Advent Dedications, or, Finding Light in Darkness.
A homily by the Rev. Dawn Cooley
Delivered at First Unitarian Church, Louisville, KY on December 16, 2012.
Today is the 3rd Sunday of Advent. And I had a plan for this homily. I planned to connect the rituals we celebrated today (of Child Dedications and Honoring Longtime UUs) to the season of Advent – a time when we honor life, spiraling back on itself, and the realities of birth and death. I was going to connect this to Hanukkah, since today is the last day of the 8 day celebration of the miracle of the lamp oil that was supposed to last only one day somehow managed to last for 8.
Instead of that homily, today we find ourselves reminded of the darkness.
On Friday morning, a young man killed his mother, took her guns, barged into an Elementary School and opened fire, killing 26 people, 20 of whom were children.
This most recent terror rampage comes on the heels of other mass shootings this year including: at a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado in July; at a Sikh temple in Wisconsin in August; at a factory in Minneapolis in September; at an Oregon mall just Tuesday. The shooting in Connecticut is the 8th mass shooting in the United States this year – a banner year for such horror. The fact that the targets were innocent school children makes the events of Friday stand out from the rest.
Our instant reaction to such events is often disbelief, then horror. How could that happen? Why? And then, almost immediately, the blaming begins. This would not have happened, folks say, if we had tighter gun control laws, or prayer in schools, or more access to mental health care, or tighter restrictions on video games, or a media that didn’t give the shooter a certain amount of infamy.
We blame, in part, because it separates us and gives us a false sense of security. If we just fixed this one thing, that would take care of it and we would not have such tragedies anymore. But the blaming fuels the us-vs-them culture in our country right now – a culture that says that THEY are wrong, if THEY only did things the way WE want them done, this would never have happened. And that tears us away from the crisis at hand, a crisis that needs us to not try to find easy answers, but instead to engage in dialogue about the complex systems that make such horror not only possible, but more and more commonplace.
Rampage violence is on the rise, even as the murder rate in the United States has decreased by half in the last 20 years. Sometimes, the shooter is viewed as a regular guy, who then has the misfortune to suffer a psychotic break. Other times, the outcome is perhaps more predictable if someone were to pay attention. Either way, research suggests that this this type of rampage violence is driven by strong feelings of anger and resentment, flowing from beliefs about being persecuted or grossly mistreated. The shooter views himself as carrying out a highly personal agenda of payback. Combine these feelings with a culture of individual rights and a personal sense of entitlement, a lack of support for the safety nets which benefit the common good, and mix in access to heavy artillery and you have a potentially fatal concoction.
So where do we go? When it is so dark, how do we find our way out?
Honestly, I don’t know how we find our way out. But I do know that there are points of light in the darkness that provide comfort and inspiration.
Let us acknowledge that we are in the darkness, lost, scared, confused. When we name our fears and our sorrow, it allows us to share them with one another. And we are comforted to know that we are not alone.
Let us also sit with our pain, rather than be so quick to find a solution. When we sit with it, and we let ourselves be shaped by it, our pain becomes a testament to our humanity. Our pain in the light of someone else’s suffering is evidence of our ability to love and to come together across all differences.
Let us not demonize or dehumanize those who suffer with us, who may seek different solutions and answers. Just as we don’t only weep for those in Newtown who think as we think, believe as we believe, so too can we hold all those who hurt in our hearts.
When the pain becomes too much, when we can’t handle one more media report or bit of news, when we can no longer stand even one more story of the death of child, or a teacher who sacrificed herself for others, then let us turn off the TV and back away from the computer, and let us go immerse ourselves in the work of the world. Let us go and make someone else’s life just a little bit better – make a donation to a safety-net program for the mentally ill, purchase a poinsettia in honor of the brave souls in Newtown, plan to help our youth group with the renovation project at Glade House, or sign up to serve dinner with other First U folks for the Center for Women and Families. Or just go and hug your loved ones and tell them how much you care about them. Take your pain and turn it into compassion, for when we help others we find ourselves helped.
During this time of advent, of light in spite of darkness, this is where our hope might lay: in one another and our caring for each other, in our ability to overcome our differences to work together for good, and in our understanding that in the depths of our pain and sorrow, we are united. Because we need one another and we are not alone.