This was a perfect storm for a mass shooter: the events of October 24, 2002
Perfect Storm: Lack of connection and relationship
“I don’t have any friends, I don’t have any family,” it read. “I’ve never had a girlfriend. I’ve never had a social life. I’ve been an isolated loner my entire life. This was the perfect storm for a mass shooter.” This was a note written by Orlando Harris, 19, the suspect in the shooting at Central Visual and Performing Arts High School in Saint Louis, in a story published in the Saint Louis Post-Dispatch.
Not surprisingly, the usual chorus of responses are being made in response to this shooting. The same responses that are made in similar shootings. Thoughts and prayers. Ban Guns. I have to say that both of these solutions seem too simplistic.
First, let me say that I believe very much in the power of prayer. I make it a regular part of every day, both personal and public. I am not minimizing the importance of prayer. But all too often it feels (and I am talking about an emotion here) that the expression is simply a way to avoid having to do anything different in the way we live our lives.
Similarly, banning guns does not seem like it would be a solution either. The world is different today than it was when we had an assault weapons ban. First, there are a lot more guns out there. Banning these guns might stop future gun sales, but it does not change the dynamic of way too many guns. And the handgun remains the most used weapons in shootings anyway. And our current political reality is that it is hard to imagine any current legislation could ever pass anyway.
I am suggesting these two immediate reactions may be the search not for a solution, but for an avoidance of responsibility. What I mean is this: The shooter expresses the total lack of connection. No girlfriend. No family. Total isolation. And increasing the connections and strengthening relationships is really hard to do.
Living side by side but not close to others
In so many ways in our society, this is the important problem to face. We live side by side, but often we do not take any time to get to know people right around us. We dismiss the suffering of others by blaming those who suffer. It is a theological expression first used in the book of Job. If bad things happen to someone, their sin must have been the cause.
“The wicked is in torment all his days, and limited years are in store for the ruthless; The sound of terrors is in his ears; when all is prosperous, a spoiler comes upon him.” (Job 15:20-21) The wicked are in torment all days because they are wicked. And yet, as Christians, we know the innocent suffer too. Jesus, the divine Son of God, who became the sinless human, he suffered. The Blessed Virgin Mary suffered.
My thoughts here are not about political positions. On the one hand, I grew up in a hunting culture and I hunted. And I think certain types of guns should be much harder to acquire. But for me, the real issue is what each of us is willing to do to build the types of relationships that help people to feel their connections with each other.
We cast ourselves into tribes
What is it? It is the problem that we are disconnected from each other. We are disconnected physically, emotionally and spiritually. More and more of our conversations do not occur face to face, in real life, but behind a screen. We divide the communities in which we live by race and socio-economic status.
As we consider the situation of the shooter’s family, there is a question of disconnect. The family sought the help of professionals and of law enforcement. But how is it our society provides the kind of help that people really need, both in treating mental illness and in being supported when a family, or spouse tries to do so.
If anyone threatens the way we view the world, we attack them, call them evil, push their position to a ridiculous end that no reasonable person would accept. Everything in our life has become us vs. them. It is my side against your side. And even among religious, too much time is spent attacking politicians and being immersed in the political firestorms of the day, and not enough time preaching the gospel.
Obsessed with politics
This insight has come to me through my own failures. I have found there are times where an obsession with politics was my perfect storm. My expression of support for this or that candidate was to prove that I was so right. But my appeal was not always to the gospel, but often to secular and civic arguments.
And what I forgot was the importance of a connection, of relationships, if any true dialogue would occur. And this is the bigger problem that is in need of fixing. We do not have connection with each other. We do not engage in relationships in a healthy or meaningful way.
We are ok with people living in poverty, not having enough to eat, being without opportunity. We are fine keeping the refugees and migrants where they “belong” and while we say we should not send money to other countries but should help the poor here, even helping American poor proves too much for us to do.
The perfect storm of indifference
If anything, we are in a perfect storm of indifference. Rather than seeking common ground, we demonize each other to become further and further apart. But the symptoms which arise from our growing disconnections are rotting this country from the inside out.
Drug addiction is decimating our rural communities and our urban cities. Complex issues are reduced to pithy slogans. Defund the police. Critical race theory. Stop the steal. My body, my choice. (Oddly enough used by both sides of the political spectrum.) There are, of course, others.
These categories and slogans serve one purpose. To separate the good guys (those who agree with me in everything) from the bad guys (everyone else). Where I live that separation is articulated in the question, “Where did you go to high school?”
What does Jesus expect?
But what is it that Jesus expects from us? Or perhaps more simply, what did Jesus do in his day? Was it not the case that time and again he sought out those on the margins, those who knew that they had little in the way of anything necessary for a fulfilling life?
The heroes of the parables and observations of Jesus are the least likely. The most generous is not the one who is the biggest donor but the one who has the biggest heart. The good Samaritan is a hero because he takes the chance to establish a relationship with the victim. Those who should have known better, the priests and the Levites, were more concerned with ritual purity than human kindness. Tax collectors and sinners hear the call to repentance. The scribes and the Pharisees do not.
The two great commandments are to love God, and to love our neighbor as ourselves. But as we learn in the parable of the Good Samaritan, the real rub is the answer to the question, “And, who is my neighbor?” Even if we keep all of God’s commandments (as the young lawyer in the story had done) it is still not enough if we do not realize that our neighbor is everyone else.
And so, the task is to take a look around us. Who is your neighbor? Who are the ones God is calling you to love? How is it we can increase the connections we have with each other, so that we can know that we are not alone? I may or may not be able to control everything, but I can control those things that can make me, and others realize that we are all in this together. Until we realize this, then indeed it will not be too long until another community, another school, another place, is trying to come to grips with some unbelievable tragedy.