Columbine and a Moral Compass?

I know I’m aging myself when I say this, but how many of you can remember where you were when you heard the news about the shooting at Columbine’s high school?   I can.  I can tell you which gas station I was pulling into when it came on the radio. While it wasn’t the first shooting, it was, in many ways, the most widely discussed, widely seen and closely scrutinized.  

But not the only one.  

And last week, there was another one.  For me, this one hit a little closer to home because a friend of mine knows one of the students who was killed.

There are so many screaming voices out there in the social media world right now.   

Some of them are screaming, “take away the guns!”   Others are screaming, “don’t touch my guns!   I need my semi-automatic sub machine gun!”

Some are saying, “Isn’t this awful, we’ll keep them in our thoughts and prayers…..” and then moving on with their own life.   Others are saying the “thoughts and prayers” comments in front of a camera to make themselves appear to look better.

Some are saying, “He must have been mentally ill, our system failed him and them.”    Others are saying, “Then why is the government slashing mental health budgets and why are we standing by quietly while they slash the funding to take care of those with mental illnesses?”

Some are saying, “the shooter was white and was arrested unharmed – would that have been different if he was black?  or Hispanic?”   Good question

Some are saying, “It’s the video games.   They are too violent.”   And then they go to movies that glorify violence.

I read an article over the weekend that I believe reframes the context.   It offers an explanation of what is happening and why it is happening.

But it doesn’t offer a “how do we fix it” to the problem.   Read my comments below:

https://www.nationalreview.com/corner/why-do-mass-shootings-happen-best-explanation/

Writing in 2015, Malcolm Gladwell wrote what I think is still the best explanation for modern American mass shootings, and it’s easily the least comforting. At the risk of oversimplifying a complex argument, essentially he argues that each mass shooting lowers the threshold for the next. He argues, we are in the midst of a slow-motion “riot” of mass shootings, with the Columbine shooting in many ways the key triggering event.

A “slow motion riot of mass shootings.”

They are all connected?   And everyone since the Columbine shooters is looking back and saying, “If he did, I can?”   “If he did, I can do better? or louder? or with more force?”

Let’s apply the Vanderwell Rule of 50%.  Actually, let’s turn it into the Vanderwell Rule of 33%.   Let’s say, for discussion sake, that there are three main reasons why these school shootings are happening:

  • Guns – there are too many guns that are designed for maximum destruction that are accessible to people who shouldn’t have them.   Not that there are too many guns or that all guns are bad, but just that there are too many guns of maximum destructive power that are available.
  • Exposure to violence – there’s too many examples in the media, in video games, in movies where violence not only happens very frequently but the message that comes with the violence is that violence is the answer to your problem.   If you don’t like it, shoot someone.

Oh and both of those reasons and their proponents fail miserably at supporting the mental health profession to make sure there are adequate resources to deal with and support those with mental health illnesses and those who are trying to get them help.

  • The last reason of our three reasons is what the article explained – it’s a slow motion riot.   Every school shooting makes it more likely that another one will happen.   Every school shooting makes it more likely that the next one will try to be bigger.   Every school shooting creates trauma that will impact and harm the survivors for the rest of their lives.

All three of those reasons have one thing in common.   They are all impacted by the fact that we have, as a nation, as a society, as communities, lost our moral compass:

  • We’ve lost our moral compass because we think it’s okay for semi automatic weapons of mass destruction to be available for way too many people.
  • We’ve lost our moral compass because we glorify violence – not violence that happens as part of the military – but violence that happens when people decide that shooting is the answer to their anger.
  • We’ve lost our moral compass because every time another school shooting happens, nothing changes.  And that makes the next one more likely.

We’ve lost our moral compass. 

We don’t need a new one, we need to find the one that we’ve used for a very long time.   Pick it up, dust it off and start using it again.  How do we do that?

Gun laws – many of my “pro gun” friends argue that we don’t need new laws because the existing laws are adequate to keep those kind of guns out of the hands of those who can’t handle them.   If so, then push our government to enforce the laws.   Get to know your local, county, state and federal representatives and urge them to support enforcement of good gun laws – ones that keep guns in the right hands and out of the unsafe ones.

Glorifying violence – how do you combat that?  Vote with your wallet.   Don’t let the industry have record breaking success with the movies and shows and games that promote senseless violence.   Speak out by supporting the industry people who don’t promote those type of violent behaviors

Mental illness – we’ve lost our moral compass because for too many people and for too long, we’ve refused to be willing to acknowledge mental illness the same way we do physical disabilities.   Look at the funding and budget slashing going on in the mental health field.   Look at how difficult insurance companies make it to get good quality mental health care.   Once again, we have lost our moral compass and we need to change that, support the mentally ill and provide the resources to those trying to get them help.

Slow Motion Riot – if every one of these school shootings is another step in a slow motion riot, then we’ve lost our moral compass because our children are growing up either afraid that their classmates will shoot them or thinking that it’s okay to shoot someone they are mad at   How do we address that?

  • The church needs to do a better job, a much better job, at making the Bible and Jesus relevant in the lives of the younger generations.   I wrote, this morning, about the youth director at our church.   The church needs more people to be leaders and relevant to the youth of today.
  • The schools need to do a better job at promoting decency, politeness and respect.   Now before you get all up and upset with me, I’m not saying that will stop school shootings – but it will certainly make schools a nicer place to be and a safer place to be.
  • The families – and those who support and can support families – need to work towards an environment of love, respect and authority so that kids will feel safe, will feel like they matter and will feel like they have a future.

Whew, if you made it this far, thank you.   None of these are the complete answer, but all of them together could make a big difference.

Now the question is, are we going to do anything?

Tom

In Christ, Your Past does not direct Your Future

There’s this lady I know……

I’ve known her for maybe 5 years.

The title of this post is a paraphrase of her personal mission statement (only because I can’t remember the exact words of how she says it.) But the point is clear……

In Christ – nothing is possible without Christ. He’s the reason for everything and He’s the source of everything good.

Your past – whether it’s mistakes you’ve made or bad things that have happened to you, your past is exactly that, it’s your past.

Your past does not direct your future. When you are in Christ, what has happened to you in the past or what you have done in the past doesn’t direct your future.

God directs your future.

For the last 15 years, this lady has been teaching that, has been living that and has been loving that into the teenagers at Madison Square Church. It has changed countless lives.

It has changed mine and I’m a LONG way from being a teenager.

And God has used her to be the hands and feet of the church. Through trials, and struggles, through very hard times and through extremely fun times, she has walked with teenagers and supported them in ways that will echo in their lives for generations.

While it makes me sad that she’s leaving her position at Madison Square Church, I’m excited to see what God has planned. She’s taking her vision for teenagers to another level. She’s going to be at New City Kids and helping countless more kids across our area.

Kids who live in tough areas of Grand Rapids.

Kids who need to know that in Christ, your past does not direct your future.

Christy, thank you. Thank you for being there, no matter where there is. Thank you for being a difference maker for teens in a time when it is very difficult to be a teenager. Thank you for being, as one teen said you like to say, “I’ll be awkward so you don’t have to.” Thanks for being awkward – our kids need that. Even if they don’t think they do.

As you move into this next chapter of being a difference maker, know that you’ve been a blessing and that there are many people waiting to see God through you.

Thank you, my friend.

Tom

What’s Required?

Posted without permission – created by the Madison Square Church Youth Group and some additional very talented artists (if you know who, please comment to give them credit)

Available for viewing at 1401 Madison St Grand Rapids MI

The Passing of the Torch – a tale of two Doctors

Once upon a time, there was this kid from Muskegon (for those of you not from Michigan, that’s about 45 minutes northwest of Grand Rapids.)

As he grew up, he wanted to become a preacher.

So he did.

And it was good.

And he was good at it.

And God used him to serve and help many people.

And that kid went on to get additional education. After a while, he got another Master’s degree and then he got a doctorate.

But he never wanted to use that title. That’s just not what he was about. He was about helping people and serving God.

And it was good. It wasn’t easy but it was good.

Many times, it was hard but it was good.

And God used him to serve and help many people.

Four of those hard times came when his body was hit by cancer.

Those times impacted many people, touched many lives, encouraged many other people going through hard times.

In 1972, he beat the cancer.

In 1984, he beat the cancer.

In 1990, he beat the cancer.

And then it came back in 2017. A different type, a new battle, but still that “c” word.

By then, this kid from Muskegon was pushing close to 80 years old. That’s far enough along in years to have grandkids pursuing careers.

There was this girl from Jenison who wanted to become a nurse.

And she did.

And it was good.

And she was good at it.

And God used her to help people, particularly very sick kids and their families, in very difficult times.

It was hard, but it was good.

And then this girl from Jenison wanted to do more.

And God opened doors and she learned more and figured out more ways to help kids and their families.

And she taught college students who are learning to be nurses.

And she got more education.

After her grandpa was diagnosed with cancer in 2017, she said to her dad, “I think it’s too much to hope for, but I’d love it if Grandpa could be at my graduation.”

Dr. Vanderwell could attend Dr. Vanderwell’s graduation and be part of watching her become the next generation of Dr. Vanderwells.

But it wasn’t to be.

35 days. 

God called the first Dr. Vanderwell home 35 days ago.

For 35 days, there wasn’t a Dr. Vanderwell here on this earth.

But there is again.

In many ways, she’s a different Doctor.

But in many ways, she’s the same and has learned much from the first Dr. Vanderwell.

Do what you do to care for people.

Do what you do to make the world a better place.

Do what you do to spread the love of Jesus.

Today, we witnessed the passing of the torch.

From Grandpa to granddaughter.

While it hurts that he wasn’t able to be “here” to see the graduation, I know, we know, that he saw it from Heaven.

And it was good.

May God continue to bless the new Dr. Vanderwell and give her the continued passion to impact people and change lives like her Grandpa did – even though she’ll do it in her own special way.

And this Dad is proud of both generations today. Proud to be the first Dr. Vanderwell’s son and proud to be the second Dr. Vanderwell’s Dad.

God is good. (All the time)

All the time. (God is good)

Tom

McDonald’s Billboard – Really?

Okay, maybe I’m the only one who sees it.

Maybe it’s just a billboard run by local McDonalds restaurants.

But I doubt it.

In the environment that we are in, the political, racial and governmental environment, there isn’t a day that goes by where immigration isn’t in the news.

Temporary Protective Status

DACA

The Wall

Sanctuary Cities

Sanctuary Churches

Deportations

Rallies

Articles about how the United States allowed a grand total of 11 refugees from Syria to immigrate in 2017.

Eleven.

We had that many people for a relatively small breakfast birthday party on Saturday.

So what does McDonald’s do?

They run a series of billboards – I know there are at least two in West Michigan, probably more that have the McDonald’s logo on them. And they have pictures of a couple of the McDonald’s frozen drinks.

What words does it say?

“Have an ICE Day!”

You’re probably thinking, yeah, they are talking about frozen drinks and they want you to have an ICE day. In other words, get yourself one of our ice cold frozen drinks and your life will be better.

But given our current environment, ICE isn’t only about frozen water.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

ICE is about a family from my son’s school who got separated because the dad isn’t allowed back in the United States.

ICE is about one of the pastors our church supports (here in Grand Rapids), having government people show up at his door one night asking to see papers and for him to prove that he is here legally. (He’s Hispanic and he’s a US citizen – so he’s fine).

ICE is about a church in Kalamazoo consulting with attorneys about how they can lawfully keep ICE out of their church because there are people staying in their church who are concerned for their safety at the hands of ICE.

ICE is about 60,000 Haitians who are afraid they will have to face the decision – “I have been here since 2010 and the earthquake that wiped out my city, under temporary protection status, my children who have been born since then are US citizens. What do I do?”

Words mean things.

In certain environments and certain times, words mean different things than they did at a different time. We are in a time where the current government has made ICE a word that means way more than just frozen water.

For thousands if not millions of people in the United States, ICE represents a government agency that can disrupt families, ruin lives, fracture communities.

At best, McDonald’s decision to wish you an ICE day is strictly an advertising choice that wasn’t thought through completely.

At worst, McDonald’s just might be telling us something more.

Come on, McDonald’s, you can do better. You know better.

TJV