Tuesday, October 03, 2006

What the...?

What is going on in America with all of the gun violence in schools? Last week, a homeless man in Colorado barricaded himself in a classroom with several girl students and shot and killed one. Either Friday or Monday a student in Wisconsin shot and killed his principal (lead teacher) because of a reprimand. And yesterday a man in Pennsylvania barricaded himself with all of the girl students in a one-room schoolhouse and began killing them all, execution-style. In the event, four were killed, numerous others injured. Certainly all of the students -- in all three of these cases -- were deeply scarred.

Certainly I am quite concerned about our irrational attachment to guns, and their prevalence in America. And I imagine that many schools will respond with greater security, etc., as if gun-wielding maniacs themselves are okay, just so long as they don't enter school property.

But beyond this odd attachment to guns, and our deeply violent nature -- and if this last comment seems controversial, compare our rate of violent death with other Western nations', then get back to me -- I am concerned about (in two of these cases) the focus on underage girls, a constellation that represents, in the popular imagination if not in fact, the greatest vulnerability and even innocence.

Now, of course, these shootings aren't related in the sense that the shooters knew each other or worked together. They are no more related than someone in Chicago using a racial epithet and somone in Kansas City using a racial epithet; and they are also no less related than that. The similar behaviour masks similar social undercurrents.

And so it seems deeply pathological that these men would barricade themselves with girl students unknown to them, in one case even sexually abusing them, and then kill as many of them as possible before killing themselves. Of course, for anyone familiar with abuse, sexual or otherwise, this observation is quite banal (although the evil behind it, even if banal, is not finally, completely explicable).

But I wonder if it masks a deeper social current in our society that also works its way out in things such as needing to have vastly overwhelming firepower in any given situation, of needing to do whatever necessary to ensure victory, on the battlefield or in the boardroom, of not being able to concede defeat, much less allow ourselves to lose graciously?

Or perhaps the two -- the killings and the wider societal practices -- aren't related. But I do know this: I certainly feel much safer sending my four year old daughter to school here in the United Kingdom than I would in America right now.

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Blogger Peter Young said...

Don't feel too secure, according to the Scotsman 47% of teachers believe that violence is a problem in their school. http://news.scotsman.com/index.cfm?id=1460852006

But this does hit at the heart of those of us with kids at school. I mean if this can happen to the Amish, it can happen anywhere.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006 1:16:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I've often thought that perhaps society has become too large. I wonder if people received better emotional, mental and spiritual care in environments where everyone was known to everyone else - rather than the almost anonymous world we often live in.

Perhaps the social undercurrent you're talking about is apathy or disconnectedness?

Just my thought. What do you think?

Wednesday, October 04, 2006 2:46:00 PM  
Blogger PdB said...

I agree with m&2s. Society, despite whatever various social movements may have attempted to the contrary, is rooted in a smaller environment called the family.

But when family members abdicate their parental and filial responsibilites to each other, the family disconnects, and each individual is left to seek his own society, however moral or debased it may be.

Therefore we should not wring our hands over society's Darwinistic need for victory at all cost; we ought instead to renew the strength of society by buttressing its very foundation.

Beginning with our own Acts 1:8 Jerusalem, we may then inspire Judea and Samaria to also turn their hearts to their children, that the law of God may be written, not on stone, but on their hearts.

And that is far superior to the debatable virtues, ideologically or practically, of writing more gun laws.

Thursday, October 05, 2006 4:01:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Every society agrees on a set of rules which allow people to live together. In order for us to need rules, there has to be conflict.

Our deepest loyalty is to our family. But I wonder if loyalty alone is enough to ensure we behave appropriately towards each other even within a family unit.

So I think the question I'm struggling with is: if the core of society is indeed the family unit, and conflict will arise within the family, where does the family get its rules from?

Thursday, October 05, 2006 6:42:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Yes, I see that that is the case in Scotland, and I don't know that I could make the case that things are much different here in England. There has been (preventive, I think) talk about bullying at our local school here.It seems that public/state education is beset on all sides by difficulties. You and I have also talked about concerns about your local schools. On the one hand, even with violence here, it does not seem correlated with guns; it's no less menacing, but seemingly less reliably deadly (few people are caught in the crossfire of a knife fight!). On the other hand, there is violence on both sides of the Atlantic, in all parts of the Western world (and no doubt beyond as well).

Thursday, October 05, 2006 9:20:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Milk and two sugars:
Welcome to Gower Street! I suppose, following your rubrics, I should be properly called "coffee, black", or, later in the day, "gin and tonic".

I think you are on to something in talking about how the scale of our communities has effected the sorts of care we can receive and give. No doubt, when life was lived on a more modest scale -- people in a given locale knew each other by face and probably by name -- there was more possible in terms of both care and accountability.

On the other hand, I suspect that the scale of life as we know it is (most likely) here to stay and continue expanding (which, ironically, is more contracting than expanding, but I think you know what I mean). This is not pure loss, of course. For one example, I have been able to -- in a minimal way, to be sure -- make the acquaintance of a medical student from Australia, and together think about our world and how to change things for the better, or at least how best to identify the problems.

But it is a good question, even in this world where the vast majority of (even Western) people live within 50 miles of where they grew up, how do we foster the sort of community that gets around the vast faceless institutions we've grown so accustomed to? I don't have an answer to that.

Well, I do have one answer, that the church is one such place -- but even that's not always true in this day of megachurches, etc. But it does seem to me that the church ought to be the paradigmatic place where people can be faced.

(I realise this is going on a bit.) Nor do I want to simply valorise the small town of either today or yesterday: these can be places to be known in a bad way as well, in gossip, infighting, backbiting, and so forth.

So what do you think?

BTW, I would laugh if you had a friend you called Shirley Temple!

Thursday, October 05, 2006 9:34:00 AM  
Blogger Jason said...

Thanks for your thoughtful rejoinders, as always!

I find your reference to Acts 1.8 intriguing. You begin by talking about society -- a national society, I presume -- and then the family as its foundation. But the reference in Acts 1.8 isn't to either society or the family.

I realise, of course, you are meaning to give a spiritualising interpretation of Acts 1.8 -- I certainly have no problem with that, I do that sort of thing as well. But I think that the literal reference of Acts 1.8 helps me to get at what my concern is about what you write.

That is to say, in Acts 1.8 we find a group of people, the disciples/apostles, the Eleven, being commissioned by the Lord before he ascended. These are people who have no natural affinity for each other, they come from various walks of life, some of them were (effectively) outcasts -- Matthew the tax collector, for example. They are there together because they have been called.

All of which is to say (I'm wrapping up, so my argument may seem more implicit than explicit) 1) it seems appropriate, in light of the references to Jerusalem Judea and Samaria (and the ends of the earth) that we address ourselves to society as well as (perhaps) the family, and 2) there is precious little about the biological -- much less the 'nuclear' -- family in the New Testament, and even less about it being 'the foundation of society'. On the other hand, Paul speaks freely about us being children by adoption, by grace, making us the children of the Father through the Son by the Spirit. This actually seems to mitigate the biological family's status, even calling it into question, in light of the church. Can it be that the church is actually the basic building block of (new) human society? If so, then perhaps the old saw is wrong: water actually is thicker than blood.

Perhaps that, and I'm being a bit cheeky here, is yet more superior to the 'debatable virtues, ideologically or practically, of writing more' laws to protect the family.

So what do you think?

Thursday, October 05, 2006 9:55:00 AM  
Blogger PdB said...

Briefly, to m&2s: you're right; loyalty to one's family is not enough to preserve society, as loyalty, within the presence of immorality, has the potential to perpetrate evil.

Whose rules? This is very easy for me to answer: God's rules. He created us in love, and why shouldn't he desire our love in return and expect us to conduct ourselves in love towards each other?

His rules define the limits of loving behavior. Therefore, I have no problem following God's rules and correcting my children when I notice a covetous spirit (for example) taking root.

Jason, you're right. Of course Acts 1:8 isn't speaking of the family. But I wasn't spiritualizing, either; I was using it as a metaphor, and a very apt one at that.

It is simply this: when raising up disciples, begin at home. Then, as the laborer proves to be faithful in what has been entrusted to him, he will be rewarded with more responsibility and greater influence. Or so goes the parable.

The crux of the metaphor lies in the reality that there are many people, for good or ill, who view our children as their mission field. I am not content to abdicate that privilege to them.

Take, for instance, the requirements for being an elder in the church, which are very clear regarding the management of the home. If a father isn't shepherding his family faithfully, then he is unqualified to shepherd the church (I Tim. 3:4-5).

Fortunately for us, the New Testament does not stand alone in special revelation. Christ came to fulfill the law, not to abolish it, so we might yet apply the Old Testament to this discussion.

The family is the first created order. As the family expanded, a society was formed. This phenomenon was repeated after the flood, and then again at Babel's dispersion. Entire nations were founded on those patriarchs. So I maintain that the family is the foundation of society.

Deut. 6 holds up a vision for the nation (or "society") of Israel, and it begins with the fathers, is passed to the children, and thereby flows down through the generations: observe God's commands and teach them to your children.

Certainly nothing in the New Testament contradicts such responsibility. Rather, it affirms the Mosaic responsibility of children to their parents, and parents' responsibilities to their children(Eph. 6).

If the church were intended to replace this structure, then certainly a new doctrine would have to have been revealed.

Paul does speak freely about adoption, and what a wonderful grace God has bestowed upon us! This truth communicates such great spiritual grace to us because it presupposes at least a partial understanding of what it means to be family. Therefore, it does not mitigate any biological (your word, not mine) connection, rather, it elevates it to its status within God's economy.

You already admitted that you were being cheeky by turning my phrase the way you did, so I won't belabor this point: I never suggested writing any laws to protect families. My point has been that godly, responsible people don't need such laws; they'll have the law of God being written on their hearts. These are the kind of disciples we are called to make, and we must begin with our own children.

But I like your take on the old idiom. I don't know what "water" meant in the idiom's etymology, but in referring to the waters of baptism, water is absolutely thicker than blood. (Unless by blood you're referring to the atoning blood of Christ on the cross, but yikes! you'll have to leave me out of that one!)

Take care! It's time for me to move on, but I'll keep reading (I'm a subscriber, don'tcha know!)...

Thursday, October 05, 2006 11:33:00 PM  
Blogger Jason said...


Thanks for your response, and for reading GS! And (yikes!) a subscriber -- now I'll have to actually write stuff worth reading.

Of course we are in difference places on this, and unlikely to -- in the course of a brief blog exchange at any rate -- convince each other fully of our positions. But I appreciate your thoughts and the challenge that they put to me; I hope that perhaps my own writing might serve in that way for you (and others).

I hope that, of course, not in order to persuade others that I am right (or that you are), but in order to help us more faithfully follow God, engage the Scriptures and embody the Kingdom.

(And no, that wasn't the blood I had in mind. Although I suppose the more I think about it blood and water actually converge, symbolically -- 'washed in the blood of the Lamb', etc.)

Thanks again.

Friday, October 06, 2006 10:19:00 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

In reply to PDB and Jason: you've touched on one of my core beliefs, that we have a responsibility (not an obligation!) to guide our families; I think many people have relinquished that responsibility to society-at-large, to their detriment.

I can't say I have an answer to the question of how to foster small communities in favour of faceless institutions. With more people not engaging in the Church (30% of Australians claim to follow no religion), which I agree can function as a small enough institution to achieve that goal, I don't hold much hope that people might spontaneously return their focus to their families.

On a more personal note, it saddens me greatly as an Australian to witness the continuing degredation of Aboriginal society, which by all historical and contemporary accounts was ideal for guiding its members and making them accountable for their actions.

Regards, MTS.

PS. Unfortunately I've never had a friend who drank Shirley Temples, but GT and I are partial to Tequila Sunrises. Doesn't have the same ring, somehow.

Sunday, October 08, 2006 3:23:00 AM  

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