Signs of the times

Last Thursday, our nation experienced the tragic loss of life after another school shooting. Think about that statement for a minute: “…after another school shooting.” School shootings are almost becoming part of the evening news ticker as we watch the weather at night, or as you scroll through your afternoon newsfeed. Oh, just another school shooting.

I spent some time this week reviewing the history of school shootings. It’s a grizzly history lesson and our country has been replaying it since before we were even formally a nation. Do a little research and you’ll see accounts of school massacres dating back to the 1760s. All of them are tragic in their own right, and all of them leave us asking the question, “Why?”

In 1917, the worst school killing  in America took place, when Andrew Kehoe, a previous school board member of the Bath, Michigan consolidated schools, detonated bombs under the schoolhouse, taking the lives of 36 children. For unknown reasons, his second time-bomb never detonated, which would have wiped out the entire school and killed close to 100 children (plus teachers, administrators etc…). After he took his own life with a car bomb, he had killed 38 children, 6 adults and injured at least 58 other people.

Why did Andrew destroy innocent lives? Because he was angry about a recent tax hike, his business was failing and by his failure, the previous fall, to win the office of township clerk.

A university shooting occurred because a student felt ignored by other classmates.

A high school shooting occurred because a 15-year-old child was disciplined for disruptive classroom behavior.

An elementary school shooting occurred because of an argument between a teacher a neighbor of the school.

A junior high school shooting occurred because two gangs were fighting after a sporting event.

And now, a community college shooting occurred because a student was, apparently, lonely, wishing he had a girlfriend and angry toward Christians.

Job loss. Public embarrassment. Revenge. Pride. Conviction. Hatred. It doesn’t matter the reason, the loss cuts the nation to the heart and demands that we do something to stop the outbreak of violence. Lawmakers scream for gun control. Parents re-think their child’s education choices. Kids speculate about their peers. News stations continue to report the terror.

After last week’s chilling events, the gun control debate has risen to new heights. The president claims that America is the only developed nation that has violent outbreaks at her schools (and in public places) while  gun-toting activists show data that contradicts the President’s claims. Facebook feeds are filled with pleas for “common sense” laws (sometimes I find it hard to imagine “common sense” existing in our legal system any more!) next to others whose profile pictures have changed to show holstered weapons, high-powered rifles and spent ammo casings. The sickening loss of life has refueled our emotions as a nation.

Drugs and guns are still entering our schools. Apparently clever campaigns, more education or strongly worded signs aren't deterrents in our world.

Drugs and guns are still entering our schools. Apparently clever campaigns, education and strongly worded signs aren’t deterrents in our world.

While reflecting on the loss of life from last Thursday, I passed by this sign at the entrance to a school one of my children attends. From what I understand, it’s a sign that was likely posted at the school where the shooter took innocent life last week.

Signs will not stop school shootings. Laws will not stop gun violence. Gun control changes will not stop evil people from killing others. Ideologies will not stop the innocent loss of life. Changes in how we deal with mental health issues will not prevent the next shooting. So where do we go for help?

I am a line of defense to protect life, and so are you. No, I’m not a carry/conceal guy — though I’m not opposed to those who do — and I have no intentions of shooting bad guys, or standing guard at my child’s school. I’m thankful for those who do put their lives on the line, and know that even last week, there would be more deaths if not for the heroic efforts of a couple of classmates and several police officers. “Neutralizing” the threat doesn’t solve the core problem, however.

Roseburg. Newtown. Virginia Tech. Columbine. Springfield. Bath. They all have one thing in a common: a shooter (or two) who had yet to experience the life-changing hope of the Gospel of Christ. In many cases, the shooter was lonely, unloved and on the outside of society. They were usually — not always — outcasts in their community or school, and their private journals and online messages reveal people who had been deeply hurt and were angry. In each case, evil filled their hearts and their thoughts were violent and vitriolic.

They were, by human standards, hopeless.

Isn’t that the type of person Jesus came to set free? Isn’t that precisely the promise of the Gospel, that people can be loosed from the chords of evil that bind them?

I was reading in Matthew last week when I came across this familiar verse: “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds, and praise your Father in heaven” (5:16). I truly believe one of the best lines of defense we have to stem the tide of another school shooting is the active participation of Christians doing good — genuinely serving and meeting the needs of others — in such a way that it reflects their full commitment to God. Not just social do-gooders, but Christians stepping out in faith to show God’s love through tangible means that supports the verbal message of the Gospel. It’s not enough to speak it without action (James 3), and God forbid if we serve without offering the message of hope.

Don’t hear me oversimplifying the solution to this complex problem. What I am suggesting, however, is that Andrew Kehoe, Eric Harris, Seung-Hui Cho and even Christopher Harper-Mercer may be names the world didn’t know, if they had been confronted by the good deeds of others, who had reflected the love of Christ for hurting, angry, lonely and wounded people.

I suspect the gun-control debate will be raging for years to come. I am certain more violence will erupt in our schools in future days. The news ticker will tell of another school shooting and the loss of life that comes with it. But maybe, just maybe, it will happen less because one Christian will choose the Overboard Life of courage, and sit with a lonely student at lunch, or engage an angry co-worker in the office. Maybe the act of one believer doing good, in order to promote the life-changing message of the Gospel, will mean one less shooting, one less news report on the loss of innocent lives and one less person the world will know only in infamy. Will that one Christian be you? Will it be me?

Believe me, I’m all for making our schools and country safe. Let’s pass (and enforce!) laws that truly protect citizens and give them the right to protect themselves and those they love. But those changes will never address the real issue, an issue that can only be met in Christ.

It’s risky and it’s hard, but doing good to promote the Gospel is the best hope we have to address the hurt, anger and violence that keeps rocking our world.

Go ahead and take the plunge, life is always better on the water.

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One Response to Signs of the times

  1. Gene the broken racquetball machine. says:

    A good read. Nice work, Joe. Keep writing.

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