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Visit to Tuscon was heartbreaking surreal

By the Rev. Mike Denton - Conference Minister

On January 8, I was in Tucson, Arizona.

Mike Denton
Mike Denton

I’d been invited to be part of a United Church of Christ delegation to learn more about border issues in California and Arizona.  The night before, our trip had pretty much wound up.  In and of itself, the trip had already been heartbreaking and surreal. 

The number of people dying and suffering along the border due to failed U.S. and Mexican policy is horrifying. 

Although I’m sure (I hope) there were some exceptions, those involved in legal and illegal business activities in the border regions seemed to be, unfortunately, equally parasitic; creating systems of exploitation, human trafficking, oppression and opportunism that boggle the mind.  The level of violence – physical, economic, environmental and spiritual – was as palpable as the dust and diesel fumes that are all part of border of life. 

This made the places of justice and compassion that some were trying to build seem to shine brighter through the cracks of what was clearly a flawed system. 

If you don’t know about our UCC’s Centro Romero in San Ysidro; Borderlinks in Arizona; or Church of the Good Shepard UCC in Sahaurita, AZ its worth checking them out online. 

They were our hosts for this delegation and they are doing incredible work.

My plane wasn’t leaving until late in the afternoon on Saturday, Jan. 8.  I’d just taken a long walk to try and get my head and heart around some of what we’d seen when the news of the mass shooting in Tucson broke. 

As I said, the trip had already been heartbreaking and surreal.  We’d already been told about the divisions between folks, the violent rhetoric and fear-mongering that was normal in Arizona.  As I sat in the hotel lobby in Green Valley, Arizona, a proudly conservative town about 30 minutes south of Tucson, some of the local folks there automatically assumed that Mexicans were somehow guilty. 

“They’re coming to get all of us!” one of the women exclaimed. 

Many of those I encountered that day who were proudly progressive assumed that it was folks related to the Tea Party movement or the Minutemen that were somehow responsible for the shooting.  The idea that people related to these groups might be “coming after” those they disagreed with was a part of the discussions I had with other folks, too. 

I confess that these were some of my first thoughts, too.  Although many of the folks I spoke with were shocked, none were surprised. 

Many I spoke with, many commentaries we all read and many of those interviewed all said that they saw this coming

In the days since, we’ve learned that the man who was the shooter in this instance was mentally ill.  Although there were many commentators who, initially, tried to connect him to more conservative philosophies, over time it’s become clear this is far too simplistic an approach. 

This was a man with what apparently was an untreated brain disorder.  Although the vast, vast majority of folks with mental illness are not a danger to anyone (and, of course none of us are perfectly healthy), this particular person became violently ill. 

There may be no understandable or commonly logical reasons for why he developed and acted on this plot.

Still, the fact that so many of us saw something like this coming and assumed that one particular group or another might be responsible for such an act points towards a societal soul disorder. 

We weren’t surprised.  We’re that sick.

Although actions like this aren’t normal, they are expected.  That is the part of this story that may be the most frightening and disturbing of all.

Copyright Pacific Northwest Conference News © January 2011


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