Loss, Anger and Sadness



It's been a tough couple of days for the United States. There's been shootings by police officers and a mass shooting of police officers. In three states there has been violence. And that's just the shootings that have been publicized.

Of course, we're only a few weeks removed from the largest mass shooting in U.S. history in Orlando. No matter what else happens, this summer will be remembered for the tragic loss of life and violence.

In the wake of the Orlando shooting — and after the last couple of days — there have been calls for better enforcement of gun laws, new gun laws, and hate crimes legislation. I don't really want to get into the specifics of those laws or make a political statement, so I'll just say you can't legislate morality.

Regardless of what laws are passed or not passed — or how you feel about proposed laws — the problems in this country run deeper. Michael Moore made a documentary in 2002 called "Bowling for Columbine." It's a "documentary" since it's more of an opinion piece. And it's certainly created from a serious political position, made to support that position. But there are some fascinating things in it. One of those is a look at Canada, which has nearly as many guns as the United States but a much lower instance of gun violence. The question never explored fully in the film was why?

Guns are a problem, but a bigger problem — and a problem regardless of laws — is the culture in America. We've become more polarized, less educated, and less open to civil discourse. That's a dangerous combination, and one that's concerned me for some time.

I'm not saying hate is new. One of my favorite movies is "No Country For Old Men." One of the things that always fascinates me is the character of Ed Tom Bell, the local Sheriff who struggles to come to grips with the violent crime in his sphere. He talks glowingly of the good old days when there was peace. An older deputy who served during that time confronts that thinking, saying:

"Whatcha got ain't nothin new. This country's hard on people, you can't stop what's coming, it ain't all waiting on you. That's vanity."

While the proliferation of information is greater, making it seem like crime is up, statistics don't bare that out. I'm not oblivious to that. But hate groups have been on the rise as has a certain type of crime — mass shootings. To me, the two go hand-in-hand.

And reversing that trend begins with Christians. That, too, is nothing new. In 1996, DC Talk released an album called "Jesus Freak." While the title track often gets the most mention, it's other songs on the album that have stuck with me for two decades.

Prior to the track "What if I Stumble," which is about struggling to embody the call we've received from Christ, the track begins with a quote from Brennan Manning. He says, "The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today are Christians who acknowledge Jesus with their lips and then walk out the door and deny him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable."

Later on the album, they have a track called "What Have We Become," which is an indictment of the hate and lack of love in the culture. It's lyrics read:

A preacher shuns his brother
'Cause his bride's a different color
And this is not acceptable
His papa taught him so

It was love that he'd been preaching
But this was overreaching
The boundaries stretchin' further
Than his heart would choose to go

Like an angel with no wings
Like a kingdom with no king

What have we become?
A self indulgent people, what have we become?
Tell me where are the righteous ones?
What have we become?
In a world degenerating, what have we become?

Speak your mind, look out for yourself
The answer to it all is a life of wealth
Grab all you can cause you live just once
You got the right to do whatever you want
Don't worry about others or where you came from
It ain't what you were, it's what you have become

Mom and Dad are fightin'
As Rosie lies there crying
For once again she's overheard
Regrets of their mistake

With Christmas bells a ringing
Little Rosie did leave them grieving
The gift she'd give her family
Would be the pills she'd take

An inconvenient child
She wasn't worth their while

What have we become?
A self indulgent people, what have we become?
Tell me where are the righteous ones?
What have we become?
In a world degenerating, what have we become?

Speak your mind, look out for yourself
The answer to it all is a life of wealth
Grab all you can cause you live just once
You got the right to do whatever you want
Don't worry about others or where you came from
It ain't what you were, it's what you have become

What about love?
What about God?
What about holiness?
What about mercy
Compassion and selflessness?

You know it's true
He is there for me and you
Doesn't matter what you do

What have we become?
A self indulgent people, what have we become?
Tell me where are the righteous ones?
What have we become?
In a world degenerating, what have we become?

I thought of that song as convicting — pushing Christians to live the faith we've been given by Jesus. And that begins by stopping the hate. Twenty years later, it feels like we're further from that than we've ever been. 

Instead, we lean into rhetoric, judgment, and intractable positions. I'm not saying we shouldn't, as Christians, stand up for what we believe in. There is truth in the Bible that is undeniable, and the erosion of that truth among "Christian" leaders is another major challenge. But how do we lead that? With love, or with righteous anger and hate? And what is the fruit born of those strategies.

The shooter in Orlando was a Muslim, fueled by hate mixed with that ideology. When I first heard the shooter's faith background what I felt wasn't sadness, it was relief. That speaks to the current culture in America, including among Christians.

During the winter, we had a mass shooting in my city, Colorado Springs. Many people were wounded or killed, including first responders. It was a lone gunman shooting people in and around Planned Parenthood. The shooter has been found to be crazy, but his hate fueled rants have some misguided ideology in them.

We could have a long debate about the merits of Planned Parenthood, especially among Christians. But what I would hope is not a debate is that acting in violence and hate is not the answer, especially for Christians.

I would hope we could agree, but the state of the world makes me skeptical. We have to do better.

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