Our clergy association invited a clergyman from the nearby town of Newtown to come speak with us today about the ongoing situation there. He was one of twelve children, the one in the family they thought destined to a Catholic priest, he said, accept for the fact that he was called as well to be a husband and father. Coming from that background, he claims he became an evangelical preacher as much for a chance to be finally heard as anything else. Now with the Newtown catastrophe, he claims to be learning to listen better too.
A Jewish Rabbi among us remarked on how many times he heard the word forgiveness come from this clergyman’s mouth, adding that he’d rather see justice than forgiveness. The clergyman responded that if you don’t forgive it hurts you the most, because “it is like setting them up rent-free to live inside your heart to continue doing damage to you.”
He spoke of the importance in the town of many needing to forgive themselves as much as the shooter. As the first clergy person to arrive at the firehouse where parents either picked up their children or learned the worst news, he spoke of one woman, upon learning her son was killed, wailing that he hadn’t wanted to go to school that day– he had asked twice to to stay home saying he didn’t feel well– and after finding that he didn’t have a temperature, she sent him anyway against his wishes. This is an example of the recrimination people here need to free themselves of or it will eat them alive. Also, classmates of the shooter and neighbors of the shooter’s mother wonder if they could have reached out in some way that would have made a difference.
Forgiveness of oneself is paramount, for withholding it is toxic and festers toward implosion. But forgiveness of the media, of those holding extremist views (for example my husband recently spoke with someone in New Jersey that was convinced that this never actually happened and was just a propaganda plot of photoshopped images) and insensitivity on the part of many is also essential.
Most of my work with people has been to help them see that God didn’t allow this but can redeem it. Some folks are angry with God and others are turning to God for help and support. Those with something to lean on larger than themselves are doing better. I’ve also been helping folks understand that you can forgive the person but not the deed. What that shooter did was terribly wrong, but he as a person (imagine him as an infant) is worthy of love and forgiveness. Jesus said, “Forgive them for they know not what they do.” Forgiving him is not equivalent to saying what he did was okay.
Children have needed help to sleep and just want things to get back to normal. Adults know there is no going back. Everyone feels the love and prayers of the world. The Newtown clergy have themselves been invited to an all expense paid week long retreat designed especially for them in the Smoky Mountains next summer. It is understood that this will be a long process of healing, although it is well underway.
At the opening of our Healing Newtown Art Center, our Governor gave a speech about how beautiful this community is to understand so profoundly that “love is louder.” He expressed pride in how this community was coming together after this tragedy and that it is a shining example to the world of forgiveness and love. Our clergy sent a message to Newtown’s clergy that we understand that they have wisely set the tone for this and hope they feel our admiration and gratitude for that. The demure response was that many people have been generous in their prayers but that the work is far from done.
Meanwhile the community I live in is directly adjacent to Newtown, and has expressed so much love in that direction, that our town is now plastered with posters proclaiming their love for us as well (see photo below). Love is winning, but the prayers for the ongoing strength to forgive are still needed.