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  • Writer's pictureDub

Repeating Avoidable Tragedy

*Note - I originally posted this on May 27, 2022. Today is October 13, 2023. After a barbaric surprise attack by Hamas on Israeli civilians, war is raging again resulting in many casualties on both sides. The observations I made in 2022 still ring true to me, although as time goes by the cost of these tragedies to our common humanity mounts ever higher.

war memorial
National WWI Museum & Memorial

A few weeks ago, Pam and I were in Kansas City at the National WWI Memorial. I couldn’t help but compare the events that led to “The War to End All Wars” as H.G. Wells once called it, to the invasion of Ukraine by Russia. As it turned out, not even global devastation resulting in the deaths or wounding of 40 million people would end all wars. It wasn’t long until WWII ignited in the same region leaving behind 56 million dead or wounded and even broader destruction. Some of the same conditions for global conflict are in place right now in the same region where the previous World Wars jumped off. I told my wife the day we visited the memorial that I can’t believe we are just one calamitous decision away from World War Three. Why does this keep happening? For answers, perhaps it is helpful to start by looking closer to home.


Buffalo, NY

Upon our return news broke of the mass shooting and murder of 10 shoppers at a supermarket in Buffalo, NY. We soon learned the perpetrator was an 18-year-old that livestreamed the whole thing and made statements leaving no doubt it was a racially motivated hate crime. The perpetrator surrendered and was arrested. My mind went immediately to the mass murders at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC. The circumstances are eerily similar.


The Church

Last weekend, the Southern Baptist Convention released a commissioned report of a third-party investigation into sexual abuse. For almost 20 years survivors of abuse and concerned Southern Baptists have been contacting the Southern Baptist Convention’s administrative office to report alleged child molesters and accused abusers who were in the pulpit or employed as church staff members. The investigation determined that sex abuse survivors and people that reported were often ignored, minimized, and “even vilified” by top clergy in the nation’s largest Protestant denomination. The information was quietly collected and entered on an offender spreadsheet that was kept locked away. My mind went immediately to the Catholic Church sexual abuse scandal. Once again there are hundreds if not thousands of victims, to say nothing of the collateral damage to their families, the churches, and the larger community.


That same day the pastor of a non-denominational charismatic church stood in the pulpit to confess his past sin of adultery to the congregation. They applauded his courage until his self-serving “confession” when off the rails as the victim stood up and informed everyone that she was only 16 at the time he took her virginity in his office at the church building. That’s not adultery, that’s statutory rape. The abuse continued for 9 years. Sick.

what is church? book
Read My Book For More On The Church

School Shootings

Now, I wish I could write “finally” but I have no confidence in that, we have another mass murder of 19 children and 2 adults in an elementary school in Uvalde, TX. This terror was perpetrated by another 18-year old with as yet unknown motives. Ten years ago at Sandy Hook Elementary 20 children and 6 adults were gunned down in similar fashion. There have been 14 mass school shootings (4+ killed or injured) since the 1999 massacre at Columbine High School and 240 school shootings total. 169 mostly children are dead in mass shootings. There are more shootings that killed less than 4. Who knows how many families and lives have been ruined?


Last night the TV was on during a news program with the sound turned down. I glanced up from what I was reading and there was a collage of pictures of the Uvalde Robb Elementary School victims. Then the screen went to close ups of each precious child and adult. I watched transfixed as unbidden tears ran down my face in the silence. I realized I’m broken, overwhelmed. It’s just too much.


Overwhelmed

Like many people my feelings, emotions, and thoughts are all over the place. One minute I’m crying, the next I’m angry and focused, then sad, then outraged, then feeling helpless, then numb, unable to process anymore. I want to do something, anything, to fix it and make this stop. Like so many others, I’m frustrated because I know it is not within my power or ability to end the ongoing cycle of tragedy.


A parent called me after the school shooting and asked me, if I was still pastoring what would I tell parents? The first thing out of my mouth was that I’d encourage parents to homeschool their children, or at least ask God for guidance and do whatever it takes to keep your kids safe. This is from a former lifelong proponent of public schools. I am aware that my Black brothers and sisters do not feel safe going out at all due to ongoing violence. How do they keep themselves and their children safe anywhere? Victims of sexual abuse in the church wonder who will keep them and their children safe? Do we all do home church?


There is a lot of understandable grief, anger, casting of blame, and searching for answers right now. There are a lot of ideas being floated. Grief and compassion for the victims are certainly in play, while the screams of impotent rage and political partisanship grow ever louder. Doesn’t this actually hinder the process of finding solutions? Are there solutions? What can be done?


Avoiding The Avoidable

Believers like me are endlessly told our thoughts and prayers are worthless. I get it. Thoughts and prayers alone are not effective at stopping the next motivated, dead-behind-the-eyes murderer or terrorist from walking into a public space, be it a shopping center, concert, church, or school armed with body armor, a weapon or weapons of mass destruction, and killing everyone in their path. It’s also obvious that believers cannot always effectively identify and stop predators in our own communities of faith.


There is a lot of truth to the saying that the only real solution lies in the hearts of people. As a Christian that’s where I put most of my focus and energy. When someone meets Jesus and their heart, their thoughts, their life and actions are transformed from evil to good, from violence to peace, then real change occurs. I’ve seen it happen and you probably have too. Some of the worst potential threats to society have been transformed into people that have served up some of the greatest good. I believe God can and does do that. But I’ve lived long enough to know that it doesn’t always happen. Every life has value but not every person values life.


What do we do about the outliers, the perpetrators of these heinous crimes? How do we stop them before they are able to act out their dark impulses? There are steps that can be taken by us as individuals, by us as communities, by us through our elected officials, and by the authorities that are supposed to answer to us. Notice the common word in all of those phrases is “us.” We have to work together to stop repeating avoidable tragedies. We can’t stop them all, but perhaps we can actually turn the tide and reverse the curse.


Mental Health

As an individual I have friends that are mentally unstable and sometimes potentially dangerous. When one of them told me he had a plan to make his car into a bomb, park it in front of a Children’s Hospital, and detonate I called a friend in the police department, got to the right authority, and reported it. My mentally unstable friend got the help he needed and a potential tragedy was averted.


That’s not always the case for people with severe mental illness. The mental health system in our country is fatally flawed and broken. It’s up to us to urgently work together and bring the parties together necessary to rapidly build a new, humane, comprehensive, safe, and effective mental health system. I’m committed to trying to make that happen. Can we work together?


Weapons


guns are tools
My Childhood

My family is rooted in rural soil. Guns are a tool to me. We hunted for food and used them for protection from predators. I am certainly not anti-gun. But clearly there are a few sick and evil people with access to guns and other weapons that should not have them. Can we work together to find a common path that keeps guns and weapons of mass destruction away from those individuals and hinder easy access to those who are inclined to commit mass murder? From my experience and that of our nation we need to include bomb making materials and other potential weapons of mass destruction. I’ll commit to working on that. Can we work together?


Hatred & Racism

Hate, racism, and violence toward “the other” is preventable. Even when deeply embedded in a culture or individual it is often reversible. Overturning these sinful, learned behaviors and reactions requires building honest, positive relationships forged by the intentional, sacrificial expense of our time and energy. When we are aware of these attitudes in an individual, we have the opportunity to do something tangible to overcome it. I’ve spent a lifetime building successful relationships in that pursuit. Are you interested in putting in the effort?


Wars & Rumors of Wars

As for the guy or guys with their fingers on the nuclear trigger that may be ready to start WWIII, I hope you’ll understand if each one of them and the fate of the entire world are in my thoughts and prayers.


nuclear explosion
Photo from Express.co.uk


Committed to Change

Those are my commitments. What are yours? People often ask me, “What is my purpose? What am I here to accomplish with my life?” I find the answer is generally found when you learn what moves you. What injustice done to others bothers you that you wish someone would do something about? I believe the main reason that we continue to experience these seemingly avoidable, repeating tragedies is that we’re looking for the answer outside of ourselves, our relationships, and our communities. We’re waiting for someone else to fix it. That clearly isn’t working. Let’s try something different. Let’s work together.


I’d love to hear your ideas, comments, and feedback. My faith in Jesus keeps me from despair. If you’d like to know more about that I’m happy to help you find and get to know Him.


As always, thanks for reading.

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