An Answer to Mass Shootings
And the streets of the city shall be full of boys and girls playing in its streets. (Zechariah 8:5)
I read an article recently that addressed the issue of men, boys, and mass shootings. Writer Charlie Hoehn found three qualities that the vast majority of American shooters have in common. The first issue facing mass shooters is loneliness. The second issue is the lack of play in their lives. Finally, the third issue is the shooter’s experience of shame due to emotional trauma.
What struck me with each of these qualities is that the Church had an answer to each one of these challenges. Loneliness is something a faithful congregation handles well. Beyond Sunday worship, there are any number of church activities and groups where a person can find support and a sense of belonging. For boys, most midsized or larger churches have organized youth groups in which to participate.
The second issue is the lack of play. This one surprised me. Charlie Hoehn, in his article “Mass Shootings in America, and Why Men (and Boys) Keep Doing This,” states, “Play may be God’s greatest gift to mankind. It’s how we form friendships, and learn skills, and master difficult things that help us survive. Play is a release valve for stress, and an outlet for creativity. Play brings us music, comedy, dance, and everything we value. Above all, play is how we bond with each other — it’s how we communicate ‘I am safe to be around, I am not a threat.’ Play is how we form connections with other humans. The irony is that loneliness would not be a problem if we all got ample time to play.” Some of the greatest, most enjoyable moments in my life occurred in church, or at a church event. Church activities are often fun, with any number of opportunities for laughter and play.
Finally, shame is a destructive force. Group activities and fun, playful events, can be found in many different environments, but the church holds the key to overcoming shame. Church is more than a support group, it is the place where our identity is confirmed as a blessing by Almighty God. We are worthy, because we are made in God’s image and called by name in baptism. Potential shooters would have a chance to find peace through the gift of God’s divine care.
Mass shootings seem like something our society will never be without. The more we are able to address issues of loneliness, play, and shame, the safer we will be as a society. It is the church’s call to reach out to the lost, the lonely, and the shamed. The church gives all of us a place to feel accepted, a place where we can have fun, and a place where we can learn that we are forgiven, loved, and made whole. The more we evangelize this message, the safer our world will be!