Violence

The New Normal?

Bullets with crayons. Via TFoxFoto/Shutterstock.

I grew up in the state of Colorado. It’s known for cowboys, mountains, skiing, smoking pot, the Broncos, but also — mass school shootings. Since the recent shooting at Seattle Pacific University my connection to mass murder and school shootings has become all too familiar.

My younger brother is a freshman at Seattle Pacific University where a 26-year-old with a shotgun recently killed one and injured three others in the latest school shooting. My brother is finishing up his first year of school as a music major before moving to Santa Cruz in the summer to work as Christian summer camp counselor. While untouched by the damage to the shooter, another young man on the same dorm floor as him, Paul Lee, was not so fortunate. He was taken to the hospital where he was pronounced dead (three other wounded victims survived). Though the body count was considerably less than recent events at Santa Barbara, its timing mirrors the increasing normality with which such shootings are now taking place. Sadly, a tragedy such as this merely becomes fodder for political bickering and ideological advancement.

My brother and I grew up with guns in the town of Bailey, Colo. Bailey is a strange mixture of rednecks, conservative Christians, new age folks, commuters, hippies, outdoor enthusiasts, and undeniably proud gun owners. My dad was a hunter and kept a rifle beneath his bed, which was made out of Aspen trees he chopped, stripped, and stained himself. Every October he would take a week off work and go into the mountains with some friends to go hunt.

The Resurrection Effect: Guns, God's Sovereignty, and the Last Word

Jesus Cervantes/Shutterstock.com
God responds to our violence with forgiveness in the death and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus Cervantes/Shutterstock.com

It seems like violence will never end. Portland. Seattle. Las Vegas. Isla Vista. Almost every day in Chicago. Not to mention IraqBoko Haram, the conflict in Ukraine, and the continued war in Afghanistan.

The Huffington Post just reported that “If it’s a school week in America, odds are there will be a shooting.” Since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012, the United States has averaged 1.37 school shootings per week.

And our culture is divided on how best to respond. One side declares we need to increase gun regulations. The other side insists we need more guns. The two sides are locked in a bitter political rivalry, using terms like “rights” and “responsibilities” and neither side will budge. One side will win the political battle concerning gun rights, but I fear that no matter who wins the battle it will only perpetuate the war.

I’m feeling despair, and from my Facebook feed, I know many others are feeling the same way. After all, this is so much bigger than guns; it’s about a culture of violence. But please, don’t fall into despair. We have too much work to do.

Seattle Pacific Shooting: Communal Wounds

The clock tower at Seattle Pacific University | Photo by tigerzombie via Flickr.

Not one more” was the sentiment and catchphrase of the community in Isla Vista, the town near Santa Barbara where Elliot Rodger shot and killed six people. Christopher Michaels-Martinez, a 20 year-old man, was among the victims and it was his father, Richard, who has passionately enjoined citizens and politicians to enact gun reform.

But it seems inevitable that, when we talk about gun reform, it will always be too little, too late. Yesterday, a gunman opened fire at Seattle Pacific University, a Christian liberal arts college, killing one person and injuring three others. A student named John Meis was working as a building monitor nearby and took advantage of the pause while the shooter reloaded his gun to pepper spray him. Other students and faculty members joined Meis in restraining the shooter until police arrived. The shooter, a 26 year-old man named Aaron Yberra, was armed with a shotgun, a knife, and extra ammunition. He is now in custody.

Remembering D-Day: Sacrifice, Gratitude, and Lessons Learned

American War Cemetery at Omaha Beach, Normandy.  ilolab / Shutterstock.com
American War Cemetery at Omaha Beach, Normandy. ilolab / Shutterstock.com

On this 70th anniversary of D-Day, I thought of my father, who died several years ago. James Emerson Wallis, Sr. was commissioned in the Navy, graduated from college at the University of Michigan, and was married — all on the same June day in 1945! After a very quick honeymoon, my Dad was sent out almost immediately to the Pacific as the engineering officer on a destroyer minesweeper. I heard most about that day, and the days that followed, while sitting with my father on the benches at the World War II Memorial shortly after it opened in Washington, D.C. I soon realized why there were so many benches there — so old war veterans could sit down for a while, even for hours, to remember and tell their stories to the ones they most love.

For his 80th birthday, our family invited my dad to go anywhere in the world he wanted to go. He said he wanted to go to Oxford, England, to see the where his favorite Christian author C.S. Lewis lived — and then he wanted to go to Normandy, where so many of his high school buddies died on D-Day. He wanted to go to those beaches and to that special place himself to see the memorials to his friends. So we did both. My father got to sit at the desk of C.S. Lewis with a big smile on his face. Then I took my dad and my father-in-law to that very solemn place where American and Allied soldiers paid such a heavy human cost in perhaps the most historically significant military action in history.

Pasta and Peacemaking: Learning Nonviolence from My Kids

Child eating noodles, Chubykin Arkady / Shutterstock.com
Child eating noodles, Chubykin Arkady / Shutterstock.com

So my son comes marching into the kitchen, and says in a demanding tone, "Make me snacks now!" My first reaction is to think that this is simply unacceptable behavior, and that he needs a good talking to. But I also notice that I am quite triggered by this, and that before I do anything, I need to reflect.

So I start boiling water for some pasta (I do have enough sense to know that when he asks for a snack that what his body really needs is some healthy food and not junk). As the water boils it dawns on me why he was so rude. In a word: metabolism.

It's amazing to me how much of our spiritual and emotional problems have clear biological and physical causes. The reason he was so demanding is that his body was hungry, and so his brain went into alarm mode:

I need food NOW .

The problem is not that he is a rude kid, it's that his metabolism was flooding his brain. If I had scolded him this would have had the effect of riling up his brain even more, which was already in freakout mode (I'll leave it to a neurobiologist to explain this with big $10 words like amygdala and cerebral cortex, but the basic science here is quite solid).

Report: Internet Hate Speech Can Lead to Acts of Violence

The word “hate” formed with computer keyboard keys. Photo courtesy Jaromir Urbanek via Shutterstock

Anti-Muslim hate speech on the Internet is commonplace and can motivate some people to commit acts of violence against Muslims, according to a report released Tuesday by Muslim Advocates, a legal and advocacy group in San Francisco.

“When you have threatening comments online and they go unchecked, people start thinking it’s acceptable,” said Madihha Ahussain, an attorney and the report’s lead author. “And it doesn’t take long to figure out that what becomes acceptable online becomes acceptable in the real world.”

The report contains examples of hate speech and how it can lead to violence, as well as how victims of online hate speech can report it and counter it. The report aims to help educate parents, students, youth, community leaders, Internet companies, and policymakers on how to counter online hate speech.

What Do Our Beliefs Say About Us?

Victor Tongdee/Shutterstock.com
Victor Tongdee/Shutterstock.com

Like many people, I was troubled when I heard about the recent shooting outside of a Jewish community center in Overland Park, Kansas. According to several news accounts, the perpetrator — Frazier Glenn Cross — yelled, “Heil Hitler” at onlookers as he was being carried away in a police car. Cross also has a long history of anti-Semitic behavior and has publically declared a hatred of all Jews.

In addition to being troubled by this act of hatred and violence, I was also troubled by the quick response of CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor, Daniel Burke, who made it a point to emphasize that Frazier was not a Christian but rather allegedly an adherent of Odinism, a “neo-pagan” religion which, according to Burke, “has emerged as one the most vicious strains in the white supremacist movement.”

While the annals of Christian history — ancient and modern — are full of accounts of violence perpetrated in the name of Christianity, my objective here is neither to defend Odinism nor to criticize Christianity. Instead, I want to highlight the socially constructed nature of beliefs and beliefs systems and emphasize how these socially constructed beliefs say far more about us than they do about the “gods” we claim to accept or reject.

Part III: Embodying Life

I felt the ground crumbling from beneath me and so I clung to silence. Still, the sound of death was there. I tried to drown out the haunting screams echoing in my brain with my breath — but the rising and falling of my chest exhausted my efforts. In remembering those suffocated by inhumanity, I felt guilty for breathing in the sweet scent of life. Here, memories of death are inescapable in a country that holds so much beauty.

We stayed in silence together as we drove home — attempting to escape the bloody reminders of death. Home is at the Pallottine mission guesthouse built on the same campus that the Gikondo Massacre took place 20 years ago. On April 10, 1994, three days after the genocide began, the interahamwe savagely murdered 110 Tutsis in a large parish on this campus. As if simply killing wasn’t enough, the militia slowly tortured and mutilated the bodies of all Tutsis present at the church. Somehow, 11 children survived the slaughter and were hidden in another chapel by the parish nuns — I could see this chapel from the balcony of my guest room. But three days later, the interahamwe returned to Gikondo to set the chapel on fire. There were no survivors. This is the place we call “home.” The UNAMIR considered this massacre at Gikondo the first evidence of “genocide,” referring to violent crimes intending to wipe out the existence of a people group. In response to these evident systematic killings, the commander of the U.N. Peacekeepers pleaded with his superiors to allow him to intervene before more died. He said that he only needed 2,500 troops to end the slaughter within weeks to defend the Tutsis. His plan of attack against the interahamwe would stop their violent rampage. Shockingly, the U.N. denied his request and instead, required 90 percent of peacekeeping forces to withdraw from Rwanda. A month later in May, the U.N. Security Council finally voted to send 5,500 peacekeeping troops to Rwanda however, the United States stalled their deployment. Delighted by the world’s lack of response, the interahamwe continued to reign and the bloodbath escalated. One hundred days passed and still, the world did not say a word.

Joshua broke the silence,

Overland Park Shootings: Learning to Love With Breaking Hearts

Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty Image
People gathered to mourn the shooting victims at Kansas church. Tammy Ljungblad/Kansas City Star/ Getty Images

The violence of hatred breaks our hearts. This past weekend in my neighborhood of Overland Park, a shooter killed three people and injured others. My church sits a mile from the sites, and members of my parish know the families of the victims. We are in the process of responding, holding vigils and praying, seeking to comfort one another and make sense of this hateful thing.

I know two ways souls respond to such hate. In one, the heart hardens against the violence, protecting itself. In the other, the heart weeps, leaving itself open to be broken again.

The first way can seem so right. There is a dark logic in giving our hearts permission to loathe the one who could go to so terrible a place, and arm himself to take lives randomly with gunfire. There is a sort of helpless security in burying our hearts away from the reports of such violence. If this gives up some piece of our humanity, at least it keeps our hearts from feeling such pain again.

Yet I have to believe in the other way, leaving my heart open to the world, though it will be broken again and again. In part, this is because I know that claiming permission to hate one man makes way for hating others, and then hating them by groups and by labels, until perhaps one day I wouldn’t care if they lived or died.

Protest and Praise

IT IS FITTING that The Collected Poems of Denise Levertov (New Directions) begins with “Listening to Distant Guns,” written in 1940, when the poet was just 17: “The low pulsation in the east is war.”

The subject of war and its horrors, a constant in Levertov’s poetry and in her life, surfaces for the final time at the very end of this big book with these lines, written in 1997, from the poem “Thinking About Paul Celan”: You / at last could endure / no more. But we / live and live, / blithe in a world / where children kill children.

Denise Levertov (1923-1997), an American poet born in Ilford, England, to a Christian-Jewish father who was a descendant of Rabbi Schneur Zalman, founder of Chabad Hasidism, and a Welsh-Christian mother, herself the descendant of the Christian mystic Angell Jones of Mold, began to see her spiritual sensibility take a more formal religious shape only in her late 50s, when she opened to the liturgical, mystical, and social justice dimensions of Christianity, especially Catholicism, to which she later converted.

Two recent biographies, Dana Greene’s Denise Levertov: A Poet’s Lifeand Donna Krolik Hollenberg’s A Poet’s Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov, explore deeply, albeit with inevitable overlap, the serial passions and enduring poetics of this singular artist.

At age 11, both biographers tell us, Levertov was going door to door peddling The Daily Worker in Ilford. At 12, she sent a batch of her poems to T.S. Eliot, and received back from him an encouraging response.

Poetry was her life’s purest passion. She had many lovers, many headlong, hurtful affairs to compensate for her romantically derailed and failed marriage to writer-activist Mitch Goodman. She also had a troubled relationship with their son, Nikolai, to whom Collected Poems is dedicated.

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