Late in the evening on Saturday, August 30th 1997, television viewers in America were hit with the news that Princess Diana had been in a horrific car crash in a Paris tunnel. Her death stunned, and saddened, England and, indeed, the world. Immediately, almost instantaneously, accusations were leveled in every which direction. The one that had (for a while) the most traction was that she'd been hounded, literally, to death by the paparazzi. Certainly those photographers would made dollars by getting pictures of famous folks HAD indeed followed Princess Di around. They were an easy target. (It turned out, by the way, that the vehicle's drive had a blood alcohol content far above a legal/safe limit.) In the sermon I preached the following morning (yup, I had to rewrite the whole thing!), I pointed out that the paparazzi -- even if they WERE in some way responsible -- would have no market for their photos if consumers around the world stopped buying People magazine, Weekly World News, etc.
And so, last week, in the wake of the tragic shootings in Arizona, the fever pitch of accusations was apparent again. The Right shouted at the Left; the Left shouted at the Right. Gun control advocates shouted for legislation; the NRA shouted back. My Facebook page, with my friends' updates, mirrored the debate, pointing me to this newscast or that one. All of the commentators, of course, shouting (figuratively and literally). And then, blessedly, came the appeals for calm. The shooter -- once some research was done -- was apparently not being egged on by one political faction or another. Imagine that!
Yet, in a column in this morning's Denver Post, author Chuck Plunkett writes: "Any expectation that the national political debate is headed for reform in the wake of the Arizona shootings will likely face disappointment, as polls show most Americans don't blame heated rhetoric for the murders and experts note that OUR SYSTEM IS ADVERSARIAL BY DESIGN (emphasis added). . . . Even if [Sen. Mark Udall's bipartisan effort to eliminate party-affiliated seating in Congress] were to succeed, IT WOULDN'T CHANGE THE BIG MEDIA MACHINE THAT AWARDS MULTIMILLION -DOLLAR CONTRACTS TO TALK-SHOW PERSONALITIES WHO MAKE THEIR LIVING STOKING CONTROVERSY(again, emphasis added).
What is it that compels us to jump to conclusions without evidence? What is that compels us to lay blame at our adversaries even if they may not have anything to do with the situation at hand? What is it that compels us to spend our earnings on photos of celebrities, or, by our viewing/reading/listening habits to support loud-mouthed opinionators (and, yes, I made that word up!)? In short, why do we spend so little time on introspection, cleaning up our own house, listening, learning -- and so much time ON SHOUTING, BLAMING, DISTANCING OURSELVES FROM RESPONSIBILITY?
A different columnist, David Brooks, in a piece entitled "Tree of Failure" in today's New York Times poses an answer: "Civility is a tree with deep roots, and without the roots, it can's last. So what are those roots? They are failure, sin, weakness and ignorance. . . . [And] over the past few decades, people have lost a sense of their own sinfulness. children are raised amid a chorus of applause. Politics has become less about institutional restraint and more about giving voters whatever they want at that second. Joe DiMaggio didn't ostentatiously admire his own home runs, but now athletes routinely celebrate themselves as part of the self-branding process. So, of course you get narcissists who believe they or members of their party possess direct access to the truth . . . Of course you get people who gravitate toward the like-minded and loathe their political opponents."
"Failure, sin, weakness and ignorance." Those are both individual and social maladies. They are very difficult to address in any meaningful way while shouting. Maybe, if we as a individuals and a people were quiet and reflective long enough, some sense might weasel its way into our hearts, minds and spirits. And we might be led to repentance.
As one starting point, LET'S TURN OFF THE CAPS LOCK!
now, let us pray for ourselves, and others, and especially for the victims of the shooting, their families, our nation . . . as well as for jared loughner.