Here is what little we do know: Around 9:30 a.m. Friday morning, a young man eventually identified as Adam Lanza of Newtown and "forced his way"--as yet police haven't explained what that means--into the elementary school. Apparently, he began immediately shooting indiscriminately with a high-powered rifle. According to the BBC, the shooting only took a few minutes and then stopped abruptly. Adam Lanza apparently took his own life after killing 27 people, more than 2/3 of them children, most of them girls, between the ages of 6 and 7. All the adults killed were women.
The most frustrating word in the above is "apparently," but it's a very apt word because we don't really know, in this age of 24/7, microdetailed news, exactly what has happened. We are more certain about what we don't know. Why did Adam Lanza carry his older brother's identification card, which is why he was originally misidentified? Why did he kill his mother, who may or may not have been a substitute teacher at the school, at their home before going to the school, which act, maddeningly, we are assuming? Why did he target the local elementary school and, once there, target small children? Why was he armed with both the rifle and 2 handguns, which he did not fire?
This is a particularly disturbing fact: Dr. Wayne Carver, the medical examiner who reported his findings to news organizations and who did autopsies on several of the children, said that at least 2 of them were shot at close range, and that many of them had been hit between 3 and 11 times.
At least among my Facebook friends, the primary emotion, after shock, has been despair. Why has something like this happened, they ask, and why is someone so obviously unhinged been allowed to have access to such murderous weapons? We also don't know the answers to either of these questions, although it's very possible, in relation to the second question, that Lanza may have never shown any sign of being mentally ill. The guns were his mother's.
Many of my friends are also insisting that this is the time to enact major gun control legislation, a perspective with which I'm in sympathy, but another friend who's a gunowner's rights advocate has pointed out that, short of making any gun purchase illegal, no control would have had an impact on this incident. So far as we know, Lanza's mother bought the weapons legally and may have had them locked away safely. I think he's right about that, too. We don't know how Lanza got access to them.
However, I am convinced now is the time to have the argument, fierce and angry and costly as it will be, we keep putting off about gun control. As someone else has pointed out, the perfect time for this conversation was before this incident happened; now is the second most perfect time. But we also need to have a theological conversation.
Many of my Facebook friends are seminarians and rabbis and ministers and chaplains. We link one another to articles and advice lists about how to talk about this with children and with each other. The despair we feel is a consequence of a very real sense we have that god is somehow absent from the events, although how that can be, while god is also somehow involved in all situations, fucks with our heads. Ecological theologian Sallie McFague has argued that religion has two primary criteria: "It has to make sense and it has to make a difference." It also has to take into account the painful, unnecessary deaths of children. This isn't that religion.
Theodicy has a long, storied history among monotheisms. But it isn't only Christians and Jews and Muslims who are asking "Where was God?" in Newtown. For an agnostic Unitarian like myself who sees everything related, there is no comfort to be had in the recognition that, whatever god is, god was there and involved. In my cosmology, god is the teachers who shielded their students with their bodies, and god is the children whose bodies were defiled. God is the school that Lanza forced himself into and god is the person who made the 911 call and the police and EMTs who responded to it. God is Dr. Wayne Carver and other M.E.s who have to examine the broken bodies of children.
But god is also the bullets that flew, 6 per second, from that powerful rifle. God is also the .223 Bushmaster assault weapon, a gun developed specifically for combat and has no other use, that Lanza used. God is also Adam Lanza.
This isn't very comforting, I'll admit. It's not a theology that says, "It's all for the best, they're with Jesus now," or "If only we'd done something different it would have never happened," both of which are a false comfort at best. But I don't think god is about comfort, at least not for most people. God is about living and dying, sometimes painfully. God is about reality and the real experiences people have which can involve having a gun pointed at them and being the one pointing the gun. If we accept that god is real in the world then we have to accept that god is everything real in the world. God isn't only the rose and not the thorn.