Some Words About Gun Violence

I’ve waited, using the time to think, before writing about gun violence. Again. I am not so arrogant as to think my words could change anything, nor do I wish to persuade anyone of my positions. I even hesitate to write at all. I waffle from anger, to cynicism, to hope and then at some point I worry this kind of news will no longer shock me.

As I wrestle with it, I’ve tried to focus on what is true in all of this. We live in a time when truth is under attack from every front, so it is better to work from truth rather than from cliche or assumptions. Here goes my attempt, and then I will give some analysis. But before I share the truths I’ve come to accept on this issue, I need to remind you that multiple things can be true at the same time, and those truths aren’t necessary always in harmony with each other or with a particular worldview.

The first truth, a big picture truth, is that an unarmed populace is a vulnerable populace. Specifically, it is vulnerable to tyranny. Whatever else our founding framers might have envisioned when they crafted the Constitution, keeping people armed in case of an outbreak of tyranny was certainly on their mind, especially given the fact of the Revolutionary War they’d just fought. The first thing a tyrant seeks to do is take away the populations defense mechanisms.

The second truth is that guns have always been regulated in our nation. Always. Most cities and towns in the past had very strict gun control laws, such as no one could have a gun on them in the city limits. These types of restrictions were very common throughout our history.

The third truth is liberty and security do not play well with each other. The more secure you make something, by definition, you restrict its liberty. A well educated, rational society that cares about both liberty and security will learn to find the balance between these two in order to create the best possible outcome for the majority of people.

The fourth truth is a society has an obligation to its children to protect them until they reach adulthood.

The fifth truth is that decisions made out of fear are never good decisions. Our nation is afraid right now. I see it on the faces of people at church, at work, in the supermarket, at the movie theater–everywhere I go. People who are afraid are often not thinking properly, which makes them susceptible to bad ideas or demagoguery.

The sixth truth is though they are alike in kind, there is a difference between the random killings we’ve seen at schools and churches and the traditional gun violence demonstrated in urban environments or domestic violence. Do not misread me, those are horrible problems and need to be addressed as well, but they are different problems than what we saw in Parkland, Florida last week.

Here is the last truth, the seventh truth, I’ve come to. We don’t have a gun problem. We don’t have a mental health problem. We don’t have a teenage problem. What we have is much more specific than this–we have a young, white, male with mental health issues who has access to guns problem.


Now, for a little, but not much, analysis.

  1. One possible solution would be to think about schools and education differently. Maybe large schools with a high concentration of students is the wrong way to go. Perhaps some of the mental health issue is caused by the attempt to raise our children in large, massive industrial-styled complexes with hundreds or thousands of students as if they were a product being made. Maybe we need to decentralize, create smaller, more intimate learning spaces where children can’t fall through cracks.
  2. Banning particular kinds of weapons is not a viable solution. The solution would be more akin to restricting, or banning, certain types of people from having firearms. Most Americans, myself included, have no problem whatsoever with a sane, well-adjusted soul owning a weapon. But I think, given the recent issues, we need to put the onus on the individual to prove sanity and stability. This would require far more than a background check. Bonus thought–if people are serious, they will not restrict weapons at all, but instead restrict, limit, regulate, and record the purchase and sale of ammunition. A gun without bullets is just a heavy stick.
  3. Look at the venues where these tragedies occur–schools, churches, concerts, movie theaters, and night clubs. If we turn these places into fortresses complete with armed guards, razor wire fences, metal detectors, and staff (think kindergarten teachers, theater ticket takers, pastors, bartenders) who are armed, then liberty has not only diminished, it is dying. It will also kill these institutions. The movie theater experience will die, as well as congregational worship as we know it, along with schools. Parents will pull their kids out, and thus the public school will fade away. I just don’t think the answer to these issues is more security, because that poses greater issues and takes us down the slope toward a police state–where everyone is secure, but liberty is a myth. I have already witnessed the loss of too much liberty in my lifetime. I don’t want to see us lose any more.
  4. I have argued in the past, and still believe, that the mental health issue emerging in young boys as random violence is actually a larger problem. The problem presents itself differently in other demographics, but has the same causes. I say causes because there is no one cause, but I do believe there is one basic solution. The causes are manifold and include but are not limited to–fatalism, despair, glorification of violence, dissolution of home life, the teaching of Darwinism, and propserity. The solution, though, is singular. As a believer in Christ Jesus, all of this points to the need for spiritual renewal. Our society is broken, because we have neglected our soul.

Thanks for taking the time to read this. Good people can disagree on issues, and you might be in a different camp on some of this, and that is okay. Whatever we do, it is imperative that we learn to listen to one another and realize that we are all on the same team, because none of us want what happened in Parkland, Sutherland Springs, Sandy Hook, Columbine, Charleston, Miami, Las Vegas  . . . and sadly so many other places, to happen ever again.

A PRAYER FOR THE FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL

Both of the sprouts start their junior year today, the oldest in college, the youngest in high school. It seems appropriate to pray today.

Great and mighty Lord, let me start my prayer off with the big stuff. Please do not let there be any school shootings anywhere this year. If someone tries, let them be stopped long before innocent lives are cut short. Please let those in positions of leadership stop squabbling over such things as who uses what bathroom, and instead focus upon the stuff that really matters–like grammar, mathematics, science, and history. Still thinking about big stuff, Lord, I ask that teachers will earn their value–not just the lowest amount we can get by with–and I’m okay with taking some money away from athletes, movie stars, and corporate tycoons to do it. Oh, and while I’m at it, convict every school district in our nation that teachers should not have to buy the supplies for their classroom.

Now let me get to what might be thought of as smaller stuff. I pray for all of my children’s teachers to be the kind of teachers that inspire, motivate, and encourage. Please keep the ones that just show movies all day long away from my two daughters, and especially keep the ones that like to demean religious people (like that history teacher a couple of years ago) or argue politics or make my daughters cry by saying mean things, far far away from them. Let those kinds of tea9049675_orig[1]chers all decide to quit and do something else.

I also pray, Lord, that all the athletes will be safe for all their games and that no one will get hurt.  I ask that the coaches care more about the character development of the athletes than wins and loses, and so too will the fans. I pray that the chess clubs, debate clubs, science clubs, and fine art departments will be just as supported and funded as the athletic departments.

I pray that bullying not happen at all. I ask for Junior High to not be painful for anyone, especially those that feel different, odd, or out of place.

I pray that SAT and ACT scores go through the roof, that everyone graduates, and no one goes to school hungry. I pray for moms and dads to be very involved in every facet of their children’s learning.

I pray for parents who homeschool, and their children–that the unique challenges and wonderful opportunities afforded by that choice will be a blessing.

For universities, I ask that such silly things as trigger warnings be left behind, and that instead colleges be places where people’s values are challenged without their personhood or safety threatened. I pray for transformation of individuals in college–positive transformation into critical thinkers and leaders who will help us solve the problems around us, not slip into the morose of sameness that seems to be spreading so quickly.

One more thing Lord–I pray that money, or the lack thereof, never keep anyone from getting the quality education they need. I mean this at the district level in a way that every school district, no matter how rich or poor, gets ample resources. I also mean this at the college level–that no student will be forced to rack up insurmountable debt just to graduate.

There are so many things that could be better about the way we educate in our nation, but there are also many things that are right. Thank you for committed teachers, careful bus drivers, wise administrators, and dedicated school boards, who work so hard to make certain every child is loved and cared for. And I thank you for the gift of learning and discovery, which you have made to be part of the human experience.

In the name of Jesus I do pray. Amen.

 

 

 

SOME THOUGHTS ON SCHOOL SHOOTINGS

President Obama
President Obama at a forum on gun violence. I think he’s partly right.

This is the kind of blog post that usually gets me in trouble.  Nevertheless, I’ve been thinking about this for a while.  It is bothering me.

We need not to be let alone. We need to be really bothered once in a while–Guy Montag in Fahrenheit 451.

I’ve been contemplating the tragedy of school shootings.  I am very bothered by the almost faddish development of such acts.  What I don’t know is if enough people are.  It will not be until we’re bothered enough that something actually will change for the better.  Until the pain of the existing situation exceeds the pain of change, nothing will be done.

They who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety–Benjamin Franklin

The first reaction is to take away all guns.  But would that really solve the problem?  Guns and firearms are an important part of not only our nations legacy but of individuals rights (2nd Amendment, anyone?) to protection.  Liberty should not come at the expense security.  My personal feeling is that people want too much security.  I also think that guns are really only part of the problem.

I grew up in the South with guns everywhere, and we never shot anyone. This [shooting] is about people who aren’t taught the value of life–Samuel L. Jackson

Me too Sam.  In fact, I remember very well people driving pickup trucks to school with gun racks holding loaded rifles and shotguns.  It never once crossed our mind to kill anyone.  Guns were not a problem.  They were a tool.  Something else is going on here, and the value of life might well be part of it.  Violence is the logical result of a society taught to believe that a human being is just another animal and there is no such thing as eternal judgment.

The Carrying of Firearms Strictly Prohibited–Dodge City, Kansas public ordinance sign, 1878

It is foolish to believe that there have never been gun laws.  It seems to me that, though not a fix all, better and more restrictive gun laws would help.  The problem is legislators go at it the wrong way.  They pass laws outlawing certain guns, clips, or ammunition.  I think we’ve seen that is ineffective.  A better solution would be to regulate who can legally own a firearm.

The United States does not have a monopoly on crazy people. It’s not the only country that has psychosis. And yet, we kill each other in these mass shootings at rates that are exponentially higher than any place else–President Obama after a school shooting in Oregon

The President is right.  Crazy is a universal constant.  Where he is wrong, though, is the context.  The United States has a large population that is prosperous and free.  That sets us apart, from say, crazy people in China (not free), crazy people in Uganda (poor), or crazy people in Norway (small).  When these factors are combined, the potential for crazed violence grows exponentially.  Now, add to that caffeine driven diets, irregular sleep patterns, and drugs–both legal and illegal.  The result is that the United States does have a unique situation that defies comparison.

I suppose, in summary, I come to these thoughts.

1.  Our current gun laws are insufficient.

2.  Something is lacking in what we teach at school.  It is young boys doing this, not middle-aged depressed moms or dads who want to protect themselves.

3.  Admit that a purely materialist worldview fails.

4.  Stop acting like some people aren’t crazy.  Mainstreaming mentally incompetent people is a detriment to the well-being of society.

 I do not pretend to have all the answers to such a huge issue.  I would love to hear what anyone else has to say about it, so long as the discourse is civil.

 

 

image from http://www.nydailynews.com/news/national/obama-speaks-gun-violence-u-s-schools-article-1.1824890

 

 

MASSACRE IN CONNECTICUT–WHAT I TOLD OUR CHURCH

Yesterday was the third Sunday of Advent, a day when we celebrate the joy of the coming of Christ.  It is the Sunday of the pink candle.

Yet, it was heavy on my heart that I should say something about the terrible, horrible, incomprehensible massacre that took place to 1st grade children and school workers in Newtown, Connecticut.  I shared with them that I would not take away sermon time, the sermon was important too, but that I wanted to address the subject because our worship must flow and connect to our everyday life, and we’d all seen the images and heard of the account.  We were all thinking theological thoughts too:  Theodicy, eternity, innocence.  I told them that on Friday I didn’t hear about it early because I generally unplug from media on Friday but I finally did hear about it and turned on the television.  But I couldn’t watch for long.  I couldn’t think about it.  My mind didn’t want to see.

Then I shared these three thoughts with our congregation, through the lens of how we talk to our children about it.  I did this because I believe these types of events impact children more than we think, but I also did it because as a pastor I realized that the adults needed to hear these things too, but if I couch it as ‘advice to children’ then they will hear me as a partner in the endeavor rather than thinking I was telling them what to do or think.

1.  Tell your children the truth.  Do not give them all the details like CNN would, but tell them the truth.  Do not lie about it if they ask, and they like will ask.  If we lie about or brush these things off, we lose credibility to speak to the really important and serious issues in our children’s lives.

2.  Tell your children they are safe.  The person who did this will never hurt anyone else.  Your principals, your teachers, the teachers at church and the preschool workers and the deacons and most importantly, your parents are making certain you are safe.  You do not have to be afraid.

3.  God did not do this.  Well meaning people often say, “Well, God has a reason for it,” but that is theologically untenable and emotionally destructive.  God had nothing to do with this terrible tragedy.  What we see here is freedom of choice in a fallen world that does have evil people in it.  God didn’t do this, but he will help us bring healing and purpose for our future out of it.

Those are the things I told our church.  Mostly, maybe, I was talking to myself.  Later when we prayed, we made certain to pray about it.  That helped the most.