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We are heartbroken, bereft, and enragedâ€”yes.
But what we shouldn’t be, following the massacre of 29 civilians in El Paso, Texas and Dayton, Ohio, is surprised.
The Dayton, Ohio massacre, which left 9 dead and 26 injured, occurred just 13 hours after the El Paso killing spree, which left at least 20 dead and dozens injured. And the more chilling statistic: there have been 251 mass shootings this year in the United Statesâ€”that’s more shootings than days in the year so far (216).
From where I stand, this endemic and institutionalized culture of violence cannot be resolved by a gridlocked Congress that doesn’t have the balls or wherewithal to enact gun-control reforms. Nor will it be resolved by arming school teachers, or by encouraging more gun owners to “open carry” their weapons in public. I mean, how effectual were all the open carriers milling around the mall in El Paso, when hate-riddled Crusius opened fire with his assault rifle?
Demonizing and caricaturing active shooters as deranged extremists with hate-filled manifestos is also not going to resolve anything. In this vein, I found Dayton mayor, Nan Whaley’s, comment to CNN particularly disturbing: “In less than one minute, Dayton first responders neutralized the shooter.”
WTF!? This is not a game of Fortnite that is being played out here.
Rather than “neutralizing” shooters, we need to focus our attention on enlightening and reforming a culture of violence that has run amok.
Psychosis of Fear
When his younger sister Alaina was killed in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in Parkland, Florida in 2018, Patrick Petty was not swayed in his stalwart belief in the Second Amendmentâ€”the right of every American citizen to bear arms, particularly in the threat of a tyrannical administration imposing its will upon the populace. In an interview with NPR earlier this year, he commented:
“And my belief is not about hunting. It’s not about just having them for sport or for fun. It’s the Second Amendment was written for us, the citizens, to protect ourselves against a tyrannical government. That may not happen for 50, hundred, even a thousand years. But the moment you take that right away, you open the door for it to happen. You make it easier for it to happen.”
Therein lies the nub of this moral and spiritual malaise our country is currently saturated in: fear.
Granted, having a firebrand liability president who stokes any number of fears at any given Twitterish moment doesn’t help in allaying such fears; but, at the deeper collective consciousness level, it is fear, ignorance, and the darker impulses of the human ego that are at play here.
SeĂˇn Ă“Laoire, PhD, a clinical psychologist friend of mine and spiritual director of Companions on the Journey, a spiritual community in Palo Alto, California, once put it:
“When love is turned inwards it becomes self-esteem; when love is turned outwards, it becomes compassion; when fear is turned inwards, it becomes depression; and when fear is turned outwards it becomes anger…Wisdom is the heart’s commitment to turning all experiences into love, and ignorance is the ego’s addiction to turning all experiences into fear.”
We, particularly our younger generation, need help in climbing out of the bunker of fear, ignorance, and mistrust we have fallen into. We need help and guidanceâ€”the kind of moral guidance our political leadership is not, and seems incapable of, providing.
America’s First Gun Violence Prevention Minister
The country’s largest Presbyterian denomination recently appointed Reverend Deanna Hollas Gun Violence Prevention Minister, in an effort to involve its congregation in discussing this deeply sensitive and, at times, divisive topic.
In a recent interview with NPR, she defends the stance her denomination has taken in appointing her to this position: “We just can’t be silent anymore. And it’s time that the church repents the sin of being silent, quite honestly, and steps into the discussion that we need to be having.”
Moreover, she regards the church as being in a unique place to facilitate such discussion. In her words, “We also have to have that cultural change. And I think that’s really a role that the church can step into because the church is a place where we have people of different political persuasions and different sides on this issue that are still gathering together.”
She is right! A cultural shift in consciousness from conditioned fear and ignorance to one of understanding, acceptance, and a willingness to work with rather than against what we most fear is what our society most needs at this critical juncture in human history.
If our political leadership can’t provide the lead we need then, I believe it will be up to our church and educational leaders to step in and fill this moral vacuum with hopeâ€”hope of moving beyond the rhetoric of gun violence and the gun lobby to a brighter, safer future where institutionalized peace and reconciliation can abide.
Choosing a Momentum of Hope
I believe, in terms of a shifting global consciousness, our world as a whole is moving in the right direction. We are becoming more enlightened, informed, and proactive in healing the wounds of the past, in informing the next generation on environmental sustainability, and in cleansing our planet and collective consciousness of the impurities that have accrued over eons.
We’re getting there. As someone who grew up in the militarized and sectarian culture of Northern Ireland, and is now a United States citizen, I choose fervent hope, rather than dismal despair, in encouraging the visionary residents of this multi-ethnic nation to stay focused on completing the task.
What talent or energy can you contribute? What input can you share?
What difference can, and will, you make?