Opinion: Can Any Good Come Out of the Christchurch Massacre?
While so many predictably rush to politicize and blame for the recent Christchurch massacre, the frequency of these events may have created an additionally unhelpful effect. Where most once put our hands over our mouth in horror, an increasing number merely pause to offer a brief tribute of sentiment as consolation.
A 28-year-old Australian man killed 50 people and injured 50 others during mass shootings on March 15, 2019, at the Al Noor Mosque and the Linwood Islamic Centre in Christchurch, New Zealand, during Friday prayer. As the horrific events in New Zealand stun the world, Christchurch suffers the wounds of a tragically growing list of cities.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families,” echoes often enough to warrant a predictive template on social media platforms to expedite the now traditional response. One can’t help but wonder the efficacy of the phrase to those forever burdened by such anguish.
“What thoughts?” “What prayers?” “To whom are you praying?” “What reply do you expect?” “How do grieving souls process others’ conversations with an all-powerful deity?” The list of questions erupting from wounded souls must extend beyond the horizon.
The protection of citizens should remain paramount to any government. Part of that protection is equipping others to care for and protect themselves. Another part is seeing to those unable to do so.
At her core, America cares deeply about and cherishes her citizens’ safety. Our society’s fracture, however, wrenches so many away from that core. As a result, we’re left disengaged—particularly if we disagree politically or religiously. How can we offer meaningful consolation to people on the other side of the world if we can’t embrace our own neighbors?
In Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan, the hero didn’t offer thoughts and prayers, but rather action and care. He first noticed and then approached the assaulted man. Only then could he bind the wounds and carry the injured man to safety. Once there, the parable’s hero then ensured sustainable care.
With social media and instant news, glibness and optics receive more shelf space than the heart, but care requires something of the caregiver. Instead of the now trite “thoughts and prayers,” let us indeed think and pray, but also speak and act with frankness and specificity.
When words fail us, it is understandable to land on a phrase that feels safe and appropriate to say, but to be effective at ministering to the wounded, we must go deeper. Our thoughts and prayers are between us and God. Our words and actions speak to others.
May we address those forever altered by tragedy with such directness as President George W. Bush stated through a megaphone on a pile of rubble at the World Trade Center following an event that shocked the planet. “I can hear you!” began with a pause. “I can hear you. The rest of the world hears you, and the people — and the people who knocked these buildings down will hear all of us soon!” Standing in carnage on Sept. 14, 2001, this president met the rawness of 9/11 with forthrightness and leadership.
Carnage in its many forms provides us with the opportunity to look at it for what it is while speaking hope and life to those around us. The only strengthening words are those communicating that victims are acknowledged, they specifically cared for, and ensured sustainable care. Sentiment costs little and rarely comforts. Although costly, leadership always comforts.
Let us offer more than thoughts and prayers. Let us offer leadership towards a safer, stronger, and more caring country seeking to assure one another that those who suffer will not do so in isolation. In doing so, we also provide leadership to those watching us.
The most effective leaders are often those responding to that great need of assurance in the face of overwhelming loss. In those moments, our vocabulary changes from stock phrases to specificity.
Leadership in suffering can be as simple as saying, “I see you, and I see the magnitude of your pain and sorrow, and I will work to make sure you don’t endure this alone.” Those words emanate from the heart. Displaying outrage is a collective pastime. Displaying our hearts requires a greater courage.
From mass shootings to mental illness to immigration to race issues, may we be a nation that binds the wounds, regardless of our differences. May we be a people who notice suffering of those around us and be willing to do something about it.
The question remains: Can any good come out of the Christchurch Massacre? If we use thoughts and prayers as springboards to offer direct help and provide sustainable care, the answer is “yes.” In doing so, our united hands can then better extend to wounded lives around the world, yielding solutions to consideration and prayer.