Trauma and the Storming of the Capitol

What happened yesterday at our nation’s Capitol building was traumatic.

We witnessed scenes that will long be seared in our nation’s consciousness, not unlike a ship in Pearl Harbor exploding, or the gunfire that targeted the Kennedy’s motorcade in Dallas, or the Twin Towers collapsing as on September 11, 2001.

Having grown up in Richmond, Virginia, just 90 miles south of Washington, D.C., that area around the Capitol was almost like an extension of our family’s backyard, a place we frequented often to tour museums and learn about history and art and aerospace engineering. I cannot count the times I have been in the Capitol building. The most memorable trip was with our seventh and fifth-grade sons after James was a finalist in the National History Day competition for his paper on South Carolina’s Larry Doby, the first black player to integrate the American Baseball League. That distinction landed our family in a senator’s office with an insider’s tour of the workings of government. Last night I thought about being there with our young sons those years ago, while I was now watching windows violently smashed, a Confederate flag unfurled in the hallway, guns pointing and Congress people crouching in fear. The storming of the Capitol building felt traumatic for me personally, having walked those hallowed halls so many times before.

Yesterday’s violent attack on the monumental seat of our democratic government was traumatic for all of us watching. Donald Trump’s refusal to accept the fact that he lost the presidential election and his fomenting the violence by spurring on the crowds at their rally was reprehensible. And we are now clearly awakened to the fact that there is a growing number of private armed militia and white supremacists in this country who are a domestic terrorist threat promising to return.

In the wake of this trauma, what are we to do? Experts in trauma studies offer three stages of recovery: seek safety and stability; remember and grieve; and then be empowered to restoration. We do not need to be defined by the traumatic experiences we have endured. We have the wherewithal to be restored. That’s where our faith comes in and helps us move forward.

After World War II, theologian Reinhold Neibuhr taught us to understand that in a democracy, where people have power, Christians have a responsibility to “go public” with our ethical agenda. We are called to participate in the political arena to help transform society to a place that more resembles the will of God.

So today, I invite you to seek a renewed sense of safety and stability in your faith. I urge you to remember and grieve the trauma we have experienced as a nation in the wake of yesterday’s events and on the tortured path that has led to them. Then I encourage you to find your own way, in your sphere of influence, to work for the healing of our nation and world. The church’s worship, program and outreach ministries are here to help you on that journey.

We have suffered a trauma, but together, as disciples of Jesus Christ, we have the power to move forward making a difference for the common good, for the sake of the world God so loves.