I don’t want to blog about Newtown because it feels too much like I am mining a tragedy for material. But the fact is that aside from occasional stress-filled forays into pre-Christmas panic, Newtown is pretty much all I am thinking about. And I don’t believe I am alone.
My posts are mostly written in the quiet of my own thoughts, long before I sit down at the computer. They are composed out of the random rants, musings, and occasional deep thoughts that wander through my brain as I go about my daily business. But right now there is no room in my mind for anything but sorrow and questions: Why did this happen? How can we stop it from happening again? Why are people saying and writing such stupid and pointless things about it?
Actually, I know the answer to the last question. We are all searching for answers and wanting to assign blame. I just don’t happen to agree with some people’s conclusions and many people will not agree with mine.
My topic for today springs from the ubiquitous prayer/God in schools meme, variations of which abound, and which I already gave my opinion on here.
Quite obviously, having God, prayer, and religion available in school is very important to me. I attended 12 years of Catholic school myself, and among them my kids have racked up an impressive 44 years! But guess what? Catholic schools, steeped in religion though they may be, are not immune to school violence. Here’s just one example. The most deadly act of school violence this country has ever experienced happened well before prayer was removed from schools.
Putting prayer back in schools might not keep violence out, but neither did taking prayer out of schools keep God out. God is everywhere; if you believe in Him you believe that already. But He is also in His servants, and He acts in us and through us.
I have heard about, witnessed, and even been a part of plenty of non-Christian acts in Catholic schools. I have also heard about plenty of Christian acts taking place in public schools. Here’s one personal example: William attends public school. Last Friday he went on his first field trip. I sent a $20 bill with him for the gift shop. He was supposed to spend $10 and bring the change home. Instead, he bought three snakes, and then gave one to his best friend along with the $10 because his friend did not have any money.
If you are a Christian with a child in a public school, don’t make the excuse that our hands are tied by laws and that our God is in any way prevented from working anywhere in the world that He wants to and where we do His will. Many school shooters are described as loners. Boys who kept to themselves. Who were weird. Who had no friends. Here’s an article by a young man who wrote movingly of what it is like to be such an outcast. You’ve seen these boys. There was usually one in every class even in the small schools I attended. Someone the other kids ostracized. Made fun of.
What if instead, we taught our kids to reach out? To follow the Golden Rule in every situation? No law prevents that. No law prevents Christians from acting like Christians every day, wherever they find themselves, not only in church on Sunday. God’s law, in fact, commands it. This story may be apocryphal, but can any Christian deny that we are meant to do God’s work in this world? What would Jesus do if He were a student in our schools today? Can we get a clue from what He did when He was here among us? Whom did He reach out to, whom did He befriend? Samaritans, tax collectors, adulterers, lepers–the outcasts of His day.
It can be scary to reach out. There’s a homeless man who often appears in our parish hall after Mass. He sits alone, drinks a cup of coffee, mutters to himself. All there he is clearly not. Last week I approached him and asked him if he would like a blueberry muffin. He didn’t answer so I asked again. Finally, struggling hard to get out the words as if unaccustomed to actually having to speak, he said, “I don’t want any disturbance.” So I went away. Sometimes wounded kids do the same. Unused to kindness they may fear it, be suspicious of it. They have walled themselves off to prevent further hurt. Your kid can still smile at the outcast. Can refuse to join in teasing and make sure teachers know about it. Can use his influence and example to stop his peers from engaging in it.
Whether this would stop some school shootings I cannot say. But it’s the right thing, the kind thing, the Christian thing.