Gun Violence

What is the solution to gun violence in the United States?  In the wake of Charleston, there is a renewed debate over the epidemic facing towns and cities across America.  It seems like we hear of an act of violence every couple of months.  It has become so common that we have become numb to it saying to ourselves, “Ok, there is another one.”  In fact, the news is already moving on from it. Reading through various posts, I came across this sketch by Fuller Theological Seminary.

11145901_10153410449297342_8825957912523872620_n

It sounds about right.  Yet, it made me ask the question, how does the cycle stop?  In thinking about it, I believe we have to ask some honest questions.

What really is the source of the problem?

Since Charleston, I have seen the various bumper stickers, “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”  I recently saw one that stated, “Cain killed Abel with a stone.  The problem is with the human heart not with guns.”  Of course, I agree with this.  There is something in our human heart that prompts us to hate, take up violence, and lash out at others.  It is the reason a young man walks into a church and murders nine people.  There is a hate in his heart.  It originates from sin that drives us to destroy.  The answer is submission to Christ – a life that responds with forgiveness not hatred.  The out flowing of redemption was visible in the courtroom last week as family members of the victim offered forgiveness to the perpetrator.

So yes, I agree, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.  However, we also live in a violence-saturated world.  Games are so realistic that it is difficult to differentiate fantasy from reality.  We enjoy (myself included) action packed movies.  No wonder we are de-desensitized to violence.  And yes, there is ready access to guns.  It is not that difficult to buy one regardless of the necessary background checks.  Of course, guns don’t kill people but they certainly make it easier.  It is similar to porn.  Lust is rampant today because it is more accessible.  Did it exist before the internet?  Yes.  Is it worse because of the internet?  Absolutely!  Ease of something compounds the problem.  A gun in the hand of a racist is far more dangerous than one otherwise.

Is it really a political issue?

When a violent event occurs, there are always questions about politics – we need new laws, forums on race, etc.  Yet, violence is never first a political issue; it is always a moral issue.  It involves human dignity.  As a Christian, I believe violence is an assault on the imago deo in each of us.  We are made in the image of God; therefore, we should treat every individual with respect and kindness because we each are created by God.  This truth endows us with worth.  Violence against another person attempts to destroy this worth in another person.  A murder fueled by race is doubly egregious because it attacks an individual’s unique make-up (ethnicity) and the person’s humanity.  There have been attempts to legislate morality.  It can bring some benefit.  However, you can’t enact enough laws to regulate the conscience.   Gun violence is solved in part when there is a reaffirmation of human dignity, not simply individually but as a nation.

Is it really individual choice?

The question that arose over the past week was who purchased the gun?  Was it the father or did he buy it himself?  Does it matter?  Yes, of course.  But, it doesn’t nullify the larger context.  What values are being instilled in the home?  How is a person being modeled when it comes to human dignity?  Were these absent from the case in Charleston?  It is possible that it wasn’t lacking.  No matter how well a parent does in raising their child at times negative results happen.  The truth is that no act of violence happens in a vacuum.  There are numerous influences that shape and prompt a person to commit such an act.  Sometimes the agents are active; sometimes passive.  This morning I was reading a book on spiritual mentoring.  As I think of gun violence, it reminds me of the church’s responsibility to engage in deeper mentoring – parent to child, leader to congregant, church to community.  There needs to be investment at a deep, personal level so that these outcroppings of the sinful heart can be dealt with before they are acted upon.  In this sense, I think we all have a responsibility to resolve the issue, as a parent, as a leader, as a human.

Ed Sheeran and Life Priorities

Ok, what would you do if you spent 26 hours in a car driving to a family reunion?  For us, it challenged our patience as people nearly ran us off the road.   Outside of Indianapolis we saw a man driving what appeared to be an Escort get out of his car and nearly throw fists with a truck driver.  Keep driving I said to myself.  At times, we chatted about life issues.  Road trips are an excellent way to reconnect.  Common questions we ask are “How are you?”  “What is really going on in your heart?”  And yes, we spent a lot of time listening to music.

After listening to numerous songs, my wife commented that “it seems like all songs are about relationships.”  It involves a break-up or longing for someone in your life.  Lately, several songs have been released that affirm commitment in relationships.  So, it is not simply songs about “I hate you because you ditched me.”  Yet, as we listened to more songs it became apparent that yes most songs discuss love or some aspect of it.

The popular song Thinking Out Loud by Ed Sheeran begins,

When your legs don’t work like they used to before

And I can’t sweep you off of your feet

Will your mouth still remember the taste of my love?

Will your eyes still smile from your cheeks?

And, darling, I will be loving you ‘til we’re 70

And, baby, my heart could still fall as hard at 23

And I’m thinking ‘bout how people fall in love in mysterious ways

Maybe just the touch of a hand

Well, me – I fall in love with you every single day

cropped-old-couple.jpg

It is interesting when you think about it.  Music is an emotional exercise.  So, it makes perfect sense that songs would gravitate towards something deeply meaningful, à la love.   It is a universal desire.  Everyone wants to feel safe and secure with another person.  We all want to share life intimately with someone.  It is these very relationships that are meaningful to us.  I have done countless funerals.  I have ministered to hundreds of people near the end of their lives.  Without exception they reflect on relationships with their children, friends, or spouse.  They want pictures displayed at their funeral with those they loved.  They say “I would like people to share testimonies of how I mattered to them.”  At times, they have regrets over broken relationships or mistakes in their life (usually involving relationships).  I have never heard someone say “Show pictures of that new car I bought in 1999.”  Please put pictures of my house on the video display as people walk in to pay their respects.  These tangible things are not important to them.  Why?  Because innately we know it is the relationships that matter.

It is also the reason we don’t hear an abundance of songs on physical stuff.  I can’t remember when I heard a song about someone buying a brand new TV or 5-bedroom home.  [Granted, if your song is on the radio you don’t have to worry about these things.]  But, the point is that there is no emotional connection to physical stuff.  People don’t innately resonate with a longing for nicer possessions.  Deep down in our hearts we know that our priorities should be on relationships.  Therefore, we love to listen to ballads because they cultivate those life longings – those relationships that transcend time and bring us joy.

In our hearts we know what is important.  Yet, how often do we chase the physical stuff that brings no lasting joy.  Why is it that we betray what is in our hearts and erect bigger homes, buy nicer cars, and save up for more stuff?  It doesn’t last.  It doesn’t bring joy.  We know it.  Yet, we keep pursuing them.  When I think of eternal hope, it is this very thing that comes powerfully through in the bible.  Our eternal hope is not found in mansions but in a redeemed community centered on Christ – people who love the Lord.  It is relationships that matter.  It is relationships that transcend this world and its stuff.  And yet tragically we spend so much time on all the other stuff that we know innately is not important.

Chasing

You know there is no magical moment when you are content.  You know there is always going to be some restlessness in life.  You know that the most valuable things in life are not some unrealized goals but the people that surround you each and every day.

These are things I remind myself on a regular basis because of the restless discontent that oftentimes characterizes my mind.  This past week, I preached a sermon on the Beatitudes in Matthew 5.  As an illustration, I came up with a set of American Beatitudes that I think drive us.

Blessed are the talented for they have a bright future.                                                                                       Blessed are the confident for they will be successful.                                                                                 Blessed are the ambitious for they will be promoted.                                                                                           Blessed are those that pursue wealth for they will live in luxury.                                                                   Blessed are those that look after themselves for they will get the prize.                                                     Blessed are the good-looking for people will look up to them.                                                                     Blessed are the strong for they will not fail.                                                                                                     Blessed are those that live comfortable lives for they will be happy.                                                             Blessed are those that are popular for they will be admired.

There are numerous ones that challenge my own heart.  I put a premium on ambition, strength, and comfort.  These are things that oftentimes drive me.  I am sure you have your own areas that compel you in life.  The primary point I shared with my church was that these values should not motivate us but rather the values of Christ:  grace, love, mercy.  It is the latter which provide security and contentment not the former.

As I continue to reflect on this issue, the one word that keeps popping in my mind is “chasing.”  I know that ambition is no guarantee when it comes to future opportunities.  I know that comfort can disappear at any moment.  I know that my strength can give out without notice.  A phone call from my doctor powerfully reminded me of this truth.  Yet, I still chase them.

In this, there is a sense of denial.  I continue to chase the very things that I know provide no foundation.  I am a fairly intelligent person yet I think there is a mirage that I allow to continue floating around in my head.  I know they are not true (any of the American Beatitudes) yet I keep chasing them.  A popular definition of insanity is continuing to do the same thing over and over again but expecting different results.  Based on this definition, I am insane at times (no comment).  But, I don’t think I am alone in this regard.  It is the reason so many people are unhappy.  They keep chasing the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow even though they know it doesn’t exist.  Deep in our hearts, we say to ourselves that we will be the exception.  I will be the one to find joy in wealth.  I will be the one to bottle self-worth from popularity.  The older I get the more I realize it is an illusion.  Now, if I can only stop chasing it.

Yet, maybe it is not simply stopping the pursuit.  I think sometimes we chase it because there is no alternative.  What else is a person to do but try the best they can to get some joy from the only thing that is in front of them – possessions, fame, and health.  I mean we have door #1 and oh yeah door #1.  It is the only thing we see.  Everyone else is chasing this door so I better join the race before I get left behind.  But, what if there is a second door that we have failed to truly pursue?

Yes, I think Christ is that door.  The problem is that we too often are simply peeking in it until we have a chance to go back to door #1. We never really jump into it.  I wonder whether we would ever look back at door #1 if we did.

First World Problems

Honestly, hamburgers can be a tricky business.  My daughter was fixing her cheeseburger on Saturday night.  She had just put all the condiments on when the meat slid right out of the bun on to her plate.  Immediately, she said in jest “that’s a first world problem.”  I couldn’t contain my laughter as it has been a while since I heard this phrase.  This morning I decided to Google the phrase to see the various responses.  Here are a few good ones.

“I’m tired, but I don’t want to walk up the two flights of stairs from my entertainment room to my master bedroom.”

“I left the remote on the other side of the room.”

“My shampoo and conditioner never run out at the same time.”

“I don’t know what shoes to wear with this dress.”

“My hand is too fat to shove into the Pringles container so I am forced to tilt it.”

Ok, they are pretty ridiculous.  However, I think we can honestly say that we have complained about these very situations if not ones that are even sillier.  Thus is the life of most of us born in America.  We are born into relative ease.  Our problems oftentimes revolve around comfort rather than sacrifice – “oh no one of my ear buds isn’t working” (yes, I am personally guilty).  We have such agonizing decisions about what to wear or buy (just too many types of ice-cream).  Oh, we have such a difficult life.

The truth of the matter is that we laugh at these statements yet never truly reflect on them.  We are incredibly blessed in the United States while at the same time complaining the most.  Interesting?  We have everything people could physically want while at the same time complaining that we are inconvenienced or “suffering.”  I do a fair bit of counseling as a pastor.  Oftentimes, there are serious issues related to death, addiction, and relationships.  Yet, there are also cases where the issue could be classified as a first world problem.  Sadly, I am equally guilty of these same complaints.  Oh, how sad of me to lament about such trivialities when a majority of the world, present and throughout history, would love to stand in our shoes.  Famines, human trafficking, brain cancer, bombed out villages – those are legitimate problems.  So, why do we do fall victim to trivial complaints?

Let me offer two reasons.  First, I think we have come to expect a cushy life.  We have grown accustomed to having not only all of our needs provided for but also many of our wants.  As a result, we have redefined blessings around wants rather than needs.  In fact, it is not uncommon for us to define blessings as the really big wants.  Everything else is expected.  We take it for granted.  Clothing is not a blessing; a Macy’s blouse is a blessing.  When blessings become defined as a luxury, it makes perfect sense that we would complain about everything else in life since it is expected.  Maybe we need to redefine blessings back to it being the basic needs in life.

Second, we are a thankless people.  It is becoming increasingly uncommon to hear someone say, “Man, I am so thankful for life.”  There is always something we can find that is wrong.  And this half-empty perspective sours our perspective.  It leads to complaints about small things because we are looking for what is wrong rather than what is good.  We wake up with dread rather than anticipation.  To be honest, it really is about perspective.  Maybe we need to approach each day with a little more optimism while keeping our inconveniences in perspective.

Jesus encouraged us to have such a perspective when we taught us to pray,

‘Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name,
10 your kingdom come,
your will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one.’

It is simple, basic, and grounded.