Whatever happened to faith, hope and charity?

Tom West, West Words

Tom West, West Words

In a world seemingly gone mad, I have been thinking long and hard about what I should say to readers in this, our Christmas issue.

The news has been full of violence with the latest atrocity being the massacre of first-graders in Connecticut. However, the madness is right here among us with a cop killer still on the loose in Cold Spring, a Little Falls man killing two burglars on Thanksgiving Day, and more recently, the shooting of a Sauk Centre man near Upsala, allegedly by someone from Melrose.

So how does one say, “Merry Christmas” in the face of all that?

I heard on the news recently that it’s harder to get an appointment to see a psychiatrist these days than it is to buy an automatic weapon. The psychiatrists are swamped by people full of fear and anxiety. So are some gun buyers, I think. What ever happened to faith, hope and charity, the enduring themes of the holiday season?

For 2,000 years, we’ve been reminded of them each December, but now many seem intent on turning the whole world into an armed camp. Is that what we need to do to survive?

Reflecting on the Connecticut school shooting, Kyle Eller, a former co-worker who now edits the Northern Cross, the monthly newspaper of the Diocese of Duluth, offered the following insights:

“It is so very easy to say, ‘Get rid of guns’ or “I blame violent video games,” or “It is all about mental illness,” or “You kicked prayer out of schools,” or even “This is what you get in a dictatorship of relativism,” and all the rest. And it is not that those conversations are wrong to have, not that these things may not form some part, even perhaps a great part, of the constellation of things going on here. Some of those things I have strong opinions about, and some I do not think I am knowledgeable enough about to justify a strong opinion.

“But what I am increasingly certain of is that this is right — that there is a fundamental alienation somewhere at the heart of this. There are lots of people who do not feel they have a place, do not belong, have no one to love them. I say it not to point fingers at anyone, because I know all too well I am as complicit in this and as much a contributor to this as anyone else who might read this. I say this with a ‘mea maxima culpa.’

“But I feel deep down that in every one of these events there is an indictment of many things we are not willing to give up, our way of thinking about family, our way of thinking about friendship, our way of thinking about an economy, our way of thinking about a community, our way of thinking about rights and, most of all, our way of thinking about God. And it is this indictment which makes it so hard to talk about — and perhaps which makes it so easy for us to grab for superficial answers.

“People do not feel they belong in part because there is so little left of a common life that there is little left to which to belong. Or so it seems to me.”

I liked his comments because he left room for doubt. Most of us can’t get past the hand-wringing to even begin discussing this problem.

I think it stems from within the family. We know for example, that children of single parents are less likely to do well than children who come from a low-conflict, two-parent household. We know that families that sit down to dinner together on most days produce better children. And frighteningly, we pretty much know by third grade who is college material and who isn’t.

In my mind, we have created a society that is convenient for adults, but not good for raising children.

And yet, we know of countless examples of children who overcome the odds, so it isn’t just that.

Another part of it is that with the withering of our geographic community ties, so much of what we do is in isolation. We can watch TV or movies together, but are those a truly shared experience? How many of us never think about the values that these shows bring into our homes? We no longer have community norms because we no longer have true communities. We don’t know each other well enough.

It seems as if we have forgotten some things — like what an awesome responsibility it is to create a new life and then raise a child. Most of us claim to be busy, but much of what we are busy with are things that keep us from having enough time or energy for our families.

Then we wring our hands over suicides, the growth of unemployables in a technological age and then  the occasional attempt by the alienated to outdo the atrocities of others. It’s all tied together somehow, but the question is, how can society as a whole turn this around?

I think we can figure it out, but not by being more self-righteous. Instead, we all ought to be humbled that these things are happening in our communities, and admit that all of us need to refocus.

There are good ideas out there on how to proceed. You may hear a few of them if you find yourself sitting in a pew in the next day or so.

•••

About the time I wanted to throw my arms up in despair, a co-worker at the Record, Dorine Buermann, told me that she had taken a friend shopping in St. Cloud this week. The friend chose $172 worth of items. When they came up to the cash register, a woman behind them handed the clerk a credit card and told her to put their purchases on it. Her son, Nathan Matros, had chosen them for this act of kindness. They were from Sartell, she said, adding, “We can afford it. Just ‘pay it forward.’”

There is still hope.

Tom West is the editor and general manager of the Record. He may be reached at (320) 632-2345 or by e-mail at tom.west@mcrecord.com.

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