Friday, February 12, 2010

How Will We Walk Through This Tragedy?

This is my LifePoints column which appeared in the Faith & Values Section of the Huntsville Times on Friday, Feb. 12, 2010. It appeared on the day of Todd Brown's funeral and the additional tragic shootings at UAH. For a link to this article posted by the Huntsville Times electronically on, please click here.

A shot rang out at Discovery Middle School last Friday afternoon. Its sound is still reverberating in the minds and hearts of a community pierced by grief.

No matter what the disagreement might have been between two ninth grade boys, Todd Brown had every right to go to school on Friday without paying for it with his life. Who would have thought a bullet could penetrate a Madison school? Part of the tragedy is the loss of innocence itself.

It is difficult to write of something so unspeakable. Words can not take the sorrow away, and I wouldn’t presume to try with easy platitudes like “everything happens for a reason.” Spooning sugar onto a deep wound doesn’t help it heal. For family, teachers, and students: Our prayers travel with you on this journey of a thousand miles that you can only take one step at a time.

Communities have wounds, too. There are more questions than answers for all of us who feel the fresh anguish of this outburst. How will we walk through this tragedy?

It shatters our illusions about safety. We prefer to see violence as something that happens somewhere else, not here. We try to wrap our minds around what happened, but in the end, senseless killing is impossible to understand.

These are the times that try a community. We could choose a path of negativity, entering the blame game or giving in to prejudice. We could choose a path of quick fixes, as if a speech about self-esteem, a class in conflict resolution, or increased security can take the pain away. We could choose a path of denial, sweeping difficult questions of school violence and conflict in the larger culture under the rug in an attempt to move on.

Or we could choose a path of growth. God would never wish such tragedy upon us. But God never wastes a hurt. Some lessons are not worth the struggle that brought them to us, but they refine us like silver nevertheless. Pain is a great teacher.

For today, I suppose nothing could articulate my prayer for our community better than the words of hymn writer Ruth Duck:

“Out of the depths, O God, we call to you.
Wounds of the past remain, affecting all we do.
Facing our lives, we need your love so much.
Here in this community, heal us by your touch.”

There is no place for senseless violence in any faith. Let us pray for a peaceful hope that comes by the healing hands of the Holy One and work together for the sake of love that conquers death. In the process, we might learn that life is a delicacy meant to be savored.

Steve West is a husband, father, minister, musician, and writer that serves Grace United Methodist Church in the Madison area. He blogs at