Tag Archives: guns

Schools are for Learning

The best part of my work week was spending 40 minutes with a principal in my church’s school district. Her school has no church partners and I was there to see if we could be a potential partner for them. She’s been principal for 11 years and is a solid leader.

She told me a ton about her school. They have adopted 1-to-1 technology where every student gets a laptop, chromebook or iPad. She told me about older teachers embracing the training needed to use the new technology in the room. She spoke at length about self-care for teachers as well as the ethos that teachers ought themselves be continual learners. She does a great deal of caring for teachers so they can care for their students. The school is also embracing project-based learning where outside experts come it to teach their expertise in a multi-disciplinary setting. Somehow that included Dutch Brothers coming into mix drinks. They are teaching meditation to students so students can not only learn information, but they can know themselves well (Socrates sheds a happy-tear).

I was in awe of the many hats one person wears. And I am continually floored with the immense responsibility we as a society are placing on schools. The whole Maslow thing makes sense. But the logistical task it presents is overwhelming.

Our time was full but ended abruptly: “Riley’s outside!” Riley looked to be about 6 years old. She was outside without a coat waving a flag used by the crossing guard. The Principal joined 2 other staffers who were trying to corral this cheerfully unruly child. As I was pulling out of the parking lot, they had her somewhat constrained to a corner of the building away from traffic. They were all using great amounts of patience in deescalating the matter.

The Principal also spoke at length about learning to understand the challenges facing children and their parents. Her school is relatively low in the free and reduced lunch, but she thinks there are whole neighborhoods where the parents just don’t return the form. She sees them hungry and feeds them. I asked her about ‘Breakfast-after-the-Bell‘ legislation that recently passed in Washington state. She was very matter-of-fact that she’d been doing that for years. She spoke about teachers frustrated with out-of-control, even violent kids. She would point out to such teachers kids who were like that but had improved dramatically. She and her staff work tirelessly to understand the challenges and provide solutions so that kids can get back to learning. They successfully navigate numerous obstacles and kids with challenging lives actually learn and thrive at this school. This school’s leaders have immense belief in people: both themselves as educators and the kids as learners.

The default setting for gifted educators like this principal is patience, understanding and optimism. Expecting them to be ready at a split second to shoot an intruder armed with semi-automatic weaponry and body armor is to not understand the gifts of educators. It is to demand they put down their best instincts and most gifted attributes to solve a problem the rest of society is not willing to even talk about. By the time this society-wide problem reaches that teacher’s door, so many fail-safes have either been removed or failed altogether. It is gross negligence to expect such a grisly task, especially when no other fail-safes are even considered, when even trying to learn about a problem isn’t allowed or embraced. Placing the solution in the hands of teachers is to a) not understand teachers and b) to not understand the problem.

A Spirituality of Peace in an Age of Violence

The flowers guy was right. And we should start planting flowers every time an act of violence ruins our day. The idea is to resist ugliness by adding beauty.

Honestly, I want as much gun control legislation as you can get. But the counter-arguments are probably somewhat true: bad guys don’t care about laws, etc., etc.

Furthermore, I have limited confidence in legislation. I am aware of human tendency to grow complacent about civilized behavior even when smart, agreed upon laws are on the books. This past spring, I got pulled over for using my phone while driving. It was completely stupid and I knew it immediately. A few years earlier, a girl on our street driving to school was texting and veered head-on into a guy coming home from his late-shift. Two fatalities. And here I was, in my clergy collar, texting (trying to voice-text FWIW) while cruising right past the Portland PD in broad daylight. All that’s to say that laws are good…but cultures are better.

You may know about the dad who allowed his conversation with his 6 year old son following the Paris attacks to be broadcast across the world. His famous words were: “It’s okay. They might have guns, but we have flowers.” And there’s probably nothing better than could be said.

At the same time, I’m not planting any flowers, much less writing legislation. To extend some notions of democracy, if I’m not fighting it, I’m kind of for it, right? But I don’t want to be for mass shootings. I want to be clearly against it. Like most people I want to be effectively against mass shootings, but I don’t know how.

Resistance is Not Futile if it is Beautiful

shoes-93756_960_720I learned a few years back to look up at power lines with shoes strung over them. The shoes mean that someone died at that spot. I’m not sure, but I always assume that that person died violently. Similarly, ghost bikes adorn many a telephone pole in Portland and beyond. They designate a place where a cyclist was killed. I do drive slower…when I notice them.

So we should plant flowers every time a mass shooting occurs. Place them where people died, as a symbol of life overtaking death. Place them in memorial gardens in solidarity. I don’t mind people resisting through legislation. But laws can be cold and they can be ignored and I don’t know how to write a law. What I can do is address the heart of the matter.

Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.

I don’t just want a shootings-free world. That seems like a pretty low standard for the only planet in the known universe fit for human living. I want awesome living. I want it for me. I want it for you. I want life to be so awesome everybody has their own personalized heavy metal anthem. I heard about abundant life somewhere and that seems like the only life worth living. And I just can’t hang my head in shame and paralysis twice a week. But it’s also not loving of my neighbor to not hear his needy cry when the unthinkable happens yet again. It’s a roller-coaster: to be conscious and vigilant and free and hopeful.

How do you do it?

The Soil in Which Violence Grows Must be Amended

I know things happen because an environment allows it to happen. That’s maybe the best concept from seminary that really stuck with me. Many are rightly dissecting the environments that led to Paris…and Colorado…and San Bernadino…and whatever place will become infamous next week. I know at the very root, there is a great spiritual lacking. I don’t mean a lack of formal religious training (though I believe in that). By spiritual lacking, I mean the inability to see good, even in a troubled world. Why couldn’t the killers in Paris see the beauty of the city? Or the divinity in the people they were shooting? Why wasn’t the beauty of Paris enough to overcome the ugliness they were seeing? The Planned Parenthood shooter apparently had plenty of ugliness in his life. I kno ugliness is everywhere am can be very jealous of our attention. But it then seems to me that adding beauty and truth and kindness is the spiritual element needed. It seems like praising the gracious and gentle and peaceful and joyous is part and parcel of combating the ugliness of violence.

So I think we should begin planting flowers and begin identifying the beauty around us. Churches should have visible gardens as a testament against the ugliness of the world. Christians and other people of faith should have flowers in their homes and neighborhoods. Activists should seed bomb public places to add beauty to the world. I don’t think it would have stopped the guy in Colorado or the folks in San Bernadino. But adding beauty can only be good for our hurting world. And it would at least speak to the heart of the matter.

I genuinely want all people to live full lives surrounded by goodness and beauty. I want it for myself. I wish the Colorado guy had that.

So, I gotta learn a lot about flowers. Which ones are easy? How do you make a seed bomb? Could we pick a rather easy common one and make this a movement…geraniums for peace or something?

Here is the dad and his boy:

It’s About the Guns

Yes: It’s about the guns.

If it weren’t about the guns, people wouldn’t rush into defending the 2nd amendment mere hours after a massacre of kindergartners   If it weren’t about guns, there would not be a small but loud minority pushing for guns in the hands of school teachers.  If it weren’t about the guns, people wouldn’t dismiss those who have been through this before.  If it weren’t about the guns, we wouldn’t be going through this time and time again.  If it weren’t about guns, WalMart wouldn’t have to resort to gun sales to save their bottom lines.

The massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School was about many things: mental illness, evil, school security, violence in media, family disintegration, etc.  The presence of any or all of these issues does not let guns off the hook.  The perpetrator chose guns-guns only designed to kill humans.

Gun Psychology

There is no such thing as a powerless gun.  Even unloaded, the presence of a gun denotes lethal power.  It changes the dynamic of any encounter.  Even when I see a cop shopping for toothpaste inside Walgreens, I always note his/her gun.  To ignore the psychology of the gun is to ignore the reality of what guns do to those who are in possession of them.  See this study on the psychology of the gun done by Notre Dame University.  There is a principle in Christianity which states that once we know something we cannot pretend to not know it.  See Paul’s analysis of the purpose of Hebrew law in Romans 2-3.  We know that guns, even in the hands of stable people causes anxiety and fear.  More guns, more fear.

Guns and Sensible Action

This morning, my Senator, Joe Manchin (D-WV) appeared on TV espousing a sensible conversation on guns in America.  He talked specifics like extended clips and assault rifles.  He talked about being changed by the Sandy Hook incident.  That is the right reaction.  It should horrify us.  Those who are not horrified by this, who aren’t shedding tears and losing sleep are Pharaohs to me.  They are traitors and a threat to my family.  And yet, even as Manchin spoke, his own people were vilifying and dismissing him.  I have lots of issues with Sen. Manchin, no doubt.  He is absolutely right about this and I am strangely optimistic that he will participate in changing these outcomes in a meaningful way.  He has a A rating from the NRA and is a life-long NRA member.  Yes, he knows guns and is talking sense.  I fear, however, that he will get caught up in the gun lobby that is fueled by irrational fear and extremist propaganda.

The fear factor is definitely real and potent.  The arming of teachers and schools suggestion is the worst one I have seen.  Though few others have espoused such twisted ideas, many others fall prey to the god of low expectations.  It’s not just that schools ought not be places of violence.  It is that they SHOULD be places of wonder, discovery, curiosity, truth and hope.  And lest we be trapped by another demon, most schools are such places.

What to Do

I am thinking of what CAN be done now, and I think this is the time to double-down on EVERYTHING that is good, especially those things that make kids, kid: money for art in school, great playgrounds at every school, teach kids to sing and play musical instruments, write new books for kids on all subjects, take them on awesome field trips so that the world never ceases to be a marvel.  Ann Curry is promoting 26 Acts of kindness as a national response to violence: this is the right way to go.  We should all go back to kindergarten.

I also think the common citizen must return to the neighborhood conversation about what is good and what is the hoped-for future of our society.  Churches, restaurants, cafes, schools, businesses need to provide spaces and times for adults to come together (face-to-face!) and talk about community issues.  Preachers, teachers, researchers, psychologists need to contribute to our collective understanding of why these circumstances continually happen.  We also need to employ all means to raise the level of discourse on guns in this country.  The strident fear that “Obama’s gonna take our guns” needs to be called out for the falsehood that it is.  Let’s focus on matters of agreement first and work our way out: mental illness may have to become a national barrier to gun ownership; military style guns need not exist; gun-purchase must become more difficult.

And we have to talk about guns: about why military style weaponry has no place in our world (not even in wars, much less schools), about why handguns promote violence, about why we are so addicted to guns that we’d rather children die than change our minds.  We have to confess our insolence on the matter.  We have to confess our violent history and purge this evil from our national soul.  We have to bankrupt Tarantino and those who turn violence into a carnival.  We should apologize to the victims of Columbine, Aurora and Clackamas for not taking their deaths seriously enough to admit we have a problem.

And we do have a problem.

Feature image by "mr.smashy"