Wild pitch


Finding Joy

(Note: What follows is a letter I sent out to our school community on Sunday, December 16, 2012, in response to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut.  Folks have asked that I put this in the blog, which I am humbled to do here.)


Dear Presbyterian School Community,

In the wake of Friday’s inexplicable tragedy in Connecticut, I have sought some words that would bring our community a small measure of comfort, solace, or relief. I have sought these words through earnest and almost constant prayer . . . prayer for the incredibly young victims, prayer for their inconsolable parents and relatives, prayer for the community of Sandy Hook, prayer for my wife and myself as parents of young and impressionable children, and ultimately prayer for a troubled culture that seems to promote angry violence even on the most innocent and defenseless around us. As the President said on Friday, the communities where this violence is perpetrated are our communities, and the child victims are our children.

I sought these words, but they did not come . . . until this morning as I was sitting in First Presbyterian Church listening to my friend and pastor, Dr. Jim Birchfield, preach an incredibly difficult and courageous sermon on this the third week of Advent—the week of the pink candle, the week of joy. As I listened to Jim speak with great humility about the nature of joy even in the shadow of unspeakable grief and sorrow, I realized that the antidote for the anger and violence that surround us everyday is this same joy. For me, this joy is rooted in my belief in a loving and ever-present God; it is grounded by profound gratitude for a life filled with countless blessings; and it is transcendent of the circumstances of our world rather than dependent upon them. This joy is what I hope I bring to my job as Headmaster of this school and what I hope will lighten the halls of our school this week, despite what we are all feeling inside our very souls.

So, my words for you today are a humble challenge for us all: How can we work together to usher ourselves and our children into the light of joy and away from the darkness of anger and violence? While we have no plans as a school to discuss the events of Friday directly with our students, we have equipped our faculty and staff with resources that will guide them through handling these sorts of conversations should questions surrounding the event come up. (Click here to view the resources.) We also have a full faculty meeting scheduled for Monday afternoon to debrief the day and plan for the rest of the week and into the future.

As we begin what should be one of the most joy-filled weeks of the year, I am asking us all, first and foremost, to pray for the Sandy Hook Elementary School community—for their parents, for their students, and for their faculty and staff, who by all accounts were heroic in their attempts to protect and save as many children in their care as possible. I cannot begin to tell you how to pray for these good people or what to pray for them, but I trust you will pray deeply and earnestly as I have tried to do since I learned of this event on Friday.

Secondly, our children will have questions—questions about why something like this could happen, about whether something like this could happen here, and even about how God could let innocent children die in what should have been their safe haven, their school. While we as parents and educators often find ourselves in the "answer business,” my sense in times like these is that our best course of action is to listen intently, especially to our children. Listen to their questions, listen to their concerns, and listen to what they are saying . . . and not saying. When we choose to respond, we should reassure them that all the adults involved with our school work very hard to make it a safe place, remind them that they also have an important role to play in keeping our school safe, and challenge them to embrace joy.

Finally, and related to the safety and security of our school, I will say this: we work tirelessly to ensure that our children are safe here. We have protocols in place for dealing with threatening people on our campus, and we practice these protocols. Just last week and prior to the events in Connecticut, we contracted with an outside security provider to audit and update our most recent campus security plan, which was written in 2009. However, as evidenced by what transpired in Connecticut, even the best security measures and plans are only as good as the people entrusted to carry them out.

We have serious, committed, creative, and heroic people at Presbyterian School working with and protecting our children each and every day. From the uniformed security staff stationed at each and every entrance to the administrators, faculty, and staff peppered throughout the building, we all have as our primary goal keeping our children safe. As the Headmaster, I am proud to serve alongside these people; as a parent, I am buoyed by their love and care for my own child. Like any institution such as ours, we must be ever vigilant in this area; however, I am confident that the people assembled here to do this work will do it well and with great care.

When my daughter and I got into the car this morning to ride to church, she was pretty quiet. While we have not had the television on for her to hear or see the reporting or images related to Friday’s events, we did have a candid conversation about what happened and invited her questions. For the most part, she was in disbelief and very, very sad. This sadness carried over to our Sunday ride, which lately has included listening to Christmas songs. On this morning, she said, “Daddy, I think we’d better listen to ‘I Pray on Christmas’ because of what happened at that school, don’t you?”

With moist eyes, grateful for a child seeking joy, I said, “Of course, Camille, and thank you for thinking of that.”

Here are the lyrics for this song, this prayer, which closed our Candlelight Concert and which seems quite appropriate for what we all must feel today. This is our family’s prayer for the Sandy Hook community as well as our own community here. Thank you for sharing it with us . . .

I pray on Christmas
That the Lord will see me through.
I pray on Christmas
He'll show me what to do.
I pray on Christmas
He'll help me understand.
And I pray on Christmas

He'll take me by the hand.

I pray on Christmas
That the sick will soon be strong.
I pray on Christmas
The Lord will hear my song.
I pray on Christmas
That God will lead the way.
And I pray on Christmas
He'll get me through another day.

I pray on Christmas
To do your will each day
And I pray on Christmas
That I'll be with you in heaven some day.

Posted by Dr. Mark Carleton in December 2012 on Thursday December, 20, 2012 at 10:14AM


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