Sowing to the wind

“For they sow the wind, and they shall reap the whirlwind.” -Hosea 8:7

Sowing to the wind… the prophet Hosea was protesting the political systems and religious practices of the time, especially in trusting “things” and people rather than God. As someone who doesn’t practice the discipline of scripture memorization, I’m intrigued that this is a verse that has ingrained itself in my mind.

When I think of it though, I’m usually thinking of it in terms of being caught in the whirlwind. One could say that suffering the ill effects of someone’s bad decision or bad action or even lack of action is suffering the whirlwind. As a society we all are caught in the various whirlwinds created by our politicians (in unjust policy), our decisions (in our voting, consumer habits,etc), our privileges (in our inability to truly see those around us), and the crimes of others.

Today I’m thinking of the whirlwind of gun violence. As I think of the latest shootings I remember Sandy Hook. I’ll never forget reading of that tragic event while waiting for our preschool Christmas program to start. I could barely speak words of welcome to the parents who’d gathered to hear their own precious children sing. I later preached on this tragedy, using the words of a Christmas hymn, “It Came Upon the Midnight Clear.” The first half of verse 3 speaks to our nation:

And you, beneath life’s crushing load,
Whose forms are bending low,
Who toil along the climbing way
With painful steps and slow…

The seemingly never-ending cycle of gun violence, of mass shootings and massacres bends us low even if we don’t realize it. The pain associated with such tragedies should propel us towards a better way but unfortunately we are right now politically unable to to move.

After Sandy Hook. After Charleston. After Orlando. After San Bernadino. After. After After. After all these, I’ve found myself in “discussions” with gun advocates, as I try and implore them to be part of the solution. Sadly these discussion have never gone anywhere. I am as guilty as anyone else in my inability to engage in constructive dialogue here (and elsewhere). I continue to believe that those of us who see no need for guns must work with those who are responsible gun owners to find ways off this painful and crushing road.

Now we have a mass shooting of politicians. Specifically politicians who oppose gun control, along with a lobbyist and two police officers. Yesterday morning, upon seeing the news my first thought was, “we continue to reap the whirlwind.” I prayed for those who were injured and for our nation. And I entered the surreal experience of having a totally unproductive argument with gun control advocates.

This happened on Facebook (which is also the location of my other unproductive “discussions” with gun advocates). Specifically, I looked upon my Facebook feed and saw the following:

Congress passed a Bill allowing mentally ill to purchase guns. I’m not saying they deserved it, but at least no one innocent was shot.

I immediately objected to the statement that “no one innocent was shot.”

The truth is that innocent people were shot. The capitol police officers were innocent. I kept trying to make that point and a couple people conceded. But the reality is that even if one qualifies as statement to say, “I’m not saying they deserved it”, by saying “no one innocent was shot” is indeed inferring that they deserved it.

Were the politicians innocent? I disagree with just about everything Steve Scalise stands for and advocates for, especially when it comes to race. But my disagreement does not mean I can dehumanize him or others. They are victims of a man who set out yesterday to create mayhem and to further damage our nation. To say they were not innocent does nothing except further divide our nation.

In following the commands of Jesus to “love my neighbor as myself,” I will choose to pray for the injured; have compassion for the injured; and continue to advocate for the removal of these weapons of mass carnage from our streets.

The second half of the third verse:

Look now, for glad and golden hours
Come swiftly on the wing;
Oh, rest beside the weary road
And hear the angels sing!

This song is of the angels singing of the peace that accompanies Jesus’ coming. Maybe as we all pause, and rest alongside the weary road of gun violence we can learn to see one another a valuable human beings. And when we see one another we can learn to listen to one another. And in listening may we find peace. That is my continued prayer.

On Killing, #3

41Bu29eZsZL._SX311_BO1,204,203,200_This is part 3 of my interaction with the book “On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society” by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman. It’s been awhile sense my last post. Today I’m writing about Section II of the book, “Killing and Combat Trauma: The Role of Killing in Psychiatric Casualties.”

As I read this section of the book I couldn’t help but think of the debates regarding guns that are happening in our country. What I suspect that some don’t understand is that it is not so easy to kill. So, to have the idea that a response to gun violence is to have more people carry weapons would result in more safety is naive. Maybe someone who is properly trained can help to increase the safety, but then that is the role of our police. If combat is as difficult and traumatic as described, then untrained civilians, whose idea of combat is gleamed from movies and television, have no clue as to what is really required. 

Last, I grieve for all the soldiers through the centuries who’ve experienced the trauma of war and combat. As I grieve I continue to pray and hope for that one day we will experience peace in our world.

Following are highlights of the section.

We start with a telling quotation:

“Nations customarily measure the ‘costs of war’ in dollars, lost production, or the number of soldiers killed or wounded. Rarely do military establishments attempt to measure the costs of war in terms of individual human suffering. Psychiatric breakdown remains one of the most costly items of war when expressed in human terms.” -Richard Gabriel, No More Heroes (page 41)

The author then goes on to describe the stressors that cause psychiatric trauma. I was surprised to learn that the chance of being a psychiatric casualty is”greater than the chances of being killed by enemy fire.” (p43)

As the goal of combat is to kill the enemy one would think that fear would be the biggest cause of psychological trauma. However fear of death and injury are not the primary problems. This is evident in that the majority of civilians who suffered bombing campaigns during WWII did not exhibit the same psychological breakdowns and neither did those who served in combat but did not directly face enemies. The difference between soldiers and civilians was that civilians did not have the “responsibility of (1) being expected to kill and (2) the stress of looking their potential killers in the face. (page 65)

Factors that lead to psychological trauma:

  • Physical exhaustion. I know exhaustion from running marathons, but a marathon doesn’t even come close to the physical exhaustion experienced by soldiers in combat. Their physical exhaustion entails: lack of sleep; lack of food; and the impact of the elements. (pages 71-72).
  • Then there is the sheer hell of it all. This quote is telling:

“I am sick and tired of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, for vengeance, for desolation. War is hell.” – William Tecumseh Sherman. (page 73)

  • Another psychological cost is in dealing with hate. Here not some much in hating others but in being the recipient of hate. The trauma felt here is one that sadly can be readily transferred to civilian life away from the battlefield. Sadly the author notes, “Many medical authorities believe that it is the constant hostility and lack of acceptance that they must face – and the resulting stress – that are responsible for the dramatic rate of high blood pressure in African Americans.” (page 76)

    The “one historic circumstance  in which noncombatants did suffer a horrifyingly high incidence of psychiatric casualties and post-traumatic stress,” was among the survivors of Nazi concentration camps. (77)
    As I review this material I am saddened by the hate that we are seeing today exhibited toward Muslims.

  • Still the biggest source of stress is in the act of killing, or needing to kill. “The media’s depiction of violence tries to tell us that men can easily throw off the moral inhibition of a lifetime – and whatever other instinctive restraint exists – and kill casually and guiltless in combat. The men who have killed, and who will talk about it, tell a different tale.” (87)

    For many a coping method is to use euphemisms for killing, so that “most soldier do not ‘kill’, instead the enemy was knocked over, wasted, greased, taken out, and moped up.” Soldiers throughout the world use alternative words for this, as well as dehumanize the enemy by using negative pejoratives.

For the author, non-soldiers do not understand the reality and stress of war. I agree with him that we who have not experienced combat are clueless as to the realities of war, of combat, of killing.

“A culture raised on Rambo, Indiana Jones, Luke Skywalker, and James Bond wants to believe that combat and killing can be done with impunity – that we can declare someone to be the enemy and that for cause and country the soldiers will cleanly and remorselessly wipe him from the face of the earth. In many ways it is simply too painful for society to address what it does when it sends its young men off to kill other young men in distant lands.” (page 94).