Digging deeper into grace (02/21/2018)

It is tempting. It is common for us. Bit I beg you, please do not do it. Do not let yourself become numb to the tragedies in our nation.

Brian Resnick writes, “On Wednesday [Feb. 14], we learned that 17 students [actually 14 students, plus the school’s athletic director, a football coach, and a teacher] were killed by a young gunman at a high school in Parkland, Florida. We were told…that there have been 1,607 mass shootings since the slaughter in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012. We were reminded it was only five months ago that a gunman killed 58 in Las Vegas, and that a year and a half has passed since 49 died in a nightclub shooting in Orlando. You might think that with every new death, we’d all feel greater and greater empathy, greater and greater sadness.

But no. It’s human to feel numb.

“There’s a profound and infuriating psychological concept that can help explain increasing numbness in the face of long, slow-burning tragedy like mass gun violence in America. It’s this: As the number of victims in a tragedy increases, our empathy, our willingness to do something, reliably decreases. This tendency is called psychic numbing. It describes how tragedies turn into abstractions in our minds, and how abstractions are easily attenuated and even ignored.”

It’s tempting to let our souls go numb. Indeed, it’s our human tendency to become numb. But don’t do it.

Ted Wueste explains, “We all experience pain in this life. No one emerges unscathed. We might wish and hope and pray not to experience pain, loss, and suffering, but this is our common lot. Also, common to humanity is the temptation to numb our pain…. Numbing our pain might sound like a great option, a preferable option. However, it comes with significant risk. First and foremost, we can’t shut down just a part of our heart. When we numb the pain, we also numb our ability to feel other things like joy and peace and delight…. In addition, when we are numb, we can end up engaging in behaviors that are risky and/or sinful because we just want to feel alive. We want to feel something.”

So, please, do not become numb.

Feel the pain and the sorrow. Weep. Groan. Mourn. Scream. Talk about it. Take some kind of appropriate action. Just don’t become numb.

Personally, I agree with the recommendation Bob Goodlatte (Republican chairman of the House Judiciary Committee) made on Feb. 15, to have the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) study gun violence as a public health issue.

Writing in the Chicago Tribune on Oct. 21, 2015, Catherine A.

Humikowski (medical director of the pediatric intensive care unit at the University of Chicago) argued, “Denying gun violence as a disease of public health proportions…denies the true impact of the problem and the public responsibility to address it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must resume dedicated research to understand its cause and to effect prevention and cure.

“Vastly more likely to strike any American than Ebola, gun violence lacks dedicated public research investment due to political roadblocks that have led to a decades-long cycle of non-action. Powerful and sustainable research programs are absent because the funding pool is too shallow and the political risk too great. Even though more of our youngest children die from homicide than from cancer, last year the National Institutes of Health spent twice as much money to fund pediatric cancer research than to study youth violence.”

Disagree with my suggestion if you want. Get mad at my editorial if you want. Just don’t become numb. Our nation and our world need people whose hearts are alive rather than numb—even though our hearts may be aching deeply—for it is only a feeling heart that can love, and that’s what our nation and our world need most deeply.■

—Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa.

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Tom Tripp is the Pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Colusa. Pastor Tripp can be reached by e-mail at: tomtripp@frontiernet.net