Updated: Jan 18, 2021
File this under “Advice that is more depressing than good”:
“Mass shootings can happen anywhere, at any time. When you’re out in public, before settling into your seat or spot, ask yourself, if there’s an attack, what will I do? At theaters and concerts, consider choosing seats on the aisle and close to the exits. At restaurants, sit with your back to the wall and face the entrance. Before you relax, identify your escape routes and exit points, including turnstiles, doors, scalable fences, and accessible windows. Get out of the kill zone. It’s your best option.” (from Security expert Ed Hinman in WashingtonPost.com)
Okay, then you can relax and have fun, when you’ve taken care to be out of the “kill zone” and you’ve reconnoitered the entire restaurant/bar/train station for doors/exits/turnstiles. Who knew relaxing could be so exhausting?
Welcome to the New Normal, people, where mass shootings are no longer the exceptional event but have become a regular segment in the daily news rotation; where certain people are worth over 100 billion dollars and culture somehow thinks this is something (and someone) to admire (and aspire to); where a President was voted into office who had bragged about grabbing women’s pussies just a few weeks before the election; where a well-respected and well-loved, tenured professor at a graduate school in California was put on administrative leave for reading a passage out of Huck Finn to his class which included the word “nigger”; where there is a dramatic uptick in suicides of children under the age of 12. There is nothing good about any of this. Nothing.
The sorry truth is that we live in a schizophrenic country made up of self-styled moralists on both sides of the political spectrum whose morals just happen to run, point for point, along the lines of their particular party’s platform. We’ve politicized morality and adjusted our better instincts to keep us from offending any of our own. We regulate the use of prescription drugs but fight for the deregulation of factories that pollute our air and water. We punish someone who reads a distasteful word from a classic novel but reward someone who is a serial misogynist with the most prestigious job in the world. We demonize abortions because they kill but pass legislation to allow us to carry guns to grade schools. Or, conversely, we allow a 14 year-old girl to get an abortion but disallow a 20 year-old woman from drinking alcohol.
The madness does not end, and I suspect it won’t end any time soon, at least not until it’s run its course. And when that course correction comes, it will be unpleasant, because there will be hell to pay on both sides, and neither side will take responsibility for their contribution to that hell. We are a profoundly confused people who are morally unfit, ethically illiterate, and spiritually vacuous. We are sheep without a shepherd, both unwilling and unable to change ourselves for the better. And so we keep moving the goal posts of culture to reflect, as opposed to challenge, the ways we are denizens of our own iniquity. We celebrate the very things that are tearing our moral fabric apart and denigrate those things that stand a chance of helping us build it back up.
Depressing? Yes. Hopeless? Practically speaking, yes. But as a Christian, this is, for me, where God enters the picture, not as some Cosmic Knight in Shining Armor with a moral battle axe to grind to save us from our enemies, but as the still small voice of reason and tolerance, of hope and love, into a shattered world in order to save us from ourselves. We are the problem, which means that any solutions we invent are necessarily contingent because we are contingent. The doctor cannot heal himself. The emperor has no clothes. Culture is gluttonous, and it is feeding on itself.
The course correction, in other words, has to come from outside ourselves, from a God who is passionately committed to our welfare but equally committed to our essential freedom to choose the paths that lie before us. As retrograde and provincial as this sounds to many, the world needs Jesus to speak into the chaos we have created, as he does in many churches around the world each day, to give us the means to be the agents of change and transformation he intended us to be all along. That was always the plan. But tragically, an equal number of churches have forfeited the message of the gospel by distorting it to their own ends and, as a result, have put the power to change things in the hands of the devil–that is, into their own hands.
Maybe the end-times began right around the time we invented fire, an invention that lit up not only our caves, but a spark in our capacious minds that introduced the idea that maybe–just maybe–we are the gods, the masters of our own destiny. At which point, God became the great Other, to whom we first paid our allegiance, but to whom we would eventually just pay our respects, and then, inevitably, pay off in the form of self-governance and practical industry. And so perhaps we find ourselves in the throes of that final breach, when we will have deliberately and consciously severed our connection to God in order to coronate ourselves.
But where is this Garden from whence we will be expelled (again), as we will invariably be, when that time comes? I have a guess.