REV. ELEA J. KEMLER: Will You Help to Create a World Worthy of All It's Children
Ed. Note: We asked the Rev. Elea J. Kemler, minister of First Parish Church of Groton to prepare a column in response to the tragic killings in Newtown, CT last Friday. The following are her words.
Will you help to create a world worthy of all its children? In the congregation I serve as minister, this is the question we ask the adults of the congregation each time we dedicate a new baby or child, our version of baptism. Will you help create a world worthy of all its children?
We grieve for the people of Newtown, CT. We grieve for each member of that small New England village so much like our own. Let us hold them in our hearts and in our prayers - the children who witnessed things children should never have to see, the grief-torn families and friends of those who have died, the courageous teachers, school personnel and first responders. We grieve and we struggle to understand what happened but I suspect understanding is impossible. What happened in Newtown is incomprehensible, the loss almost too great to take in. So how do we respond? What sense or meaning can we possibly make of this tragedy?
Some of the best advice I have heard is from the Rev. Fred Rogers, also known as Mr. Rogers of Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. He wrote, "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, 'Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.' To this day, especially in times of 'disaster,' I remember my mother's words, and I am always comforted by realizing that there are still so many helpers - so many caring people in this world." For me, that is where any sense or meaning is to be found, by asking ourselves, how can I stand with the helpers? How can I be one of the caring people? How can I help create a world in which every child is able to grow up safe and loving and whole and strong?
The solutions are not simple or easy. We live in a culture which is steeped in violence, where people who should never have access to guns are able to get them and use them to do terrible harm, and where the safety net for those who are most in need of mental health treatment, particularly children and youth, is often torn and broken. Many things will have to change. As Gail Collins wrote in the NY Times, "We have to make ourselves better. Otherwise, the story from Connecticut is too unspeakable to bear."
Our community has much to be grateful for. TADS (Teenage Anxiety and Depression Solutions), a non-profit organization which supports the mental health and well being of youth, is alive and well in Groton. For more information, visit them on line at www.tadsma.org. In addition, we have an excellent mental health referral service called MSPP Interface Referral Service. Anyone in the community can call the helpline at 617-332-3666 x 1411 during working hours and get effective help in finding mental health services. You can also visit them on line at www. www.msppinterface.org. Please support the good work of these organizations - they make a real difference.
It is a particularly hard time of year to face grief and loss. But the ancient stories we retell during this season remind us that joy always comes in the midst of darkness.
Joy breaks through like starlight or candlelight in the darkness but it is surrounded by the hard stuff of every day life, including violence and tragedy and despair and these make joy all the more precious. The stories remind us that there is still and always joy in this world, but that it is fleeting, and it comes alongside struggle and it is most often to be found where there is also love.
Mary and Joseph have to make a long, difficult journey to Bethlehem, before the joy of their baby's birth. And then they have to run away to Egypt to escape King Herod's murderous intentions before there is the possibility of safety and homecoming. Their story is wrapped up in the threat of violence and fear. The Maccabees of the Hanukkah story were victorious against impossible odds, living in the hills, fighting desperate battles before they won back their city and the oil in the sacred temple lamp burned for eight days until more oil could be made. Their joy comes, only alongside a terrifying struggle for their very lives. Winter Solstice comes in the midst of the deepest darkness. Ancient people gathered, as people still do, to celebrate the rebirth of the sun, to remind ourselves in the dark and cold of the longest night of the year, that dawn will eventually come and spring will slowly return. Joy comes alongside pain and fear and uncertainty.
Something has changed. Lives have been lost, including the lives of beautiful children and their teachers and school personnel, adults who dedicated themselves to the well-being of children. We will never again be able to say, "something like that could never happen in a town like ours" because Newtown is very much a town like ours. What we can do is express our gratitude, now and often, especially in the days ahead, to all of the teachers, school administrators, volunteers and first responders who make our community a wonderful place to live. We can thank them for their commitment, courage and generosity. And we can dedicate ourselves anew to the well-being of our community and to the children who live here. What will we do to create a world worthy of our children? Each one of us must find our own answer.