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Reflections on Charleston

By Ross W. Putnam

Ross Putnam AGA few days ago a young man killed nine people at a prayer gathering in a Charleston, South Carolina church.  According to news reports the young man had been sitting with the group for about an hour before the shootings.

Immediately after, news crews, law enforcement agencies, religious leaders, mourners, supporters and the just plain curious began to gather.  Heartfelt tears, soft words of comfort, determined and demanding voices “that we get to the bottom of this” were and will be offered. There will also be blaming words.  Surely, this could have been avoided.  Clearly there must be a culprit.

That road of castigating rhetoric is dangerous, however.  One must be very cautious traveling it.

We blame the deranged young man.  We suspect poor parenting, we wonder about the inadequate schools he attended, we wag fingers at lenient judges, crafty lawyers or legislators who seem to never take things (important to us) seriously enough.  We blame the homeless, the undocumented, the gays or the non-English speaking.  A culprit will be found.

Instead of pointing fingers to help ourselves feel justified, let us take responsibility for our part in the state of the world, the state of race, religion and guns.  Let us recognize the problem is big enough so all of us can find a hand hold and together come to consensus on the path forward.  There is no lack of issues.

Let us resolve to do something constructive in the aftermath of this tragedy.  That is us.  You and me.  And it is US.  This country and the way we live.  For that matter it is about how we have lived and how willing we are to recognize the necessity of living differently.

We need to look again at the forces, customs, habits and choices which we allow — and we choose — to influence our lives for the good and not so helpful.  We need, more than ever, to recognize that the violence in our lives — everything from angry language at the traffic light to violence in the entertainment venues we support — is not benign.  We are not (as more than a few poets and bards have already told us) islands.  What we do matters and shapes the atmosphere we are in, and the resources available for all.

We live — in this “land of the free” — with the potential of violence close at hand and the option to use that violence always at the ready.  Demonstrations of how to use that violence (words or implements) surround us.  Television shows, news reports on break-ins, robberies, rapes and murders — military hardware “on parade,” police on the street in ever larger, more menacing vehicles surround us with not just the possibility of using all this force but also a rationale for using it.

We have allowed this.  Yet we have not fully owned our part.  It is time to change.  It is past time.

One of the remarkable things about computers is the ability they give people to modify or edit pictures.  Size, color, lighting — the list goes on.  I know this because I have done it.  That’s how easy it is.  The instructions guide me step by step right to the place where I am instructed to hit “apply.”  Then the picture changes.

The instructions for spirituality are not as simple.  We need to apply our faith and lean on our faith.  We need to trust in the still-speaking, still-listening faith we claim as our own.  We need to respond when that faith calls us to action, as the shootings in Charleston surely have.


Rev. Ross Putnam’s specialized ministry includes Spiritual Direction, pulpit supply, longer term bridge ministry, art and writing.  He lives in San Diego with his wife, Rev. Paula Elizabeth.

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