I Know That Kid, by Mike Glenn
As I sit here and try to think about what to write for this column, I’m having a hard time finding the right words. The endless news cycle of our 24-hour culture is going over the shooting in El Paso, only breaking away in order to go more in depth about the shooting in Dayton. How many were killed? How many were wounded? What kind of weapon was used? How long did it take before the police responded? What do we know about the shooter?
Of course, each segment is interrupted for an on-the-scene interview with a first responder who tells us it’s the worst scene he or she has ever responded to. Witnesses are ambushed by microphone waving reporters and frozen in the glare of the camera lights. What did you see? What did you do?
Like you, I’m overwhelmed. I’m numb. I don’t know what to think. There are the usual cries for gun control legislation, and politicians rush to blame this person or that person. Even with more laws, I’m not sure anything meaningful will change. Something is wrong in our nation. Something is broken in the souls of our people. More laws won’t fix that.
As I think about this, I keep fixating on the word “alienated”. Every shooter, it seems, is described as being “alienated”. We’ll be shown pictures of the attacker; their clothes and hairstyle will be analyzed. The music they listened to, the video games they played, all in an effort to understand an event that cannot be understood. You can’t find rational understandings of an irrational act. Irrational acts, by their very nature, don’t make sense.
But it’s that word “alienated” that I can’t get away from. Here’s why. Like most pastors, my first position was being a student minister in a local church. My student group was like most every other student group you’ve seen in any church. There was a central core of “good kids”. Then, there were “jocks”,“nerds”, and an assorted mix of others who drifted in and out of the various cliques.
Then, there was “that guy”.
He would always be around, and I emphasize “around”. He was never quite in, and he was never quite out. All the other kids knew him, but one really knew him. They knew his name. They might know where he lived, but other than that, they didn’t know much about him at all.
Except that he was “weird”. The girls thought he was creepy, and the jocks just made fun of him. He wasn’t a follower. He wasn’t a leader. He was just there. No one wanted him around, and he seemed to know that so he would always keep his distance.
He would always have some obscure fact like how much we would weigh if we were on Jupiter or how many poisonous snakes there were in Latin America.
He was hard to get to know. He was moody, maybe angry. Sometimes he would speak and other times he wouldn’t. Over time, he became part of the background and no one noticed if he was there or not. For me as the student minister leader, it was easier when he wasn’t there. The kids were more relaxed.The event went smoother.
Eventually, he quit coming all together. I can’t remember if I noticed when it happened.
And another young man became “alienated”.
Maybe I should have tried harder. Maybe I should have made more of an effort, looked more closely for some kind of connection.
But I was busy. I had a lot of kids in my student ministry. And you know, you can’t save everybody.
But could I have reached out to one more?
I’m not naïve. I’m not sure anyone could have prevented what happened in El Paso, Dayton, Parkland, Las Vegas or anywhere else we’ve had a mass shooting.
I’m just haunted by that word. Would the story have been any different if these young men weren’t “alienated”? I don’t know.
But what if someone had noticed something was wrong and helped these young men find some kind of help?
What if someone had known his name?
Heard his story?
Been his friend? The kind of friend who the young man could call at any time about anything?
Over and over, in survey after survey, we’re told how lonely our world is. Most people can’t name five people they could call if they had an emergency.
Most people are “alienated”.
The gospel begins with the hard reality that at one time, all of us were aliens. All of us were laughed at, overlooked and marginalized. Then, Christ reached out to us, and for the most part, Christ reached out to us in the love of another person.
Most of us can still remember that person’s name.
This is all I’m saying. It really doesn’t take a lot of time or effort to reach out to someone who’s hard to reach. It may take a little determination, but it doesn’t take much energy at all. One more phone call, one more patient conversation that will, in time, lead to another conversation.
Before you know, that guy isn’t a stranger any more, but a unique friend with a lot of interesting stories.
My life is full of friends like this – professional bull riders, roadies for rock and roll groups, computer hackers, tattoo artists, and servers at my favorite restaurants. They were once “aliens” – at least to me – now, they’re good friends.
Slow down. Look around. Find that guy. You know the one. Listen. Hear their story. In the name of God, become their friend.
Friend of the friendless. Isn’t that how we describe Jesus? And if we’re a friend of Jesus, it’s how the world will describe us as well.