Lamentation of a Parent, Grandparent, and Teacher

Saturday, December 15, 2012


I took this picture during a school lockdown in 1994.  In Colombia, unidentified soldiers had stepped out of the jungle within a mile of the school, so we locked down until we could be sure for whom those soldiers fought.  My junior high students sat for two hours before the all-clear, joking nervously and missing lunch.  But we were in a war zone, where one understands, at least intellectually, that violence is a possibility.
 In California, I once locked down with 4th graders while a funnel cloud passed us by.  Before terrified ten-year-olds, the teacher must be strong, even casual about the situation, and compartmentalized.  But now, even during our school’s annual lockdown drill, I have to stop and consciously gain control over the catch in my voice.

So it is good that I first saw news of the Sandy Hook shooting while I was alone in my classroom during lunch.  As a teacher, a parent, a grandparent, I cried.  Then I compartmentalized, taught my afternoon classes, and went home to let my four and six-year old grandsons present me with an early-birthday batch of raisin cookies.  Today, I will celebrate that 63rd birthday with a museum trip, and intellectualize.

The violence is common enough—even in elementary schools and movie theaters—that we have rituals for dealing with it. 

One group of us divides into Pro-Gun and Anti-Gun factions.  That is a debate we ought to have, though probably less driven by the most immediate atrocity.  Prudence and self-defense may require that some citizens keep guns, but from scripture I draw the principle that trust in weapons is misplaced (Isaiah 31:1 and 2:7), and the glorification of weapons is idolatry.   I waver over where to draw the legal lines on guns, but as a nation we trust and glorify them, and there the lines should be at zero.

Another group points to lack of mental health, to the breakdown of the family, to a culture of violent video games, and to hopeless poverty.  Yes, yes, yes, and yes.  Every year I see students who are in need of better help than the schools are equipped to handle.  I see boys, especially, trying to understand manhood when they have no fathers with whom to relate.  This very week, I had several boys excited to show me videos that glorified lone attackers who vanquished large armies.  And I just heard the verdict on a shooting a few years ago in the park around the corner from where I live.  A lone gunman sprayed bullets into a pick-up soccer game, wounding one player.  Charged with 10 counts of attempted murder, he received 500-years-to-life.  The shooter was 16.  Fatherless.  Without a DREAM Act, he was also a boy without a country, no hope of ever belonging anywhere.  Except to a street gang.

Yet, curiously, the shooters in mass killings like that at Sandy Hook or in Aurora have mostly been white, middle class, and American born; as have been their victims.  The other kind of shootings, kids killed one or two at a time as some gang initiate tries to prove his mettle, probably claim more victims in total, but make fewer headlines.  The spontaneous monument in the photograph below sprang up after three boys were attacked in a yard across the street from where I pick up kids for Sunday school.  One seventeen-year-old died.  He had been a friend of the kids I pick up.  The young shooter, who received a life sentence, was a recent alumni of the school where I teach.  Easy guns.  Video games that glorify the lone shooter.  Hopelessness and lack of belonging.  Spiritual deadness.  Isolated, these do not create shooters.  Together, they will.

But to cope with this, we compartmentalize.  We intellectualize.  We blame-shift.  We look the other way that our drones are killing children in Afghanistan and Pakistan.  We try and hide the fact that, each year, a million American children are denied even a day of birth.  We flee from the knowledge that the stores we frequent support firetrap-sweatshops in Asia or Latin America, and that the chocolate we eat was harvested by child slaves in Africa.  We have met the evil, and it is us.

Psychically we cannot carry these burdens, individually, or as a people.  It is too heavy.  We try to imagine ourselves standing in the way of all this, correcting it, or even absolving ourselves of our complicity in any of this, and we can’t.  It is too overwhelming. 

But it is not too heavy for God.

And God hears our cries.

I am driven this morning to read Daniel 9:4-19, and to use his prayer as my model.

4 I prayed to the Lord my God and confessed and said, “Alas, O Lord, the great and awesome God, who keeps His covenant and lovingkindness for those who love Him and keep His commandments, 5 we have sinned, committed iniquity, acted wickedly and rebelled, even turning aside from Your commandments and ordinances. 6 Moreover, we have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes, our fathers and all the people of the land.

7 “Righteousness belongs to You, O Lord, but to us open shame, as it is this day—to the men of Judah, the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, those who are nearby and those who are far away in all the countries to which You have driven them, because of their unfaithful deeds which they have committed against You. 8 Open shame belongs to us, O Lord, to our kings, our princes and our fathers, because we have sinned against You. 9 To the Lord our God belong compassion and forgiveness, for we have rebelled against Him; 10 nor have we obeyed the voice of the Lord our God, to walk in His teachings which He set before us through His servants the prophets. 11 Indeed all Israel has transgressed Your law and turned aside, not obeying Your voice; so the curse has been poured out on us, along with the oath which is written in the law of Moses the servant of God, for we have sinned against Him. 12 Thus He has confirmed His words which He had spoken against us and against our rulers who ruled us, to bring on us great calamity; for under the whole heaven there has not been done anything like what was done to Jerusalem. 13 As it is written in the law of Moses, all this calamity has come on us; yet we have not sought the favor of the Lord our God by turning from our iniquity and giving attention to Your truth. 14 Therefore the Lord has kept the calamity in store and brought it on us; for the Lord our God is righteous with respect to all His deeds which He has done, but we have not obeyed His voice.

15 “And now, O Lord our God, who have brought Your people out of the land of Egypt with a mighty hand and have made a name for Yourself, as it is this day—we have sinned, we have been wicked. 16 O Lord, in accordance with all Your righteous acts, let now Your anger and Your wrath turn away from Your city Jerusalem, Your holy mountain; for because of our sins and the iniquities of our fathers, Jerusalem and Your people have become a reproach to all those around us. 17 So now, our God, listen to the prayer of Your servant and to his supplications, and for Your sake, O Lord, let Your face shine on Your desolate sanctuary. 18 O my God, incline Your ear and hear! Open Your eyes and see our desolations and the city which is called by Your name; for we are not presenting our supplications before You on account of any merits of our own, but on account of Your great compassion. 19 O Lord, hear! O Lord, forgive! O Lord, listen and take action! For Your own sake, O my God, do not delay, because Your city and Your people are called by Your name.”

3 comments:

Thank you, Brian, for a well thought out and Biblical reaction and response. You captured my feelings. I wish this country could and would have meaningful conversations on evil, parenting, guns, and mental illness. But I'm often overcome with the thought we are too far past the point of discussing.

Steve said...
December 16, 2012 at 7:11 AM  

Steve, I can't believe God put us here to surrender. We may not win as often as we'd like, and we need to be wise in picking our battles, but our assignment is to keep plugging away. Think how dismal things must have looked when Moses' mother put him in a basket, and she probably never lived to see the outcome of what she did. We take what steps as we know are right, and let God take it from there.

Unknown said...
December 16, 2012 at 2:35 PM  

I think my use of the word "overcome" may have mislead you, Unknown. Frustrated may be a better description of what I feel when I try to have a discussion about a difficult or hot-button issue like the ones I mentioned. Add immigration to that list for our area. I am seeking the closest thing I can to Truth, and along that path I have changed many times and hope to change again. But I have been frustrated with others seeking gain instead of Truth.

An example is my food. I eat meat.I feel if that is my choice, I also need to fully understand what is involved in that choice. So I harvest my own meat. I have raised and slaughtered the animals I eat. To me that is closer to the Truth.

Steve said...
December 17, 2012 at 7:28 AM  

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