I was having breakfast the other day while in Mexico and struck up a conversation with an American woman. She asked me if I had ever been to that region before, and we talked about solo travel in Mexico and Central America. She asked me if I thought that it would be safe for her to travel to another part of Mexico, Oaxaca. I paused for a few seconds. And then I said — and we locked eyes as she had the same thought at the same time –“But… we have mass shootings pretty much every day now in the U.S.” She was nodding with me before the words were even out of my mouth. We both realized it. What are we doing acting as though other countries are somehow more dangerous than our own?
The very next day, Nikolas Cruz went to school with an AR-15 that he acquired legally, and murdered Alyssa Alhadeff, a fourteen year old. He killed Scott Beigel, a teacher. He killed Martin Duque Anguiano, a 14 -year old. He killed high school senior Nicholas Dworet, and football coach Aaron Feis. He shot and killed 14 year old Jaime Guttenberg, and athletic director Chris Hixon. He killed Luke Hoyer and Cara Laughran, 15 and 14 years old. He killed Gina Montalto, 15, and Joaquin Oliver, 17 and Alana Petty, 14. He walked through the halls and killed 18-year old Meadow Pollack, and 17- year old Helena Ramsay. Alex Schachter’s life ended at the age of 14 that day, as did the lives of Carmen Schentrup, who was 15, and Peter Wang, the same age.
He terrorized an entire community and shattered countless lives.
I won’t read any articles about Nikolas Cruz. I know only that he was radicalized by our culture of violence and shooter celebrity and that he sent out enough warning signs and exhibited enough disturbing behavior to be expelled from school and reported to the FBI. Further analysis is a waste of time — a distraction from the real issue, which is the United States’ worship of the god of guns.
We must stop assigning the descriptor “mentally ill” to all the young, white men who obtain guns and go on killing sprees. It is too easy an explanation and implies that any of our mental health is a thing that exists outside of the context of culture. “Mental illness” is far too broad a term to be productive as a talking point after these mass murders, and it stigmatizes everyone who suffers with any kind of mental illness.
I prefer to look at societal illness, cultural illness, sick leadership and spiritual sickness.
It is devastating to think that there are over 100,000 young people living in the United States today who have the shared experience of having survived a school shooting.
We have become a nation of whom prospective tourists now legitimately ask each other, “Have you been to the United States? I’m not sure I would go — it’s too dangerous.”
In many ancient Scripture stories, God punishes hard-hearted leaders or communities. I don’t believe in that kind of God, nor does our UU religious heritage teach that theology. We are punishing ourselves. And it is for us, the people, to turn the hearts of the corrupt rulers who take money from the National Rifle Association with one hand while wiping crocodile tears with the other and mouthing empty platitudes about “thoughts and prayers.”
We are so lucky — even when it feels like an overwhelming responsibility — to belong to a faith tradition that has always taught that service and justice-making is a form of prayer. Our thoughts and prayers have action behind them.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are those who work for change, for they shall not fall into despair.