Preventing Mass Shootings by Going Back to Kindergarten

I have recently been using Jesus is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and the 3 He Answered by Martin Copenhaver in the Bible Study I co-facilitate for parents of school-age children.

compassionThe second chapter of this book speaks of Compassion and the act of truly seeing someone. Honestly, it did not resonate with me when I first read it. It seemed rather mundane. I remember thinking, “Yeah, okay. Notice people. Pay attention to the stranger. Show compassion to the outcast. Blah, blah, blah.”

It felt a bit basic, like Kindergarten Christianity.

By the end of the week, however, this chapter eerily struck home. On that Thursday our local and national news channels broadcasted word of yet another mass shooting. This time the tragedy unfolded at the Umpqua Community College just over an hour south from where we live in Oregon. With my own 18 year-old son having just started at our local community college, I felt a deeper pit in my stomach when the names and especially the ages of the victims were read.

It is still unimaginable.

Do you see this woman?” Jesus asks a Pharisee who has generously dumped judgement on a woman who crashed the Pharisee’s party and proceeded to wash Jesus’ feet with her tears and dry them with her hair. Simon, the host, while busy labeling the woman a sinner had himself neglected to show such hospitality to Jesus (Luke 7:36-50).

Do you SEE this woman? Do I?

Copenhaver argues in Chapter Two that Jesus’ question comes with risks. If we choose to see the woman, really see her, we might “need to move beyond the stereotypes and preconceptions“. We might “have to stop simply labeling her a sinner,” “relate to her as a person, as one soul to another,” and “respond to her with compassion” as Jesus did.

Do you see this woman? Do you see this man? Do you see these people?

In a recent report about the Umpqua shooter, it is suspected in part that he carried out this heart wrenching, violent act to gain notoriety and be seen. In a since-deleted internet comment he left regarding the August shooting in Virginia he concluded, “Seems the more people you kill, the more you’re in the limelight.”

He is not the only one who ever sought the limelight.

Let’s face it.

So many of us long to be seen, to be noticed, to be valued and deemed worthy.

We post our selfies to Instagram, share inspirational memes on Facebook, and tweet our daily comings and goings in an effort to be seen and validated. I have realized for myself that too often I am more interested in how many people liked or commented on something I shared than in what others have posted.

Blame quickly followed the reports of this mass shooting: too little gun control; not enough guns in each law abiding citizens’ hands; too many attacks on masculinity by too many feminists; too little mental health services. I even read vaccines and medications to be the ultimate culprits.

I, however, can’t help but believe that this horrific attack was due in part to the missing sense of community in the life of shooter, Chris Harper-Mercer. Who were the core people who truly saw him and related to him as a human being, “one soul to another?” Where were the individuals with the Christ-like vision to see him with compassion?

I would wager that such people in his life were few and far between.

Sadly even in the wake of his death, most are unable “to move beyond the stereotype or preconception” of him as autistic, or mentally ill, or bi-racial, or a loner, or the child of a single mother.

loserWe prefer to label him a loser, as I’ve read in many on-line comments, or lay blame at the feet of his mother for her failures in raising him better or his father for not being a bigger part of his life.

Simon, the Pharisee, could only identify the woman who tended to Jesus as a sinner. He was unable to see her with compassion. He wanted nothing to do with her loser-self and was annoyed that she was usurping Jesus’ attention. It was all about him.

And today 2000 years later, nothing’s changed.

Individual needs seem to trump what the community would benefit from as a whole. On most days I see a society that is leaning more and more toward division, public shaming, disrespect, and disregard.

We would never dream of seeing mass shootings as a communal problem.

It is too difficult or impossible to consider the impact or consequences of how we treat one another. We can’t bother to compassionately see one another, especially the outsiders or outcasts. I’m questioning these days if we even know how. We fire off our personal world-wide-web opinions with no regard for the targeted people involved. (A reason, I believe, Donald Trump continues to lead in the polls. He channels and personifies this growing attitude of disregard and disrespect.)

I listened to Monica Lewinsky’s TED Talk, The Price of Shame, yesterday as she addressed our 21st Century problem of cyber-bullying. She spoke of being one of the first to endure it and how today, even more so,

We need to return to a long-held value of compassion—compassion and empathy. Online, we’ve got a compassion deficit, an empathy crisis.”

I couldn’t agree more.

Maybe my initial thought of Copenhaver’s chapter on compassion as being Kindergarten Christianity wasn’t too far off or wrong. Perhaps as a society that has developed a compassion deficit and empathy crisis we need to go back to the basics, the kind we learned in kindergarten.

KindergartenPatti Ghezzi, in her article on Kindergarten Social Changes, admits that Kindergarten has become more about 5 year-olds being academically prepared for 1st grade.

Still,” she writes, “a primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children to work together, share, accept each other’s differences, solve problems by communicating, and enjoy playing with each other.”

Let’s hear that again class:

A primary intent of kindergarten is to teach children

to Work together,

to Share,

to Accept Differences,

to Solve Problems by Communicating

and Enjoy Playing with Each Other.

Come on people!

As a society we must acknowledge our current compassion deficit and empathy crisis and face down this destructive emotional epidemic by returning to the Kindergarden basics of cooperation, sharing, acceptance, communication, and play.

To embody more compassion and empathy requires we return to a more tender time, as children eager to embrace the world, open to the power and possibilities of community.

Let us then intentionally choose to truly see one another—

the so-called saint and the presumed sinner,

the liberal and the conservative,

the neighbor and the stranger,

the Muslim and the Christian,

the Citizen and the Immigrant,

the socialite and the loner.

May we rise above “the stereotypes and preconceptions” we have for the Other.

Let us refrain from the habit of slapping labels on people and instead relate to each other as human beings, “as one soul to another,”  as we compassionately and empathetically engage one another in the world.



Homelessness and Humility


homeless Are you like me?

Too often I am uneasy waiting at a red light while a homeless individual begs for money.

My family and I moved to Oregon a year ago and there are still days when I am shocked to witness the size of the homeless population.

My first month here I drove passed a man on numerous occasions who held a cardboard sign in each hand. “Rock” was written on one sign;  “hard place” on the other.

Well put. So many men and women on the streets are stuck between that proverbial rock and a hard place.

I’ve taken the time to speak to a few of the homeless I’ve encountered.  One man shared that he was injured at work and evicted before his first disability check could arrive.  Another shared that he hated begging, but his work as an indoor painter had slowed down. True stories?  Perhaps.

Honestly, I don’t trip on whether they are telling me the truth or not.homeless dog and owner

Rather than judge, my faith calls me to be compassionate and to SEE these people as fellow human beings.  Have poor choices been made?  Probably.  Is drug or alcohol addiction or mental illness a factor.  Certainly possible.

Could I just as easily be in his or her position?  Absolutely.

I am keenly aware of how close my own family could have been to being homeless.  On several occasions, had we not had credit cards or family and friends to help out, our fate may have been quite different.

Even our move to Oregon found us on the edge of disaster when the house I had rented turned out to be too moldy to live in.  With no where else to go,  we stayed in a hotel—all of our belonging still in the rental truck—wondering how soon it would be before we’d find another place.  What an incredibly stressful situation even with the funds and friends to keep a roof over our heads in the week it took to find a home!

Opportunity Village

In October our church held a four-week forum in which  individuals who know homelessness first hand and those who work on their behalf spoke with church members.

Mike, who recently moved into a 8×12 unheated, micro-home in Eugene’s Opportunity Village, shared a powerful testimony during a Bible study on humility ( Luke 18:9-14). With Mike’s permission, our pastor offered his words in a sermon:

 “‘I suppose those who live in big, warm houses might think, ‘I am glad for Opportunity Village, but I am also grateful that I am not living there.’ And since I live in Opportunity Village I have a tendency to think, ‘I am so glad I am not like others who must suffer through the cold on the streets.’ But then I think to myself, ‘it wasn’t long ago that I was on the streets just trying to live and get along.’ So the perspective offered to me from this passage is that I should always try to do something for my brothers and sisters on the street. So every day I try to gather up some food to give them something to eat.’ And that is what Mike does each day.” (Humility at All Times In Everything: Rev. Jonathan Morgan)


That’s the key. From out of Mike’s humility, his compassion rises.

Let us do likewise.

Discomfort could very well be a natural reaction as we encounter those who are homeless in our communities, but may our hearts remain ever free of pride and arrogance as we extend a helping hand.

Let humility be the ground from which our compassion springs forth.

Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”
1 Peter 5:5b


Called to Pray for and Forgive our Enemies

Let’s face it.

We are a  society that has become accustomed to violence in the media.

Turn on the television, catch the latest blockbuster flick, or load up a video game and violence will be found.  Guaranteed.  We are used to it. We expect it. We even, at times, crave those blood drenched, action packed story lines.

And yet, when the real bullets begin to fly as they did early last Friday morning in Aurora, Colorado, we are shocked and horrified. Fantasy becoming reality? I cannot even begin to imagine what movie-goers that night were experiencing as a fun night out became a never-to-be-forgotten nightmare.

Image from Warner Brother’s Upcoming “Gangster Squad” movie.

It is so tragic.

Warner Bros. Pictures quickly and rightly responded in part by pulling the preview of the upcoming crime movie which depicts mobsters opening fire in, of all places, a movie theater–a preview we might not have had any emotional response to until Friday’s incident.

The sociologist in me cannot help but wonder about the impact of the vast amounts of fantasy violence on individuals and society as a whole.  What causes an individual to plan such a heinous  and senseless crime? Is there a desire to be like the brutal characters on film or in the video games?  James Holmes, the shooter did apparently declare himself  to be “the Joker”,  one of Batman’s main nemeses. Was he living out his own dark fantasy?

According to Daily Mail (, “Experts believe it is more likely that Holmes was suffering from a genetic psychotic illness which could have acted like a ‘time bomb’ set to go off any time between the ages of 15 and 25.”

I think about this disturbed man’s future.

Should he be convicted, life will not be easy in prison.  The reality is, his mental illness, if that is indeed what ails him, probably won’t be well managed once incarcerated.  Because of the nature of the crime and the many innocent victims (especially the women and children) his welcome, by both correction officers and inmates, will be less than warm and friendly behind prison walls. Solitary confinement may be his only chance of physical survival, but the 23 hours a day in a small cell may exacerbate his “psychotic illness”.

So right about now you might be saying, “So what?! Who cares what happens to that  psycho? He murdered 12 people, including a 6 year old girl, and injured dozens and dozens more.  He deserves the harshest punishment, even death!  So what if he is shanked and murdered by another inmate or ignored or neglected so long by prison staff that he takes his own life in solitary?”

But here’s the hard part for followers of Christ.

Within the Christian tradition, Jesus challenges believers to “love your enemies and bless the one who curses you, and do what is beautiful to the one who hates you, and pray over those who take you by force and persecute you” (Aramaic Bible in Plain English, ©2010). He also asks that we forgive.

For most of us, James Holmes is not our personal enemy, but we may perceive him as such.  He has brought fear into our lives.  We may feel cursed now.  Going out to the movies may draw out more anxiety than joyful anticipation.  Or perhaps we have lost faith in a secure society as a whole–we feel “taken by force” and “persecuted” by our own culture of violence acted out by Holmes.

I was moved by the peaceful response by the Amish community in October 2006 when Charles Roberts killed 10 Amish school girls as an act of revenge against God for the death of his own newborn daughter 9 years prior.  He stated that he had never forgiven God.  What amazed me the most is that at his funeral—he had committed suicide before police could apprehend him—there were more Amish people present than non-Amish folks. Talk about living out one’s faith! They were showing us all what it meant to pray for one’s enemy and most of all, to find forgiveness.

I don’t know what I would do if a family member of mine were to be murdered. I honestly don’t.  But I do pray that through my faith, I would be able to transform all hate, fear, and sorrow and move into a place of forgiveness and peace.

May we come together as a nation in this time of sorrow for the tragedy in Aurora.  Let us pray not only for the families and friends of all the victims, but also stretch our comfort zone and pray for James Holmes and his family.


Words of Wisdom…

My maternal grandfather sent this poem to my mom when she was a young mother and told her it was worth reading every day.  I couldn’t agree more.  I continue to be amazed at how timeless it is.  Read each line slowly, considering its place in your life right now. May these words, written nearly 100 years ago, bless your day.


Go placidly amid the noise and haste,

and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,

be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly;

and listen to others, even to the dull and ignorant;

they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons,

they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,

you may become vain or bitter;
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.

Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career, however humble;

it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs;

for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to the virtue there is;

many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself.
Especially, do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love;

for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment, it is as perennial as the grass.

Take kindly the counsel of the years,

gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.

But do not distress yourself with imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.

You are a child of the universe,

no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,

no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God,

whatever you conceive Him to be,
and whatever your labors and aspirations,

in the noisy confusion of life, keep peace with your soul.
With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,

it is still a beautiful world.

Be cheerful.

Strive to be happy.

© Max Ehrmann 1927

A Different Kind of Occupation

It was one of those visions in the twilight hours of the morning.  Three words came to mind, “Occupy your heart.”  An Ah-ha moment to be sure.  Well, okay…not really.  Truthfully, although the phrase seemed profound,  at such an hour, the depth of it truly escaped me.

Occupy your heart.  I thought about the phrase all day.  Could it mean, “Be compassionate.  Lead with your heart”?  I immediately engaged into judgment mode.

I considered the various wealthy men running for the Republican nomination for president.  Take presidential hopeful, Mitt Romney, for instance.  I had heard that if you broke down his recent yearly earnings, he made around $57,000–a DAY.

Again, I realize I am being judgmental (and should probably first go for the plank sticking out of my own eye before trying to remove the fleck of gold, I mean, sawdust, in Mr. Romney’s eye—Matthew 7:3) but can anyone who is surrounded with so much wealth lead with his heart?

To what extent can a wealthy person occupy her or his heart with compassion and empathy when s/he most likely doesn’t know what it means to struggle financially, to have to decide between medication or food, to wear nothing but thrift store clothes, or to commute four hours one-way by bus for a minimum wage job because you can’t afford a car?

I remember years back the heartache and stress of having only $30 for groceries for the week.  Subtract the $10 needed for baby formula—the breastfeeding had ended sooner than I had hoped—and our family of 4 had hardly anything to work with.  We made it, but only after receiving a food box donated to us by our day care provider.  She had noticed how lean our preschooler’s lunch box had gotten.

No, being financially strapped didn’t make me a saint.  But that experience, and every time after when financial hardship has rested at our door, have nurtured my ability to empathize—to be compassionate and occupy my heart with love for those who struggle to make ends meet.

What about the person who has been rich in health?  It can be difficult to relate to someone with chronic pain or illness when you have never suffered from sickness in your own life.  When I was a hospital chaplain, I knew a woman who had chronic fatigue syndrome.

She came daily to visit her husband who was often hospitalized for chronic issues of his own.  I recall silently doubting she really had a medical problem.  She seemed healthy to me.  In my mind, her so-called “chronic fatigue” was more like an excuse not to work.

And then, less than 3 years later, I began experiencing my own physical melt down—often fighting pain and, ironically enough, a constant lack of energy.  Financial struggles, chronic health problems…occupying my heart with compassion and understanding for others who suffer was no longer difficult—it was a natural response.

To my surprise, it wasn’t until that evening—after nearly a full day of pondering those three words—that the phrase became ever more meaningful.  As a spiritual discipline, I read scripture, then journal my reflections or insights to God or just to myself.  That night, as I was combing through past entries,  these words stood out, “[T]hat Christ may dwell in your heart through faith as you are being rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:17 ).

And now the Ah-ha.  My early morning epiphany wasn’t simply “Occupy your heart.”    This phrase as it came to me was neither complete nor intended to be something done by me, rather through me.  The message that became clear that evening was this: Let God occupy your heart.  Surrender to the Holy.   Invite that which is sacred into your very being.  Allow God to dwell in your heart and see how you might be transformed by that kind of occupation.  

Surrender.  Invite.  Allow.  Those are the kind of actions required.  After that, it is the Holy Spirit in action working within us.  Imagine what might happen, for instance, if we surrendered all that troubles us into God’s care?  Consider the transformations we might experience if we would only invite that which is sacred into our hearts.

What would it be like if we allowed our faith or spiritual practice to truly guide our daily living?

Having faith or being a spiritual person does involve action on our part.  We study sacred scriptures, pray or meditate, gather in community, give of our time, treasure and talent, but ultimately we are required to surrender and allow that which is greater than ourselves to direct our way of living and being in the world.

When we do, it won’t matter what kind of life experiences we have or haven’t had.  Compassion and kindness and understanding will emerge out those occupied hearts of ours.

So, if even just for today, let God occupy your heart and see what happens.