The Missing Topic in the Dialogue about “Another Shooting”

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.          

Reflections on the Pope’s Visit to America

Pope Francis’ visit to the United States was historic. Mary and I were thankful when he left safely as many of you were, I’m sure. I can only imagine the sigh of relief of security personnel when his plane lifted off US soil. His visit was more than historic. There were teaching moments worthy of our reflection.

I differ theologically on some issues with the Pope, such as the role of Mary, or the need to confess our sins to a Priest. But his visit left profound impressions I found refreshing. Yes, I wish he had said more about the persecution of Christians worldwide.  I applauded his concerns about how we are  tampering with family life in America, and tearing at its foundation. Some climate change talk – problems and solutions – is questionable. But a call to be intentional stewards of the earth, trumpeted by the Pope, is a biblical call. Let me leave these issues alone. I want to share with you three inspiring memories I have from the Pope’s visit.

My first memory is the overwhelming response to the visit of this spiritual leader. How can anyone reasonably say there is no spiritual hunger in America? People clamored to see the Pope, touch him or have him touch and bless them. I confess, I often thought of Jesus’ disciple, Peter, when Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him (The Bible, Acts 10:25). “But Peter pulled him up and said, ‘Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!’” (The Bible, Acts 10:26). Peter’s response shows us how we should see ourselves as spiritual leaders. We can understand the inclination to get close to someone of such stature. Was it spiritual seeking for the right reasons? We can’t know. But it was the seeking of a spiritual leader for some reason. There is spiritual hunger in people today. At times, it seems like a muffled grumble of someone’s stomach before dinner, but it’s there. French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, diagnosed it this way: “There is a God-shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God the Creator, made known through Jesus Christ.” Try as we may to stuff something else in that hole, it will always fall short. Because it’s a God-shaped vacuum. The Pope’s visit showed me spiritual hunger is alive and real.

A second memory is the Pope’s disarming simplicity. This headline from today’s catches the shadow cast by this Pope: “What would Jesus have been driven in? Dwarfed by massive secret service SUVs, Pope Francis is a big man in a little car as he’s driven away in a tiny Fiat 500 after arriving in the U.S.” Does that not challenge our bigger is better status mantra? He turned down a Congressional luncheon to have lunch with the homeless. He could have been honored royally. He chose to honor others no one else would honor.  This is teaching in the most effective way – by example. It certainly was a lesson for me.

A third memory is the power of love demonstrated. A love, in this case, that is rooted in Jesus Christ. Who was not moved by the Pope’s desire to be with children over and over? His security detail must have sweat nervously as he stopped his motorcade numerous times to talk with someone in need.  I felt tears in my eyes as he stopped to bless a child in a wheelchair. This man is powerful and influential. What is his message? Love! Write it off as syrupy sweet, feel-good talk if you dare. I cannot. The essence of God’s character is love. Soak in this biblical truth for a bit: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, for God is love.” So, when I saw The Pope’s loving identity with the poor, it challenged me. I want God’s love to flow through me in visible ways.

I’m thankful the Pope came to America. There were memorable teaching moments, even if a word had not been spoken.

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