The Greater Tragedy

Sunday's Vigil. (Photo by Andrew Robinson)
Sunday’s Vigil. (Photo by Andrew Robinson)

“The greater tragedy is that these deaths are being politicized by those who have an agenda…”

During the past two days, I’ve heard this statement on social media, from writers right, left, and center.

This kind of empty rhetoric gets tossed out at a time like this. And sometimes it gets embraced as a moderate, temperate, and even-handed response to a time of crisis.

But it’s crazy-talk, friends. Really it is.

Think about it. Consider the false-moral equivalency behind this statement. I mean, really dig into what is being suggested here. Can it really be that…

Making the connection between this shooting and intersectional causes of justice…that’s a greater tragedy than the loss of fifty lives?

Expressing anger at the continuing religious and civil discrimination of LGBTQ persons, and the theology which “aids and abets it”…that’s a greater tragedy than the loss of fifty lives?

Calling out inaction an assault weapons ban by Congress (Something that’s been called-out after every mass shooting for the past decade) that’s a greater tragedy than the loss of fifty lives?

Decrying Islamophobic slurs and insults directed at innocent Muslim friends…that’s a greater tragedy than the loss of fifty lives?

No. I’m sorry.
I call bullshit.

None of this is a greater moral tragedy than the loss of fifty  human lives.
NONE. OF. IT.

In fact, none of it is “tragedy” at all. It’s all a very predictable set of responses, based on the emotion of the moment. Not only is it not tragedy, it becomes just, moral, and right to ask tough questions, precisely at a time like this.

We can walk and chew gum at the same time. We can mourn victims, and begin the process of working and advocating for just social change in the world.

There is a wrongheaded belief that only dispassionate discussion, logical insights, and cogent moral reasoning ever quality as effective leadership at a time like this.

Cut off your emotions, they counsel.

Put away your feelings, they say.

But this totally negates the fact that we are emotional creatures at heart. We are ruled by, and driven by, our emotions…in ways most of us do not often realize and acknowledge.

To be clear, politicians, preachers and thought-leaders can manipulate our emotions. That is true. They can intentionally stir up emotional responses. They can play on fears, focus on basest instincts to create enemies, and “demonize and otherize” people.
Yes, that kind of behavior by politicians, preachers, and though-leaders is deeply manipulative.

But when politicians, preachers and thought-leaders acknowledge the actual suffering and pain of actual human beings? When they suggest positive steps and actions that can alleviate suffering, bring about social change, and heal the scourge of hate?

That’s a good thing. It’s not manipulative or controlling. It actually gives people hope. Hope that the world can be better than it is now…hope that we can overcome our homophobia, Islamophobia, and addiction to guns.

In fact, and ironically, one of the key ways to lower people’s anxieties and fears is to come up with concrete steps that would make life better…that would reduce homophobia, Islamophobia, and gun addiction.

Sunday night at the vigil in Oak Lawn, my friend Rev. Neal Cazares-Thomas said that not only was he feeling a sense of loss, but that he also felt a sense of “righteous anger.”

Yes, Yes, Yes!

Righteous anger is not the same as indiscriminate and mis-directed anger. Righteous anger does not inspire fear. It calms the fearful. Righteous anger gives hope to the hopeless and the despairing.

So, I call BS on the proposition, “The greater tragedy is that these deaths are being politicized by people who have an agenda…”

A truly “great tragedy” at a moment like this would be to allow hopelessness and despair to grow unchecked, in the silence and fear of inaction.

So, don’t fear speaking up at a time like this. Speak the truth you feel about our need to increase the safety of the LGBTQ community, reduce Islamophobia, and overcome our addiction to guns. Your views can be healing and hopeful to your friends and neighbors.
Even as we still grieve, the prophet who calls for justice, at such a time as this, will help bring healing to the land too.

Refuse to be silenced.

Express your righteous anger when you feel it, and never let anybody call that a “tragedy.”

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Eric Folkerth is a minister, musician, author and blogger. He has been Senior Pastor of Northaven United Methodist Church in Dallas, Texas since 2001. During his tenure, church membership has grown almost 30 percent, and a completely new church facility (sanctuary and education building) has been constructed. Northaven is a leading progressive Christian congregation in the Southwest. Northaven is an eclectic collection of gay and straight families, artists, musicians, theater folks, academic theologians, lawyers and judges (go figure), socially conscious community activists, people who don't "check their brain at the door," and a wide array of others who either see it as their "last chance" inside the "institutional church," or their first trip back in decades. Eric is an avid blogger and published author.  Eric is also an award-winning singer-songwriter, who performs throughout Texas and the Southwest. He's an engaging live performer whose first CD was released in 2000. His songs have won honorable mention in both the Billboard and Great American song contests; and he's been a finalist in the 5th Street Festival and South Florida Folk Festival songwriter competitions. Eric is also a leader of Connections, a unique band comprised of United Methodist clergy and layfolk from throughout North Texas. Connections performs "cover shows" of artists like Dan Fogelberg, Chicago, Eagles, Doobie Brothers, Billy Joel, Stevie Wonder, James Taylor and others. Their shows draw crowds of between 300 and 1,000 fans, and they have raised more than $240,000 dollars for worthy charities. Eric has led or co-led hundreds of persons on mission trips around the globe, to places such as Mexico, Haiti, Russia, and Nepal. He has worked with lay persons to build ten homes, and one Community Center, in partnership with Habitat for Humanity of Dallas. He's a popular preacher, and often tackles challenging issues of social justice in his writings and sermons. His wife, Judge Dennise Garcia, is a State District Judge for Dallas, County. As judge of the 303rd Family District Court, she consistently gets high ratings from area lawyers, and was named "best judge" by The Dallas Observer. First elected in 2004, she was the first Latina ever elected to a county-wide bench in Dallas County. She was re-elected for a third term in 2010. They have the world's best daughter, Maria, and an incredible dog, Daisy. (As always, if you like this post, then "like" this on Facebook by clicking the box below, so others can see too...)

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