When the gun shoots close to home

Peacebang–one of my favorite bloggers, a UU minister who defines herself as “UU Christian”–has made her statement about the Tennessee Valley UU Church shootings. And, as usual, she was in her normal, elegant form as she urged her fellow UUs to consider activism for gun control, quoting love from the scriptures and making me like Christianity like only she and my liberal friends can.

I don’t know what I think about the gun control issue. I believe in maintaining the Constitution as written and the original Bill of Rights. However, I must admit that I feel a certain disgust at the ease with which madmen, children, and people with purposes other than hunting or self-defense in mind can get ahold of guns. Something has to be done in the system to prevent guns from getting into the wrong hands. I don’t know what–I don’t have any answers–but I know we need to do something. Our society has become embarrassingly violent and desensitized to the violence.

Thanks to Peacebang’s many readers, I have been made aware of a fund that the UUA has set up for assistance in the relief effort for the congregations of TVUUC and Westside UUC (Linda Kraeger, one of the dead victims, was a member of the second church). I, of course, donated, even though I suspect that my own church will make a special offering to this fund on Sunday. I guess I’m can’t help myself as far as these sort of things go. The last emergency donation to a nationwide story I made was to the Katrina relief fund through the Red Cross. Though this cause is particularly close to my heart because I identify myself as a UU, I have to admit that I would help any church or organization faced with such tragedy. I just can’t help myself when there’s need… I hope you feel compelled to help as well, if even only in prayer and positive energy.

Shooting at a UU church in Knoxville, TN

I know I spoke of the church shooting at the megachurch in Colorado Springs last December because it mentally disturbed me to think of an attack occurring in a place of worship–where people go to feel a sense of security and nourish the soul. It seems particularly offensive to me for an attack to occur in what I feel is a “safe place.” My church–and most churches I’ve attended–give me a feeling of peace when I enter. It’s not somewhere you “expect” anything to happen, if you expect something to happen anywhere. Well, I mean, for example, if you go into a seedy bar, you accept a reasonable amount of the possibility of danger when you enter.

Yesterday morning in Knoxville, TN, a man open-fired on a congregation at the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church. Now it feels even more personal to me as I am a UU attending a UU church in Kent, Ohio. In fact, I was actually in church yesterday morning after two weeks of being away due to cycling-related activities and I was there with the intent to replenish my soul, which I often feel I need to recenter myself when battling my own inner demons and the craziness of the outside world. I go to church to worship my amorphous god in my amorphously undefined way and most days I leave feeling whole again. I can’t fully explain this in terms that are rational to the average non-believer; it’s simply the way I feel.

That in mind, it just shocks me to no end when things like this happen at places of worship or solace. Schools are another place I’ve always thought of as “safe,” but I guess in today’s society it’s insane to assume any place is a safe place. Again, I ask, where is all this insanity coming from? From where comes are all these people with anger issues who have found no other way to work through their anger than to shoot and kill other innocent people? It’s hard to believe that things have always been this way… I don’t know if it’s a product of our multi-media extravaganza of instant reporting from around the world, or if, truly, the world is becoming more insane as I sit here. I’d like to think things were always this way and we are just more aware of it now, but I just don’t know anymore.

My heart goes out to this congregation. I can’t imagine the horror of sitting at a service, like I do most Sundays, and having things go so horrifically tragic within seconds. To switch from a mode of worship to one of running for your life is just incredibly hard to fathom even though I keep trying to put myself in the shoes this congregation, to see the event unfold as they did in my attempt to empathize fully with their ordeal.

My heart is filled with hope, though, when I read examples of heroism, of adults throwing themselves in front of bullets to protect children and other congregants. For every “bad guy” there’s a few magnanimous, altruistic folks out there who are willing to sacrifice their lives to protect others. Maybe it was a knee-jerk reaction and not thought out at the moment–I’m sure no one expects to die amidst an act of heroism–but whatever it is that draws people to become martyrs in a split second, I praise it. Perhaps that is really an act motivated by God. Coming from someone who is mostly a deist, believing that God doesn’t interfere too much in the boring details of everyone’s daily life, I find I could believe that a moment such as this is truly a moment in which God intervenes.

It’s just unbelievable when people come together at moment of tragedy. It reminds me of the passengers of Flight 93 who stood up against the terrorists when they learned what happened to the Twin Towers in NYC. To take up a moment and oppose an attacker instead of cowering in fear and keeping low to extend their own lives (as I think I’d be inclined to do) is really inspiring. No one wants to die, but if your life saves the lives of countless others, it’s as the Vulcans say, “The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few.” To realize you’re involved in that sort of decision in a split second is absolutely unexplainable by logic. I suppose we just flip to auto-pilot in that moment and react without thinking. Maybe all it is is some primal coding of our DNA that presses the ultimate message to our brains that screams, “Survival of the species! Must protect the survival of the species!” Still, I hope there is some sort of reward in the hereafter in knowing that you helped others in this ultimate sacrifice.

For what it’s worth from my amorphous repertoire of undefined beliefs, my prayers go out to the members of the Tennessee Valley Unitarian Universalist church. If you’re the praying sort, or the positive energy sort, and you feel compelled to do so, please send your thoughts and prayers that way too. Especially pray for Greg McKendry and Linda Kraeger who both lost their lives in this terrible tragedy. You can also express your thoughts, prayers, and/or condolences on this Facebook page (thanks for the link, L.!)

And maybe add a little prayer for humanity–maybe someday we’ll stop being so cruel to each other. (Damn, that’s that idealist in me speaking again. Must submerge her eternal optimism.)

ADDED LATER:

The UUA reports on shooting.
The UUA president releases a statement.
Another UU blogger adds her two cents (and better than I did).

Tragedy for a cyclist on TOSRV

I’m going to write an entry about my experience on TOSRV, but first I wanted to relate this bit of tragic news I learned mid-ride while leaving Waverly (the first stop) on Sunday morning in the rain. A car driven by what I assumed to be people from the town slowed as I was pedaling and told me that a cyclist had been killed on Route 23. This was probably at about 10:30am as Michael and I had stayed at the Waverly stop to wait out the light thunderstorm that was rumbling through the area. The accident occurred at approximately 7:45am, so the news was a bit delayed and it was weird to me, in retrospect, that the driver of the vehicle was so frantic about me getting ahold of someone from TOSRV to let them know what had happened.

Having no way to inform anyone and figuring out that someone on the tour had contacted the correct authorities, I just continued on my way. However, I was a bit shaken by this news. This kind of incident reminds me that cycling can be dangerous. Throughout my ride on TOSRV, I could not help but notice there are three kinds of drivers: those who give cyclist ample berth, those who give cyclists way more berth than necessary, and those who don’t give cyclists any berth. There seems to be an on-going war in all communities between cyclists and those people who feel we have no right to be on the road. What has this society come to when every one is in such a damn hurry to get places that they can’t take a few seconds to move around a person on a bicycle?

Anyway, this event is still under investigation. The driver of the car who hit the cyclist (who was, I should mention, not on the proper TOSRV route) did a hit-skip, leaving the scene of the accident and, according to the article in Columbus Dispatch, returned a half hour later, claiming that she thought she hit a sign (!!). Whether it turns out the cyclist was in the wrong (it was not illegal to be on Route 23) and not “properly” dressed in bright gear (I was wearing a black rain coat, so I was not in proper bright attire myself), I will always contend that hit-skipping is the worst crime ever. No matter how scared you are for something you’ve done wrong, you should never just leave the scene of an accident like that. I know I would never do such a thing, ever. I would be too overwhelmed with guilt to just leave someone like that. Admit your guilt–whether accident or fault–and accept your punishment like an adult.

I’m seriously thinking of doing the Ride of Silence in Cleveland. Not for this guy necessarily, but to remind myself that what happened on TOSRV could happen to anyone, no matter how properly equipped you are on a bike. We all go into moments of tired concentration while trying to keep ourselves pedaling; I know I’ve made my share of mistakes while riding (forgetting to look before crossing an intersection, which I admittedly did once on TOSRV while following another rider). I know there have been times while driving where I’ve zoned out, worrying about work or a fight I had with someone or talking on my cell phone. Sometimes one bad decision you make can cost your life or the life of others. I would hope this somber message serves as a reminder to everyone that we should be more aware of the world around us when we’re on the road in any of our vehicles–whether they are motorized or not. And especially if they are not motorized because there is a lot of motorist rage out there against cyclists. (I was enlightened just outside of Columbus while crossing an intersection on green by a stopped motorist’s unsolicited rage against cyclists, which he shouted out his window with lots of explatives.)

The roads are for all types of vehicles. When driving, remember to share the road. If cyclists were forced to stay on bike paths, cycling would be a very boring occupation for those of us who enjoy challenging routes, long rides, and the ability to venture to alternate locations. I can’t tell you how exhilerating it is to see the world by bicycle (see previous blog entries). We tend to try to create our routes on the least trafficky roads possible, as we prefer to not mingle amongst busy motorist traffic, but sometimes you just can’t avoid a nasty stretch of busy road. We have a right to be there, so please respect our space.

Just in time for Christmas: Mall shootings, church shootings

I apologize in advance for the simplistic argument presented in this post. I realize I sound like an emotional flake. It happens sometimes.

What have we become as a society when, struggling with some internal psychological conflict, we take up arms and start shooting innocent people? I’m not trying to make light of this situation (despite the title of this entry). I can’t imagine what is going on in the minds of these people (though, the latest “church” shooter seems to have had some serious mental problems… duh…). But I’m worried about this trend in our society of people — sometimes children — taking out their frustration and madness by violently picking off the lives of innocent people.

This last round of shooting really got to me because it left me to ask, “Is there any place that’s safe?” The latest assissin was a crazed, angry ex-missionary-wanna-be who shot people who were attending church services on a Sunday morning! He got taken down and is no longer a problem, but who else is out there? Who is so mad and upset and hurting that the only solution he/she can see is violence against people who have nothing to do with the source of anguish? Where did this “solution” to our problems come from? When did guns go from a means of protection to an equalizer for one’s emotional issues? Could it really be violent video games?

I’m just at a loss to understand it. I wish these people, if they are feeling so miserable, would take out their own lives instead of bringing everyone else down with them. I don’t condone suicide. I just wish that when these people reached the conclusion that death is the only way out, they would just quietly chose it for themselves. Of course, I’d rather someone seek professional help and find a way out of their own internal mess. But if they’ve reached a point of no return with themselves, why can’t they just keep the death and destruction confined to themselves?

Being a tree-hugging pacificist liberal, I have my qualms with the Second Amendment. I personally think the law is antiquated in modern society when your life is not constantly threatened by “savages,” rogue cowboys, and wandering wild animals on the prairie. However, since there are other rights on the the Bill of Rights that I’m bound to protect for fear of them becoming altered in horrible ways (mainly, the First Amendment) so I will always argue against amending or rescinding any of the original ten rights. Therefore, I have to allow that citizens — only those without felony records — can bear arms and I just have to grin and bear it. I personally don’t want to bear any arms (can’t take them into most buildings anyway), but I won’t take those rights away from my fellow citizens and Charlton Heston (he’ll need the guns to defeat “those damn apes” someday anyway).

Still, part of me questions whether or not the easy access to guns also contributes to our violence. I’m told — but admittedly do not have facts to verify — that other countries, who do not allow citizens the free and easy right to bear arms, do not have the violence problem we do in the United States. Also, no other film industry in the world provides images of violence in such gory, graphic detail as the U.S. And aren’t all these video games generated in the U.S.? These Grand Theft Autos and the such, these games that teach kids that killing is easy and free and without consequence and in such glorious, mind-blowing detail. Does the blood desensitize us? (Or those of you who don’t faint in the middle of gory movies or at the sight of real blood, as I do?)

Whatever happen to Space Invaders? Tetris? Solitaire? Centipede, Pac-Man? Pong?

I wonder how my mom would have raised us with today’s technology seducing our senses at every turn. My mom was not one to sensor much what we read, viewed, or played. But she did have a stopping point. I remember she wouldn’t let me watch The Day After because of the graphic detail in which the T.V. movie depicted citizens of a small town battling for life in a post-nuclear war. (I snuck into the hall and watched anyway… I have always had a sick fascination with nuclear war fiction.)

She didn’t permit us to watch any of the Porky’s movies (they were always on HBO, it seems). When accidentally exposed to violent or sexually explicit content in a movie, my mom always pulled us aside to discuss why these particular behaviors were unacceptable in everyday life or for kids. I may not have understood death as I do now, but I did understand that when someone was shot, they could die, which meant to my childlike consciousness as “no longer here.”

Given her conscientious parenting, however, would she have been able to combat so easily the vivid images thrown at kids daily in the world today? My dad always says that he would not want to raise kids in today’s society, and I always poo-pooed his statement as being old and cranky, but now I consider his point may be valid. We’ve reached a level in our society where school shootings are commonplace. Maybe I need to rescind my comment of a few days ago that claimed things have not changed. Maybe they have. Or maybe parenting has become lazy…

I think what’s really unnerving to me about this particular shooting is the fact that it happened in what has always been defined to me as a “safe place.” I’ve always offhandedly joked when locking my car in a church parking lot, “Oh, who would steal something at a church?” I guess I overestimate my fellow human beings — I’m sure people steal things from church grounds more frequently than I’ve ever bothered to investigate. Why would the grounds of a church stop people with an inclination to steal, anyway? Silly assumption on my part. If God is everywhere, he can see you steal whether you’re in church or at the grocery store. So being at a church is not any more threatening. Still… you’d expect people to innately have respect for church grounds (in much the same way that I always dress nicely at church, whether or not other people do). You’re expected to behave better than yourself on church grounds.

Schools used to be safe, too. When I was a kid, I never had to worry about being shot by a classmate. Maybe beat up in the bathroom if I ran into the wrong group of bullies smoking between classes in the stalls, or on the bus, or at the bus stop. Perhaps I never really did feel safe at school, for at any given moment, a girl might threaten to punch out my teeth or a guy would try to grab my bra strap. However, I was fearing a black eye or a bloody nose or the humiliation of being overcome physically by bullying girls seeking a reputation and a-hole hormone-raging boys. I won’t understate my fear of these sort of encounters. I was scared to even walk around anywhere in my hometown after school hours because of a chance encounter with a bully (and believe me, they did threaten you outside of school… it happened all the time).

However, I never had to fear my death at school. (Even if being beat up were as bad as death to a young girl who never experienced death.)

Of course, I probably fit the profile of most school shooters: outcast, unpopular, different. I wished horrible fates on my classmates (I don’t think I ever said “death”) and cursed them out in my diary, one by one. I had a lot of anger and rage towards them that carried me into my first year of college, before I fell into my own. It never occurred to me to shoot anyone. But then, I wasn’t raised in a world of violent video games and my mom stayed at home to raise me.

I don’t know. I don’t have the answers. These recent shootings have just got me a little rattled. People are getting shot by crazed assassins when going about their normal, daily routines — schools, malls, churches.

I pray for the two teenage girls who died at the hands of the gun man. They were 16 and 18 years old… and coming from church… when their short lives were extinguished by a 24 year-old, possibly mentally ill, young man with a lot of anger and sadness in his heart. Maybe I should pray for his soul too… he may be the one who really needs the healing the most…