“What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.” (C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew)

According to the American Gun Safety Campaign Everytown for Gun Safety, the killing of seventeen people and the injuring of others at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida constitutes the eighteenth school shooting of 2018. The group defines a school shooting as “any time a firearm discharges a live round inside a school building or on a school campus or grounds, as documented by the press and, when necessary, confirmed through further inquiries with law enforcement or school officials.”

“There were three shootings at different schools in Texas, two in different California schools and two in different Michigan schools, according to Everytown’s data. There are 10 other states that had at least one shooting.

In eight of the 17 school shootings recorded by Everytown prior to (the Florida incident), a gun was fired but no one was injured.

Two of the shootings were classified as being attempted or completed suicides with no intent to injure another person.

The Gun Violence Archive, which tracks reports of mass shootings — defined as incidents where four or more people are shot, not including the shooter — reports there have been 30 mass shooting incidents so far in 2018, including today’s in Florida.”[1]

Apparently:[2]

  • Americans own 48% of the world’s handguns,
  • Americans have more guns per capita, and by a long way, that any other country,
  • Americans constituting 31% of global mass shooters despite making up less than 5% of the world’s population,
  • American gun homicide rates are 25.2 times higher than other high income countries
  • Most American gun owners (two-thirds) say a major reason they own a gun is for their personal protection, according to the Pew study. However, the majority of America’s firearm-related deaths are attributed to self-harm.
  • Gun-related suicides are eight times higher in the US than in other high-income nations.

While, once more, it has been directed that flags be flown at half-mast in honour of the victims of a mass shooting, there has been much reaction to the Florida incident on social media. What has been striking, if not unexpected, are the wildly opposing views regarding American gun ownership. On one side people have called for more gun control while others have called for armed guards in each class room in each school. The problem for some is that there are too many guns and in the hands of the wrong people, while for others, the answer to such events is to put more guns in the hands of more people.

I cannot comprehend, try though I do, the position of those who advocate more guns rather than fewer. Quite clearly, they are standing in a quite different place, and perhaps are, as C. S. Lewis suggests very different people.

What made those people think like they do who advocate pouring oil onto a fire to extinguish it?

What made me think the way I do and so come to a very different conclusion on the same issue?

In the first chapter of the book some of the people of the Penlee Cluster of churches are reading for Lent[3], the author, John Pavlovitz, wrote of his upbringing in a close, caring, loving Christian community. There his views of the world and of other people were first formed but that formation did not end there. Further events altered the lenses through which he would view the world, changed the place on which he would stand to see the people and events around him. I was moved by Pavlovitz’s realisation, when he went away to college, that the closeness of his community effectively shut out people not like him. He wrote, “Along with my stories about a big God who loved little me, and an affectionate family who (were) for me, I also inherited some false stories too, about people of colour, about gay people, about poor people, about addicts, about born-again Christians, about atheists. In my handed down narratives, these people were all to be avoided or feared, or at the very least approached with great scepticism, because something about the stories I’d learned told me that I was just a little bit more deserving of the love of this big God than they were.”

The hope in this story, for me, and a hope that can be shared by people of every faith or none, is that it is possible to change where we stand. It is possible to alter the lenses bequeathed to us by our upbringing and early environment and to learn to think and, therefore one would hope, act differently.

But while I see hope in Pavlovitz’s realisations of the limitations of his thinking, I also want to acknowledge that such change may be far from easy. The American writer James Baldwin said, “I imagine one of the reasons people cling to their hates so stubbornly is because they sense, once hate is gone, they will be forced to deal with pain.”

The journey towards change is rarely one we can make easily alone, we need companions along the way. That word companion means literally “bread fellow” or mess mate” from the Latin com (together) and panis (bread). That takes us right back to Pavlovitz’s “bigger table” and my hope that it might be a place where we can each make that journey, honestly and courageously, towards deeper understanding and more authentic living.

Sometimes, however, churches can have “smaller tables”, that is they are communities where our views are reinforced rather than challenged. I leave the final challenge today with Baldwin (and one can substitute for the word God any belief system including liberal humanism, I suggest):  “If the concept of God has any use, it is to make us larger, freer, and more loving. If God can’t do that, it’s time we got rid of him.”

 

[1] http://abcnews.go.com/US/18-school-shootings-us-year-group/story?id=53091125

[2] https://edition.cnn.com/2017/10/03/americas/us-gun-statistics/index.html

[3] A Bigger Table by John Pavlovitz

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