When a gunman kills twenty-six people in a South Texas Church there is no way you can talk about anything else. That’s part of the web of reasons that people like Devin Patrick Kelley commit these horrid crimes–it’s a surefire way to get your name in the papers. In fact, the New York Times has four separate stories running as I write.
Devin Patrick Kelley goes from obscurity to infamy in a matter of minutes. No one knows who this tragic mess of a man is, and suddenly everybody is rooting through the detritus of his hapless existence looking for clues. Why did he do it? What was the motive? Did he leave a note?
Right wing websites say Kelley must have converted to Islam and they have a picture to prove it. Left wing websites insist that, surely, this time, we will have a serious conversation about gun control (all the while knowing that we won’t).
And then President Trump says this isn’t a gun thing, it’s a mental health thing.
It is clearly both. We’ve got a lot of mental health problems in America, Trump ad libs, “just like other countries.”
Sure, every country has its share of mental problems, but America is special. Americans are ten times as likely to die from gun violence than people in other developed countries in the Western. We are special.
Gun violence is in our DNA. Take Carole King, for example. She was a big deal in my senior year of high school. One song on her “Tapestry” album disturbed me at the time. It starts like this:
Now, Smackwater Jack,
He bought a shotgun
‘Cause he was in the mood
For a little confrontation
He just let it all hang loose
He didn’t think about the noose
He couldn’t take no more abuse
So he shot down the congregation.
Contrasted with “Big Jim the chief”, the bulldog sheriff, and the self-righteous town people who are pleased to learn of the killer’s demise, old Smackwater Jack comes off like a hero. It’s almost as if “the congregation” had it coming.
Songs like Smackwater Jack are distinctly American. We like to fantasize about killing large groups of defenseless people. We like gratuitous violence in our movies, our song lyrics and our computer games. Just this morning the good folks on Sports Central were talking about the passion for destruction that motivates football players. They thought that was a good thing.
H. Rap Brown was right, “violence is as American as cherry pie.”
Devin Patrick Kelley’s motive was depressingly simple. He had been kicked out of the army. He had been cited for animal abuse. He had lost his family due to cruel and boorish behavior. And he wanted someone to pay. The folks at First Baptist looked like good targets because, from all appearances, they enjoyed intact families and the respect of a community that knows them well.
Kelley was fantaizing about his crime long before he strapped on his bullet-proof vest. It’s the fantasy that gets these guys stoked for action. “He couldn’t take no more abuse, so he shot down the congregation.”
Because violence is born of fantasy, visions of peace are the only antidote.
And now we’re talking about bringing guns to church. Maybe its just the deacons who should be armed, or perhaps everybody with a license should be packing. That way, if another Devin Patrick Kelley comes a-calling, he’ll die in a hail of bullets before he gets through the door.
More violent fantasy.
The only cure for violent fantasy is prophetic fantasy. I believe in gun control (I’m Canadian for God’s sake), but that will only reduce the body count, it won’t solve the problem. Our imaginations must be healed.
Consider these words from Isaiah 11:
With righteousness he shall judge the poor
and decide with equity for the meek of the earth;
and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth,
and with the breath of his lips he shall slay the wicked.
The Messiah destroys the wicked with words of peace, not superior firepower.
Righteousness shall be the girdle of his waist,
and faithfulness the girdle of his loins.
The wolf shall dwell with the lamb,
and the leopard shall lie down with the kid,
and the calf and the lion and the fatling together,
and a litte child shall lead them.
Fantasies of peace are the only antidote to the fantasies of violence and retribution that haunt the American imagination. If we start talking seriously about bringing our guns to church instead of our bibles, we will have denied our Savior in distinctly American fashion.
If we want a peaceful world, we need fantasies of peace.