Praying for Time

It’s hard to love
There’s so much to hate
Hanging on to hope
When there is no hope to speak of
And the wounded skies above
Say it’s much too late
So maybe we should all be praying for time

George Michael, Praying for Time

Why? Here we stand in the aftermath of another school shooting. Sadness. Frustration. Anger. Impotence.

Some of us wonder, why? Some of us wonder, what? As in, what do we do? Some of us wonder, who? As in, who do we blame? All of us wonder, is there anything we can really do?

For the next few news cycles, we’ll hear the familiar tropes around gun control, mental illness, security, and, ultimately, funding. Of course, that is what all of the talk ultimately revolves around – money. The money that wasn’t spent. The money that should be spent. The cause, movement, party, or legislation that should be funded. How else does the richest country in the world fix its problems? Of course, we throw some money at it, then go home knowing we did something.

Politicians will grandstand on it because it’s an opportunity to focus voter energy and discredit opponents, or rally their base. After all, if we give them the money and the power, they will solve the problem, right? A few laws and we’ll be right as rain. We can outlaw assault rifles. Or we can limit pistol magazines to 10 rounds. Clearly, guns are the problem.

The gun lobby will fight back: guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Their fear? Any “gun reform” starts the slippery slope to gun control. No, we should fund mental health programs. Then, we’ll double, no, triple, funding to “mental health.” Then again, it might be poverty. Let’s throw money at social programs. Wait, maybe it’s the schools. We need to fund better education.

But that’s not all. What about security? We should fund better security for our schools. Better yet, our police need more money so let’s put more money in local law enforcement. Hold on, the money might be better spent in the FBI so they can monitor us more closely to predict who might go on a rampage next. Massive schools. Massive security. Massive money. Massive power.

Does any of it get us massively better results? We’ll feel better for a while. We’ll think, “thank God those crazy people can’t buy assault rifles anymore.” Or, amen to the billion dollars we put into the new Agency for the Prevention of Hate Crime. The money has been borrowed and put into another bureaucratic black hole. Check.

Yeah, we’ll feel better for minute. At least until the next tragedy.

With all of the frustration, anger, focus, energy, and money we’ve got to tackle these problems, why does murder still happen? Have we stopped asking “why?” Why does a young man come to the point of ambivalence toward the life of other human beings?

Why would anyone hate so much as to want to kill the most innocent and defenseless among us? How does a human being come to the point of such hopelessness, despair, loneliness, and/or anger that they would choose to dramatically attack schoolchildren?

Now is the time for a worthy discussion on it. A sincere discussion. Guns. Mental health. Security. Poverty. Fine, have the conversations. Just know that we’re only skimming the surface. The obvious are only symptoms. Our issues are deeper, will require fundamental shifts in thinking, and changing them will require a long time horizon. Yes, perhaps generations.

And by the way, a lone shooter in a defenseless school, is also a symptom. Mass murder is happening in our streets every day, just with fewer headlines.

While we’re having the debate, let’s add a few things to the list:

  • Education. We have built a system of mass production of education. Massive schools. Massive budgets. Mass production. With it has come massive isolation, massive loneliness, massive exposure, and massive anonymity. Children are getting lost in the systems we’ve built to help them grow into themselves. Think about it for a moment. Where else in our adult lives are we forced into anything at all like our primary school systems?
  • Family. The erosion and breakdown of the family unit has removed the lowest common denominator, the ultimate safety net, for many, many children. Our response has been to mass produce a government-owned social safety net to try and help. In the process, we’ve created faceless, inefficient bureaucracies that move slowly, introduce opportunities for monetizing the “system,” and create huge gaps for children to fall through. More isolation. More loneliness. More anonymity.
  • In God We Trust. I saw this slogan on a Sheriff’s vehicle I Florida this week. We see it on our money and in our founding documents. Yet, in our efforts to separate church and state, we’ve also detached much of the moral from the practical in our lives. In our effort to protect religious freedom while keeping religion out of our governance, we’ve detached hope and the call to more of the Divine, from our “why.” Does the United States still have a moral compass? To what degree do we still believe in right and wrong? Have we lost all sense of the good, the true, and the beautiful?
  • Our culture of death. From our sources of news, to our entertainment in the form of movies and video games, we have fostered a culture of death. Furthering and deepening that culture is the ongoing debate over abortion relative to individual rights. At some level, we have grown numb to violence and the taking of human life. Dramatic and bizarre headlines feed a sense of the pervasiveness of death and normalization of murder. We still claim that it is “wrong” yet it is celebrated in so many ways. Where is the line drawn in a world blurry with the rationalization of complete individual freedom and the rejection of the notion of “sin”? Without profound moral grounding, how can one individual possibly process the nuances of human life in the midst of the emotional passions of human existence? For many of us, the notions of “normal,” “acceptable,” and “moral” vary quite broadly.
  • Money and Mass Centralization. Do we really think we can solve all problems with money? The law of diminishing returns says that, after a certain point, the money invested in a particular direction stops producing as effectively. More money does not mean more results. In fact, too much money is often more damaging than too little. Massive money in our healthcare system isn’t helping. Massive money in our education system is not producing massively better results. Do you believe that our Federal government is truly better because of the massive money put into it? We need some good old fashioned bootstrapping. One of the great things about the old system of charity we once had through our churches and local community organizations is that they always had to do more with less. With less money, we have to be creative. With less money, we have to dig deeper. With less money, we depend on each other more. Big money is a consolidator, a centralizer. Centralization and economies of scale have their place. However, they also pull resources from the local to feed the centralization. We’ve lost something in this process. Perhaps we’ve lost a lot.

The killings in Uvalde anger us all. They are an outrage. However, behind the cowardly, cravenly, behavior of one human being’s actions lies another truth: we have much deeper brokenness than the headlines suggest. There is no silver bullet solution and the answer to preventing future occurrences goes far deeper than any laws your elected officials will ever concoct.

No one will ever be able to legislate morality. No set of laws will ever fill the void in the human soul or provide the love necessary to counter-balance a world filled with hate. The only answer is a leap-forward to a new approach. One that breaks apart the mass-industrialized isolation that has occurred through 200+ years of increasing centralization and massive financial prosperity. A place where money and morality are relegated to their proper proportion and invested differently.

I wish I could suggest an easier path or simpler solution. Our problems are complex and run deep. However, I remain hopeful. I see so much goodness in spite of the evil that often rears its head. Yes, we are angry but we are also a people of resolve. Now is the time for meaningful debate. Now is the time to get to the root and face the tough questions about our American “why” in a world that is as hostile as ever.

Now is the time to work with intention to make sure all of our children have the moral grounding and feel the love necessary to carry them through the struggle and isolation that we all must endure from time to time. Now, we all should be praying for time.

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