America’s most disgruntled citizens are at it again. There have been too many mass shootings, or attempted mass shootings, in recent days. (I first drafted this post a week ago, in the wake of a horrific weekend in Buffalo and elsewhere.) Of course, even one is too many, and there have been over 200 this year already. As I pondered and prayed over this, I made an unexpected connection.
If you read my posts regularly, you will recall that God put it on my heart to pray for Putin and Trump during Lent this year. Then, a week ago Sunday, Henry and I listened to a news special outlining Fareed Zakaria’s take on Putin’s mindset. Zakaria delved into Putin’s history, and I learned more about his calculated cruelty and his life experiences of trauma that undergird that cruelty.
The connection I made was realizing that Putin’s invasion of Ukraine is a mass shooting writ large. The same “the world’s not going the way I want” rant underlies both a white eighteen-year-old’s manifesto and an aging autocrat’s invasion. Both want to change things with gunfire and eliminate those people they don’t like and can’t control.
They are also influenced by their surroundings and upbringing. Putin grew up in Russia’s equivalent of “the projects,” doing battle with rats and learning to fight to survive. Combat, be it guns or poison, is the only way he knows how to deal with “the other.” A radicalized American eighteen-year-old likely learned to kill through video games, becoming numb to the reality of what it means to end the life of another human being. He has also been taught that he will not thrive, and maybe not survive, in the coming multi-ethnic American plurality that lies ahead.
Societies do form heroes as well as monsters. We laud the pastor who tackled the shooter in California, and he certainly acted courageously. But an even more courageous act would be for American society and its leaders to embrace every one of its citizens, declare everyone of equal value and worth, and commit to talking and working together to create what Martin Luther King Jr., Barbara Holmes, and others call “beloved community.”
I also drafted this post after spending four days at the Spiritual Directors International’s annual conference, where the theme was Engage. Many of the presentations revolved around or touched on issues of trauma and how we as spiritual directors can minister to traumatized people. (I will be reflecting on some of what I gleaned at the conference—and not just about trauma—in my blog posts in June.) The connection I want to make today is about our need to remain engaged with the world in which we live, even when it feels impossible.
I want to believe beloved community is possible. We don’t need to express our pain through mass shootings. But in order to do that, we must have the resources to heal our wounds. We also have to learn to minister to the traumatized people around us, and to not add to others’ trauma. We are all called to do this in different ways, but we are all called. I’ll be reflecting more on that in June as well.
What is God calling you to do, in response to what I’ve written today?