I usually try to restrict myself to one major post a week, but let’s consider this a “Special Edition”.
I’m not going to recount all the stories, but the amount of gun violence resulting in death or serious injury in the news over the past few weeks has been staggering and heart wrenching.
Even more staggering is the realization that more gun violence probably went unreported.
Specifically with school gun violence, after the shooting near Portland, Oregon yesterday I shuddered at a statistic I found on Twitter. In America we’ve witnessed our 74th school shooting since Newtown. For those keeping count, that would average almost 1 school shooting per week.
I’m done. Seriously, that’s it.
With Father’s Day looming on the horizon and my almost 17 month old asleep in the next room, my heart drops and my brain hurts every time I hear the report of another school shooting on the news. I imagine the parent who had planned to pick their lively child up from school only to find out they now had to pick up their child’s body from the hospital. I imagine the parent who while waiting for their child to step off the bus finds out their child was rolled out of an ambulance on a gurney.
I want this nightmare to be over just as much as the next parent.
With emotions high and patience stretched thin it’s easy to point fingers and blame all sorts of people and things.
Round and round the blame game goes, pointing fingers and slinging mud. Talking heads on TV will decry politicians on both the left and the right. New laws will be called for by some and lesser restrictions will be demanded by others. The cycle will continue without really addressing the issue that I believe is at the heart of the matter. It’s the biggest myth that I believe we are taught from a very young age in America.
The myth of violence being a solution to problems. The myth that violence is somehow redemptive and restorative.
These kids have picked up a gun and used them to harm others believing that a problem would be solved. That somehow, even if they too were killed, a perceived wrong would be redeemed and atoned for.
This is a bloody, deceitful and dangerous myth.
I think this myth has attached itself like a cancer deep into the DNA of our country. Our history books retell the story of our nation by outlining the great and violent wars we fought in.
Our country was founded on violent revolution.
Our country remained united by a violent civil war that effectively killed off a whole generation.
Our “Greatest Generation” came out of one of the largest scale wars the world has ever seen.
Even when we were not at “war” we called it a Cold War and the fearsome phrase of “mutually assured destruction” entered our minds.
We have defined ourselves by violent events for so long that it’s pretty difficult to see the history of our nation any other way. This seeps into our thinking then that violence is a way to solve problems. We keep the peace by threat of violence and believe that the only way to stop violent acts is through further acts of violence. We give honor to those who gave their lives bravely and we welcome back those who made it out alive. Yet…even those who made it out alive are changed fundamentally by the violence they’ve seen or been forced to commit. I have many close friends and family who have told me so. Because of where they’ve been, what they’ve seen and how they had to act in order to survive it’s hard to live a life that is not constantly affected by the fear of violence.
Don’t get me wrong, I respect and honor those who have served our country. What I am calling out here is the myth that sings a siren song of violence being a solution to our problems.
If I am wronged, I have the right to pick up a gun and solve my problem.
If someone has angered me, I can swing my fist and solve the problem.
If I have been oppressed, I should throw a fire bomb and solve the problem.
If my neighbor is being oppressed, I can vote to send someone else’s child to pick up a gun and solve their problem.
Let’s set the record straight here.
Violence is not the answer.
Violence is not a solution.
Violence is not redemptive.
Jesus shows us a radically different way that we would do well to heed. He famously says in Matthew 26:52, “All those who use the sword will die by the sword.” Jesus was well accustomed to what violent acts resulted in. Many Jews tried to violently resist Roman occupation and they met a similar fate of crucifixion. Rather, earlier in Matthew, Jesus gives us this advice:
You have heard that it was said, An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you that you must not oppose those who want to hurt you. If people slap you on your right cheek, you must turn the left cheek to them as well. When they wish to haul you to court and take your shirt, let them have your coat too. When they force you to go one mile, go with them two. Give to those who ask, and don’t refuse those who wish to borrow from you
Matthew 5:38-42 (CEB)
The radical advice of Jesus is do not resist violence with violence. The “eye for an eye” or “tooth for a tooth” argument never ends the cycle. There will always be eyes to take and teeth to pull. Jesus instead tells his followers to end the cycle of violence and oppression. If slapped, do not slap back. If sued for a shirt, offer your coat. If forced to walk a mile, walk two. The advice of Jesus stops the cycle of violence, emptying violent actions of all of their oppressive power. By not responding similarly, but instead responding in ways that demonstrate we have a choice we can truly stop violence and redeem the situation. By asserting our freedom to stand in resistance to violence, the myth that violent acts are redemptive melts away.
I pray that we would not succumb to finger-pointing and shaming in this situation. I pray that we would find ways to end the myth of redemptive violence and live into a new story. A story not defined by war, violence and death but a story defined by life, humility and freedom. I pray we would tell this new story to our children, our friends and our families to prevent the heartbreak we are seeing.
Let them know there is another way, a better way.