No safe way for prophets
After Saturday's tragic shooting in Tucson, some have pointed the finger at inflammatory political rhetoric.
Many singled out Sarah Palin's now-infamous "Don't Retreat, Instead - RELOAD!" tweet and her 'Crosshairs' campaign map, which included Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords' district, as a sign that some politicians have gone too far in stoking vitriol against their political opponents. (Since the shooting, Palin reportedly emphasized in an e-mail that she "hates violence.") Others reject any connection between the shooter, who does not appear to espouse any coherent ideology, and our current political climate.
What are the ethical and moral implications of incendiary political language?
On Saturday morning my mind was still filled with the images and sounds of the new hit movie I'd seen the night before, True Grit. The body of Mattie Ross' father gunned down on the sidewalk, the light from the safety of his home glowing behind him. The old spiritual played throughout: Leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms, safe and secure from all alarm. But the scenes of frontier fantasy were quickly replaced with real ones of today's ideological frontier: borderland Arizona where Representative Gabrielle Giffords and others were shot in front of a Safeway.
Giffords' congressional district has become an American scene of death and desperation, the turf of our political wars. The New York Times calls her district "one of the most emotionally and politically polarized in the nation." Yet Giffords has been popular and productive across the divides. As Mattie Ross would put it: She's one with true grit! Or, as we would say: She is a new kind of leader who brings the right stuff to help heal our nation. What can we learn from her example?
Representative Giffords is one who bridges divides. Although self-defined as a Blue Dog Democrat, some of the most moving stories to surface since Saturday have been from Republican colleagues who profess the ways she has reached out to them to congratulate or console. And in a state ripped apart by immigration and gay rights debates, it was a gay Latino intern who rushed to her side to stem her bleeding.
She is one who pursues justice. From her vantage point as the small business owner of a tire company, she became concerned about access to health care and joined the political fray to work on the very issue that seems to have made her the target of hatred and attack even before last Saturday's shooting.
She is resilient--no sleeping in after a long week's work in Washington, but up to stand in parking lots to engage with her constituents, whatever they might bring her. Ironically, what she intended was to create a new towns commons, a safe place at the Safeway. Not to mention, she has survived a gunshot wound to her head.
She is spiritually grounded--she claims her Judaism as that which undergirds her personally and also as a lens through which she understands justice, public service, and care of the stranger.
So, what should be our response to this act of senseless violence and the blame game that now litters our airwaves? Mattie Ross' answer was to avenge her father's death by shooting his killer--an eye for an eye. But our answer must follow Giffords' way. It is up to us now to stay engaged politically, to bridge divides, to stay spiritually grounded and to nurture capacities of resilience we didn't know we had. As President Obama said in his memorial address, "Heroism is here... just waiting to be summoned." I don't mean to put Giffords on an unreachable pedestal. She is surely a human with feet of clay like the rest of us. Yet she embodies lessons for which our country is starving; her immense popularity post-shooting is a testament to how much we crave her kind of leadership.
As we pause this weekend to remember another shot down for his prophetic leadership in the world, Martin Luther King Jr., I pray. King once said, "If a man hasn't discovered something he will die for, he isn't fit to live." I agree. But I pray that our prophets don't have to die for us to listen. And I pray that we will have many more years to listen to and learn from Gabrielle Giffords. In the meantime, may she and all of us struggling with this crisis find surprising comfort "Leaning, leaning on the everlasting arms, safe and secure from all alarm."
Posted by: jobandon | January 17, 2011 6:14 AM
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Posted by: amelia45 | January 14, 2011 4:33 PM
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