Editor’s note: Enuma Okoro is a public speaker and lecturer on faith, spirituality and identity. She is author of three books, including her latest, "Silence: And Other Surprising Invitations of Advent" and writes a blog, Reluctant Pilgrim.
By Enuma Okoro, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Before I am an American, I am a Christian.
This order of self-identifying does not in any way negate the gifts and responsibilities that come with my being an American, a Nigerian-American at that.
But it brings me face to face with the tension of claiming my faith identity above all else in a culture that's more comfortable glossing over challenging - and sometimes painful - elements of spiritual narratives in exchange for what can be mass produced and neatly packaged in a box.
While many are in the midst of Christmas cheer, I am still in the season of Advent, a time of waiting and preparation for the birth of Jesus Christ.
For Christians, it is a time to mark a new year, a beginning. It is a time that I contemplate the pending miracle of Christmas.
The Advent invitation to silence, to open lament, to hope, to trust, even when it seems foolish, that God keeps God’s promises is a time to remember who we are. Especially now, after the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Advent helps me remember we are all to be a part of the healing of the world.
My fear is that most of us miss the true meaning of this time because of our American cultural tendency to mine the sacred for what can be mass consumed.
We also live in a “feel good” culture in which we strive to make ourselves as comfortable as possible.
Editor’s Note: Laura L. Lovett is an associate professor of history at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst and a founding co-editor of the Journal of the History of Childhood and Youth.
By Laura L. Lovett, Special to CNN
(CNN) - “I don’t like Mondays.” This was the answer given by one of America’s first contemporary mass school shooters, Brenda Spencer, when asked why she had fired 30 rounds with a semiautomatic rifle at a San Diego elementary schoolyard on January 29, 1979.
She killed the school’s principal and custodian and wounded nine schoolchildren, some as young as 8.
So unfathomable was the event at the time that this action even inspired a popular song.
But today, Spencer has been nearly lost to our collective memory.
Why is she not remembered? Perhaps because she is one of only two female school shooters that we know of. (In 1985, Heather Smith shot her ex-boyfriend and another boy at her high school before committing suicide.)
Our biases about gender and violence predispose us to want to make Spencer the outlier.
While it is true that most school shooters have been male and that our cultural association of masculinity and violence may contribute to a shooter’s profile, this association also leads our society to de-emphasize what we might learn from women like Spencer.
And while all of these shootings have complex causes that cannot be reduced to gender alone, when we try to make sense of these tragedies by going back to history of school shootings, we need to do so with a clear eye in order to make meaningful comparisons.
By CNN Staff
(CNN) - Jessica Rees was diagnosed with a brain tumor at age 11, and she and her parents would drive to the hospital every day to receive outpatient treatment.
"One day we were leaving, and she just simply asked us, 'When do all the other kids come home?'" said her father, Erik.
When Jessica found out that many of them would have to stay at the hospital, she wanted to help "make them happier, because I know they're going through a lot, too," she said.
So she started making JoyJars - containers full of toys, stickers, crayons, anything that might brighten a child's day.
"She was really particular about what would go in the jars," said her mother, Stacey. "It had to be something cool, it couldn't be cheap or flimsy."
Jessica created 3,000 JoyJars before she passed away this January. But her parents are carrying on her legacy.FULL STORY
Editor's note: Michael Kimmel is distinguished professor of sociology at SUNY Stony Brook. His new book "Angry White Men" will be published next year.
By Michael Kimmel, Special to CNN
(CNN) - For the past few days, Americans have been weeping together and wringing our hands once again at the senseless tragedy of a mass murder inside a school. The horrific scene in Newtown, Connecticut, is now seared permanently in our collective conscience, as we search for answers. We'll look at the photograph of Adam Lanza and ask over and over again how he could have come to such a deadly crossroads.
We still know nothing about his motives, only the devastating carnage he wrought. And yet we've already heard from experts who talk about mental illness, Asperger's syndrome, depression, andautism. The chorus of gun boosters has defensively chimed in about how gun control would not have prevented this.
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee offered the theory that since "we have systematically removed God from our schools, should we be so surprised that schools would become a place of carnage?" (As if those heathen children deserved it?)
All the while, we continue to miss other crucial variables - even though they are staring right back at us when we look at that photograph. Adam Lanza was a middle class white guy.
If the shooter were black and the school urban, we'd hear about the culture of poverty; about how inner-city life breeds crime and violence; perhaps even some theories about a purported tendency among blacks towards violence.
As we've seen in the past week, it's not only those living on the fringes of society who express anger through gun violence.
Yet the obvious fact that Lanza - and nearly all the recent mass murderers who targeted non-work settings - were middle class white boys seems to barely register. Look again at the pictures of Jared Lee Loughner (Tucson), James Eagan Holmes (Aurora) and Wade Michael Page (Oak Creek) - a few of the mass killers of the past couple of years. (Yes, the case of Seung-Hui Cho, the perpetrator at Virginia Tech, the worst school shooting in our history, stands out as the exception. And worth discussing.)
Why are angry young men setting out to kill entire crowds of strangers?FULL STORY
Editor's note: Michael Ryan is an assignment producer who works on the CNN.com homepage.
By Michael Ryan, CNN
(CNN) - I am not an expert on Asperger's syndrome. But I am an expert on me, and I have Asperger's.
And attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. And a bit of obsessive-compulsive disorder. Having all three disorders together is not unusual, my doctor says.
Like you, I get angry sometimes. And, like you, I would never think of channeling that emotion into violence.
There is no direct connection between violence and autism. None. I don't break things. I don't hit my dogs. I keep a small Tupperware container in the house to catch insects so I can transport them safely outside before my cats or wife see them. I don't disparage hunters, but I could never kill another creature. I just don't have it in me.
For the most part, I am just like you, just a bit quirky. All right, a lot quirky.FULL STORY
Editor's note: Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a CNN contributor and a nationally syndicated columnist with the Washington Post Writers Group. Follow him on Twitter: @rubennavarrette.
By Ruben Navarrette, Jr., CNN Contributor
(CNN) - I know just what a lot of those so-called DREAMers deserve to get for Christmas: a scolding. There are good and bad actors in every movement, and the bad ones - if not kept in check - can drag the good ones down with them.
The term DREAMers refers to the estimated 1.4 million to 2 million young illegal immigrants who might have gotten some relief if the DREAM Act, which offered legal status in return for attending college or joining the military, hadn't been torpedoed in the Senate in December 2010.
Having declared their intention to better themselves, some in the DREAMer movement now insist that they're entitled to better treatment than run-of-the-mill illegal immigrants. You know, like the hardworking and humble folks who cut your lawn, clean your house or care for your kids. In fact, the DREAMers seem to suggest they're due a reward for good behavior.
At times, these young people act like spoiled brats. They don caps and gowns and disrupt committee hearings and occupy the offices of members of Congress. They dare police to arrest them, and then act surprised when it happens. They're not realistic, or respectful. They don't ask. They demand.Read Ruben Navarrette's full column
By Moni Basu, CNN
(CNN) - Buried on page 45 of the 2010 Defense Appropriations Act, after pages on the maintenance and operation of the U.S. military, is an official apology to Native American people.
Mark Charles, a member of the Navajo Nation, stumbled onto the apology about a year ago after he heard GOP presidential hopeful Mitt Romney say that he would never apologize for America. That comment didn't sit well with Charles - nobody is perfect, he thought.
He wrote a blog post that cited several situations in which he believed it was prudent for America to say sorry. One of them was to native people.
A reader responded that such an apology had already been issued. Charles went online and found the 2010 Defense Act.
The United States, acting through Congress ... recognizes that there have been years of official depredations, ill-conceived policies, and the breaking of covenants by the federal government regarding Indian tribes; apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States to all native peoples for the many instances of violence, maltreatment, and neglect inflicted on native peoples by citizens of the United States ...
It went on to urge the president to acknowledge the wrongs.
Charles wondered why he had never heard President Barack Obama publicly issue this apology. And if he had never heard it, then most certainly native people who lived isolated lives on reservations had not either.
He set himself on a path to rectify that.
Editor's note: Michael Zuckerman is a Harvard College graduate who works for the Boston Consulting Group in Washington. David Gergen is a senior political analyst for CNN and has been an adviser to four presidents. He is a professor of public service and director of the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard University's Kennedy School of Government. Follow him on Twitter: @David_Gergen.
By Michael Zuckerman and David Gergen
(CNN) - As the nation continues to grieve for the six adults and 20 children taken too soon in the Newtown, Connecticut, school shooting, a hero from another generation has slipped peacefully into the pages of history.
There were many who knew Sen. Dan Inouye, a Democrat and Medal of Honor recipient from Hawaii who passed away Monday, better than we did. But we had the good fortune of sitting with him this past summer, interviewing him and hearing some of the remarkable stories from his life in America's service. The portrait that emerged was that of a man of courage, character, and, perhaps above all, a singular spirit of peace and good will that was forged, paradoxically, amid some of the most horrendous carnage of the Second World War.
News: Hawaii's Daniel Inouye, Senate's second longest-serving member, dead at 88
Some of Inouye's deeds - his valor serving on the German front in one of America's most decorated (and heavily wounded) units, his Herculean political efforts on behalf of his home state - have been well remarked. What we were especially struck by was his quiet, sagelike humanity.
Editor’s note: Susan Bodnar is a clinical psychologist who teaches at Columbia University’s Teachers College and at The Stephen Mitchell Center for Relational Studies. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, two children and all of their pets.
By Susan Bodnar, Special to CNN
(CNN) - Too often, we allow ourselves to be defined by our differences.
We are either red state or blue state; 1% or 99%; Muslim, Jewish, Catholic, Protestant; black, white or brown; pro-life or pro-choice.
For or against gun control.
The citizens of this country speak strongly and divisively. After all, it is baked in our American identity. This dissent, we argue, creates a healthy democracy, and an inquisitive mind.
But sometimes too much difference can cause dysfunction.
As a psychologist I have often witnessed the distinct parts of a person’s mind come apart so strongly that extreme mental illness emerges.
Let’s not let this be our country’s fate.
Unity holds our country’s promise. May we offer it as a legacy to those taken away from us so senselessly?
Let’s let the little angels and their keepers who died so tragically become our inspiration for a society of difference that works together.
When so many little children die, as they did in the Sandy Hook tragedy, and when heroic teachers, a school psychologist and a principal are called upon to defend the lives of little ones with their own, we have two choices.
We can succumb to the base ugliness of despair.
Or we can repair.
Can we finally admit and agree that we have a problem with violence in our country and decide to fix it?
Sometimes so much focus on our collective differences obscures the valiant and expansive nature of the American character.
This weekend, however, we cried together.
Perhaps we found a way to honor our differences while also unifying for our children.
At the Sandy Hook memorial service, the nation witnessed Jews, Christians, Muslims, B’hai – black, white and brown – come together to mourn and to pray.
It felt like the template for our future. FULL POST
By Dana Bash and Ted Barrett, CNN
Washington (CNN) - Daniel Inouye, a World War II veteran who received the Medal of Honor and represented Hawaii in the Senate for five decades, has died, his office announced Monday. He was 88.
He died of respiratory complications Monday evening shortly at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, with his wife and son at his side.
Inouye was hospitalized last week and had undergone procedures to regulate his oxygen intake.
He won his ninth consecutive term in 2010 and was the second-longest-serving senator in the chamber's history, trailing only Sen. Robert Byrd of West Virginia. Inouye was a senator for all but three of Hawaii's 53 years as a state and had served as its first House member before that.
Senators of both parties took to the chamber floor Monday to mourn his death, and President Barack Obama described Inouye as "a true American hero."
"In Washington, he worked to strengthen our military, forge bipartisan consensus, and hold those of us in government accountable to the people we were elected to serve," Obama said in a statement. "But it was his incredible bravery during World War II - including one heroic effort that cost him his arm but earned him the Medal of Honor - that made Danny not just a colleague and a mentor, but someone revered by all of us lucky enough to know him. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Inouye family."FULL STORY