Monday, February 07, 2011

Interview: Arizona Shooting USA...Rector of Anglo-Catholic Church in Tucson talks of the tragedy and events of that Day
by Peter Menkin

St. Michael and All Angels, Anglo-Catholic Church, Tucson, Arizona USA

What follows is a conversation over the phone to Arizona from California with The Reverend John Smith of St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church to learn his thoughts on the Tucson, Arizona shooting: His Anglo-Catholic parish is located in Tucson.


Father John Smith
1. Father John, as an Episcopal Priest and Rector you are the spiritual leader of your congregation and a member of the larger Episcopal Church and Christian Community in the Tucson, Arizona area. Please tell us something about your Church: if it is located near the Shooting in Tucson, and what you were doing on the day of the shooting of United States Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords by alleged would-be-assassin Jared Loughner.

St. Michael and all Angels Episcopal Church is located on the East side of Tucson, and the shooting was located on the northwest side of Tucson. Our Church is about 7 miles from the site. We’re a church of about 225 households, founded in 1953.

It’s an Adobe structure that was a parochial mission of St. Philips of the Hills. That’s the largest Episcopal Church in Tucson. There are 7 Episcopal Churches in Tucson. The style is reminiscent of San Miguel of Santa Fe, New Mexico. (It was done by a famous architect Josias Josler.)

On January 8, I had celebrated the daily Eucharist at 8:30am; that day it was a funeral and afterwards I visited with the family at the reception. We have a meditation group that meets at 9:15am. We were having a visit by a Buddhist Monk at that time, so I went to visit after the reception and went to meet the monk.

When I arrived, he was doing a question-and-answer session. It was about 10:10am. I asked the first question: What we can do to foster an end to violence and war in the world? In the West we have the song, “Let there be Peace on Earth, and let it begin with me.” The monk responded: It’s most important we find peace within ourselves and hold that peace within us and not let anything take it away from us.

Alleged Shooter, Jared Loughner
In doing that we have the possibility of expanding the peace within to others. It is often the case…we give up our peace when something bad happens to us, he said. I say the same things to our people in every service, I said. I say “The Peace of the Lord be with you,” and people take in that peace of Christ. And we must hold onto it and bring that peace to others.

At that moment, talking about ending violence and war, the tragedy was in progress. So we were talking about this topic right as shots were killing and wounding people.

How I found out the shooting, was my wife called me–and Gabby Giffords is a friend and has helped with immigration issues, and Ron Barber who was injured was in our parish to talk about the same issues.

2. Many readers will not know what Anglo-Catholic is and how it fits within the Anglican Communion. Give us a flavor of the Anglo-Catholic Anglican sense of worship and belief—even its matters of faith itself.

Anglo-Catholic has described the worship at St. Michael and All Angels for years. St. Michaels and All Angels is with the Episcopal Church USA and the worldwide Anglican communion–it consists of sung worship, chants, and the use of sacramentals like holy water and incense. It is sometimes called high liturgy. Worship-wise we have special devotion to the Mother of the God, which roots us in the Incarnation and leads to a strong outreach to the world and social justice.

Congresswoman Giffords
3. When John F. Kennedy was assassinated, Martin Luther King, Jr. assassinated, Ronald Reagan shot though not assassinated, so many people remember their first minutes of learning of the actions. Tell us what your thoughts as a man of faith were in those first few minutes of learning about the shooting of the Arizona Congresswoman? Did you take a moment to pray or speak to God?

When I hung up with my wife, I was sad and began to pray to maintain the peace of Christ that I had before hearing the news. And then sought to get more information about what had happened.

4. When horrific things happen, we ask: How could God have let this happen? Why did this happen? And as it is described in popular lexicon, Why do bad things happen to good people? Please comment.

Colonel Giffords, Gabrielle's husband
God–out of love--was willing to take a great risk in creating us with free will. And we can use that will to hurt other people. God took the risk. The young man, Jared, had a pretty normal childhood. He was an only son. He was well liked by adults around him, as an only son you end up relating to adults all the time. But he was teased by his peers at school. And in our society, we say, Be a man.

And I was reflecting in a sermon recently that blessed are the meek–we don’t like meekness. It is not honored in our society. So a young man with serious problems shows his manhood. He showed how he was a man instead of being accepted for who he was. And good people were killed and injured because of this young man had to prove to himself and the world that he was a man. His parents, we’ve learned, knew nothing of what he was going through. They are devastated. But as the Prologue to John’s Gospel tells us: The Light came into the world, and the darkness could not overcome it.

5. Do you think the man who allegedly shot Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and the others was acting as a representative of evil, or even the devil was involved in this kind of work in the world? I know many believers scoff at this kind of theory of evil, but what can you offer us as words of solace in the midst of all this grief, evil surprise, and terror of act?

Evil is not merely a projection of our minds, but is real. As Paul said, We contend with the principalities and powers. At St. Michael’s and All Angels we talk about Angels a lot. The Angels that rebelled against God and Michael were driven out of God’s presence, are able to suggest to our free will actions that divide people and hurt others. This action seemed to be brewing in the troubled mind of Jared. Evil looks for these types of openings.

Some might say, Evil is just a projection of our minds. But I believe temptation is real. There was an opening in this young man’s mind for evil to say: Go ahead with this plan. But, as has been seen in the response of the people of Tucson and around the world: God’s light has shone through this horrible tragedy.

There are three large memorials to the tragic loss–covered with votive candles as symbols of God’s light. There are candles of Jesus, of Mary, of St. Michael. There are prayer cards, signs–well-wishing at three locations: the Safeway Store, University Medical Center, and at Congresswoman Gabby Gifford’s Tucson office.

Did you preach on the subject, and will you let us into knowing what you told your flock or some of your congregation regarding the matter—even a few words about the alleged shooter himself, the young man Jared Loughner.

It’s interesting, I was in Mexico on Sunday doing an Epiphany project with the Rotary Club that I belong to, and the priest that took my place gave a sermon on darkness never overcoming the light of Christ. On the two subsequent Sundays and also at the daily celebrations of the Eucharist, I talked with the congregation about this tragic situation. Regarding Jared himself, and his alleged act, he is not beyond redemption.

7. Do you think that being a member of a Church or Synagogue helps people to be more peaceful, turns them away from the kind of confusion and act of criminal work that this young man is alleged to have perpetrated? One time when phoning you from just north of San Francisco where I live and work, I learned you were unavailable because you were visiting a parishioner who was in prison.

Yes, if we take the peace of Christ in and hold it in our hearts, even when we are confused or hurt in some way. It is most helpful to not let go of peace when we are rocked by tragedy and loss. God is in control.

The prisoner is not really a parishioner of mine–both his parents have died . They asked me to visit their son on death row. They came to a mission church I served in the town of Florence, where the State Prison is located. I have seen over the years he has come to a real conversion to Christ. His appeals continue to go on; maybe his case will be reviewed for new evidence, but right now, though, he is sentenced to death—on death row for over 23 years.

What’s brought about the conversion in him is Love—Love is the only thing that can change us for the better.

8. Forgiveness and charity in this situation with its uncommon events requires a note of advice or faith that is extra special. So I think. With a favorite Congresswoman shot in the head and beginning rehabilitation presently– alone a shocking matter–and the deaths of others, including a Federal Judge, is not the whole matter made so much more shocking and detestable by the killing of a nine year old girl. What do you say to this, and is it proper timing so early in the life of the events to even think of forgiveness?

Shooting Victim
It’s never too early to think of forgiveness. And true forgiveness is never an easy thing. It takes an act of our own will to enter into God’s mercy and love for the object of our forgiveness.

9. That ends the questions on my part. Is there anything this writer missed, or something you want to say additionally at this time?

The citizens of Tucson are healing from the tragedy. President Obama’s visit helped in this healing. I’m thinking of an Anglican Bishop who was once asked to give a summary of Christian faith in one sentence: “God is; God is as He is in Jesus; therefore we have hope.”

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