Not again. Another shooting! This time it was Umpqua Community College in Oregon. Again it is so very tragic. Innocent people, who only signed up for an education, were gunned down in their classroom. Immediately calls for gun control began. That’s understandable. We’re exasperated. We have to do something! But I’m concerned that the discussion does not target root causes. We do need to keep guns out of the hands of those suffering with mental illness, depression and the like. Absolutely. The glitch in the argument in this most recent case, however, is that the shooter’s multiple guns had been purchased legally. What law, without a circle of caring, proactive people, would have prevented his evil rampage? The red light never flashed in the back-ground check that this applicant had a history of mental illness.
People dealing with various forms of mental illness need to be treated with compassion and grace. But there has to be a caring network, both familial and often professional, to offer that care. Mental illness is a touchy subject to address. Every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. What amazes me is how little discussion there is about this illness and its relationship to gun violence. There is some such discussion. But those voices are a mere whisper. Yet, it is often the root of the twisted motivation to do violence. Furthermore, conversation about how a care network just might interrupt the slippery slide toward violence is missing.
That leads me to my main concern. There’s an explosion in my thinking every time a tragedy of this kind happens. It is this puzzling question: why is there no dialogue about the breakdown of the family in America, in this national emergency?
There is a check and balance system, created and designed by God, in the social, emotional network of people. It is the family. Why is there no discussion about the deterioration of the family in the gun violence debate? What happens when a father or mother is unavailable to talk with a son or daughter about their angst? What if that daughter or son is depressed, confused, discouraged and no one understands or even knows? No one, that is, who matters and cares about them. That son or daughter may try to sort through the confusion on their own. The result may not be healthy or wholesome. On the other hand, what if that son or daughter knew that at least one person knew and understood what they were dealing with? And they knew that one person genuinely loved them. Could an evil course be altered? For most of us, if we know one person understands, we can make it through anything.
Does no one see a connection between ignoring family life, redefining the family, minimizing the importance of family and the growing violence we face? Families have the first opportunities to shape values. We scratch our heads wondering how a respectable young person can be drawn away and radicalized to make evil a norm. Might it have been different if there had been a caring father and/or mother who was alert to the felt needs of their daughter or son? Not always. With all forms of media and technology, parents are not the only people speaking into their children’s lives. Sometimes, even when that caring is clearly there, it does not penetrate a perverted or rebellious mind. But sometimes it does.
We must be careful not to simplistically lay guilt at the feet of parents whose children have committed violence. I can only imagine the depth of their grief or anxieties, the what -ifs, and if only I hads. We must offer grace and the possibility of healing, always aware of our own needs and shortcomings. Some parents have tried everything they know but have not seen the results they hoped for.
Nevertheless, let’s not underestimate the potential effectiveness of a loving, caring family network. Disasters prevented by watchful parents who took note and acted are unknown. And we dare not criticize those whose family has fallen apart from no fault of their own. We must find ways to come alongside single parents and those in unyielding circumstances, as surrogate family, to listen, offer grace, love and support. Resolving these tangled issues is not easy. But be sure, persistent prayer to a mighty God and loving, caring families are two of our most forcible resources. Grandparents, church families, proxy parents and grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles – join the team!
Let’s open the dialogue about how vital family is to the health and wholeness of people. Let’s go after the sickness of busyness that plagues families and robs us of discussion times and simple caring. Yes, sometimes financial struggles and lack of work fertilize busyness in just trying to make it. Anything that picks relentlessly at the family should be regarded as an enemy. The family is God’s basic unit of personal development. We tamper with it, or ignore it, to our peril.
When God chose to reveal himself to the world, he sent his son into the world through a family. A chosen mother and an earthly father surrounded him. This is more than details offered in the birth narratives of Scripture. It is a pattern to emulate.