a bunch of friends. It’s now looking to go beyond that, to offer help to those in a similar situation, to drag out into the light issues that often remain the dark simply because they’re complicated and scary and we don’t know what to do with them.
Hope is real. Like I said, maybe it’s the automatic pessimism I have, or maybe it’s because we’re in a culture where automatic unthinking cynicism is the expected response to everything, but the idea of hope has a real power to it. It speaks. It makes you feel that you can do something.
Especially when a 14-year old can set up a campaign to raise money to fight modern day slavery and economic oppression (check out Loose Change to Loosen Chains).
Hope is out there. Hope for the individuals directly affected by these issues, hope for the people and faith groups who should be influenced by what’s going on, hope for the world. “He who saves one life, saves the world entire” goes the Jewish proverb, and it’s true. In some strange and profound way, it’s true.
So maybe it’s worth thinking, talking, praying, arguing about how to respond to that.