Many days, I cringe even before reading the first headline. Sure enough, the headline is there - if not today, next week; if not here, somewhere else. Another seemingly random and incredibly senseless act of violence, perpetrated by someone whose face and name we suddenly know all too well.
Tragedy strikes again - whether a grade school or college, a Naval institution or Army base. Another person gives up the status of “law-abiding citizen” and joins an ever-increasing category known as “criminal.”
We wring our hands, lower our flags, and grieve with the grieving. The spontaneous outpouring of grief gives birth to flowery memorials, candlelit vigils, and Facebook updates. A community normally cloistered around electronic screens suddenly wants to draw consolation within a throng of mourners; and as the crowds mourn and pray, the reporters wring their hands and again ask: “Why?”
Sadly, the scene is oft-repeated. The news coverage is depressingly predictable, as a swarm of reporters pores over the perpetrator’s background. In the days and weeks after another shooting, another crime, the questions start. The details change, the victims change - but the coverage is the same. Was it nature? “What inborn trait or medical condition prompted this person to commit a crime?” Or was it nurture? “What portion of this person’s upbringing or lifestyle prompted such criminal action?”
Think over the nature/nurture explanations for the shooting crimes of 2013: depressed, hearing voices, flagged by the military for medical reasons; or extremely jealous, lost his job, an outcast and recluse who played violent video games.
Granted, this type of explanation helps us cope with tragedy and return to normalcy. The explanations always reassure us that violent action is limited to the mentally ill and socially abnormal.
But - aside from criminalizing mental illness - there’s one nagging problem: Most of the time, a peek at the shooter’s past is disturbingly normal, alarmingly average in modern America. A life of ups and downs, successes and rejections, occasionally included and excluded. How many of us have felt blue at one time or another? That’s part of the normal ebb & flow of emotion. How many of us have had to cope with a pink slip? That’s the reality of today’s economy.
The media’s explanation falls short, because there is never a single commonality among these crimes. The only commonality is our shared humanity...and a shocking truth lingers after each new tragedy: I, like that person, am human. That same capacity for violence lies within me, too; and but for the grace of God, there go I. We see this truth confirmed on a smaller scale in our angry arguments among family members, co-workers, and classmates.
What’s the solution? Will more laws help minimize violence? Will orange shirts and school programs reduce bullying? Will counseling help curb arguments at home, will medication help level out a roller coaster of emotions?
Perhaps. But these measures will never meet 100% success, no matter how stringent the laws, no matter how comprehensive the program.
The only solution is to address the fact that each of us is a broken person, prone to anger and violence. We must address our brokenness with the words of Jesus, who has come for broken people like me and you. In his first hometown sermon, Jesus quoted from the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me...he has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives.”
Freedom. Freedom from anger, freedom from needing to boost myself up by putting others down. Freedom - forgiveness - through the cradle, cross, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
You won’t hear that message in media coverage of the next crime. But that is the only message which reaches the heart of the matter - the human heart.