We live in a culture of violence. This should not be news to anyone. Lately, this has become apparent to more people based on the shootings in various cities, shootings of police officers and now shootings at vigils for the victims of other shootings.
And we yell “enough!” out of exhaustion. Yes, enough.
Most of the violence that we think of is gun related. That’s what draws the headlines and gets our attention because it’s the most prominent right now. It’s obvious.
We believe something should be done to reduce gun violence. We think we can just pass a law here or there and change the situation. Sometimes I think we believe changing gun violence is something like a product you buy at the store, put together and bam! it’s done. Time to enjoy the fruit of our labor. But violence isn’t a tangible thing. We Americans are really good at dealing with material things. We suck at dealing with the intangibles – the spiritual, the things inside of us that we can’t touch with our hands. We think we can just throw money at problems or pass a law or build a wall or create an agency and the problem will go away. But it doesn’t it because we’re dealing with people and people are messy and irrational and unpredictable.
Did you catch something important in the last paragraph? We are only concerned with reducing gun violence. It’s the popular thing right now. As if it’s the only type of violence that offends us. We do have plenty of other violence around us though. Are we not interested in reducing those too? We have a interest in some of these, but certainly not all.
We have domestic abuse and verbal abuse. We have rape. We have other acts of physical violence. There have been some efforts on this front, but usually this only gets some attention when a professional sports person does this to their significant other.
Violence takes on other forms as well, beyond the physical. We have name calling and labeling of groups and individuals different from ourselves. The labeling can be mild or it can severely belittling or dehumanizing. This is violence against person and what it means to be human.
We have violence associated with race. Yes, we do violence to other human beings based on their skin color. Yes, it’s as stupid as it sounds. Yes, it’s mind-boggling how this even continues.
There are other types of violence too. Some that we willingly accept and some that we even applaud and seek more of.
Our entertainment is rife with violence. We kill zombies and aliens. The good guys, the super heroes, use violence to crush the bad guys and call it justice all the while leaving a trail of destruction. But hey, they got the bad guy!
We of course use violence in the name of defending our nation. Just pick your favorite enemy. We have to, we tell ourselves. We have to kill them first, before they kill us. Why don’t they like us? Good question.
Our sports are pretty violent – American football is one of the most celebrated sports and it has been shown to be very violent. Mixed Martial Arts is one on the rise in popularity. Nothing like beating the snot out of someone else to get people excited huh? Nothing like dividing people into rooting for our team and wanting to crush the other hated team right? It’s just good clean fun after all.
Of course, as our professional sports become more violent, there is a need to make amateur sports and children’s sports rise up to the level of appropriate violence too. Every year you can hear stories of parents who get into fights at their kid’s soccer or baseball games.
We do violence to our bodies by what drugs we ingest, what food we put in and the lack of movement that we choose to do. We do violence by pushing the limits of our body too through the extreme sports that we do as well. We do violence to our bodies when we don’t give them adequate rest and nutrition.
We do violence to the womb by rationalizing away the large number of abortions, or worse, just ignoring it altogether. We do violence to the women and the children and the fathers by fighting over laws that tweak what’s legal or not, forgetting that this isn’t just an issue to fight over – this involves people’s lives and their future, not slogans condemning the other side.
We do violence to our planet by raping it of everything that is available in the name of progress or making a buck. We consume so much ourselves that we feel justified in taking more without asking if we should be better stewards of creation and how we can change what we use.
We do violence to each other as we drive, dropping the F-bomb or giving the finger to someone who cuts us off in traffic or anyone who we think has offended us in some way believing that the world is all about us and where we are going. We forget that everyone else believes the same thing and has a story as well.
We do violence to each other on social media – posting comments that rip another person for something they said or who they are or what they believe. So much easier to post a meme belittling others, rather than join in conversation to learn about someone else, how they came to their conclusion and what we can learn from each other.
We are surrounded by violence. One law won’t change this situation. It might shift how we conduct our violence, but it won’t remove the violence.
If we want to end “gun” violence, then we should look beyond guns. They are only one small piece. Passing a law about guns, and assuming that will change the violence in our society is similar to walking through life with blinders on and thinking that what we see is all there is.
When will we look at the broader picture instead of the easy target? Should we pass gun control laws – I don’t know. I do know that we shouldn’t delude ourselves into thinking that this will solve our violence problem. You can’t legislate away violent tendencies. Especially when violence is reinforced to us as a way to solve our problems in so many areas of life.
There needs to be a change of heart. Change people’s hearts and minds, what they find entertaining, what they do to each other. Change how we interact with others, with other nations, how we drive. Change what we post on social media. Change who we are and these things will change. Change this and it will reduce violence. But changing actions isn’t the answer either.
This change starts with each person. Yes, you reading this. If you want to reduce gun violence then look in the mirror. How are you being violent to someone else? Ouch. That’s a question that hurts – a bit too close to home. “But I’m not a violent person” you say. Go back through the list. Is there anything that you can change about your life? Maybe what you post? Maybe what you say about people who support the other candidate? Maybe about what you are entertained by? Maybe about your reaction to other drivers? Maybe about cheering for the death of our nation’s enemies? Maybe about how you use your body? Maybe about how you speak to someone else?
Violence starts by being violent. Not in action, but in thought, in who we are. The question isn’t what do I have to do. Rather, who am I called to be.
I’m not perfect in any of these. No one is. We Christians claim to have a faith that changes lives. We are called to be different from what we were before. We are called to be a neighbor. We are called to love, even and especially the unlovable. I wonder what it would look like if we took that claim seriously for our ourselves. I wonder how the list above would change for us personally. I wonder how we would interact with other people. I wonder what would happen to violence in our society if even one person changed. And then another. And then another.
Want to reduce or even eliminate gun violence? Stop waiting for someone else to start. Stop waiting for someone else to solve the problem. Stop waiting for someone else.
Start within. Start with yourself. Be the person who lives non-violently. Be the person you are called to be. Be the example. Be the one who lives the claims of faith.