Mass Shootings

I don’t even know what to say anymore honestly.

Mass shootings are a tragedy in one sense. It’s a tragedy that doesn’t even need to happen. The real tragedy is that we, as a society, refuse to do anything at all to prevent future shootings. It’s sinful. It’s popular to blame mental illness on these shootings, but I’m wondering who that mental illness might apply to honestly – maybe the whole of society that sees horror and refuses to do something about it. But, am I just doing the same thing by blaming mental illness for our problems, as if those with mental illness are a convenient scapegoat? Forgive me. I’m just trying to make sense of something that makes no sense at all.

While mass shootings are a tragedy, they are also not a tragedy at all. They are a consequence. They are the price we are apparently willing to pay. For what? So that white men can carry and use a gun on anyone they want to freely without fear of losing their own lives in the process. That’s not an exaggeration. It’s not spin. It’s not left-wing rhetoric, or whatever else you want to throw at me to dismiss reality. Just look at the stats – Between 1982 and May 2022, 68% of the shooters have been white men – making them far and away the leading cause of mass shootings. This isn’t recent. It’s been going on for decades. This disgusts me. And that’s not counting the people who perpetuated lynchings either – another form of mass terrorism targeting people of color.

Every Sunday in worship I pray for an end to war, racism, white supremacy, Christian Nationalism, and gun violence.  It’s a part of the service because these sins need to be named aloud and we need to publicly pray for an end to them. The church has a long history of at the least turning a blind eye to these things and at worse, being directly guilty of promoting them. This has to end. War, racism, white supremacy, Christian Nationalism, and gun violence are antithetical to what it means to follow Jesus. They are anti-Christ in a vey real and literal sense. If we’re worried about saying these things might offend some people and they might leave our churches, then we really need do some self-examination. What exactly are we protecting? Yes, I want to force you to actually say what it is you are protecting because if we can’t openly call for an end to these evils, then what possible reason is there to not name them and call for an end to them?

When I name these in the prayers each week, I name how many people were killed in mass shootings in the country and how many were injured in the last week.  I lift up the cities that have suffered as a result.  Some weeks it’s very difficult to read because of the sheer numbers.  The list of cities just seems endless. It breaks my heart over and over again. I practically cry every week in saying these prayers. I want to cry because of how terrible this is and the fact that no one seems willing to so anything about them. Reading the numbers and the cities is supposed to be difficult.  It’s supposed to be so very uncomfortable that we might actually be moved to do something about it.  That’s my hope anyway. I can’t wait for the day when I don’t have to say these prayers. But until these things end, I’ll keep saying the prayers.

One week I listed how many minors were killed/injured, but it was frankly too much to bear for me.  I couldn’t do it after that week.  There are just limits to what I can handle, even while knowing the tragedy is often far worse than what the numbers show.

And this is why the whole abortion “debate” falls flat for me.  If we really cared about saving innocent lives, we’d do something, anything really, to try to stop these shootings from happening.  But we do nothing.  Nothing at all.  Apparently this amount and kind of death [death by gunshot] is acceptable to us.  This kind of carnage is ok.  This kind of death is acceptable.  I don’t know how else to make sense of the fact that there is no effort to stop future shootings. We don’t even pretend to make an effort any more. What do we expect is going to happen? I’m not sure there are segments of our society that even want the mass shootings to stop, as long as the victims aren’t white. I don’t know. There is no logic to this.

This is why the arguments for banning books and outlawing Critical Race Theory in schools falls flat on me. We’re ok with a white guy picking up a gun and targeting black men and women in a grocery store, or Asian heritage people in a church, but are supposedly concerned about the danger that certain books might have on developing minds or what conversations might have an influence on students – even when the content that throws people into a tizzy isn’t even taught in schools. We’re so worried about looking at actual history, seeing smiling white faces posing for pictures at lynchings, or even considering listening with intent to understand or empathize with people who have suffered from racism. We’d much rather have the mythical stories of heroes on horses and reading about the false facade of how everything was just fine for everyone. We so much prefer the lie to the truth. Why? What are we afraid of? Probably having a cancer exposed within us – a really ugly cancer that is eating away at us. Maybe we’re afraid of our own personal pasts being exposed, even if we have changed in what we say or do over the years. This isn’t something that took place in an ancient civilization far removed by geography and time after all. This is here, in our own country, in our life times. And by banning books and limiting conversations, we think we are protecting ourselves. We only make ourselves look more guilty. What exactly do we have to hide from in these conversations? But sure, tell me how you care for the safety of children in school, while you do nothing to prevent the next school shooting.

This is why I’ve started listening to arguments very differently. I listen for the projections that are made now. Accusations that there is indoctrination. Accusations that there is propaganda. Accusations that someone is grooming children or teaching them how to hate others. Accusations that there are attempts to limit speech and cancel people. Accusations that there are laws being passed to control people and restrict freedom. Accusations that are really nothing more than projections of what the accusers are actually trying to do and turn those things into law. We can now look at large groups of people in this country and their leaders and hear their accusations, see their legislation, and know that the exact opposite of what they claim is the truth – that these folks are pointing out what they themselves are attempting to do, all while attempting to paint their opponents as the guilty party, and codifying it in law in order to protect themselves. Projection is often a defense mechanism that is really proclaiming the following – we (whether that means literally us or our ancestors) screwed people over in the past and we fully expect that other people will treat us the same way, so we’ll do whatever we can to prevent that because we know what we did was wrong and harmful.

All of this is the consequence of our valuing individual rights of some over the rights of all others. Apparently all are equal, but some are more equal than others.

I say some because if we actually valued the rights of all people, the discussion about abortion would be different. The discussion around race, racism, and white supremacy would be different. The discussion around gun violence would be different.

The reality is that we don’t value rights for all. We value rights for some – a select few. The rest of the people are just in the way and a hindrance to the privileged doing what they want – they have the right to impose whatever they want on others and expect that everyone else will comply. They believe they can say and do what they want without consequence. They can force and restrict what they want on others. Maybe they think they are superior, or that God has ordained them specially to do this, or they buy into some kind of racist scientific theory around how certain races are superior to others, or they are just plain and simple authoritarians. I don’t really care what the motivation is. It has to end.

The arguments presented by these folks are often couched in terms of freedom. But like most things stated, it’s the exact opposite of what they are talking about. They aren’t about freedom at all. They are about privilege and superiority. They are about the freedom of a select group to have license to do as they wish to anyone they wish without consequence, while they control what freedoms others might be granted. That’s not freedom. That’s enslavement. That’s authoritarianism. That’s an empire. That’s believing that you are a god. That’s sin encased in human flesh.

And none of this is new. It’s been going on for as long as humans have walked the earth and formed some kind of community.

We’ve been given a different vision of how to be in community – a healthier vision. A vision of Shalom from the ancient past. A vision that has also been called the Kingdom of God by Jesus. A vision that others have called heaven on earth, or the beloved community. It comes in a variety of names. At its core is this: the ability to see the image of God in others – all others. People seeking and living in the way of peace. People showing grace and mercy. People caring about others’ wellbeing. People seeing others as equal in value and worth. People showing love and serving one another. In the community there is healing. No one is alone. There is restoration and reparation. There is justice and mercy. There is what Revelation says in Chapter 21 – no more weeping or mourning or crying. No more pain. Just a new heaven and a new earth, and God dwelling with creation in community.

Why would we ever willingly trade that in for what we currently have? That’s the real tragedy.

And until we’re willing to even attempt to living into God’s Shalom, the tragedy will continue.

I weep for humanity and creation. And yet I have eternal hope – because the alternative is just too much to bear. And even if just one person moves towards shalom, then it is a recognition that the ways of the world have lost. The ways of the world only win if everyone buys into their deadly vision. When even just one person rejects the ways of the world, those ways, empires, privileges, false messiahs, and proclaimers of alternative gospel narratives lose. For all eternity, it is known that they couldn’t get what they wanted – they wanted it all. They lose. God wins. That’s the story of Scripture. It’s always been this way. It’s how the story ends. Why would we put our hope in anything less? It makes no sense. It makes no sense to even just go along with the ways of this world just to survive or pretend. Why would we do that?

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