“For every complex problem there is an answer that is clear, simple, and wrong.”
– H. L. Mencken
It happened again.
Once again, a heavily armed teenager has walked into a public school with loads of ammunition and a grudge. Again, mothers, fathers, and friends are lamenting the taking of so many young lives. Again, politicians and talking heads are pointing fingers and assessing blame. Again, the Internet and social media are awash with loud opinions and angry condemnations in both directions.
The events at Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida—and others in Kentucky, California, and numerous other locations across the country—are just the most recent in a long string of violent outbursts in public spaces. Parents are understandably on edge, wondering if their kids are safe when they leave the house in the morning, and if all is being done to protect them from a risk that most of them wouldn’t have even considered when they were in school. And virtually no one believes Stoneman Douglas is going to be the last such sad occurrence.
The initial response to such senseless loss of life is usually outrage, followed by a demand for a strong and meaningful action that will prevent future pain and suffering. Not only is such a response understandable, it is, I believe, the correct one. A failure to express anger and frustration at the murder of innocents bespeaks either a failure to completely grasp the situation or an utter lack of compassion. A moral people should be outraged by violent acts, and grasping for answers and solutions shows a desire that no one else go through what the current victims are experiencing.
That said, it needs to be acknowledged that solutions birthed during times of extreme pain or intense anger are rarely the best answers to tricky issues. They are often more fixed on assessing blame or punishing those who are perceived to be at fault than actually solving the problem. And in some instances, the cure can be worse than the disease.
Today is Valentine’s Day. And Ash Wednesday. The seeming contradiction between a day centered around chocolate hearts and sentimental messages of romantic love and a day dedicated to reminding us that we are all going to die is not lost on those of us who aspire to be both loving spouses and faithful Christians. (Of course, the fact that the original St. Valentine remembered by the holiday that bears his name was beaten and then decapitated for attempting to convert the emperor Claudius to Christianity in 269 AD probably brings the two remembrances closer than most people think.)
I really wish Hallmark had had the foresight to create a line of Ash Valentine’s Day cards. Maybe something like:
Roses are red,
People are dust.
Repent from your sins,
Lest your soul become rust.
Okay, so romantic poetry isn’t really my thing. The point is that for most people, the ideas of love and death seem mutually exclusive. When we are buying flowers and preparing for a romantic evening, we don’t want to be reminded of our ultimate mortality. We certainly don’t want be told to “give things up” on a day that has become synonymous with personal indulgence.
I would suggest, however, that the seeming disconnect between Valentine’s Day and Ash Wednesday is due to a fundamental understanding of both, and that seeing the connections between the two will ultimately end up making both days more meaningful.
In a previous blog post, I lamented the current state of the republic, and the complicity of many Christians in the debasing of the political culture. The tone of that piece might be described as pessimistic, expressing my frustration in where we currently are and how we got here.
In general, however, I am a “silver lining” kind of person, finding possibility in the face of frustration, and glimmers of hope when hope is in ill-supply. In that vein, I would like to offer my thoughts as to how Christians can actually reclaim their role as salt and light in the culture. The following saws are intended to form a framework in which Christians of varying opinions and ideologies can actively and effectively use to engage the broader society. They are not a list of specific issues or causes on which Christians should rally. Rather, they should be seen as a sort of prerequisite—a self-searching of attitudes and beliefs that should color our conversations and debates, both in matters of policy and beyond.