Sunday was the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
I wasn’t going to mention it on this blog, but I’ve decided that I should. I remember that day as if it just happened. Some things, you don’t forget.
Sunday was the 20th anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing.
I wasn’t going to mention it on this blog, but I’ve decided that I should. I remember that day as if it just happened. Some things, you don’t forget.
To join the discussion about Fight A Christian Case for Nonviolence, or to order a copy, go here.
Fight is an ironic name for a book that is a polemic on the Christian call to nonviolence.
The book’s author, Preston Sprinkle, wrote the book in response to and as a conversation with America’s militaristic evangelical community. Even though I have a few problems with some of his interpretations of specific scriptures, I think he’s got a point. In fact, I think he’s dead-on accurate in many of his conclusions.
I remember seeing a video of one of our preachers here in Oklahoma City. This preacher was speaking (I can not regard his speech as a sermon of any sort) to a thoroughly roused-up and enormous congregation. Since the speech was going out over the airwaves, his actual audience was much larger.
This preacher was charging up and down the stage, mike in hand, using all the theatrics at his disposal. He would bend over and lower his voice to make a bottom dropping point at one place, and then straighten up and shout out his next point. It wasn’t a sermon. It was a performance.
And it wasn’t even vaguely Christian.
This man was taking verses out of the Bible to weave a totally fallacious case that somehow or other Jesus supported invading Iraq.
He had his audience in the palm of his hand. After all, most of them came to this particular church because they liked performances for their sermons and because they wanted “christian teaching” that would get them going emotionally while making them feel great about whatever they wanted to do in the first place.
The audience cheered and yelled like they were at a football game.
I haven’t seen many things that disgusted me more than this performance sermon and its clearly heretical mis-use of Holy Scripture to support a war.
I knew, even then, that the whole Iraq invasion was a sham. This was an unnecessary war that we were going into for reasons that had nothing to do with what we were being told. I have never understood why anyone would have had trouble seeing through the excuses for this war.
I also saw that if America’s Christian community did not stop using Christ to justify war, it would eventually destroy itself. People will follow the theological heresy of militarism so long as if feels good. But, as Europe has shown us, bombed out buildings and gas ovens do tend to dim the luster of it.
War is an almost preposterous evil. The Civil War general, William Tecumseh Sherman, the same General Sherman who burned Atlanta and waged war on the civilian population in his infamous march to the sea, said that war is hell.
He was right.
A friend of my husband’s went to view the federal building after the bombing here in Oklahoma City. “That is nothing,” she said as she gazed at the ruins. “Nothing.”
She had lived through war waged on a large scale. She had, in her youth, seen whole cities razed to bombed out hulks, human beings burnt to ash as they hid in their bomb shelters.
We are so soft when horror comes to us. We can not bear our losses, cannot abide our pain. But we treat war itself, which is savagery writ unimaginable, as if it was a computer game. Maybe we do that because we can switch our wars off in the same way that we switch off computer games.
There is very little reportage of what is happening on the perpetual warfront that America has embarked on. We bomb and slay without the rest of us here at home knowing about it. Our best hint of what is happening is when we see our own soldiers, returning to us with shattered bodies and — often — shattered minds.
Something ugly is out there on the other side of the endless rambles of the talking heads debating their endless gaffe reporting about what some politician said to a friend in an elevator or mumbled under his or her breath when he or she thought the mike was off. Something really ugly is out there, but we can’t see it, don’t know about it.
Our only real intimation is that we hear constantly about our national debt. We are told that the cause of this debt is us. It’s Social Security and Medicare. It’s the public schools. The whole debt and economic malaise of this country is the fault of those who pay the bills: The American people. No one mentions, no one even whispers, that we are funding a war colossus that asks for more, more, more ever single year and has been doing so since World War II.
We never talk about that 800 lb gorilla sitting in the middle of the room eating all the bananas. Such talk would be unpatriotic. It would mean that we don’t want to “defend ourselves” against all those people out there “who want to kill us.”
Militarism is a false idol. It is also, according to the author of Fight, anti-Scriptural and anti-Christian.
Fight takes the reader on a survey of the Scriptures from the viewpoint of looking at God’s teachings about war and militarism. Notice that militarism is a category that is distinct from war. One is an action of government-sponsored violence. The other is an outlook, a belief in war itself. It is an idol.
A large part of what Mr Sprinkle writes about the Old Testament necessarily focuses on discerning what God meant, rather than what He said. This is important to all Christians because the Old Testament seems in many ways to challenge the New Testament. Western Civilization is at its best when it is responding to the clear teachings of the New Testament, and at its worst when it looks for excuses for its murderous impulses in the Old Testament.
How are Christians meant to understand the seeming contradictions in attitude between the two covenants?
Mr Sprinkle does a fine job of presenting his answer to this, at least so far as it concerns war and war making. Fight is a well-written, well-researched presentation of his viewpoint concerning violence, war and the call of all Christians to follow Christ, even to the cross.
I don’t honestly know what I think about some of the points he makes. I need to think them through first before I can say. But I do think the book is a good read that opens a debate American Christians need to have.
I do not want to see Christians in this country fall into the trap that Christians fell into in Nazi Germany of supporting militarism right down to the pit of hell.
I am not and never have been a pacifist. I believe in self defense. That would seem to put me outside the ideal Mr Sprinkle is advocating. However, I cannot deny that his presentation is compelling.
My main interest in his book is that it starts a needful conversation. I remember that preacher charging around the stage, preaching what was clearly the heresy of militarism to a cheering crowd. I see this country edging ever closer to economic ruin while we feed our resources into the maw of a war machine. And I know that we must change or die.
I am trying to remember if I ever once prayed for the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing.
I know I prayed — and fervently — that the FBI would get the right person or persons. The only thing worse than being a victim of one of these things would be to be accused of it and not have done it.
I wanted the right people to get got.
I think I prayed before the execution of one of the perpetrators. I remember I was upset about the idea of them strapping him down and killing him like he was an animal in a slaughter house. I never confused him with an animal. I always knew he was human and that what he had done was a specifically human act.
I did not want him executed. But once he was dead, I was glad that I would never have to hear any of his comments or words again. I was glad his ashes were scattered. I did not want him to have a grave where people would go and take photos of each other standing beside his marker. I wanted him forgot.
But … did I ever pray for his soul? I think I did, on the day of his execution. But I’m honestly not sure.
I’ve never prayed for it since then. I can tell you that.
I spent far too much time back then, thinking about the perpetrators of this mass murder. It was so premeditated. They planned it and worked toward it for months, robbing for money and resources that they stockpiled until they had enough to build a bomb. This was beyond deliberate. It was something these men worked toward the way better people work toward college degrees or buying their first home. It was a long-term goal for them.
I couldn’t wrap my mind around that. I could not fathom that someone would get up in the morning and go to work building a bomb to kill other people and that they could do it for months. Why would anyone think this was a good idea?
Then, one day, I realized that I would never understand and that I didn’t need to understand.
I can’t understand Beethoven, either. But for different reasons. I hear the Fifth Symphony and I know that he heard it before he ever wrote a note. He heard all of the instruments in his mind. He heard them individually and together simultaneously. He heard it and he wrote it down with musical notes on a piece of paper so that we could hear it too.
How did he do that? How can anyone do what Beethoven did? I don’t understand because I do not have the talent to fly that high.
Conversely, I don’t understand these cold-blooded killers because I can’t bend down that low. You have to squeeze yourself into a painfully small box to think like these murderers do. You have to amputate large parts of your soul and psyche to shrink it down to something small enough to even begin to comprehend why and how they could decide that doing something like this was a worthy project.
Every time one of these things happens, we are inundated with comments from people who tell us that the killer seemed like one of us. But of course, that’s not true. They’re not like us, at least not in the only thing about them that matters to the rest of us; their murderous desires. The “normal Joe” mass murderer is an ironic viewpoint perpetrated on the rest of us to titillate and engage us. It is not true.
I don’t know and I don’t care why and how they are different. That’s the job of FBI profilers and others with a calling and a dedication that I don’t have.
I suppose, after I write this, I’m going to have to pray for the perpetrators of the Oklahoma City bombing. It’s not going to be easy. I will first have to dig them out from the box where I put them long ago.
The one labeled “Trash.”
Police took the second suspect in the Boston bombing in custody tonight.
I watched it from about 5 pm CST. Reporters had to fill the airtime with commentary while the police worked to arrest the suspect without killing him. That gave me a chance to hear all the rumors and web-spinning that surrounds this case. This is an inevitable fog-of-war thing that happens naturally with these tragedies. Most of these rumors will prove to be inaccurate, so I’m going to let that shake itself out without adding to the confusion here on this blog.
The FBI did a great job, and I imagine they are going to continue doing a great job throughout the rest of this investigation. This person is in custody. They say he is injured and in serious condition. The story is that 3 other people have also been arrested, but no one in the press knows why.
It took four days to get the photos of the murderers to the public. It took five days to get them both out of circulation and either in the morgue or in custody.
I will never put the names of these killers on this blog. I ask everyone else to respect that and do the same in their comments. Do not curse or revile them. They aren’t worth it.
God bless Boston. God bless America.
Martin Richard, 8
Krystle Campbell, 29
Lingzi Lu, 23
Officer Sean Collier, 26
I know people who were grievously injured in the Oklahoma City bombing. They have lost their homes and jobs because of the injuries. Some of the survivors will require care from their families for the rest of their lives.
America reached out to us during the days after that horrible event. Huge amounts of money were donated. Despite this, families of the injured have been forced into bankruptcy and ultimately been left to deal with the after affects themselves.
We are going to have to get used to these tragedies.
They appear to be coming at us Wham! Wham! Wham! We need to learn how to maintain an even strain in the face of them and still take care of the victims and their families.
We also need to go after the perpetrators, which, I believe, we will. I’ll save the conversation concerning our society’s overwhelming need for conversion for a later post.
Today, I want to talk about what “maintaining an even strain” in the face of repetitive atrocity means in real life. I’m going to link to a video showing how the people on the ground in Boston responded to the bombing. They swung into action immediately. They went to the aid of the injured and they did it calmly, cooperatively and, in my opinion, the way that Americans have always done it.
We do this every time, don’t we? Americans don’t run away from each other when we’re in trouble. We reach out and help each other. Boston was no exception.
I’m also going to put a link to at least one place where you can donate money. The owner of the Boston Patriots has set up a matching program for donations for the survivors. Go to this link and donate a few dollars. If you don’t have much, just give $5 or $10. If enough of us do that, it will add up, fast.
If you learn of other legitimate links, feel free to post them in the combox. But please do your best to make sure they are reputable.
Another suggestion I’m going to make is that we consider forming support groups for specific survivors of these atrocities in our Altar Societies, parish Knights of Columbus, etc. The reason I described the hardship survivors of the Oklahoma City bombing have been through is because genuine caring doesn’t end when the ratings go down and the news media skips on to the next big thing.
There are people who survived the shooting in Aurora who will probably need help for a long time. That is almost certainly the same in Boston. The rescue workers are also going to suffer from this for a long time.
All these people need both financial and emotional support that is on-going and long-lasting.
Here are things you can do that will make a difference:
1. Pray for them — by name, if you know their names. Pray for them every day. Include them — again by name, if you know their names — in your group prayers, your family bed time prayers, etc. Take the trouble to learn about at least one of these people and adopt them for prayer intercession on an on-going basis.
2. Send them a card. Not a card “to the victims,” but a card addressed to them using their own name. Tell them that you are praying for them and that you care about them. Then, in a couple of months, send another card. Next Christmas, send them a Christmas card. Lift them up as long as they are down.
3. Consider doing an altar society bake sale or a Knights candy sale and using the proceeds to help pay the medical expenses of this one person you have adopted.
4. Write corporations such as Nike who have an interest in the Marathon and ask them to also start a matching donation fund for the victims’ on-going medical expenses.
5. Put activities in place that we will follow after each one of these tragedies. We may need to set up atrocity prayer chains that we activate every time another one of these things happens.
The important thing is to stop wringing our hands and asking “How could this happen?” We need to get on with the business of taking care of each other in the aftermath.
Here is the video I spoke of earlier. Notice that the person holding the camera is in shock, but he keeps on filming. I would guess that the people who were moving barricades were in shock, too. But they didn’t flinch and they didn’t run away. That’s what Americans do when the going gets tough.
You can donate to the survivors here. Be sure to indicate that you want your donation to go to the Boston Marathon bombing survivors.
We have to learn to live with this.
Aurora, Sandy Hook, the Boston Marathon.
The names are like a slow beat sounding out grief and sorrow.
They don’t cover the “smaller” tragedies and the near tragedies. They also don’t speak of the Amish girls, Columbine, Virginia Tech, Oklahoma City.
We talk about gun control, but gun control is no defense against pressure cookers loaded with ball bearings or rental trucks filled with fertilizer mixed with jet fuel.
In truth, we can not seal ourselves in a room small enough, we can not pass laws limiting enough to be safe. We are dealing with murderous humans. Humans are too smart for us to ever stop them with our prohibitions, metal detectors and regulations. We are like dogs, chasing our own tails with that approach.
Our society, our world, needs conversion.
But before we can even begin that basic task we have to face a single reality: We are going to have to learn to live with this.
The “this” we must learn to live with is the steady beat of the murderous metronome of casual killing that has become part of the fabric of our lives. Whether the killer of the day is a mass murdering young man with a high-powered weapon, a terrorist with a recipe for mayhem or a serial killer hiding in the shadows, the thing that drives them is always the same. It is, as a reader of this blog said in an unconnected quote, an ability to “not consider the person” who will die.
Murder is made possible by a disconnect from the suffering of others. It is, in the final analysis, the most extreme failure of empathy. Not, notice, as we like to say, a “failure of love.” It is not necessary to love someone to refrain from killing them. But it is necessary to separate from their humanity, to objectify them and to not “consider” them and what you are about to do to them.
This nation has been raising up psychopaths the way we once raised up artists and inventors. At the same time, we live in a world of directed psychopathy that creates terrorism, which is nothing more than the murder of innocent civilians.
If we are ever going to change any of this, we will have to face the fact that we need to do more than reach for another quick fix through regulation, safety protocols and prohibitions. We can not give up enough of our freedoms to make ourselves safe from one another.
The only way to become safe from other people is to structure our society in such a way that we end the continuous abuse and disregard of our children. We must stop raising up psychopaths. To do that, we’ve first got to admit that we are doing something wrong. I see a complete refusal to acknowledge that running throughout our public discourse.
Even if we woke up tomorrow, resolved to re-shape our homes, families, schools and institutions along healthy, nurturing lines, it would take time to turn this vast ship of disintegration away from its current path toward the rocks of social dissolution. Since there is very little hope that we will do this, we are out of alternatives.
We are going to have to learn to live with this.
If we are going to stay sane as individual people, we must accept the reality of our lives for what they are. That means accepting that Boston, Sandy Hook, Aurora, the Amish school girls, Virginia Tech, Columbine, Oklahoma City and even 9/11 are not isolated events. They are part of our national life. They are what happens. We have to face the horror of their having happened and add the certainty that they will happen again on top of it, then learn to live with this bitter knowledge.
I am not preaching and teaching a course in despair with this post. I am trying to bring us down to the hard cold reality of our situation.
We are going to have to learn to live with this.
That does not mean that we have to learn to accept it. It means that we have to stop viewing each horror as a separate event and realize that they are all connected in the psyches of those who commit them. This indifference of killers to the people they kill is not new. The blood of innocents has cried out from the ground since people left the garden.
God gave us the only answer to this. Those of us who are Christians have it, if we will just use it.
We are going to have to get used to this, this blood-soaked world in which we live. But we do not need to dive into despair and hopelessness because of it. We must, for the sake of our sanity, stop letting these horrible events take us over and cast us down. We have to get used to it and live with it and move on past it.
We need to focus on the message that we as Christians are the only ones equipped to bring: There is no death. Life has meaning. Everything we do in this life matters in eternity.
Get up off your bed of grief and despair and Catholic on. Turn off the tv and go to work. Take care of your family, clean your house, do your job and live. Pray for the injured, the dead and those who love them. If you are able to help them directly, do it. If not, you can help them best by maintaining the order and stability of the society in which they live.
We are going to have to learn to live with this. The time to begin is now.
It’s a fact that we learn more from our failures and tragedies than we do from our victories.
When something goes right, we usually high-five each other and then sit around the proverbial campfire rehashing our brilliance and everything we did right. What we don’t do is learn anything. We’re too happy with the way things went.
But when something goes wrong; when we lose, when tragedy strikes, we go into paroxysms of self-analysis as we struggle to learn what went wrong and how we can fix it. This impulse to think tragedy through to ideas for avoiding another tragedy in the future is intelligent and useful. It’s the basis for things like painfully reconstructing crashed airliners to try to learn what broke or what happened to bring the bird down. It’s the reason for medical review boards. It’s why police go over and over an officer’s death.
Done this way, the self-analysis that comes after our painful flops and falters is good, productive and wise.
But there is another side. The aftermath of tragedy, the first quick take of emotion, is usually a blur of pain and confusion. Especially with something like the tragedy at Sandy Hook, there is a desire to avoid and blur both the questions and the answers to the omnipresent “Why?” that haunts us. We don’t want to face any part of it. So, we are tempted to go out searching for someone or something else to take the load of responsibility for facing up to what it all means. We want a scapegoat.
In truth, there are potential scapegoats aplenty in the aftermath of a mass murder, especially one so incomprehensible as these mass shootings and bombings by anti-social young men. But we have to be careful how we chose these scapegoats. We don’t want to pick something that would require us to change. We don’t want to point our fingers at ourselves.
No, we are looking for something or someone easy, outside our normal activities and unable to defend themselves. That’s the impetus behind the outrage of much of the pundit class against Mike Huckabee’s hapless comment. While most people are shocked into silence by these horrors, some people talk uncontrollably. They react to their own internal confusion in the face of tragedy beyond comprehension with cravings for a quick fix of faux outrage. If it hadn’t been Mike Huckabee, it would have been someone else. Every time we have a tragedy, the faux outrage crowd latches onto something some person says. They need a quickie scapegoat.
Of course, faux outrage at accidental verbal missteps wears thin after a time. It is about such a nothing and it is so completely devoid of significance that it simply uses up its own oxygen and goes out like a match.
This leaves the rest of us with the question of what slot we can fit these dysfunctional young men with murder in their hearts into. In truth, they are such bizarre little monsters that we find it difficult to identify with them enough to really have a good go at scapegoating them. Where’s the “out” for the rest of us in looking at people who are so emotionally ugly that they are flat and one-dimensional to the point of incomprehensibility?
We tend to exalt our mass murderers in this country. Charles Manson, John Wayne Gacy, the BTK Killer and Ted Bundy get more television coverage than any legitimate celebrity I know of. We hype serial killers into evil gods in our entertainment, making them not only glamorous, but in many ways better — more talented, intelligent and purposeful — than the rest of us.
But somehow, these one-off killers who go to our schools, our movies, our workplaces and just start killing don’t seem so interesting. Killing little Amish girls, blowing up day care centers and murdering first graders just doesn’t seem so much the effort of an evil god as it does the work of plain, unvarnished evil in all its ugliness and banality. More to the point, when someone goes into a movie theater and shoots people, it could have been us they killed.
Still, we do need our scapegoats. Otherwise, we might have to take an honest look at our whole suicidal society and acknowledge that we have become a people that raises up sociopaths in abundance. We would have to admit that there’s more wrong here than gun laws that are over 200 years old and never produced this mayhem before. We might have to see that our many excesses on numerous levels are so dysfunctional that they’ve turned our homes and our society into monster factories.
This lends an especially frantic quality to the search for scapegoats. We need someone to blame; someone who isn’t us.
Unfortunately for us, these young men often come from backgrounds and situations that we’ve been taught to admire and seek for ourselves. These aren’t ghetto kids. They aren’t minorities. They aren’t poor, uneducated or stupid. They aren’t even physically ugly.
Are we supposed to scapegoat the upper middle class? Are we expected to decry family life in our best neighborhoods, our wealthiest school districts and among our most well-educated and successful citizenry?
This is what we all want to be: Rich, successful, going to the best schools, regarded as brilliant.
No wonder we look at young men who kill and blame the guns they are holding. If we don’t, we’re going to have to take a look at something that not only comes from the abyss, but that defies all our well-oiled aspirations.
Blame is our game and we need something to hook that blame onto. We need an object, an idea, a reason that will answer the why of these killings without confronting us with ourselves. The problem with this approach is that it is the antithesis of the painstaking reconstruction that happens after an airliner crashes. It has nothing to do with the honesty and learning process of medical and police review boards.
Rather than helping us come to a true understanding of what is wrong so that we can begin the process of fixing it, the blame game and its hurry-up urgency to do something simple, makes sure we will never understand. If we can affix blame on inanimate objects and then rush, rush, rush to do something about them, then we will be able to avoid doing the painful self-analysis of a legitimate search for answers.
Until it happens again.
Which it will.
Because we didn’t do anything useful with our blame-game and quick fix.
Here’s a for instance. It is a fact that people with red hair are more likely to get skin cancer. So, in the blame-game way of thinking, we would blame the red hair. Ergo, what we should do to avoid skin cancer is to dye our hair black.
That’s the kind of thinking we are trying to employ in our dealings with these mass murdering young men. Maybe we should take away assault rifles. That may be one of the things we need to do. But if that’s all we do, I can promise you, it won’t stop these mass murderers from mass murdering.
Since I will have to vote on at least some of these issues, those are more than words, much more than a political pose to me. How to save lives and preserve freedom, how to convert a culture that finds offense in the idea that it needs conversion; those are the questions. I don’t believe that the answers lie entirely in political battles and legislation. Neither do I believe that the people of this nation are ready to hear that.
I’m not so sure that a nation of people who are addicted to pointing fingers at other people and who refuse to give even one inch in any of their personal opinions and shibboleths can deal with these murderers among us. I question whether we have the honesty and the will to save ourselves from ourselves.
I do know that these young men did not spring fully-formed from the forehead of Zeus. They were made over long periods of time, partly by their heredity, partly by their homes, but mostly by our society. We are teaching them to kill.
Until we face that, we will never “do something” that will end this long nightmare of violence.