Monday brought the news of yet another school shooting, this time not far from Columbine High School. I was working at a Middle School the day of the Columbine shooting. I remember the haunted looks on the teacher’s eyes at the Middle School where I worked the day the Columbine shooting took place. We were horrified, wondering what that community was to ing through and hoping it was an isolated incident. But the school shootings continued. To be frank there are too many to name, but there are a three which stand out for me.
First is Sandy Hook. The horror of that terrorist assault sticks in my mind, but it hits a bit closer because a former member of the church I was at in Seminary sent his child to that school. I’ve not been in contact with him since I’ve moved to New Jersey, but when we move on we tend to imagine those we knew progressing with their lives. His child was not at school when the Sandy Hook shooting happened, but I can’t image the trauma with which that family is still wrestling. And because I can image specific faces there, I can better imagine the struggles still faced by rest of that community.
Second is Springfield High School, the school I would have graduated from had my life not taken a huge turn 1. The shooting at that school isn’t remembered by most folks because no one died 2, but the daughter of a family friend was present while it was going on so it sticks with me. Hearing her story of that day made my heart shudder with sorrow.
Third is the assault on an Amish one room school house in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. I remember this not so much for the horror of the assault, which was brutal, but for two other reasons. First was the utter ignorance on display by the reporters trying to cover the story. They could not understand why on earth the were no cell phones in the school, and even mused if the Amish community would reconsider their ban on such devices. The sheer stupidity and callousness of this reporting has made me angrier than I can remember being 3. Second, the outpouring of grace that Amish community showered on the shooter’s family remains one of the best examples of Christianity to which I’ve ever been privy. The Amish community is no panacea of perfection, like all human communities it has warts, but embracing love in response to hate is something we need more of. Having completed high school at Lancaster Mennonite High School 4, I’m aware of the Anabaptist principals which led to this remarkable act of charity – it makes it more real to me.
And with these shootings in mind, and so many more, I confess I’m a bit frightened. My wife is a teacher at an elementary school, as are both my sisters and one of my cousins. I have one child in college and one in high school, and a number of nieces and nephews in the same boat. I have wondered on occasion, “What if today is the day it happens here?” The same way I’ve wondered during worship, “What if today is the day it happens here?”
To say it’s not right that I, along with countless others, have this thought is the understatement of the ages. And I’m only thinking about contexts with which I have personal experience. What about children who go to school, and the parents who send them, wondering if they’ll be conscripted into a militia and turned into child soldiers? What about children who go to school wondering if the local drug gang will murder their family while they’re at class? What about kids who wonder if they’ll come home to find their parents dead of an overdose? What about kids who have to face gun violence on the way to school every day, to the point where that’s just a normal part of reality?
This affects us all. We can shrug it off and pretend that life goes on but eventually the soap bubble bursts. The proximity of violence, and the fear it will erupt when we least expect it, alters the way we interact with the world. I’m already someone who doesn’t trust with ease, this underlying concern of mine does not help me trust any better. For folks closer to this reality than I, I imagine the ability to trust others is even more shattered.
After the news broke on Monday my wife asked me, “What can we do?”
The typical answers our culture gives to that question are simplistic. Depending on your political position, we either need to get rid of guns or arm as many people as possible. I’d be more than happy to have an assault weapons ban, since so many of these attacks happen with legally purchased AR-15’s, but I recognize banning weapons like this would be a step, not a solution. I’m in favor of it because, statistically speaking, it’ll help us create healthier spaces where life can happen 5.
But that wasn’t the response I gave to my wife. My response to her was, “We need to help society heal so people recognize that other people are human beings.”
Right now we don’t do a good job of this, and that’s true all along the theological and political spectrums. Our culture, born from a rebellion, has a strange need to have an enemy. And as our culture breaks into more and more splinter groups, that need for an enemy is imported into each of the splinters. Enemy language inevitably succumbs to dehumanization, and dehumanization too often leads to violence. It’s not that everyone joins in the violence, most don’t 6 – but those who commit violence tend to be those who take our rhetoric most to heart. If we’re to become whole 7, we must deal with this need to unify around an enemy. Only then will we be able to dial back rhetoric which legitimizes the malignancy of despising “the other.” And as we heal, maybe mass-shootings will stop being an almost daily occurrence.
- For the better. ↩
- Thank God. ↩
- Seriously, way to blame the victims because they aren’t you. But that’s OK because they dress funny and have an odd lifestyle. ↩
- And having come to faith at said high school. ↩
- Having grown up around hunters, who recognized the insanity of civilians with assault weapons, I’m not in favor of a ban on all firearms. Some people hunt, and as we humans have devastated the natural predator population this is a necessary activity. Some people like the skill of target shooting, this doesn’t make them “ammosexuals.” There are “ammosexuals out there who think they can overturn the world through violence and end up on top. Those folks, who often spout language that comes from my faith tradition, need to be treated as domestic terrorists. ↩
- For all our cracks, after all, we still do have a society. ↩
- Which means society will not look “like us,” no matter who “us” is. ↩