What America needs following the Florida shooting is an authentic and deep Lenton season. We are instead witnessing the usual back-and-forth diatribes about whether our response to the shootings of innocent children and adults should be action or mourning. Obviously, it needs to be both but not in a way usually thought of.
America has gone through significant changes in my lifetime, many of which are incredibly good. Some, not so much.
When I was a child I could get on my 10 speed bike and roam all over the city of Boise Idaho and not give a second thought to anything other than traffic. My parents were secure in the knowledge that there would be no one who would seek to hurt me.
It needs to be said, however, that my parents also would not have been concerned with the significant differences in schools attended by African-Americans and white kids; both safe, just separate and unequal.
While I would not want to go back to the safety I felt in the 1950s if it were at the cost of social progress—still very much needed—I also should not be blind to the subtle and significant attacks upon the American family and the value of each human.
There is a link between the U.S. Senate's recent and fairly close vote margin refusing to recognize and protect the life of the unborn (when viable up until seconds before birth) and what happened in the troubled heart of the young man carrying an AR 15 rifle. As a Christian I believe life is sacred from conception. I recognize, however, there is legitimate debate up to a point; that being when a mother feels the kick of the child within the womb and draws her partners hand in excitement and says "feel the baby". She never says "feel the fetus."1 What the Senate did was affirm choice over the value of human life.
It is the second amendment of the Constitution that is used by conservatives and some liberals to refuse to embrace reasonable laws limiting access to guns for children or those identified as mentally unstable or limit the automation of weaponry. Again, choice trumps (no pun intended) human life.
Our culture is pervaded by pornography and it's insidious grip on mostly men across this culture. Unlike heroin or crack there is no need of veins to increase the endorphins as the eyes give immediate access to 1,000,000,000 explosions within the mind. What is at the core of this cultural addiction is the devaluing of human life, objectifying women. We as a culture choose the First Amendment rather than protect ourselves from this insidious disease within millions.
The same is true for games of violence where victims are indiscriminately raped and killed only to rise again in the next game. Not so in Florida.
Each of these freedoms intended to protect the dignity of each and every human, also serve as a gateway to that which is the worst in us and between us. So, herein lies the real tension; the same freedom which ushers in social progress in matters of race and immigration and education also exposes us to the risk of what it is to be human.
John Adam, our country's second President, tells us that a free society can only exist so long as those who govern themselves, 'govern themselves'; that is, live lives of integrity.
In this age where experience is everything that is, all life being an emergent process of atoms (and their sub-atomic particles) enveloped in ever more complex relations, random association, like random sex is ultimately meaningless. If that be true, then Nikolas Cruz's resolution may seem to him as rational as the rush he felt in his last video game or target practice. Who is to say?
Therein lies the deceptive intrigue of humanity lost to purpose beyond the random needs of the self or the mob. Being human demands more than choice driven by rights; for while we are made of the dust of the stars from which creative evolution forms us, we become more than the sum of our communal experience. We become daughters and sons of the Living God, who before time dreamed of the possibilities of love.
It is The Trinity of God, Three Persons so united in love as to be One in essence, that calls us into being, that defines humanism. It is this fundamental world view that, more than any single mental health or gun control legislation, would challenge the attraction of random violence; because it is the randomness that de-humanizes.
The response2 of the young women and men whose lives were spared on February 14 at the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and who are now calling others to join in a march on Washington DC represents what is most hopeful, though naive. It is a God thing to create from within the hopelessness of violence a world free of such threats. To that end a political awakening which addresses access to semi-automatic weapons and redresses a culture that defunded and turned away from those who are vulnerable in terms of mental health is hopeful. It will be short-lived however, if there is not within our culture a Renaissance of valuing human life from within the womb until our final breath!
In this season of Lent we reflect upon and walk in the steps of the Creator of the universe, who in becoming human faced the power of empire, choosing to identify with the most vulnerable among us; including the wounded spaces within each of our souls that so easily absorbs lust or fear or shame instead of love. That is why the crushing power of Romes might—the cross upon which Jesus died—remains the only sign of comfort inside such tragedies.
It is the hope that John the Apostle sees in the Apocalypse of Revelation, chapters 5 and 6. Before him is a scroll containing the plans of the Creator for restoration of the earth, for the coming shalom of God. John weeps because there was no one on earth who is worthy to break the seals that bind the scroll, preventing God's will being done on earth as it is in heaven. In chapter 6 John reveals the reason; All Creation represented by the four living creatures welcomes the Prince riding the White horse, Rome, Who promises 'peace (Shalom) through strength' but delivers war, economies where the poor cannot afford basic goods and disease, sickness and death.3
John hears a voice from heaven that he should not weep because the root of David, the Lion, is worthy. But when John looks he does not see the Lion of David, which emerges from within the violence of the sword. Instead he sees the "a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders" (Revelation 5:6).
The cross of Jesus is God surrendering love to power. Sacrificial love is the only resolution for a country such as ours; the latest and generally benevolent empire of the world. We in the church, especially in this season, are reminded that creating schools and communities of safety, where humans thrive, is the gift of deep sacrifice, not political power. It has more to do with humans thriving than safety. If we are seeing among the survivors of this horrific act the beginnings of a renewal movement, it will be because this generation does more than march. It will be because this generation extends the Lamb of God into the human community.
1Note: This illustration and the larger narrative point is significantly drawn from an excellent editorial in the Wall Street Journal by Peggy Noonan, dated 02/15/18 and titled: "The Parkland Massacre and the Air We Breath". You can read her perspective at: https://www.google.com/amp/s/www.wsj.com/amp/articles/the-parkland-massacre-and-the-air-we-breathe-1518739880
2Note: The following video highlights the action students from Marjory Stoneman Douglass High are taking, asking America to take steps toward a safer future. http://video.foxnews.com/v/5736746461001/?
3Note: The exegesis of Revelation four, five, six is reflected in multiple sermons given by the pastoral staff of our church. Starting this coming Sunday, you can hear/see at: West Seattle Nazarene Media