We have been here before. Increasingly, muted shock is our reaction as the news of someone going on a murderous rampage marks our days, this time at the Navy Yard in Washington.
Even the assailant’s profile is familiar as details emerge: a loner suffering from mental illness, struggling to hold down a job and make a life, who spends hours playing violent video games, fascinated with all kinds of complex weaponry, who goes suddenly and strangely on the attack.
Typically, we respond with a simple problem-solving approach. We tick off a list. We round up the usual suspects: lobby for more and better gun control, give higher priority to mental health care, ratchet up security in key public places, better control of insanely violent video games, etc. The idea is to find the few simple steps to prevent such rampages in the future. But guess what? Mysteries of good and evil in the world don’t lend themselves to mere problem-solving. Mysteries of infinite goodness and unspeakable evil belong to a longer arc than a fix-it impulse.
Yes, we need better gun control, better care for the mentally ill, security in vulnerable places, and stricter control of video games teaching our young bizarre carnage. But here is the point: even more, we need a bigger approach than problem-solving. And we are going in the opposite direction. Listen to the words of Dr. Janis Orlowski, the chief surgeon treating the latest victims.
“There is something evil in our society that we as American have to work to try to eradicate. There’s something wrong here when we have these multiple shootings, these multiple injuries. There’s something wrong and the only thing I can say is we have to work harder to get rid of it.”
Where do stubborn mysteries like human evil get candidly addressed but at churches, mosques, and synagogues? Where else do we hear seriously discussion of such powerful hidden realities except gathered in holy places? But attendance drops at such places is because we clamor after something “more relevant” than engaging mysteries, sacred and profane. When we say that, it feels like we lack the patience for this longer arc of lingering over deep and intractable realities. We don’t like to peer into human nature. It’s not optimistic to linger over troubling darkness. We won’t put forth the effort to be thrown together into dilemmas from which deeply creative light might emerge.
We just want to cope, to jump ahead to the problem-solving of solutions and recommendations. In no generation before us have things ever worked like that. Clearly, the church doesn’t have all of the answers. None of us are that smart or that good. But places of worship are the only sites asking the questions that may help us navigate a moral wilderness.
A wispy “Blessing of the Animals”, like this Sunday, might seem banal after the events of last week. Some will say, why not march on Washington or ban handguns? But if we begin teaching care for defenseless creatures, it can lead places that grow up into respect for all living things—perhaps even people. Maybe we need to slow down, redefine relevant, and take the longer arc.