In the wake of yet another school shooting, seventeen families are left without their loved ones, a school is left with a broken heart, and an entire nation is left without peace.
The unfortunate reality is that school shootings have become a recurring predicament in this country, and the time has come where we can no longer ignore it. We as a people must search for real solutions; this has to begin with ourselves. We are not only witnessing, but allowing, the fundamental breakdown of our community to occur right before our eyes—and as a nation we can’t allow this matter to become subject to partisan politics, because the right to life comes not from government, but from God. The desire to protect it is something we can all agree upon. We cannot be Republican or Democrat when discussing this matter, because we are not talking about a political issue but a human crisis. We have forgotten that we are all on the same team. To allow our political differences to not only divide us, but to turn us against each other, is to allow darkness to succeed in terrorizing our community. From the foundation of our nation, Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness, to the core of our faith, Love one another, we must go forward and be strengthened in the fundamental principles we all agree upon.
Unfortunately, tragedies seem to be the only thing in our modern world that don’t have a political agenda. And like a phoenix rising from the ashes, great beauty can come from the horrific acts of evil. In the horrendous moments of a school shooting, people are not concerned with political differences or disagreements: they are solely determined to survive. They are all united in their human nature, in which their greatest effort is to protect one another and to defend human life. Moments of great calamity breed our necessity for one another in ways that other situations don’t.
It is in these moments of crisis that we instinctively transcend to a state where we leave behind all petty differences and instantaneously focus on our common citizenship and our common humanity. In these moments of crisis we are forced to rise above our individual interests and spontaneously transform to a state of community that provides understanding of our paramount need for one another, demonstrating the true good that resides in all of us. It is the great paradox of life that those moments, intended for great evil, naturally evoke our love for one another and strengthen our community.
From the coast of California to the shores of the Northeast, and from our nation’s capital to the rural parts of the Midwest, the American flag waves in unison at half mast. An entire nation mourns because of the heinous act of a high school shooting in Florida.
We have the capability to love and unite against the common enemies of man but we frequently fail to live up to that potential in our daily lives, we don’t always carry this spirit forward.
We have failed. We have allowed tragedies to be the only time we come together and lean on each other. When all is said and done, and we go back to our normal lives, we forget the great pain we felt and the great need we had. We revert back to our same way of life that nurtured the darkness. The same darkness that wreaked havoc on our community and the same darkness that turned us against each other. We have forgotten the words of St. Paul:
If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body. (1 Cor 12:19-20)
We are individual members of that greater body, and therefore we are an intricate part of each other’s lives. Now more than ever, we must come together and find real solutions to assure schools continue to be a place of peace and learning where children have the right to live their lives to their greatest potential. We are challenged by a national and cultural crisis for which the only solution is to unite hand in hand, because we are all susceptible. When one member of the community suffers, we all suffer.
Tragedy shines a light on our human potential and illuminates what we can truly be when we come together in love. John F. Kennedy said,
For man holds in his mortal hands the power to abolish all forms of human poverty and all forms of human life.
We are capable of the greatest good and the worst evil: it is up to us to decide what we will do, who we will be, and what line we stand in before the judgment seat of Christ. It is only our actions going forward that will prevent that light from being extinguished forever.
The impact of school shootings has been an intricate part of my formation and development. On March 5, 2001 Santana High School in Santee CA experienced a horrific school shooting. At that time, the public mind was only familiar with Columbine—it came as an even greater shock in 2001 than it does today. For those of us who graduated from Santana High School in 2017, the shooting was only a distant thought, as we were too young to remember. Though we weren’t fully aware of it, the impact of that dreaded March day lived on in the hearts of those who were forever changed by it.
One of these people is Martin Johnson, a teacher whom I had the great honor of learning under, and who witnessed the tragic events of 2001. Mr. Johnson taught English, literature, film, and art history at Santana for over 30 years. On that day in March 2001 he was welcoming students to his classroom when they began to run frantically across the school grounds looking for protection. Mr. Johnson was there to embrace and console the students in the days that followed, and he was there to transform the culture of the school in the years to come. Mr. Johnson has said,
The day after a shooting, the public turns the page, changes the station, and goes on with life, hurled toward the next scandal or Olympic triumph. For the victims’ families, the injured, the students, their parents, the teachers and staff, their spouses and children, the first responders, and the neighbors, it doesn’t end. Evil radiates like circles from a stone thrown into a pond. In an economy of mercy, so does love. In an economy of grace, so does healing. Today, be merciful. Today, try to heal the hurt you see around you.
We as Christians have failed. We have abandoned our neighbor and subsequently the body of Christ. We’re at each other’s throats as we grapple with this issue and desperately search for a solution, forgetting that we are all fighting for the same cause, forgetting that we all want the same peaceful solution to protect our people, especially our children. We lack understanding for each other, we don’t trust the opposing parties, we don’t even try to listen anymore.
The lack of leadership in our local communities and at a national level has also led to the erosion of the American community. Both sides approach the issue of gun violence as if it were all or nothing, too afraid to admit that we actually agree, because the answer lies in between the political chaos.
Government has a role in our lives; but to assume it holds the keys to our destiny— whether for good or ill—is not only wrong, but damaging to the community and our faith. Pleading for government to change, while in the same breath not willing to admit our own personal faults, assuming that only the government is vested with the power to make the county a better place, sets a precedent that lures the community into believing they can’t do anything. The community must ensure that government do its job and legislate the laws to the best of its ability, because we elected them to protect the America people. However, let us remember that government does not legislate morality—that responsibility is left to the community.
President Dwight Eisenhower said,
I think people want peace so much that government had better get out of their way and let them have it.
Let us encourage our government to act, to be real and sit down and have actual conversations and work together. Not for party or pledges, but for the people, for the community who desperately needs their leadership. But let us also encourage ourselves to do the same because the failures of government reflect the failures of the people. Let them have that conversation and let us have ours.
We naturally turn to government because it is the most powerful friend we know when it comes to the law; but lets not forget that 323 million people, united in the harboring of love, can create not only a community, but a culture that upholds the body of Christ and subsequently roots out evil. The collective power of individuals who unite against a problem far surpasses that of government—so too its effects are much greater. President Ronald Reagan said,
We can’t help everyone, but everyone can help someone.
Let’s not delegate the responsibility to anyone, including the select few who hold public office, because it is our individual responsibility, as members of the body of Christ, to look out for our neighbor and to create a community that is at peace with itself.
Darkness has once more tormented our community. It has left us in pain from the loss of our fellow citizens, and it has left us in despair as we search for a solution. However, let us remember that we have allowed evil to divert our efforts against the common enemies of man, and we have allowed evil to channel our fight against our neighbor.
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Rom 12:21).
As a cluster of stars shines brighter together, so must we gather to radiate the light of love and fellowship. It is not an easy challenge that stands before us. Its solutions are not as simple as the stroke of a pen. Young and old, rich and poor, let us all do our part. From the chambers of Congress to the streets of our nation, let us all contribute what we have to offer. Let us participate as individual members of that greater communal body. All of this will not be completed overnight, nor in the coming days, nor even perhaps in our life on this earth. But let us begin.
Finally, let us go forward internalizing the words of a true example of the life we are called to live, Martin Johnson of Santana High School:
Let all of us meet on the other side and do what must be done to leave behind this culture of violence and death.
Stefan Kleinhenz is a 19-year old freshman at Hillsdale College in Michigan, where he hopes to pursue a major in rhetoric and public address and a minor in journalism. He writes for his college newspaper, and hosts a talk show and broadcasts the news at his college radio station. He has written on political issues for Orthodoxy in Dialogue (here) and Public Orthodoxy (here). He grew up at St. Spyridon’s Greek Orthodox Church in San Diego CA.