November 2019

When I sit down to write the essay each month, it usually comes at the end of wrestling and stirring over a thought for a few weeks. Actually, the wrestling is often ongoing as I type and work through my thoughts. Items I have read or heard or pondered filter into a cohesive thought and I make applications from Scripture and observations from experience because those are the two things I have. I love the Word. I love applying it, and like everyone else, I have opinions. I work hard to separate how I deliver a message through pulpit ministry versus what I might say through an avenue like this essay. One is for removing grave clothes and ministering reconciliation; the other incorporates those where it can, but it allows me to interject my own opinions on a variety of issues.

Sometimes the topics probably interest no one but me. That’s fine. I’m the writer. Other times they have widespread appeal. That becomes obvious based upon the feedback. In either case, it’s what I want to say in the moment, and it is often sort of therapeutic for me.

My topic this month is on everyone’s mind, and on the collective mind of my family in particular. On Thursday, November 14, 2019 just before 8:00 am Pacific Time, a student at Saugus High School in Santa Clarita, California pulled a pistol from his backpack and shot five classmates before turning the gun on himself. Sixteen seconds later, two of the five students were dead and the shooter had wounds that would prove fatal. My brother’s oldest son is a sophomore at Saugus and was on campus when the shooting began. He and his teammates were rushed into the locker room, where they remained on lockdown as law enforcement rushed the building.

I received the news of an active shooter via text, from my brother, just before I went on stage in Irving, Texas. We were set to begin a day of filming for an upcoming video series on my first two books. With anxiousness I led the group in prayer for Saugus High, for the wounded, for the shooter, and naturally for the safety of my nephew.

We have had so many of these school shootings and public massacres that it has almost become normal. Tragically, we aren’t even that surprised anymore when some far away place we haven’t heard of goes through another incident. The dead and wounded move us but they are simply faces. There is a human connection, but repetition makes it seem all too familiar and dulls our sensitivity.

But as last week proved to our family, that dullness is replaced with sharp clarity in heartbeat. When the name of the town and the school is familiar you perk up. When a member of your family is in the vicinity, you pay attention. Saugus is one of seven pubic high schools in the Hart District in Santa Clarita. Our son Lukas attended Valencia in that district for three years. His first varsity baseball save came against Saugus. My nephew Davis is on the Saugus varsity basketball team, and my brother is the strength and conditioning coach for their program.

All of this is to say that this particular shooting hit home more so than any before it. My nephew was safe and never in harms way, though no one outside knew that at the time. A couple of families had their lives torn apart that day. Their son or daughter will not be coming home. No words can express the sadness, the shock or the regret.

And one family has to deal with the tragic reality that their child was the culprit. Not only did he take the lives of innocent young people, but he also removed himself from the world. One more shattered family. One more life lost.

When the dust settles on these events (and the dust really only settles for those of us on the edges. There is no settling for those most closely affected) everyone has an opinion about what causes this, why they are on the rise, how we can stop them or how we can’t possibly stop them. I am not immune to having an opinion or two. Until now, I had little reason to jump too deep into the fray, but with this event hitting so close to home, I thought perhaps it was time to throw a couple of my thoughts into the mix.

First, let’s talk about guns. It’s where everyone either starts the conversation or where they end up, but there really is no way around it. In America we have the right to keep and bear arms, guaranteed under the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution. That amendment gives us that right so that we can maintain “a well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free State.” The language has caused considerable debate regarding the amendment’s intended scope. It seems that within the context of the times, and the limited power of the weaponry, the framers wanted to give assurances to the citizens that they could form militias to protect themselves against government intrusion. Such an action was illegal when America was under colonial British rule, so the guarantee that one could arm and protect them self against government was essential to the security of the citizens.

When people quote the 2nd Amendment they rarely point out that the right to bear arms is directly related to the right to form a militia. In other words, it doesn’t stand on it’s own. Can you form a militia to take up arms against the government? Do you have the kind of firepower that would be necessary for such a fight? How about some honest questions about what that looks like today versus what it looked like in 1789?

A musket was the firearm of the day. It was loaded with powder and a single lead ball. It had a relatively short range, was incredibly inaccurate, and prone to misfire. It was a virtual impossibility that someone could pull off a mass shooting, as the time it took to shoot and reload would almost certainly spell their doom. And to top it off, aside from a canon, the government didn’t have access to better weapons than the citizenry.

Now, of course, you can’t get your hands on the weapons available to the US Army, and few would argue that you need such access. Should the 2nd Amendment be used to allow ownership of rocket propelled grenades, or stealth bombers? What about fully automatic weapons? Truthfully, I have no idea about the answers to these questions, and constitutional scholars have been debating this for decades. My point is not that we need to land on an answer but that maybe we need to be open to a discussion of what this looks like. Maybe it isn’t as cut and dry as whether or not we have the right. Maybe we need to be willing to make compromises, or at least entertain some difficult questions. Maybe we could at least discuss whether or not a ghost gun, an internet-purchased, home-assembled firearm, like the one used by the Saugus shooter could be something we could work together to eliminate.

I really can’t get much deeper at risk of alienating half of my audience or more. Truthfully, I have no real convictions about gun ownership, but I realize that many do, and I respect those convictions. I don’t argue with those who want to own firearms for self-defense, but I also don’t like being called naive because I don’t own one for that reason. Perhaps you are like me and you struggle to imagine Jesus going to his local gun store to buy a handgun for self-defense in case someone broke into his house. Then again, maybe you see Jesus with AR-15 in each hand. That’s your call.

I don’t think the rather snarky point that mass shootings only happen in gun-free zones is either honest nor is helping. The mass shooting at Fort Hood near Killeen, Texas in 2009 took the lives of 13 people and injured more than 30 others. This was no gun-free zone. This was in the middle of a fortified military base. Verbal sarcasm thrown into serious discussion isn’t helping.

Aside from guns, we should consider one glaring fact that surprisingly gets little attention. Mass shooters are almost always male. Only 9 of 250 active shooter incidents between 2000 and 2017 involved female shooters, and white men have committed more mass shootings than any other group. [1] To argue from the pro-gun perspective for a moment, if we should get rid of guns, maybe we should get rid of men and boys, or more specifically white men and boys. One could be as absurd as the other, but that ideology isn’t as far out there as you might think.

There is a rather obvious war on masculinity taking place in the world. I’m not talking about men being forced to take responsibility for their actions and own up to their sexism or their harassment. Men who act like less than men should be called out on it, but the war happening seems to be against the idea of masculinity in general, with terms like “toxic” being bandied about.

Young men are facing a famine of masculinity. They are a part of a generation raised by females and they are desperately in need of fathers and father figures. Their aggressiveness has been tampered down out of a need for safety. Their hormones have been suppressed out of a mistaken sense of morality. Their competitiveness has been blunted by a society adverse to naming anyone a winner, for by default someone is a loser. Therefore these fires are not stoked; they are quenched, and the young men have retreated to the basement, where porn and video games take their attention. In that environment, the young man is master of all. He can take out his lust and his aggression in an arena in which no one argues with him; no one puts up a fight. Here, he gets the closest to his masculinity, but he also dies a bit inside, for the passion and fire with which he is meant to encounter the world, has no outlet. If masculinity is only expressed through firepower and control over the innocent, a mass shooting becomes that most horrendous outlet.

I compare some members of this generation of young men to the Gadarene demoniac. He lived in isolation from friends and family, among the tombs where he cut himself and scared society. In the graveyard, you control the narrative; no one talks back. Jesus found the young man and spoke life into him. The encounter brought the man to his senses, and he was clothed, and seated, and in his right mind. When it came time for Jesus to leave, the young man wanted to come along, but in a strange twist to the narrative, Jesus denied him and sent him back to his friends and family. Isolation was what had nearly destroyed the young man before, so heading into the isolation of ministry, even with Jesus in the boat, was the wrong solution now.

What a story for our time! Our young men are naked, and wandering and out of their minds. They need clothed over in robes of righteousness and identity, assured that they are loved, valuable and needed. They need homes where they have responsibility, social interaction and debate and where they learn to formulate thought and deal with real problems. They need to fall down and skin their knee, and get in a fight, and lose a girlfriend. They need these things, with no handholding, so that they learn what it means to survive, and make-up, and move on. They need sound minds, where they are full of passion and purpose and courage. When Paul told Timothy we have not the spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind, he used a unique Greek word for fear, better translated “cowardice.” Timothy, you are no coward, so don’t act like it!

I don’t have an answer, and only a half-baked opinion, as to why the shooters are mostly white. Perhaps it has to do with a growing sense of frustration among some that the balance of authority and power is leaving them behind. Maybe it has to do with affluence in some bizarre way. Or maybe it is simply the percentages coming to bear. I’m not sure of the answer, but I’m pretty frightened at what it might be.

I haven’t accomplished anything with this essay, other than to muse on some stirrings that have danced in my head. I’m upset, like everyone else, that we can’t get to the bottom of this issue, that our children have real reason to be scared to go to school, that active shooter drills need to be performed in those schools, and mostly, that I have a daughter in high school and so it still has to matter to me, personally, especially.

I am also well aware that the world is actually a safer place to live in than it has been in a long time. In fact, violent crime in the United States is down to levels we haven’t seen since 1963, so there is reason to celebrate. Now, we must turn our focus to our campuses so that our kids can have a place where learning, and not survival, is front and center.

In all things we trust God. We pray for his guidance and protection, and while we thank him that our kid, or our nephew is safe, let us pause before we post to social media about how good God is because our kid is fine. Someone else’s kid is not fine. Someone else wonders if God is good. Oh, don’t worry, I agree, God is good. But God is good whether our kids are safe or not. The question is never in regards to God’s goodness or faithfulness. The question is, are we good? We need to wrestle with it, and a generation needs an answer.

Grace to you.

 

[1] Monica Hesse, The Washington Post, August 5, 2019.