Sunday, December 19, 2004

The horrors of humanity

This is the Sunday of the Ancestors in the Orthodox Church. This morning, we heard the geneology of Christ read from the book of Matthew. All those names -- Rahab, David, Zerubbabel, Zadok -- some of whose stories are known, some of whose names are at least mentioned elsewhere, some whom we know nothing about. And what about those we do know something about? It's not always a glowing picture: prostitutes, adulterers, murderers, liars, worshippers of Baal and other foreign gods. This is the lineage of Christ. When he emptied himself and took on the form of a servant, He became the descendant of sinners. It would be wonderful if every name read elicited only a glow of pride. There are certainly great heroes of the faith listed, but they all have their weaknesses as well. I heard a religious scholar recently remark that the Hebrew Bible is not the story of how people should be, but how they are. The divine condescension is our joy as we anticipate the Nativity, but the reality of what it means that the Son of God became one of us also has a sudden grittiness to me.

By now, I'm sure everyone has heard this absolutely horrible news. A woman is so desperate to have a child of her own after she miscarries that she comes into another woman's home on false pretences, murders her in cold blood and cuts the eight-month-old fetus (excuse me -- child) from her womb, which she then tries to pass off as her own. It's really too horrible to be believed. If I had read it in a book, I would've thought the author was going for a level of depravity that was more sensationalist that fact-based.

And it happened in Skidmore, a little town with a population of about 300 that's about two hours north of here. The town where the baby was taken was Malvern, KS -- another small town.

Human nature is such a funny thing. Why is it that when you read things like this, you almost immediately want to know where it happened, what kinds of people these were, did the victim act incautiously, as if any of these details can help you remove the circumstances from your world. What is it we want to hear? That it happened light years way away, in precisely the kind of environment and with the type of people that you have always wisely kept your distance from? That there is some snag in the system somewhere, and onces we address it with proper safeguards and new legislation, such things will never occur again? In spite of being jaded by hearing far too many graphic crime stories for our spiritual well-being, I suppose we can never help our automatic inclination to empathize and so, when that is too frightening, we have to immediately find the information that tells us that we have rendered ourselves inviolate and inaccessible to such evil.

The story in today's paper contained the kind of quote that you always hear from a neighbor or local resident in small town crimes. A woman in Malvern said, "you read about this kind of stuff, but it blows you away when it's here. This stuff is supposed to be in Los Angeles or New York." Perhaps in the light of such horror, these are the things that naturally occur to people to say, but I wince at them all the same. This is just the sort of attitude that country people are accused of -- bad things only happen in big cities, not out here where we're decent and upstanding. A Malvern man said, in answer to a question about the killer, "Do I hate her? If it happened anywhere else in the country, I'd hate her. But she's from here. I just feel nothing."

I haven't heard any quotes like that from the town of Skidmore, Missouri. But then, Skidmore may be something of a haunted town, if indeed the whole county isn't haunted. To a lot of residents, it may seem like the sudden media onslaught is deja vu.

In 1981, a reputed town bully named Ken Rex McElroy was shot to death in broad daylight on a main street in front of at least 40 people, all of whom professed complete ignorance as to the perpetrator of the crime. No one was ever charged. The incident became the subject of a best-selling book and a "60 Minutes" report.

And unfortunately, that isn't the only skeleton in the closet. The St. Joseph News-Press carried a short article of the bizarre crime history of Nodaway County. Here are a few examples:
* In 1972, a 15-year-old shot a family of four to death for no apparent reason.
* In 1994, a man was convicted of first-degree murder for running over his wife with a combine.
* In 2002, a 71-year-old man walked into an abbey and opened fire, killing two monks and wounding two before killing himself. No motive was ever discovered.
And I'm not including the rest, the organized crime hits and sex crimes and domestic abuse murders that have become all too common but still horrify us and make us wonder what demons enter into our fellow human beings.

These are terrible things to contemplate. And incomprehensible. And unanswerable. As such, perhaps I shouldn't be too harsh on the residents of these towns for not having more to say. I had been a little nonplussed with all the comments about how the baby needs to know she was loved, as if this in any way will be a comfort to this poor individual.

But what do I expect? We're only human, with a human capacity to process horror and grief and the realization of our fragile sense of our own safety and the rightness of things. Having a baby to focus on might take the sting out of it. Because such innocence and new life always symbolizes hope to us, Baby Victoria Jo Stinnen gives us a ray of light in the unbroken darkness of ruined and broken lives.

Out of the terror of our history, windows are broken when we least expect it. Sometimes without our ability to recognize them, they put the darkness to flight for a moment and enable us to see greater truths that we are too blind for most of the time.

Unto us, a Child is given ...


Blogger Karl Thienes said...

With my wife less than a month away from the due date and not one to read the paper that often, I've kept this news from would shake her up too much....

I'm always amused when they interview the neighbors of serial killers: "He was the sweetest, kindest, man I ever knew...."

Duh. That is the difference between one-time killers and the Jeffery Dahmer's of the world: serial killers have to have a good face to show now and then.

December 19, 2004 at 7:31 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

I forgot that your wife is expecting as well. Absolutely I think she doesn't need this story.

As far as the cliches that people come up with in the wake of these crimes, I remember when a complicated murder case was going on in Indiana, they had not one but *two* stories dealing with the fact that locals couldn't believe that someone who had been so good at football in high school would've done something like this. What the ...?

December 20, 2004 at 2:20 PM  
Blogger Doug said...

An excellent post. Thank you.

December 21, 2004 at 3:55 PM  
Blogger E Rica said...

*groans* this is absolutely disgusting. I can't believe it! :(

December 21, 2004 at 5:17 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

E rica,
Yep, I know. I'm really sorry to bring it up, but as I said, it's a somewhat local story, and I'm sure I'll be reading about it for some time. At least blogging about it gave me a place to try and impose my own bit of order on it all.

On a much more upbeat note, Greg and I are coming out to St. B for the Feb 26th weekend. Whee -- there's some fun!

December 21, 2004 at 8:28 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Thanks! As you see from E rica's comment, the whole topic is a little rough to venture into.

December 21, 2004 at 8:30 PM  
Blogger Sean said...


I was covering my face in disbelief when I read what that lady did...

"On a much more upbeat note, Greg and I are coming out to St. B for the Feb 26th weekend. Whee -- there's some fun!"

But I'm glad to hear that great news!

December 22, 2004 at 1:45 PM  
Blogger E Rica said...

You're coming?!?! Yeehaw! You'll probably be tripped out by the "children" of St. Barney's. Seeing how they're all almost adults now. I can't wait to see you guys.

By the way, our priest, Fr. Wayne, encouraged us to bring at least one person to the Frederica Matthewes-Green thing. You're my person. :-D

December 23, 2004 at 7:25 AM  
Blogger Sean said...

No fair! She's mine! I saw her first!

Aww shucks. Ok fine, I get Greg then. :P

December 23, 2004 at 3:05 PM  
Blogger Grace said...

Sean & E Rica,
LOL! I can't believe we're allowing you to cheat! We should charge for this.

As for all you guys growing up, yep, it does kind of weird a person out a little, but I was back a couple years ago so it's not quite the shock it might've been. And let's just swear right now that if I don't say, "Damn, you're tall!" you won't say, "Damn, you're old!" We'll both know we're *thinking* it, but we'll just smile VERY politely.

December 23, 2004 at 9:30 PM  
Blogger Sean said...


*nods and smiles politely*

Oh dear me, that was funny. Sounds like a plan!

December 23, 2004 at 10:04 PM  
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