My brother and I thoroughly enjoyed the game Mousetrap when we were children. So much so, I tracked it down for my kids when they were the right age. I think it’s still in the attic…somewhere. Which reminds me, I could certainly spend some quality time cleaning the attic…and basement…and garage…not to mention several closets. But, that’s a different topic for another time.
My recollection of Mousetrap came about this morning while I was brushing my teeth and thinking about my daily first cup of coffee. Those simple activities were overshadowed, however, by the sorrow clouding the morning. Snow, although unusual for this late in the spring, seemed entirely appropriate today. Its chilling presence was consistent with the knowledge that yet another shooting occurred and threw a community into unrelenting agony. This time an innocent adolescent, his grandfather and a woman were murdered simply because they were in buildings with Jewish ties. None of them were Jewish, by the way. Neither were many of the other people who were there. These buildings and the people who built and administered them welcomed everyone who came in peace to enjoy what they had to offer. Some came for the arts; some to work out or compete in friendly competitions; some were there for health care or retirement living. Their commonality? All are God’s children. Period. Plain and simple, yet it’s all that actually matters. Not their collective theology, ethnicity, socioeconomic level, favorite color or the kind of dog they happen to have. All of them – even the shooter.
Our game of Mousetrap consisted of building a simple machine designed to catch a mouse in the overly engineered Rube Goldberg fashion. Once the structure was completed, a series of amusing chain reactions – including an old boot kicking a ball which fell from a tower into a bathtub causing the tub to tip making the ball roll into a stick that caused a vibration making the trap fall – resulted in catching a mouse shaped marker on the game board. It was a silly, childhood game that taught us about cause and effect, much like building a domino structure. If everything lines up in the right way, one event will cause all of the tiles to methodically fall. The community of game pieces moved together…standing and falling through the course of events, interacting with each other as they careened toward their final movement.
Yesterday’s event was yet another in a series of violent attacks on groups of innocent people. The list is infinite. When did it start? When will it end? We try to blame guns, as if inanimate objects are capable of brainwashing the individuals in possession of them. Knives, pressure cookers, nails, fertilizer and a litany of everyday products have also been in the news as tools utilized in mass destruction. I suspect everything we know of can be used for either good or evil. Maybe it’s actually us – humanity – at the root of this epidemic of violence and slaughter. Maybe we have come to a place where we must scrutinize who we are and have become as a society to find a realistic blame and subsequent fix for these events.
Yesterday’s shooter is reported to be a retired Army veteran – a Green Beret, no less! This is a man who served during the turbulent era of Vietnam, peace demonstrations, and hippies. He spent the next decades absorbing himself with hate groups and the idea of white supremacy, although hate isn’t simply a factor of skin color nor does it mean caucasians have a corner on the hate market. But then, I digress again. The point is, what happened to him? What series of domino events tumbled through his life to bring him to this final, hellish event? How did hate replace the respect for liberty and freedom that he pledged to represented during his military career? Or, did his hate for people who looked and thought differently than he did motivate his actions even then?
You see, I believe that if we weep for the victims, we must also weep for the accused. Something is going on in our society that produces the perfect storm of hate, anger, hostility and warped idealism that nurtures the distorted perspective embraced by some that these actions are somehow appropriate. No, the average citizen doesn’t condone such cowardly violence. In spite of that, the frequency of these events is gaining momentum.
It brings me back to cause and effect. We live in a “live and let live” culture where “I’m okay and you’re okay”. We turn away from a neighbor who seems odd or weird and let them “do their own thing”. We find reasons for every behavior whether it’s a disability, a life event, a poor parent or a disadvantaged childhood. There is even a new condition called “affluenza” which the book Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic defines it as “a painful, contagious, socially transmitted condition of overload, debt, anxiety, and waste resulting from the dogged pursuit of more.” Seriously? Why not call it what it is? Greed! But, no, instead of burdening an individual with personal responsibility, we find reasons for inappropriate, unreasonable, wrong behaviors as if by giving someone excuses it will help them find a better way. This is nothing more than enabling some to continue to live as if nothing but their personal issues, beliefs and desires are the only things that matter. Unfortunately, self-absorbed conduct builds on itself. Most of the enabled will live relatively calm lives driven by their narcissistic tendencies. Others will grow increasingly dissatisfied with their perspective of what is wrong with the world. A few, when the dominos of their life experiences line up just right, will justify hideous actions as if they were doing the right thing.
Our response is to mourn the loss of innocent life and exterminate what we blame as the cause, whether it is a person or a thing. It is much more difficult to reflect on who we have become as a society that these heinous events continue to happen. Maybe we need to stop categorizing people with absurd generalizations that are intended to apply to the entire group whether we are referring to religion, politics, ethnicity, socioeconomics, school we attend and/or favorite flavor of ice cream. It’s as if the us-and-them mentality should be a rule for choosing our friends and targeting our enemies.
But, God had something else in mind for us. Jesus, who was betrayed by a friend and murdered by those who didn’t understand him and therefore hated him, never deviated from his message of compassion for all of humanity. It wasn’t limited to his religious tradition, his gender, his geographical home or his family. No, he didn’t condone poor behavior or chalk it up to the result of a difficult life. He stretched people to be all that they could be. He healed physical, emotional and behavioral scars through love and compassion and challenged those who were touched by him to live as he did loving and serving the world around him.
Hate, on the other hand, will eat away at someone until something awful happens. No, it won’t always be mass killings. But, we might do or say something that hurts another person so deeply that they begin to hate, too. Or, we might be the role model to a fragile mind that accepts our justification of prejudice towards a targeted group of others. The dominos start to set-up. The next person might influence another and pretty soon universal traits of an individual in a group become some sort of crazy factual norm. Like, my blond hair makes me intellectually inferior or my political views make me a hater. Neither of which are true. But, to the ‘other’ who doesn’t know me as a person, the generalizations become who I am in their mind and they hate me for it. Another domino…
I wonder about yesterday’s shooter, as I do the boy with a knife in Pennsylvania and the Boston Marathon bombers. I wonder about Judas and Pilate and Herod. I wonder about Mother Theresa and Francis of Assisi. I wonder about Hitler and Stalin. I wonder about my neighbors and what joys and pains they face. I wonder about hope and care and compassion and crime. I wonder about greed and responsibility and whether or not the frost tonight will affect the blooms of spring. Each of these things can become the cause and effect for good or for evil. When I turn the crank, will the mousetrap fall? Or will one slight alteration in the course of events change the outcome?
Our community is shocked and in mourning. May we rise up from this outrage with eyes so open that we recognize where we can change hate into something that looks a lot like love and compassion. As our arms open to those who grieve the loss of a loved one, may we also examine our own hearts to realize where we, too, bear responsibility for the atrocities we experience in life.