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Orlando and Omagh

Very early this morning, Omar Mateen, armed with an AR-15-style assult rifle and a handgun, went into a popular LGBTQ nightclub in Orlando Florida and killed more than fifty people. As we go through the all-too-familiar motions of mourning the dead and comforting the injured and donating blood, and as we ready ourselves for yet another round of political arguments about how this can keep on happening and what can we do about it, I find myself thinking of an event nearly twenty years ago.


In the summer of 1998 I spent about three months living in the south of England, in Gloucestershire. I had been in the rental cottage for a week or two when, on Saturday August 15, the news came over the radio and television about a car bombing in Omagh, Northern Ireland. It was horrible — the explosion, in one of the town’s shopping areas, killed 31 people and injured more than 200 others. It had been executed by the “Real IRA”, a splinter group from the IRA, in protest of the Good Friday agreement that was the beginning of the resolution of the Troubles.

The political reaction to the bombing — in Ireland, in England, and internationally — was a swift and universal denunciation. Catholics had been killed; Protestants had been killed; Irish children hosting Spanish exchange students had been killed; and there was a haunting image, a photograph taken by a person killed in the bombing, of a man with a child on his shoulders standing next to the explosive-filled car that moments later was to take so many lives.

Omagh_imminent

The Omagh bombing seemed to be a tipping point. The feeling of all involved was no more! The peace process — which had already gone far, despite the very real difficulties of the negotiations — was strengthened by the revulsion at the violence in Omagh, and the “Real IRA” lost whatever political standing it had.


When will America have its Omagh?

Some thought that Sandy Hook would do the trick. Some thought Fort Hood. Some thought Clackamas, or Virginia Tech, or Aurora. So far, nothing has made enough of the American people say no more!

Will it be Orlando? Or will we have to wait for yet another horrendous shooting before we can get any kind of sensible gun control? We need to start the difficult negotiations now, so that we will have something to build on when our consciences are finally shocked enough to spur us, as a nation, to action. While we wait, people are dying daily in events not newsworthy enough to be noticed.

But I have to believe that finally something will break the political stalemate. I have to believe that someday, we will have our Omagh.


[Edited to add:]

(One difference between Orlando and Omagh: In Omagh, the slaughter was indiscriminate, as I mentioned above. In Orlando, the killer attacked in an LGBTQ gathering place on “Upscale Latin Saturday”, thus targeting the LGBTQ community and the Hispanic community. These groups are both currently being attacked in American political discourse — as they have been for decades.)


Image copied from Wikipedia, which obtained it from Wesley Johnston’s web site.

Belated Introduction

Hello, and welcome to The Humanist Seminarian blog.  My name is Everett Howe, and as I am writing this I am just starting my second year as a part-time low-residency student at Starr King School for the Ministry, a Unitarian Universalist seminary in Berkeley.  I am also just starting a two-year part-time ministerial internship at Throop Unitarian Universalist Church in Pasadena, California, under the supervision of Rev. Tera Little.

All this is in addition to my role as a husband and a father of two children, one just starting college and one a junior in high school.  And in addition to my career as a research mathematician.

A research mathematician?

Yes. I’m still trying to work out what a calling to ministry might mean to me — but I know for sure what a calling to mathematics means.  I’ve known since I was about 8 that I wanted to do math, and I’ve devoted a lot of energy and the majority of my life to answering that call. I’ve taught at universities, I’ve worked at a think tank for 20 years, and I’ve published a few dozen research articles in math journals.

So what’s all this about ministry?  Well, I guess if you stick around here, you’ll find out… as will I.

I should mention that there is already a well-known Unitarian Universalist blogger with a Ph.D. in math — his is in algebraic geometry, mine in arithmetic geometry.  So I have a lot to live up to.