“Never give up.”

The community of Perquin, capital of the FMLN during the war.

Our final day in El Salvador found us waking up in Perquin to head to Mass led by Padre Rogelio Poncel, the Priest we had met the day before over breakfast. Padre Rogelio preached about John the Baptist, calling particular attention to the differences between the messages of John and Jesus. For the Baptist, Rogelio claimed, the stress was “on the rights of God” and therefore of the need for all humans to cherish God and follow his demands. For Jesus, the focus was on “the rights of human beings.”  For Jesus we can respond to God only if we are responding to our fellow human beings. He concluded that it is in loving our neighbor that we love God and that in cherishingthe rights of our neighbors that we respect the rights of God. There is no going to God without going to our neighbor.

The mass was also punctuated with lively singing, in the popular style, further reflecting an impulse we had experienced time and time again in our travels: the impulse of the Salvadoran people to make their worship responsive to their community’s historical and present context. From the community of Romero’s crypt, to the Christian Base Communities and their formation schools, to now the parish mass in Perquin, Salvadoran religious leaders and lay people had a strong confidence in their own assessment of their liturgical needs, and a willingness to carry on as they needed to, even in opposition to the ecclesiastical hierarchy.

Following mass we loaded onto the bus and Daniel drove us to a short way to the community of Agua Blanca in Cacaopera, Morazán, where we met with Acción y Vida, an organization of youth leaders seeking to improve quality of life through sustained social and political engagement. We heard from a new generation of leaders who, while inspired by their formation in communities of resistance, feel unrepresented of the language and models of their parents. They are engaged in inspiring work to offer sexuality education to their communities, educate people about HIV/AIDS, and continue to insist that the voice of rural youth be a part of the formation of El Salvador’s future. Still, like many of the groups we have met with, their voices are on the distant margins of the national conversation, out of the boundaries of the hierarchical Roman Catholic Church, and maybe even not central to the discourse in their local communities, still they continue their work with impressive energy and a gentle but persistent spirit.

Finally, after a 5 hour ride back to San Salvador, we gathered for dinner with Fr. Jon Sobrino, a Jesuit, who taught at the Catholic University. He is alive today only because he was out of the country, at a conference in Thailand, the night that is colleagues and their two housekeepers were murdered by the death squads. Sobrino’s talk captured the spirit of so many groups and individuals we had met. His theological affirmations were rooted in the reality of the lived experience of the people of El Salvador, and he was insistent that all true theology must be grounded in experience.

The people of El Salvador call Romero a Saint. While it may take generations for the Catholic Church to agree, Sobrino told us “reality makes things obvious.” Those who are grounded in reality know that “in Romero, God walked with us in El Salvador.” Sobrino spoke beautifully, clearly, and succinctly, without straying into complex reasoning or cloudy questions of ontology and metaphysics. He insisted that we all keep our eyes squarely on the suffering of the world, and act to end it, drawing on the stories and teachings of Christianity to reflect on and frame that action. Finally, he offered a perfect closing mantra for the fullness of what we met in El Salvador. Quoting from Micah he reminded us that our task is to walk humbly with God. Like Madre Alicia who walked into the teeth of an empire for the sake of truth, sustained by the potent power of a mother’s anguish; walk. Like the women who carry on a weekly mass in Romero’s crypt despite pressure from the Archbishop to stop; walk. Like the 6 year-old Children in formation schools in the countryside, learning the tragedy of their history and the hope of their parents struggle; walk. “The one thing we have learned here” Sobrino said, “is never to give up.”

The Union delegation with Fr. Jon Sobrino (front center).

It’s so sad I can only laugh

 

Friday, January 11, 2013 – Perquin and El Mozote, Morazan, El Salvador

After surviving an exhilarating, dusty, and at some points dangerous dance party, we awoke Friday for some delicious breakfast. Acting in the spirit of Romero, a cute kitten, several cows, at least one dog, and one very calm baby relaxing in a hammock pastorally accompanied us in our eating and digesting of breakfast – on the trip, eating and digesting were more of a struggle for some than others. Some – or at least one – of us later mistook a bunched up blanket to be the aforementioned baby, and may or may not have spoken soft baby words to this blanket for a somewhat extended amount of time.

After breakfast we piled onto the bus. Throughout the trip the bus was driven quite expertly by Daniel (sp?), pronounced somewhere in between the way we pronounce the male name “Daniel” and how we pronounce the female name “Danielle.” I felt slightly but consistently self-conscious that I was perhaps mispronouncing his name each time I uttered it, which happened quite often, usually preceded by a heartfelt “muchas gracias.” It is no exaggeration to say that Daniel kept us all alive, as he was the one primarily responsible for hydrating and transporting us.

I found the bus to be a sanctuary of unofficial time. In this itinerary-less world on wheels we were afforded the time to zone into or out of the world. Many stuck headphones into their ears. Others stared seemingly contemplatively out the window. I heard deep probing reflections on our previous encounters and, at least in the back of the bus, what one might call inappropriate conversation. And of course there was singing!

On this day Daniel was taking us from the Bajo Lempa region in the South of El Salvador to the more rural and mountainous Morazan (a territory in NE El Salvador). We arrived at our Hotel in Perquin at the Perkin Lenca Hotel. And yes, Perquin and Perkin are two different and legitimate spellings of the same word. In fact the sign for the Hotel reads “Perkin Lenca Hotel: Perquin, Morazan.” And in the restaurant in the Perkin Lenca hotel each chair has carved into it the word Lenka, with a K!

Believe it or not, to study the cohabitation of different spellings of the same words was not our reason for coming to Perquin. We came to see the site of and accompanying memorials for the Massacre at El Mozote. In 1981, an unimaginable but real series of events took place here and goes something like this: A civil war had been underway between the El Salvadoran army and the resistance guerilla forces. The guerilla forces were partly animated by Liberation Theology, which at the time in El Salvador was an almost exclusively Catholic phenomenon. I note this because El Mozote was primarily a Protestant population and its occupants were well known for their neutrality in the war, siding with neither the guerilla forces nor the army. El Mozote had however, on rare occasion, been the site of weapon pickups by the guerilla forces. The townspeople and surrounding peasant farmers were alerted that the army would be passing through the area. In order to demonstrate their cooperation and neutrality, and not to be mistaken for guerilla forces the townspeople and surrounding farmers met (unarmed) in the town’s center. They were promised that they would not be harmed if they did so.

The military death squads- I can assure you they deserve their name and then some- marched into the town. After searching the townspeople and finding nothing, they separated the men, women and children. They began by interrogating, torturing and murdering the men. Then they raped the women and “older” girls and machine gun-style executed them. If that’s not enough, these U.S. trained forces, (see School of the Americas) also brutally killed all the children by slitting their throats and lynching them.

Nearly every person in the town was inhumanely and unnecessarily killed. The death toll was at about 800 people. One of the only survivors, who recently died, escaped with a herd of cattle, but could recognize the screams of her husband and children being killed.

We visited two memorials that honored this terrible tragedy, which by the way was repeatedly denied by the Reagan Administration and the El Salvadoran government. As a group we did our best to carry ourselves with somber reflection in order to pay proper respect to the kind of suffering that stops you in your tracks. Surprisingly, this didn’t last as long as we would have expected. Three children accompanied us on our ~1km walk to the second, much grander memorial. They rode their bikes joyously and had many of us laughing and playing along with them. Their behavior demonstrated what was a common experience for us in El Salvador: intense heartbreaking tears are shed with full earnestness and then a moment later joy and laughter breaks out without a hint of inappropriateness, irreverence or inconsistency. Just as common is for someone who was a stranger just a minute prior to accompany you with genuine interest and an unselfconscious, simple and beautiful assumption that you both have become real friends, at least for the moment.

We briefly hiked up a hill nearby for a marvelous view. Others found horse friends to ride up. Although, once at the top, we were informed that the initial fee was only for the horse ride up, and that an additional fee equivalent to the initial one would be required to ride back down. Half of the two horse riders agreed to the additional fee.

After this we visited the museum of the Revolution of Perquin. There were about five groups of Guerilla forces that joined forces, forming the FMLN (Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front) and made Perquin their headquarters. Here locals proudly provided us a tour of this museum that honored the FMLN’s life and struggle.

We end the night with salsa dancing, showcasing at the very least our enthusiasm for dance. After such a day I felt a bit regretful that we ever had to leave this place. It’s so full of life, and the people possess that unflinching yet humble type of wisdom that only comes from persisting through something terrible. But we are thankful to be alive at all and to have another day to live in beautiful El Salvador.

 

* I was unsuccessful in uploading photos. I hope they will be forthcoming

Touching the Earth

Thursday – from Blanca and Lily

Thursday was another day full of wonder. We learned more about the history and present day struggles of El Salvador as we met with, and gained inspiration from, additional individuals sharing powerful stories.

*Over breakfast, Jenna Knapp of CRISPAZ, presented an overview of her work with gang-involved youth in San Salvador. Jenna uses art therapy and poetry workshops with these youth, many of whom are or have been incarcerated under inhumane conditions, especially in the detention centers. These young men and women are especially vulnerable to extra-judicial executions by the police.

*We spent the remainder of the morning in a riveting conversation with Francisco Mena Sandoval, a former member of the Salvadoran military, who defected at the start of the Civil War to join the FMLN in 1981 as a guerilla fighter and captain. (Francisco is the father of current CRISPAZ Director, Francisco Mena Ugarte.) Mr. Mena Sandoval told us of his experience participating in election fraud in 1977—a trigger event for the rise of the Salvadoran people in protest—at the direction of his military commanders. It was at this time that he came to know Roberto d’Aubuisson, a member of the National Guard and later a major in the Salvadoran army, who became the ruthless political leader in the onset and early years of the Civil War (from 1980 to 1985) and the principal proponent of assassinations by death squads. (Roberto d’Aubuisson is widely believed to be the mastermind of Archbishop Romero’s assassination in 1980.) Three times during Mena Sandoval’s military tenure, he received training from US military personnel – twice in Ft. Benning, GA at the School of the Americas (SOA) (renamed in 2001 as the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHISC)) and once in Argentina. Mena Sandoval explained his intense internal moral conflict during his time as a military leader. Pivotal to his change of heart was his personal relationship with Archbishop Oscar Romero.  At the risk of death, Mena Sandoval met with Archbishop Romero on a weekly basis and provided information about the atrocities being committed by the military, which Romero then reported in his Sunday homilies. It was after refusing to conduct a massacre of innocent and poor people in 1980 in Rosario, a small town in the Morazán district, that Mena Sandoval defected from the military and joined the FMLN’s liberation army in the Morazán district as captain of an elite force of guerrillas. During the Civil War, Morazán was able to become a liberated district.

*Before lunch, we had a brief opportunity to visit the CRISPAZ office and appreciate the handcrafted arts made by communities of Salvadorans as part of a program to promote local artisans by providing a marketplace with fair trade prices.

*Over lunch, we met with three people involved in a nascent LGBTQ advocacy movement in El Salvador. The LGBTQ community is also vulnerable to extra-judicial executions. These three individuals are focusing their efforts on creating an official organization, collecting data on human rights violations, seeking funds to hire a lawyer to represent members of the LGBTQ community, and advocating for enactment of anti-discrimination legislation with provisions to enforce those statutory rights.

*Thursday afternoon we made the two-hour drive to Bajo Lempa in Morazán where we met Noemi Ortiz, Elena Jaramillo and Father Pedro LeClerq at the Cultural Center of Oscar Romero. The three discussed their experiences working with Christian Base Communities (CBCs), which are organized around principles of a people’s theology grounded in the reality of oppression of the people. Over the past several years, Union’s very own Jenn Wilder has worked alongside CBC community leaders in various communities in Morazán. Morazán is a rural and very poor region of El Salvador where the people live mostly by the land. The end of the Civil War did not usher in economic reform and this region continues to face difficult socio-economic and environmental challenges. Rooted in their reality, the CBCs live out the Gospel of Christ by organizing economic cooperatives and other community, even infrastructural, projects to improve their lives. It is this type of Christian praxis, not dogma, which characterizes the CBC’s ideal of what the Church must be. During our conversation, Father Pedro talked about the importance of “touching the Earth.” This community’s way of living in reality, struggling and working together, and celebrating life and their accomplishments impressed us as genuinely joyful and inspired us.

*Following our meeting at the Cultural Center of Oscar Romero, we drove to the small village of Nueva Esperanza in Morazán. That evening, we had a lovely dinner at the home of Nina Conchita. Then, we danced the night away at our hostel with a group of local young musicians who played both traditional and contemporary dance music!

Here we are with the musicians in Nueva Esperanza.

Space does not permit us to do justice to how moving this day was for us. That said, we’d like to add just one reflection. It cannot be gainsaid how unjust our own incarceration system is. Still, it was absolutely horrifying to hear of the typical detention practices in El Salvador where detainees, mostly young members of gangs who bear childhood scars of neglect and abuse, are held for months without even being charged with an offense, are kept in such crowded conditions that they must sleep standing up, and are not fed. Family members must bring food and drink, which is often confiscated by the correctional officers. It is not uncommon for detainees to have to drink their own urine. It is in the context of these extremely dehumanizing conditions, that Jenna Knapp seeks to uncover and preserve the humanity and dignity of these young people through the healing powers of art, poetry and narrative work, which gives these young men and women a means of expressing themselves and processing their traumatic experiences. With Jenna’s permission, we share one of the poems published by FESPAD in a recent book titled Duras Lecciones (Hard Lessons). As Jenna expressed, not only does this art prove hugely meaningful for the incarcerated youth, it also helps reveal the humanity, dignity and profundity of these youth, who are so often demonized and associated only with violence. To us, the poem also represents the spiritual profundity of the Salvadoran people, who despite the extreme repression and atrocities committed against them, maintain hope and their dignity, while also speaking to so many situations around the world.

Justicia

By Andy

Justicia. ¿Quál justicia?

Si la juventud se pierde cuando nos cierran las puertas

y nos dejan como guitarras.

Sin cuerdas.

¿Cómo esperas de tu justicia una rosa

si lo que siembras son espinas?

¿Cómo esperas escuchar

si nos exigido silencio?

Nos has cerrado las puertas,

nos has quitado la libertad

y nosotros solos pedimos una oportunidad.

 

¿Por qué nos das la espalda cuando te pedimos una mano?

¿Cómo nos pides amor

si nos has arrancado el corazon

y los tienes en una jaula

de la cual no puede salir?

 

¿Acaso no fuiste joven?

¿Acaso no cometiste errors?

Pero a nosotros nos dejan en el olvido,

Nos hacen perder nuestra juventud.

Siembran odio y quieren cultivar amor.

¿Por qué no extiendes tu mano y le das a mi corazón libertad?

Justice

by Andy

Justice. What justice?
Youth is lost once they lock the doors
and leave us like guitars without strings.
How do you expect of your justice a rose,
if what you sow are thorns?
How do you expect to hear,
if you demand of us silence?
You have locked the doors,
You have taken our freedom,
and we only ask you for one chance.

Why do you turn your back to us when we ask you for a helping hand?
How can you ask for love
when you have ripped out our hearts
and keep us in a cage
from which we can not escape?

By chance you were never young?
By chance you never made mistakes?
But us you leave in oblivion,
You make us lose our youth.
You sow hate and want to cultivate love.
Why not extend your hand and free my heart?

Resurrection and Trespass

SUNDAY, JANUARY 6TH

As our bus made its way to the national cathedral on Sunday morning, my mind was flooded with images of the various events we had read about taking place there. I had read and seen images of these events so many times that my thoughts came to me as if they were memories. But the reality is that these memories are not my own.  The crypt, located under the main cathedral is where the body of Monsenor Romero now lies- but the Monsenor is hardly at rest. We were there to attend a special mass organized by a group of local lay women who have named themselves “Community of the Crypt.” The first thing I noticed was the cloth hanging on the lectern, which displayed one of the many powerful statements of solidarity with the people made by Oscar Romero. Aware of the many threats to his life, Romero proclaimed to the country that even if he was to be killed he would be resurrected in his people.

Coinciding with the sound of a thundering fire cracker (or two) which signaled the start of a protest on the front steps of the cathedral, mass began with statements from members of the Community of Crypt. During the service there was a constant flow of motion around Monsenor Romero’s tomb and even though a mass was taking place (seemingly unperturbed), so were many other things. This is perhaps a good reflection of what Romero’s ministry must have been like. Daily dedication to the eucharist (i.e. the sacrifice of Christ) surrounded by seeming chaos.

Following mass we were fortunate enough to talk with some of the women from the Community of the Crypt. They explained how the group was founded, how they went about planning weekly mass, and the challenges they sometimes face in their relationship with the diocese of San Salvador and its officials: a challenge rooted in the tension between living the gospel of the poor as Oscar Romero did in his life and serving dogmatism, as the hierarchy of the institutional Roman Catholic Church so often does. After paying respects to Romero’s tomb we also spent some time in the cathedral above. As we departed from the national cathedral, Dr. Knitter pointed out the irony of how accurately the cathedral/crypt placement mirrors the predominant dynamic in the Catholic Church. The church of the people which preaches justice, peace, and solidarity takes place in the “basement” while the traditional mass of the institutional church takes place above in the grand cathedral. Fortunately, Monsenor Romero, as he did in life, takes his place with the people, in the basement, where his presence is palpable. Although I had expected to find a place of mourning and sadness, the tomb of Oscar Romero was a space overflowing with joy, hope, and purpose. I felt immediately that Romero was correct. He has been resurrected in his people.

A less spiritual encounter with Salvadoran culture filled our afternoon: grocery shopping for snacks. As we 13 Americans filed into the Super Selecto a Salvadoran man struggled to get past us. With an exasperated look on his face, the man whispered to himself “OH…MY…GOD!” which immediately triggered memories of many times I have done the same exact thing, annoyed by groups of tourists in New York. Although the experience seemed to connect he and I in some way (how similar we human creatures are) it also stirred a feeling that had been simmering since we arrived in El Salvador: trespass.

Although it would be easy enough to dismiss this sense of trespassing as simply reflective of feeling awkward as a foreigner (not knowing the language or custom, travelling in a pack, etc.), I suspect the feeling goes much deeper. What is obvious from even the little time we have spent in this country is that El Salvador is a land and a people defined by the atrocities of war and the demoralization of denial. Generations of people in El Salvador have only horrific crimes against human rights as the historical points of reference in their lives; massacres, assassinations, disappearances, capture and torture. It is upon this sacred collective experience that I am trespassing. The remnants of a country brought to it knees by American capitalism, the same society to which I belong.

Gene Polumbo, a journalist who has lived in El Salvador since 1980 (the year Romero was assassinated), expressed this concept well when he told our group that the blood of the 75,000 Salvadoran men, women, and children who were killed in the 1970s, 80s, and early 90s is on our hands.  By “our” he meant the United States. By “our” he meant himself and those of us surrounding him. By “our” he meant most (maybe all) of the people who will read this blog. Our foreign policy has caused the massacre of tens of thousands. Our failure to act allowed 8,000 people to be disappeared. Our ignorance allowed these crimes against humanity to remain unknown. Of all the things Gene shared with us that evening, and he shared MANY things, this stuck with me the most.

In light of all these realities, I hope my trespass here in El Salvador will also be a true journey of solidarity and accompaniment, a mission to simply be with the pain of this people so that I might come to know truth better. I pray that the burning hope which I see vividly alive in the Salvadoran people will light aflame hope within me as well.

Adam Lanza and The Pain of the Introvert

Now that we have had some time over the holidays to reflect further and perhaps even find some meaning in the inconceivable meaninglessness of the tragedy at Newtown, we can begin to move towards a healing that is not superficial, which can acknowledge the pain we all feel, and which can move to prevent such tragedies in the future. While the debate on the question of gun control in America moves into a new urgency, I can’t help but think and feel that when we give too much attention to this particular issue, as important as it is, we are missing something else about human nature which we should not ignore and which is also so essential to the answers we are seeking.

What is often the most difficult thing to do in circumstances like these is to understand the pain that such individuals as Adam Lanza, James Holmes, Jared Loughner, Eric Harris, and Dylan Klebold were feeling as they were drawn to commit such terrible atrocities. Who are these people? What caused such pain in their hearts and in their lives? We so easily condemn these young men to the pits of hell, dehumanizing them as we recoil from the vicious ways they dehumanized so many others. It’s a perfectly natural reaction, and in so many ways it’s also justified, but it’s one I cannot personally abide. Two verses from the Bhagavad Gita comes to my mind as I try to comprehend what was in the minds and hearts of these troubled souls:

While contemplating the objects of the senses, a person develops attachment for them, and from such attachment lust develops, and from lust anger arises.

From anger, complete delusion arises, and from delusion bewilderment of memory. When memory is bewildered, intelligence is lost, and when intelligence is lost one falls down again into the material pool.

These verses compel me to ask: what did these young men really want? I really don’t think it was to be a harbinger of massacre. A great teacher from the contemporary Vaisnava tradition of the Gita has said that are actions are either an act of love or a cry for love. When our desire for love is corrupted, ignored, and seemingly destroyed, it manifests instead into selfish and lustful desires, from which the most obscene and nightmarish acts can manifest. How did the natural and human desire for love in these young men’s lives become so perverted?

As I have read the sporadic and incomplete accounts of Adam Lanza’s life, and as I recall the life stories of some of these other young men who were drawn to such evil, I can’t help but feel some sympathy and some resonance. They are often described as ostracized loners, deeply introverted individuals struggling with intense mental illness. The structures of family, society, and culture which surrounded them did not do enough to cure the sense of marginalization that they felt. They were not like “everyone else” and they didn’t fit into the mainstream of what’s cool, what’s hot, and what’s sexy. From those dark margins, they lashed out in ways which are truly beyond mercy. In order to be seen, to be known, they killed as many innocent people as they could.

How much of the recent news coverage of the Newtown massacre has really attempted to try to understand the pain that Adam Lanza felt? How much of our own thought and conversation about what happened in Newtown has been about Adam’s pain? This is no way condones what he did, nor should it take our focus and care away from the victims of this tragedy, but I feel that we must try to understand the sources of Adam’s pain to truly understand what happened and what we can do to prevent it from ever happening again. No amount of gun control can prevent this evil from showing its face if we choose not to confront this evil where it truly lies, from where it truly came from.

In my first semester at Union Theological Seminary, I have deepened my encounter with the marginalized voice from across many different social, sexual, and religious perspectives. In my own experience, as a straight-white-middle class-North American male, I cannot say I suffer in any way the same marginalization that most people in this world face, yet I cannot say I am free from its curse. All of my life, up to this very day, I share a lot of similarities with someone like Adam Lanza. Like him I am also introverted, not entirely comfortable in the crowd and in the scene, often unable to find a secure place in the social sphere. Like Adam, going back to the days I was chased around my junior high playground because I was a “nerd”, to my struggles today to find a place in the intensely extroverted and passionately activist environment at Union, I have felt a sharp and certain pain at being left out of the crowd.

As I’ve grown, I have seen that the cause of my own marginalization has often been my own fears and paranoias, and I am deeply grateful for my friends, family, and comrades and colleagues who have and continue to give me the love and support to help me become who I am and who I want to be. I am very grateful for my spiritual path which has given me so much meaning and clarity as to the reality of my nature and the nature of reality itself. I am also very grateful for my mental health as well. Perhaps I may be on the “spectrum” of Asperger’s/autism as Adam and many of these other individuals were and are to greater or lesser degrees, but I am secure in being able to discern when my mind is my friend and when my mind is my adversary in terms of having a sane bit of ground to stand on in this seemingly insane world.

I can imagine that perhaps many other introverts may also feel this kind of sympathy and resonance with Adam Lanza. Being an introvert means feeling a certain vibe of exclusion from those who are not introverted. As I have said, sometimes that vibe is simply a projection of one’s own fears, but very often it is quite real. Those who are extroverted, who are “socially adjusted”, often simply do not know how to deal with those who are introverted. They may call the introverted person “mysterious” without understanding how that can be taken as a sort of epithet, as the extrovert’s own failure to see outside of a limited socialized vision. Because one doesn’t fit in what the expected ways and means of socializing, one can be expected to face a certain kind of conscious and unconscious marginalization. This is my experience at least, and I feel it is a kind of marginalization which has to be considered alongside all of the other kinds of marginalization we study and agonize over and fight to transcend.

In many ways, our contemporary culture is geared towards the marginalization of the introvert, and from the darkest corners of this space, individuals like Adam Lanza are pushed by others and pushed by the illness within their own mind to lash out as they do. We live in a culture which is exquisitely geared to the passion of extroversion, of the fashion of being able to impress and of wanting to be impressed, often for the shallowest of reasons, of profit and prestige. The great Christian philosopher Reinhold Niebuhr, in Nature and Destiny of Man, writes that the individual shaped by the most superficial modalities of modern industrial and technical culture has an “easy conscience”, since they refuse to look and think deeply into the shape of the reality that surrounds them. We are, in many ways, a culture which has tremendous difficulties accommodating and acknowledging differences which reveal aspects of human nature which don’t adhere to the so-called values of conformity. In that ignorance comes a tremendous price to pay.

It is a common realization and frustration amongst many of us who seek truth and spirit that the art of introspection and introversion, the art of being alone, the art of being comfortable with oneself in solitude, has become devalued. In the “one great big festering neon distraction” we have lost touch. Another fellow Christian mystic of our times, Thomas Merton, writes in New Seeds of Contemplation:

The need for true solitude is a complex and dangerous thing, but it is a real need. It is all the more real today when the collectivity tends more and more to swallow up the person in its shapeless and faceless mass. The temptation of our day is to equate “love” and “conformity”-passive subservience to the mass-mind or to the organization…True solitude is the home of the person, false solitude the refuge of the individualist. The person is constituted by a uniquely subsisting capacity to love-by a radical ability to care for all beings made by God and loved by Him. Such a capacity is destroyed by the loss of perspective. Without a certain element of solitude there can be no compassion because when a man is lost in the wheels of a social machine he is no longer aware of human needs as a personal responsibility. One can escape from men by plunging into the midst of a crowd!

I think we can all agree that something like the tragedy in Newtown has happened because we have lost perspective. It is so overwhelming to try to figure out where we have gone astray, and what we have lost. It is incredibly confronting to admit that one of the root causes of something like Newtown is because we live in a culture which no longer places the personal responsibility for each other’s human needs at the center of our lives. Those who get lost and thrown in the cracks, the Adam Lanzas of the world, bear to us a tremendous reminder of the transvaluation of natural and spiritual values and morals which we all too often take for granted and conform to in our own ways.

The question of gun control is but one facet of a deeper corruption of our human society and nature which is the real cause of the tragedies in Newtown, Columbine, Tucson, Aurora, and Virginia Tech, what to speak of the countless daily massacres we hear too little about here and across the world. One humble suggestion in this case is a call to honor introspection and to honor the introvert. We need to understand, especially if we of an extroverted nature, that if marginalize those who are introverted, we are causing tremendous pain, which rarely but all too often manifests in something which is so inconceivably terrible. There are many like Adam Lanza around us, if not in the potential to cause so much grievous harm, but in those who are solitary people either comfortable or uncomfortable in that skin, and who experience great pain at being ostracized from the love and acceptance they crave and need.