thoughts on guns, violence, and getting through

today there were shootings at two universities in the southern united states. two people were killed and four injured. on a campus in kentucky there was a threat of an active shooter. just last week, nine people were killed and nine injured at umpqua community college in roseburg oregon. within the past month i have consulted with a school community close to my heart about credible threats to it’s teachers, administration, and students that resulted in an fbi investigation and arrest. this is all on the heels of having visited ferguson missouri where i came face to face with the real problem of racial and socio-economic inequality in a way that undid me.

since i have written on topics related to the murder of children, how to handle processing violence, my own grappling with children’s gun play, my own experience with homicide, and the depiction of murder in entertainment (part 1 and part 2), i have been flooded with questions this past week relating to the current climate around guns, violence, and more.

to be honest, i am at a loss for words and, mostly, i just cry a lot. i’m not kidding. often, these days, i am sort of undone by the massive hurt that exists in this world. the fact that this deep hurt ends up leading people to intentionally or unintentionally act with the kind of violence that kills and wounds is almost beyond what i can currently sit with with enough rationality to form words into paragraphs that make sense. complicating matters, every possible discussion around the topics of guns or violence is amplified by people’s (strong) opinions, the fact that we are in the lead up to an election year, and world views and values. whether these world views, values, and opinions have been explored, examined, and intentionally chosen is a whole other issue.

even with my current loss for words, i have a few thoughts i would like to share.

thought 1) there is a particular kind of complexity to the grief of a person whose loved one dies as a result of violence. the person who is killed is somehow inextricably linked with a heinous act which creates a horrible reality for those left behind. it is important to place emphasis on the life that was lived more than on the death that was suffered and to do this over and over and over and over again. the media will repeat the death. we must hold out the life.

thought 2) an effective way of speaking out against the violence in this world is to live from a place of compassion and loving kindness toward every person we meet. we cannot change a system of oppression and violence as individuals acting alone. we can, however, begin to make ripples that can build to waves by acting with grace, love, and respect toward self and others. make no mistake, the kind of compassion i am referring to is not a simple smile and nod to those we pass. while that would, of course, be a good start, i am referring to an intentional way of living where we listen more than we speak and where we relate to others more often as our teachers than as our students. it is easy to think that our opinions are the right ones or that our worldview is the most sensical. what is difficult is to adopt a stance of flexible groundedness where our confidence comes from honest, examined, informed, and humble self awareness that doesn’t need to convince others but, rather, can welcome connection to everyone we meet without threat.

thought 3: the best time for a conversation is rarely when we are hot and bothered. when our emotions are high we tend to be reactive and dis-regulated. fight, flight, or freeze mechanisms in our bodies are triggered at these moments and it would be best for us to take some deep breaths, a run around the block (or city), or to remove ourselves from the situation for a while before we respond. i recently broke a tooth while enjoying some finely pureed and very soft lentil dip. come to find out, i hadn’t picked through the lentils carefully enough and had left a rock that my vita mix couldn’t grind. if i only would have paused a bit longer to examine my colander of dried lentils i could have avoided a lot of pain. when we speak out too quickly and passionately, without picking through all that is behind our personal response or position, we can cause undue and unintentional pain to others and put ourselves in the way of all manner of personal discomfort. giving our selves time to process and think and get clear with our selves and work off some of the heat of our initial reactions will almost always make us more effective and empathic communicators.

thought 4: in situations where violence and murder are involved, there is simply nothing simple. very few people enjoy sitting with complex, unsolvable puzzles. our brains and guts yearn to have things clear and understandable. we want a good guy and a bad guy, some black and some white, a wrap up. the reality is, however, that where death and violence is concerned there is simply complexity and pain and un-answerable questions. the night that my sister in law and three nieces were murdered a well meaning pastor came to our home. in his time of prayer with us he asked God to enable us to forgive the murderer (our brother in law). while we have, in time, worked to make peace with this person who has since died, that day was not the time to instruct us in this way. from outside of the situation, it may have seemed clear but i will tell you, from inside, there was only raw pain. the same is true in most situations. as you hold, from where ever you are, the many involved parties in the Light or in your mind or even in your physical presence, always do so lightly and with empathy, knowing that their reality is complex beyond what can be imagined. this goes for all parties from the victim’s families to the leaders who are entrusted with information we may never know and given the responsibility to set policy as a result.

thought 5: we are humans and, as such, mortal. it is important to invest your “breaths and blinks” (stolen lovingly from my daughter’s lexicon of amazing phrases) with both great care and wild abandon. now is the time to love boldly and well, to risk wisely and widely, to invest your self in things that matter and are lovely and worthwhile and fun. it is time to live a rich and thoughtful and complicated and bold life bound closely to the heartbeat of God within you and to inspire this in those you encounter. in so doing we speak out and act up against the power of violence and spread seeds of health, respect, and love.