Kristin Stoneking is Director and Campus Pastor for the Cal Aggie Christian Association. Here are her thoughts on Friday's tragedy:
Kindergartners, God. They were kindergartners. Images of smiling small faces, with too-big backpacks and loose teeth filled my mind, my own gap toothed six-year-old among them. Such promise, such innocence. Taken. Violently. Gone. Worlds forever changed. My first impulse was to drive to my children’s school, hold them close and take them home where I know it’s safe.
But if there’s one lesson from tragedies like this (and there are many more than just one), it’s that the more we attempt to make ourselves safe by isolating and blaming and reactively protecting, the less secure we become. Since Columbine and 9/11, we’ve installed hundreds of thousands of metal detectors in schools and airports, profile persons who appear to be of middle eastern ethnicities, and have traumatized our own children with our fear. But we haven’t taken away the guns, we haven’t significantly decreased our militarized U.S. culture, and we haven’t stopped the proliferation of first person shooter video games. In so many ways, we perpetuate an us vs. them mentality that sees no problem with killing, denies our interconnectedness and allows these tragedies to proliferate.
Two nights ago I sat with my family in a restaurant eating dinner while the young man next to us waited for his dinner playing a game where he indiscriminately and realistically shot any human who came onto his screen. My children saw it, we all saw it—it was hard to ignore. Did anyone ask him to turn it off, question the violent images others were being subjected to and the violence he was participating in? No. And I confess I didn’t either. I lamely gave him a disparaging look, hoping he would get the source of my disapproval. A failure of courage and compassion.
Two hours ago I shared a prayer on facebook written by a Rabbi from Berkeley, a colleague of mine who came to the campus ministry last year to lead a comparative text study. It will likely be read at a vigil at the White House in a few hours by another colleague. And while President Obama’s response and leadership in creating policy that responds to the roots of violence matters, I hope we don’t resort to the too easy solution of relying on our elected officials to solve this issue.
We all have a role to play in healing this wound and transforming the way we live with each other. We must not succumb to the fear that leads us to see evil and danger in anything that is unfamiliar, around any potential corner. Last year in mediations between students and the UC Davis administration after the pepper-spraying of student protestors, the issue of removing guns from campus police was raised. Instead of discussing the idea, campus officials responded by raising the specter of Virginia Tech, effectively silencing substantive engagement on the questions of security and force and precluding creative solutions not yet envisioned. Guns remain on campus as does mistrust and unrest.
The principles of nonviolence are these:
- Us vs. Them thinking is a distortion of reality
- Violence begets violence
- Fear is an accelerant to violence
- We all have a piece of the truth and the untruth
- The infinite relatedness of all life must be acknowledged, repaired and transformed
- Nonviolent living is a way of life for courageous people
My hope is that as a community, as a society and as a culture we can move toward nonviolence. And I’d hope it would go without saying that a nonviolent society doesn’t allow random citizens to have multiple semi-automatic weapons.
The answers and the path are not easy. For the next days and weeks, we will grieve the terrible loss of beautiful precious lives and know that in the loss of these 27, a piece of each of us has died. But when the pain and recoil start to fade as they always do in the American consciousness (Katrina, Columbine, even the recent shooting in Oregon) we must act, daily, hourly, to change the way that we live together.