Half-Staff, Full Sorrow

Framed by a 14-foot beam recovered from the ruins of the World Trade Center, the flag outside the Overland Park Fire Training Center flies at half-staff.

This morning I retraced the walk I chronicled in my Election Day blog, past the field and hawks, past the maple and redbud trees, past the Post Office, to the firefighters’ training center where I voted. The bare trees and busy Post Office on today’s journey reflected a typical December day one week before Christmas. Only one thing told me this day was anything but typical.

All the flags were flying at half-staff.

The red, white and blue that six weeks ago fanned my optimism today embodies my sorrow for the 27 women and children massacred last Friday in Newtown, Connecticut.

I need these visual reminders. Half a continent away, busy with my own Christmas preparations, I’m not living the horror of Newtown. Quite the opposite. Craig and I had three parties over the weekend, two of them in our home. We laughed with friends and family around the candlelight at our dining room table rather than cry amid the candlelight of a prayer vigil.

Today I light a candle of remembrance, a candle that causes me to pause each time I see it or catch its scent. A candle that reminds me to stop analyzing (and listening to analysts) and to start praying. A candle that calls me to mourn with those who mourn. And most importantly during this Advent season, a candle that compels me not to comfort myself by self-righteously placing blame on other people or institutions or ideologies but to reflect on my own sinfulness, my own biases, my own failure to love.

In the wake of last week’s shootings, lawmakers are promising action to make our communities safer. Yes, we need a civilized discussion on gun control, violent games and healthcare for the mentally ill, but I’m not holding out hope for positive change to come from Washington.

It must come from us. It must come from me. It must start with my admission that I have the same capacity for hatred and evil as a mass murderer, that I stand in constant need of repentance and forgiveness. My sins might not be as obvious, but they are just as real and, sadly, pretty much the same ones I’ve been battling my entire adult life.

Advent is the perfect time for such an admission because it is also the time we mark the coming of the One who is always there to forgive. In the Advent devotional God with Us, Scott Cairns quotes the wisdom of his priest, Father George Paulsen: “Most of us find that the sins of our days are the sins of our lives. And the worst thing we can do is let our shame or our pride keep us from asking forgiveness every time we must. The fact that Jesus will always forgive you finally becomes the prod. One day, you realize that you are tired of this confession, tired of this sin; on that day, you’ll decide you truly want it gone.”

Lord, have mercy. May it be so. Truly.


  1. Eric Disneyl says:

    Like Kristen said, this is beautiful–thank you for these words.

  2. This is so beautiful. I love the idea of lighting a candle as a reminder. I also love the humility in this post.

    My favorite line: “It must come from us. It must come from me. It must start with my admission that I have the same capacity for hatred and evil as a mass murderer, that I stand in constant need of repentance and forgiveness.”

    What a good reminder what it means to be human. We can make a difference and be the change.

    • Who knows what our small steps can lead to? The faithfulness of God’s people contributed to the end of slavery in the United States, the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s and the end of Communism in Poland and then across Eastern Europe in the 1980s.

  3. You said what I have been feeling so much more eloquently than i could, so thank you for that Lee. What happened in Connecticut could happen to any one of us, but for the grace of God go i. Please Lord, have mercy on us all….May God Bless us everyone, including those in Newtown this Christmastime. Love you and yours, Linder