It was a year and a half ago when my son called to tell us one of his college classmates had made threats. The police posted guards and issued warrants. The classmate took to the road. Through the day we got small updates: "He's headed north on I-5." "Someone saw him in Salem...in Corvallis...in Portland...Eugene..." Until finally he was arrested and the armed guards went home and the students went back to class and we all let out our collective breath again.
We were lucky. Other students in Oregon weren't so lucky yesterday. Today families mourn and shake amid the (now) usual blaze of gun rhetoric and spitting matches. Today we wonder what could turn someone to such violence, wonder how they get twisted and bent, sure that the problem is sickness, locked inside the individual. "Guns don't kill people, people kill people." "Guns don't kill people, people living in a culture of glorified...violence with unfettered access to firearms kill people...with guns."* Lord, have mercy on us all.
What is most apparent to me now in these agonizing days of refugees and hunger and angry young men with guns, is that the problem is all of ours. The only hope we have to save this messed up world is to start thinking of the community and its good instead of this terrible, dogmatic, damned insistence on our own personal good.
A friend wrote on Facebook today,
"what if we banned poisons from our food? What if everyone had something to eat, something to wear, and something to read? What if we didn't allow the media to spew garbage about what their entitled life should be like to our young people? What if we spent our free time reading and growing food and being together intentionally and kicking around a soccer ball? What if we built an educational system that was meant to help every child succeed at life and not just tests? What if we provided everyone the physical and mental health care that they needed without financial burdens?"
Imagine a world where we "Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you," as Wendell Berry puts it. Years ago, my neighbor told me, a butcher from another town would drive to the top of our hill, dump animal carcasses and waste in the stream, wash out his trucks and drive home. I suppose he thought it was harmless, perhaps even beneficial for the local wildlife. But the creek runs down the hill and through my neighbor's yard. In the morning she would come out of her house and find sheep's heads bobbing in the fouled water and long strings of bloody intestines tangled around the rocks of her once beautiful creek.
We must think. We must think, my friends, about what realities our choices are making for our neighbors. Please.
What others are saying:
~ D.L. Mayfield: About Guns D.L. is one of the best writers online right now. She writes powerfully and honestly about her life in the inner city. One thing I've noticed living in the country after living in the city is that quite often the gun conversations are about completely different things. We need to hear each other.
~ Mr. Rogers in Esquire: "Can You Say Hero?" This is an astounding interview. Don't miss the section where Mr. Rogers comes across a little boy wielding a sword. Oh for eyes to see.
~ And this, from Mick Silva on Facebook today:
Like anyone, I suppose, I like to think I can have this peace Jesus spoke of as he left his followers without having to let in the dark and the hard.
I live less than 200 miles from Umpqua Community College where a shooter, an unnamed gunman, has apparently sought to kill as many Christians as he could. It could have been my classroom, my students. My kids.
We don't know why and of course we won't ever know all the reasons, each big and small factor that led to his disconnection, isolation and pain.
But we do know he had a name and that if someone had spoken it in love, that one small act of respect and care could have averted this. It's possible. We know because connection is what soothes our afflicted souls. Mental and emotional problems are complex, but simply showing love is no simple panacea.
I believe we all know deep down it's the only thing that can save us.
And today, while so many refuse to give this young man his name, insisting he doesn't deserve it though he died for this very thing, recognizing that he was a person with a name who felt unseen and unheard, apparently especially by Christians, can't be ignored. We can't let ourselves deny that we all bear responsibility to reach out, not to perpetuate the justified rage that follows each time we deny someone's basic respect and dignity by our cold, calculated, unloving refusals and inaction.
Our prejudices. Our selfish acts. Our fear that we don't cast on our only savior.
I agree no one has a right to be glorified--for anything they do. But how can we fight fear, anger and hate with the same fear, anger and hate that denies someone their name? I don't want his name known--for the safety of his family. But we won't beat such hostility, the same hostility we lash out with when boys with guns take lives, by resisting our deeper hearts, to love, honor, respect even pray for the victims of our neglect and denial.
Yes, the shooter was a victim. That doesn't absolve him of his actions. It only allows us to see beyond them. And I believe our claims become baseless without this courage.
We can show we love or we can keep refusing. We can open our arms and choose to live. To embrace. To let something in.
Praying. For the higher purpose...