The Umpqua Community College has my Facebook feed in its grip, not because of its desire to “be the center for quality teaching and learning, and a key partner in the wellbeing and enrichment of our communities,” but because of the violence which encroached on the campus’ safety and wellbeing last week. My friends are divided; some say guns are the problem, while others say more guns are the solution. Some blame mental health, while others talk about sin and brokenness. Some play video games, while others blast them for their first-person shooting. Some want change; others seem to think the world is the way it is.
I don’t have any easy answers, but I believe there’s plenty of blame to be spread around our society. As someone who constantly digests media and pop culture, I’m aware that the answers (and questions) all start with our societal values – but I think we choose to ignore some of the red flags. Still as I explore the aspects of our society that fall into ScreenFish’s purview, I wonder if ‘blame’ isn’t the wrong word.
Walking out of the theater a few weeks ago, I was sickened by the thought that Oscar buzz could stretch out the amount of time that we’d be talking about Black Mass. While Johnny Depp’s performance (or is it amazement at prosthetics?) was above reproach, the biopic about Whitey Bulger troubled me for a number of reasons. The film highlighted the casual negligence of governmental oversight for its own gain. It portrayed the easy way in which a bully, a psychopath, could go from nothing to esteemed community leader. And it glorified the life and times of this notorious psychopath who was apprehended at the age of eighty-two.
In a world where people are motivated by their quick ascension into the world of the ‘known,’ where Facebook and Twitter followers are resume builders, the media gives a certain credence to what is newsworthy, trumpeting the intentions of killers in Roseburg or Charleston. What is news and what is inflammatory? I am not sure I know the difference, but in watching Black Mass, I see the embers of hate and power, now turned into a moneymaking illustration of what Hollywood will willfully emphasize.
But you say one is just the reporting of facts and one is the telling of a true story, so what do the two have to do with each other? In the social media commentary of the UCC shooter prior to his rampage, he wrote, “I have noticed that so many people like him are all alone and unknown, yet when they spill a little blood, the whole world knows who they are. A man who was known by no one, is now known by everyone… Seems like the more people you kill, the more you’re in the spotlight.” Hardly original, but hauntingly similar to the thoughts of the man who killed two news reporters just a month ago in Virginia, the thoughts reflect that of a fictional serial killer … The Joker.
In the second episode of FOX’s Gotham, we saw the Clown Prince of Crime kill for sport, kill those who steal his lines, and kill the chief of authority in opposition to him, Captain Essen. In doing so, he tells her that he’s going to kill to get attention, to become famous, and strike fear, negating any value other humans might have. He’s reciting the thoughts of killers through time, and terrorists everywhere. And yet, we know that Jim Gordon (and later Batman) will stand against him. Fiction, or skin crawling fact?
While the reality and fiction of these situations continue to blend, I’m left wondering what Christians will do to make a difference. I’m struggling internally with what it means to follow Christ in a world where security, freedom, and safety are as fleeting as taking a breath. I’m questioning what we as Christians should do with our vote, our voice, and our decision-making.
Is it enough to outlaw guns, or buy more weapons?
Is it enough to evaluate mental health, and tag some individuals for further testing and care?
Is it enough to shake our heads at a fallen world with sinful people, of which we are numbered?
Or… is there something more?
There are certainly some actions that could be taken – we might stand to make it more difficult to own a gun or consider whether a hunter needs an automatic, military grade weapon to kill a deer – but the answer isn’t simply political or legalistic. It’s not about “gun control” or “gun safety.” The issue is deeper than that.
We should consider what we glorify as a culture. We should consider what we value for ourselves and those we call our community, in our families and in our churches. We should consider what you and I are responsible for aiding and abetting ourselves.
Do we elevate those who are truly good, or do we bring further unwarranted attention to those who don’t merit our societal praise?
Do we practice what we preach in our individual, day-to-day interactions with our family, neighbors, and strangers on the street when it comes to exhibiting peace?
Do we engage in ministering to each other, and especially the least and the lost, as we encounter the opportunity to walk hand-in-hand on the journey of life?
Do we exhibit a life that seeks to follow Jesus, or are the trappings of our temporal society more powerful than the call of the creating God of the universe?
I don’t know what it will take to stem the tide of violence in our schools, in our communities, and in our world, but I believe that the solution starts with you and me.
If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.–Romans 12:18