Tucson reminds us to set a standard of charity

The shooting in Tucson, Ariz., has left us beyond words. To call it horrifying only begins to describe its horror.

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords is in the hospital, recovering from a gunshot wound to the head. No one is certain what recovery for her will entail, or if recovery is even the right word. Six others are dead. Their recovery now rests elsewhere.

In one sense, all we can do is pray -- for the recovery of those injured, peace for those murdered, and some sort of solace for all affected.

Yet we must also act. If there’s anything to be learned from this destruction we must find it. We owe those who were there, including those who suffered and died, that much, that small act of cobbling together some bits of reason from the senselessness.

It’s that search for meaning that has led to much commentary on the nature of our political discourse. Much has been said, in particular, about former Alaskan Gov. Sarah Palin’s choice of words about a map of the country her political action committee used last year.

The map, which placed crosshairs on specific states -- including Arizona -- and called attention to certain congressional representatives -- Giffords was one of 20 listed -- as targets for Republican gains during the election season, was accompanied by a tweet from Palin that implored “Commonsense Conservatives & lovers of America” not to “retreat” but to “RELOAD!”

Yet Palin’s choice of words is only one example of our inflated political language. Most from all sides draw clear lines between friends and supposed enemies. “You’re either with us or against us” has become the mantra.

While it’s impossible to link any statement made during the fervor of a campaign year with the actions of a mentally unstable individual, the souls of those murdered in Tucson plead with us to remember: Words matter. Rhetoric is powerful. What one person tweets as empty political chatter another might digest as direct manifesto.

Being moderate for moderate’s sake is not the answer. However, being open to civil dialogue is absolutely essential. Our politicians need to use language that lets us talk with, and not at, one another

As individuals, we too have our own obligations. We must reject the temptation of labels and overheated language. When we use the terms liberal or conservative in place of neighbor or friend, or don’t object when our leaders resort to violent imagery, we let ourselves get drawn into the senselessness.

Our church should set the standard. Too often, however, our bishops and priests use the same language from the pulpits that our politicans use from the lecterns. “You’re either with us or against us” becomes “Comply with everything we say or get out.”

This is not to say honest and open teaching is not essential. It is to remind ourselves that genuine teaching is conducted within the spirit of humility and charity. The same is true of political dialogue.

To conduct ourselves any other way is to fail to set a civil -- and certainly a Christian -- standard. And more than ever, we know now how important that standard is.

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