I’ve appreciated reading the reflections of each of our bloggers this week. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage you to read their words of challenge and comfort. One of those bloggers, Kimberly Knight, will be our Skype Guest this weekend at Darkwood Brew. While we don’t normally bring back someone we’ve previously featured so soon, Kimberly has a compelling story about mourning that adds enough surprising nuance to the conversation that we couldn’t help but bring her back.
One concept that implicitly underlies all the blog posts this week is that there are good and not-so-good ways to mourn. Mourning doesn’t always bless. It can curse.
If mourning causes you to acknowledge that something good is now missing in your life (though death or other circumstances), and if it motivates you to find ways to connect with that good in new ways or other dimensions, that’s “good mourning.” Countless are the foundations and research centers that have been established thanks to a family experiencing “good mourning” over the death of a loved one who died of disease, for instance. Working to end whatever caused the death often gives a person greater empathy for the plight of others, and in drawing closer to others, it rekindles the flames of love and compassion they felt for their loved one to begin with, and fuels the flames by working for a positive difference in the lives of others.
An example of “bad mourning” is when our grief pushes us into a downward and continual spiral of self-pity and hopelessness. It is perfectly appropriate, of course, to feel down or even depressed for awhile (even many months) over the loss of a loved one. Grieving in this way helps us honor the loss. Yet if grief persists in a cycle that never breaks, it becomes destructive and does not appropriately honor the one left behind (Would the person whose loss we are grieving wish us to grieve forever?).
Another form of “bad mourning” is when, in the face of a loss due to injustice, those who experience the loss seek revenge against either the perpetrator or on someone who stands in for the perpetrator (a scapegoat). This form of mourning is doubly unfortunate, as someone who has already suffered victimization creates new victims through their response.
Last week, while in the throws of deep personal mourning over the Tucson shootings – mourning made especially deep by a number of personal connections with Gabrielle Giffords – I found myself engaging in a form of “bad mourning” at Darkwood Brew. I jumped on the bandwagon of singling out Sarah Palin and a political campaign which used rhetoric and graphics of gun sights aimed at democratic political districts to encourage Americans to “target” people like Gabrielle Giffords, locked and loaded. While Palin’s campaign clearly did not reflect the Christian values upon which she claims to stand, and I remain convinced that political hate speech – on all sides – stirs the pots of the mentally unstable (among others) enough to move them into acts of violence, I also recognize that over-the-top political hate-speech has been part of American culture since the very founding of our country. It neither started with Sarah Palin’s campaign, nor is it by any means confined to the conservative end of the political spectrum.
While I was careful not draw any direct lines of connection between Sarah Palin’s bott0m-feeding “target America” campaign in my comments at Darkwood Brew, the fact that I singled her out, without acknowledging the hate speech which has been flying on all sides of the political spectrum, may have created an impression that Palin was to be blamed for the Tucson shooting – an impression which, if created, only caused more victimization. For this I am truly sorry. It was not an impression I intended. At our 11 am worship service at Countryside, for instance, I had broadened the focus significantly beyond Palin and her campaign specifically to avoid any impression that she her campaign had any causative effect on the shooter (or any greater effect than other campaigns). My sin at Darkwood Brew was a sin of omission, not commission – but is regrettable nonetheless.
Repentance involves making amends, and in this instance, I would like to offer amends with something positive to say about Sarah Palin. When she was governor of Alaska, I did not agree with all her policies but was very impressed by how well she was able to work with both sides of the political aisle. Her ability to work in a bi-partisan manner was reflected in polls which often showed widespread support for Palin even among Democrats. While that outstanding characteristic has been little in evidence since she took to the Presidential trail, I can’t help but wonder how much of the polarizing speech for which she has become known is really hers. If my earlier impression is correct that her heart is actually in reaching across the political divide (or was at one time), then I wonder how much of Palin’s polarizing speech is hurting Palin herself on a spiritual level.
Whatever is the case with Palin, all I really know is that my omission of any reference to the hate speech of others, and the implication I may have caused that our spiritual bankruptcy in pubic discourse could be summed up in a single person’s nasty little political campaign, was “bad mourning” for which I apologize to Sarah Palin and anyone who either took offense – or who agreed!
I’m through with “bad mourning” on this. I hope you are, too.