Tucson: Fear and Rhetoric to MLK Weekend

Fearful Tentacles of Injustice: Hyperbole, Mental Illness, Capital Punishment, Guns

Sarah Palin, Glenn Beck and Bill O’Reilly were not responsible for the shooting in Tucson on Saturday, January 8, 2010.  Yet the type of inflammatory and at times just plain ignorant rhetoric they practice and this shooting are connected.  Captain Hyperbole and his outlandish utility belt rule our national discourse.  They operate most dangerously on the right, but roam the left also.  The right wing political talk shows and right wing politicians seem to think nothing of linking the president (even simultaneously) with fascism, communism, totalitarianism and figures like Hitler and Stalin.  Yet, I remember not too long ago that folks on the political left spoke in just as outrageous terms of George Bush.  However I don’t remember any rhetoric out of the left suggesting violent overthrow of the government, nor do I remember any of the lefties I know carrying guns to rallies in opposition of candidates or elected officials and/or threatening candidates with targets on their congressional seats.  One example that has been raised lately is a post from the liberal blog Daily Kos calling the liberal blogger’s own Democratic Federal Representative “dead to me” for supporting Nancy Pilosi as Speaker of the House. The fact that this one example keeps surfacing again and again is testament to the fact that violent threats in the political area come far more from the right than left.  Wherever they come from however, they have no place in either our political or civic discourse. There is no way to finding a just society through a discourse so rife with vitriolic hyperbole.

Mental Illness once again becomes something to fear in this country as the portrait of the Tucson shooter emerges.  People saw Jared Loughner exhibit odd behavior, but didn’t want to interfere.  We shy away from each other’s lives.  Then we gasp in horror at the awful outcome of a troubled soul’s pain acting out in the world.  Then, we don’t accept mental illness as a legal defense and we want to execute people for crimes that they committed while obviously not in their right mind.   Many weeks at Pathways I include in the prayer at church a prayer for those dealing illnesses seen and unseen, physical and emotional, visible and invisible. If you live with an unseen, invisible, and/or emotional illness – tell someone.  First and foremost to get help you need and just as important for people who have gotten help, let people around you know that the world is full of people living lives that others need NOT be afraid of and that mental illnesses of all types, day in and day out do NOT end in shootings and violence.

Guns. No one is talking about guns. Members of congress are talking openly about carrying concealed weapons instead of taking an honest look at why America is a gun happy society and how that leads to violence such as the shooting of a member of congress, the assassination of a federal judge and the murder of innocents in a Tucson mall. From where I sit the right to bear arms is not the right to carry concealed semi automatic weapons in a shopping mall or a church or a school and it is unjust that this shooting is not immediately spurring a national discussion about our country’s fascination with firearms. Since I moved to Texas  a couple of years ago, I have lost my previous mentality that all guns are bad all the time.  I still don’t believe we need gun shows and the right to buy assault weapons to uphold the second amendment, however I understand that different attitudes and cultures give rise to other views on guns.  There is a safe, sane middle ground between disarmament and selling semi-automantic hand guns to anyone who asks for one over the counter.

The punishment for shooting a federal judge, six other people and attempting to assassinate a member of congress will be the death penalty.  This will hopefully stir up debate on the injustice of capital punishment.  Executions, especially in this instance, make all of us, the entire country, assassins and murders.  You don’t kill people to show that killing people is wrong.  The only motive we have for executions is revenge, not justice, and when we act out of revenge, we are not acting out of our best selves.  The shooter is in custody. It is our job now to make sure he harms neither others nor himself.  We need not commit more violence to do that.  We are what we do and we do what we are. There are penalties to pay for wrong actions and heinous crimes.  Death isn’t one of them. We are better than that.

We are now in a time of fear, anxiety and mourning, but let it push us to a time of reflection on these deep issues and let it turn to a time of hope and action. We can not change the world we live in by shrinking from it, but only by engaging it with courage, hope and compassion, like Gabrielle Giffords. Get out in the street. Shake someone’s hand, put your hands to work, there’s a lot to be done. Be not afraid.  Out of darkness there must come out a light.

The Backdrop of MLK Weekend in Tucson: January to April and Beyond

The shooting that critically wounded US Representative Gabrielle Giffords Saturday in Tucson and killed six others comes a week before we celebrate the life of Martin Luther King,Jr. who was assassinated on a Memphis hotel balcony on April 4, 1968, and calls to mind a time in America when the shooting of leaders filled our headlines. A time I was too young to remember personally, but remember well from history.

It’s my prayer that we do not enter such a time in our history again, yet wonder if such a time is already upon us, like it or not.  Our role as Unitarian Universalists in society is to stand and speak boldly as peaceful people of faith. Not just in times of war and on the big issues of the day, but in conversation and on the small issues of the day.  It’s easy to be drawn into the world of hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric about each and every one of our political and social positions and opinions.  Bold and lofty ideals deserve bold and lofty speech, not hot and incendiary speech.

Let us strive, at the soccer field and in the classroom, in the carpool and at the water cooler, online and in person, to express ourselves and our opinions clearly and eloquently. Let our model be Dr. King, not Glenn Beck or  Bill Maher.  This doesn’t mean we need to discard our ideals and concern for justice. When King spoke he never backed away from very strong, confrontational opinions about what was wrong with America and how to change it, yet he stayed away from language that incited others to violence and always, always chose the path of non-violent, non-cooperation.  To examine his speeches and sermons today, many would be shocked at his strident calls for the government to be change its ways or be removed or changed, yet his calls never included prompts for armed revolution, just the opposite.

This weekend, as we remember Dr. King, his concern for non-violence, poverty and how they were intertwined with racism in America, let us remember that the journey to a more just society begins in our own hearts.  Let the injustices of January and April give birth to a renewed sense of justice we can carry forward all year long and all our lives, remaining true to our principles, expressing them and living them out with strength and integrity, truly respecting the dignity and worth of others,  never backing down in the struggle for peace and justice and equality yet never turning to violence of speech or action.  It’s a tough call to action.  The response has traditionally been: Here I am.


100th Anniversary of the Council on Christian Unity
Worship Resources
Prepared by Ron Allen and Linda McKiernan-Allen
Martin Luther King, Jr. Day
Sunday, January 17, 2010
A child once dreamed the Voice was calling his name. . .’Samuel’;
Fishermen once heard the Voice when a young man bid them follow;
And still the Voice beckons today. . .can you hear?
Here I am. Send me.

Moses protested vehemently as the Voice spoke at the burning bush;
Mary stood amazed as the Voice proclaimed impending birth;
And still the Voice beckons today. . .can you hear?
Here I am. Send me.

Rosa Parks followed the Voice to the front of the bus;
Martin Luther King, Jr. heard the Voice as the bullet shattered;
And still the Voice beckons today. . .can you hear?
Here I am. Send me.

The Voice beckons from humble places. . .
in the tears of hungry children,
in the cries of the frail and frightened elderly,
in the pleas of those whose dreams have been too long deferred;
and still the Voice beckons today. . .can you hear?
Here I am. Send me.

A timid believer pauses to listen to the Voice;
A struggling church hears the Voice and turns;
and still the Voice beckons today. . .can you hear?
Here I am. Send me.