A child died today. He shot himself after a failed attempt to confront a teacher. He shot two other students before turning the gun on himself. And then, a nation was filled with the clamor of blame.
- “It was the guns.”
- “It was the NRA.”
- “It was the parents, not raising him right.”
- “It was the schools. No discipline. Where’s the prayer?”
- “It was Obama. It’s a Blue State.”
- “It was society and video games and violent movies.”
I have to force myself to stop scrolling after the news stories because the comments sections will be filled with nonsense and trolling. At this writing, the incident is less than 12 hours since the event occurred. And yet, some know all they need to know.Can’t they understand that this was a child. He was a child: A child of God and a person of worth. Call me what you want to call me, but I’m starting there.
Ask a Question
One area that very few people are touting at this early stage is the simple question: “What was the state of his emotional and mental health?” We have to admit that we may never know. And even if there are documented assessments or even treatments, the difficulty of accurately assessing the mind of a teen-ager, already teeming with angst and stress and hormone-induced emotions, is beyond most non-professionals.
Where did the gun come from? What sparked his anger? Did anyone have an idea that he needed help?
Ask Another Question
When we ask questions, we admit that we don’t know all the answers. When we admit that we don’t know all the answers, we are in a prime position to discover the truth. Instead, we whip out our talking points and start calling the talk radio programs, posting on Facebook and Twitter, and adding to the echo chamber of nonsense. And that only serves to choke out the conversation and the process of discovery.
I’m not talking about detective work. I’m talking about a more complete understanding of the challenging issues we are facing when we talk about gun violence in schools.
When we ask the first question, we see the answer to the surface issues. But when we ask “why” one more time, we start to see the behavioral issues. Ask “why” again, and you might find yourself dealing with a system of behavior, something that resembles a pattern. Ask “why” yet again, and you can begin to probe the cultural state of being and really start getting to the bottom of things.
Throwing a punch or firing a weapon is an event. You can stop the fight, but you’ve only stopped one fight. You can stop the shooter, but you’ve only stopped one shooter. Find out why this even happened, and you can start to see the pattern, the system of behavior. Hitting someone every few weeks is a pattern. Reading about a school shooting in USAmerica has become a pattern. What is this system of behavior? Why are guns being seen as solutions?
The problem takes on a cultural aspect when we discover that the one doing the punching is part of a group that thinks hitting someone is cool. It becomes cultural when we find out that the violence is part of a vast group of teens suffering from undiagnosed mental illness. Why are they undiagnosed? Why is the group growing? Are we ignoring a problem? Are we actively contributing to the stressors that are making things worse?
Jesus turned away a crowd of men ready to stone a woman for adultery. He turned them away by making them acknowledge their own complicity in the sin of the woman (whose co-sinner was not mentioned in the passage).
Before we cast stones of aspersion at bad parents, bad politics, or bad companies, we should ask as many questions as we can. And we mustn’t stop with the questions that are hard for the talking heads to ask. We have to ask the questions that are hard for us to ask ourselves.
The Toughest Question of All
Once we’ve addressed as many questions as we can think of and listed all the answers — including the litany of “We don’t know,” and “We may never know,” — then we have to ask one more: “What does this change for me?”
If we find that we are complicit in the culture of violence or the culture of apathy and ignorance towards mental health or any other contributing culture, are we willing to make changes in our decisions?
Am I willing to stop watching movies with gun violence? Am I willing to stop playing video games that contain gun violence? Am I willing to stop ignoring the teens in my community and start helping them to grapple with the issues that they are facing? What are the cultural keys that we find in our very own hands?
So keep your theories to yourself. They may be needed later. But not now. Until we get to the bottom of these questions, we won’t have any answers at all.
And these things must be done before we start to blame.
Author: Joey Reed
Joey is married to his best friend. Together, they have two children and live in Jackson, Tennessee. Joey serves Grace United Methodist Church, the Jackson District, the Memphis Annual Conference, and the world is his parish.