The site of yesterday’s shootings in San Bernardino is forty-five miles from my home. Many years ago I had an office just up the street from the Inland Regional Center. My niece receives services there. My brother and sister-in-law have been at that center several times, but they weren’t there yesterday.
The mass shootings that have taken place in the US this year (355, according to a recent report) are always near where someone lives. It’s when the slaughter takes place in familiar territory that you start looking over your shoulder, wondering if your own neighborhood or workplace is safe, planning on what you might do if a shooter showed up at your office.
Whether the killers are fueled by religious radicalism, by anger at a world that is perceived as unjust, or by plain old insanity, the message we are being given seems clear:
There is no place that is safe.
No place. Not your kid’s school, not your church, not your office, not your favorite café. That’s the message.
And we can claim our Second Amendment rights all day long and put a legal firearm in everyone’s hands and the killers will still outshoot us. Before you can fumble in a purse or reach into a briefcase or a shoulder holster, the ones who are armed to the teeth and carrying out a predetermined plan will still slaughter the innocent before they can be taken down.
Maybe we are actually in the midst of World War Three without having the will to name it as such. There don’t seem to be any rules to this war, no identifiable uniforms and no specific profiles. Civilians are not longer collateral damage but instead are the targets. It’s happening all over the world. It sure feels like a World War.
But we in the US are also are war with ourselves. Our level of vitriol and hatred toward those with whom we simply disagree is marking us as a people who increasingly have lost a sense of civility and reason. We are only not being killed by foreign terrorists; we are walking out of the homes where we were born and annihilating school children and worshippers and workers at family planning clinics. We don’t need foreign invaders to convince us that there is no place that is safe. We’re fully capable of crafting our own internal narrative of fear and violence.
I am worried about how our national response to these horrors will shape us as a culture. I am concerned that we will become a people who fear our neighbor, who hate the foreigner, who beat our plowshares into swords and embrace violence as the only proper response to violence. Ours is a powerful nation and we can certainly become that kind of people if we desire.
If that becomes our national character—if it hasn’t already—then the killers will have done their job. Fear and hatred will have ruled the day and our violent responses will invite more violence and more fear and more hatred.
I wish I had an answer to all of this, but I don’t. I can feel the fear creeping into my own life and I fight to push it away. I wonder how I would feel today if my family members had been killed yesterday in San Bernardino. I wonder if fear and anger would have their way with me.
Today, I can only find a lament:
How long must I bear pain in my soul,
and have sorrow in my heart all day long?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me? (Psalm 13:2)