In the face of one of the nation’s worst school shootings, JP Rennquist finds comfort in his faith and urges us to find comprehensive ways of ending gun violence.
My heart aches, it cries out for mercy, it cries out for justice. For me the only real answer is to take comfort in the endless healing, endless mercy and endless justice of the Creator of this world. President Obama and countless others have told us to take comfort in prayer on this tragic day. Even after all of the wreckage is cleared away, the broken, tiny little bodies are laid to rest and their precious blood is wiped away there will never be any real answers to why madness such as this would occur.
I’ve felt something like this before, too often. I felt it upon hearing of the attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, I have felt it upon word of all of the school shootings over the last two decade. I felt it just last week when I got word of the 2-year-old Minneapolis boy who was slain by his 4-year-old brother with a weapon that their loving father kept in the house to protect them. I’ve felt this before so many times, but never as strong as I do today.
In that space between brokenness and healing and justice, between bewilderment and understanding there is a fear, an anger, no—a rage—that rumbles somewhere deep within me. It rumbles deep within millions of us today. One of my favorite fables is Oscar Wilde’s “The Selfish Giant.” In the fable a once beastly and self-centered giant who has had a great change of heart finds a little child that he loves who has been broken and bloodied. “Who hath dared to wound thee,” the giant growls in a rage that I imagine rattling windows and shaking the earth. “Tell me that I may take my great sword and slay him” the giant continues. But the little child tells him that no sword is going to bring justice or comfort.
The boy in that allegorical story is a stand-in for Jesus Christ. The wounds he bore are “The wounds of love” the child tells us. And the boy was only visiting to take the repentant, transformed selfish giant home to paradise not to ask for revenge. It’s a great story with many lessons for today. Today I’m that giant who wants to take a great sword and destroy the evil. I take comfort in my faith, I have to. What else could comfort any of us in the face of a tragedy of this magnitude? I also take wisdom, even when it is a wisdom that I don’t entirely want to believe: Violence isn’t going to solve this world’s problem with violence.
I am lucky to be surrounded by children, hundreds of children, on a daily basis. As soon as I was able to today I left behind the terrible news for a few moments. The news was getting worse and worse the clearer that it got and I’m sure that’s about how this tragedy is going to play out. I took a little break and found a group of precious little children and took comfort in their beauty, their peace and their grace. I stood outside their classroom peering in, the giant with my great sword and nothing to slay.
But just as the boy tells the giant in the story, just as the real, historical, supernatural Jesus told his friend when the soldiers came to take him away: Swords aren’t going to solve this problem. Neither are guns.
In November on the eve of the election I was disgusted and horrified to hear my congressman Chip Cravaack answer a debate question about this summer’s Aurora, Colorado bloodbath by saying that the whole tragedy could’ve been averted if someone in the theater would’ve had a firearm. A firearm powerful enough to blast through body armor is what he meant, I’m sure. Some nightvision goggles and a gas mask to block out the smokescreen that the Aurora killer allegedly deployed would have been handy, too.
The sting of this politically cowardly rhetorical shift was especially personal for me. Only days before his remarks, a shooter had opened fire directly in front of my own house, filling up our yard with police investigators searching for bullet fragments and filling up my, wife, my four children and I with an unsettling fear and insecurity about the safety of our little home in the heart of Duluth. If I had a gun, would it have kept the gunman from pulling the trigger and rattling our world? No. No it would not have.
Cravaack, who is thankfully my one-term congressman having been voted out of office a few days after that gaffe, isn’t the only public figure who made a dodging leap to avoid implicating guns in gun violence. Millions of American people around the world were scratching their heads as former Massachussetts governor Mitt Romney answered a similar debate question about gun violence by blaming single mothers who aren’t able to manage their kids. Responsible fatherhood is one of the great vocations of my life, it’s a pet issue for me and I agree with the governor that it is key to stopping the decline of our society. But I would have rather heard him talk about fatherhood in an authentic way, not using it as a dodge to avoid angering America’s 2nd Amendment extremists. President Obama has really been no better. There have been a hundreds of shootings and “wake up calls” about gun violence since he took office. I see no real action that has come out of Washington to stem the flow of guns, bullets, and the precious human blood that follows them far too often.
Bob Costas felt that withering wrath a few weeks ago when he repeated the words of another commentator, Jason Whitlock: “If Jovan Belcher didn’t possess a gun, he and Kasandra Perkins would both be alive today.” Costas and Whitlock were referring Kansas City Chiefs football Jason player Belcher who killed Kasandra Perkins, his intimate partner, before turning the weapon on himself.
Personally, I think that we definitely need to enforce and tighten our existing gun laws before we look at creating wholly new laws to prevent gun violence. I don’t want to take away anyone’s hunting weapon. I don’t want to take away anyone’s properly stored and secured handgun that they keep in their home. All I want is to tighten control of firearms in America, not to take them all away. But Bob Costas, Chip Cravaack and Mitt Romney and even President Barack Obama could not espouse even relatively moderate beliefs—dare I say common sense beliefs?—without angering the second amendment zealots.
No amount of gun control, no amount of mental health services, no amount of slashing and cutting with our proverbial giant swords is ever going to bring back those precious little ones who were slain today. Gun control, and locks and metal detectors in schools and churches and hospitals will not silence the echo of their screams in our hearts and minds. Gun control isn’t going to bring the Aurora, Colorado victims back to life, it’s not going to heal the wound in the skull of former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords. It’s not. But, America does need to address the issue of access to weapons. We need to properly fund the existing legislation that controls access to weapons. Also, we need to adequately fund mental health services. And we need to de-stigmatize mental health care so that people who need help will have access to effective treatment and they will be less likely to feel ashamed of admitting to their health problems. We need to consider practical, no-nonsense legislation to keep weapons out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them. Because kindergarteners shouldn’t have their little bodies riddled with bullets, either and I’m siding with the kindergarteners on this one no matter what the framers of our constitution said about guns.
And, yes, Mitt Romney, we need more responsible fathers, and strong mothers, and strong families, and unified communities. Me, as a Christian, I believe we need God. We need all of those things. We need to be able to have a real conversation about our problems, and we need to listen to everyone on all sides of the issues and to act on those conversations. Yes, we need action.
And for now, for today, and the weeks and months to come, we need to have hearts, broken hearts wide open and grieving for all that was lost in that schoolroom in Connecticut today. May God have mercy on their blameless little souls, may he comfort their families, and may he help us all to heal our grieving nation.
Image: Andorand / Flickr