No doubt many Americans are asking "Why?" in response to the terror unleashed in Tucson, Ariz. This question is a critical and an automatic reaction to the unfathomable carnage -- six were killed and many injured -- at Rep. Gabrielle Giffords' meet and greet with her constituents in front of a supermarket.
"Why?" is the question that reflects the inconsolable cry from the depths of our hearts to God or to humankind to make sense of how this happened and determine its meaning. The media and the political culture's attempts to spin these crimes into the political framework only distracts us and diverts our attention from a much deeper understanding of what is at stake in our country.
Soon enough there will come a point when we need to consider another question besides "Why?" It is on the question of "When?" that I hope we shall focus our attention. When will we learn the lessons of our past so that we can start to have a national conversation about what have we become in America?
On the first day of the this melee, I watched an interview on CNN with Steve Farley, a family friend and state-elected representative replacing Rep. Giffords in the Arizona state legislature. He exclaimed in referring to Arizona, and maybe even America, "This is not who we are!"
When will we put aside our pride and ask, "Are we so sure that Farley is correct?" When do we have that difficult conversation regarding the pattern of disturbed people, like the accused murderer in this case as well as many other so-called lone wolves who discharge their hatred through their weapon clips as bullets run rampant across the flesh of children and adults?
I can understand and respect Farley's passion for his state and his community. But our country has too many exceptions, too many madmen and too many guns that let those madmen take their distorted minds that play with metaphors on the Internet and carry them out into our reality.
These lone wolves in Arizona and throughout the country do not define America nor the spirit of our great nation. But they are part of who we are in this country. When can we face that truth? The sooner we do, we might begin to talk about rethinking how our culture needs to change in addressing the potential of people to do harm with weapons.
The truth is that the Bible saw how troublesome a world we lived in even in ancient times. The Psalmist saw the calamities of humankind and the wickedness of people.
Fearfulness and trembling come upon me,
Horror has overwhelmed me.
And I said, "Oh, that I had wings like a dove!
Then I would fly away, and be at rest."
Do we let the media cycle run its course on the crimes in Tucson? Does that mean we can be at rest again? But evil does not work that way. We can hide as much as we want, but a society that has the problem of violence like we do cannot escape the next barrage of hatred. When will we face that reality?
Religion can raise the moral issues such as how we all must mourn and share the grief of the families in Tucson. Clergy of all faiths can do a lot to facilitate interfaith dialogue so that we all can share in the heartache as well as the hope to move forward from these kinds of events. When will that happen?
The Bible also teaches of great moments when human beings resisted evil and took the high ground. Yet, there are many times when the prophets saw the problems in society and evil in our world as a matter of the heart. Jeremiah wrote; "The heart is deceitful above all things, it is exceedingly weak. Who can know it?" (Jeremiah 17:9)
The sages who wrote the books of the Bible understood well for more than a thousand years that society had to overcome evil to seek out redemption. The God-like work was to accept responsibility for the society that had rebelled against God as well as not lose faith with the work it would take to return to the eternal one.
We are the good and the evil in a society. It is not a matter of blame but of solidarity and responsibility. Where does mental illness begin and moral illness end? How does one truly measure why people commit these kinds of crimes? More importantly, will we as a community recognize that tagging the alleged shooter of Tucson as only a mental illness issue sidesteps the moral issues involved here? Casting this crime as simply a matter of collateral damage from a culture of inflamed political rhetoric oversimplifies a much deeper flaw in our society where people can inflict massive causalities in gun violence.
The heart of each person in our society will make the difference in the healing and recuperation of the survivors and on behalf of the families and friends, especially for those who lost their loved ones. Politics and policies can help make our society safer, but it comes down to the heart of a people and its culture to learn how to help those who need help to get it and how to take away the instruments of destruction so that others can live.
With the advent of this upcoming Martin Luther King Jr. commemoration we have an excellent role model whose memory teaches us that the crises of events like the shootings of Tucson can bring us together in a profound way. We can strengthen the heart and soul of the nation knowing that the God who created us all will provide us with the comfort and passion to become a closer and united nation.
I ask, when?
Rabbi Brad L. Bloom is the rabbi at Congregation Beth Yam on Hilton Head Island. He can be reached at 843-689-2178. Read his blog at www.fusion613.blogspot.com and follow him on Twitter, @rabbibloom.