…And Shalom in the New Year

One week ago 26 people lost their lives in Newtown, Connecticut. Shot down “in cold blood” as they say. It was particularly poignant, because 20 victims were children.

My heart goes out to them. People in my circles knew one of the children who died. Six year old Ana lived in Winnipeg until last summer. Her parents taught at 2 of our major universities; attended a local evangelical church.

There has been an “outcry” says President Obama, to “do something” about gun laws to try to prevent such a thing from happening again. The National Rifle Association remained unusually silent for a week in a measure of respect.

Not quite ten years ago (March 2003) Iraqis were hoping to go about their daily routines. They didn’t have “weapons of mass destruction.” They were not connected to “9/11.” Osama Bin Laden was not in their country.

But suddenly people with guns showed up. The work of counting civilian deaths is very complex, but after all the caveats, a seemingly reliable figure emerges: between March 2003 and March 2005 24,865 civilian deaths were recorded. That’s an average of 13 people per day, or one Newtown every two days.

The foreign press called it an invasion – a term I saw repeatedly in South African papers at the time. North American media called it war – which was supposed to mean it fell under different rules. But by now we know it wasn’t war; it was just the business of securing supplies of a consumer item – oil.

Was there an outcry?

I feel the loss in Newtown more personally when I think about Ana. It takes knowing someone, even just a little bit.

It’s difficult to feel what people go through in other parts of the world. It’s easy to distance ourselves from injustice, poverty, hurt, war. Nevertheless, I think we can try to connect, and we should.

I can’t hear about Newtown without thinking of Iraqis because a man in my church came from Baghdad. His father was the pastor of a large Presbyterian church in Baghdad. We feared specifically for him.

I can’t hear about Newtown without thinking of Yvette in Bukavu, Eastern Congo. Three weeks ago I sat at my friend Pakisa’s kitchen table listening to him talk to Yvette, asking her for a local update. Our 9 member churches were threatened.

I have cultivated a response to the “Newtowns” of our age. It’s an almost automatic consideration of others in our world who may be just as unjustly treated (or worse) as these situations on our shores. I think it makes me a more sensitive global Christian – and a motivated one to pray and to work where I can.

I’d like to invite us who live in the global North to join me in cultivating this kind of awareness and care. Every time we say a prayer for the people of Newtown, why not also say a prayer for someone else in another part of the world at the same time. It might put us in touch with tough issues. It also might motivate us to outcry and action!

It might do a world of good.

Merry Christmas…and let’s invest in Shalom in the New Year.