Rethinking the Way We Process Violence

I like to write. It’s a good way for me to process my feelings about things, to clarify what is important to me, and to think about how my thoughts might be received by others.

I also like to play around with words and how words help us express and understand images. And, I’ll confess, I like to try to be clever—to catch people’s attention by offering a pithy title when I write.

But there’s no way to be pithy about violence, especially the kind of violence we have seen unfold in Atlanta, GA, and Boulder, CO, over the past week. I am, like most everyone, deeply saddened and shocked in the wake of another round of mass shootings. One of the things, however, that is most shocking to me, is that I am not surprised this has happened, yet again.

This kind of news has become so common that it’s almost like we have just started waiting for the next event to happen, as if it is almost normal. There is, as we all know, something seriously wrong with that.

In particular, what bothers me most about how these events are being portrayed is that almost all the news coverage is about “the shooter.” That’s understandable in a way, I suppose, since we are looking for some way to make sense of something that is so horrific. Focusing so much on the perpetrator, however, denies or, at least, deemphasizes the stories of the victims. We hear so little about them.

I noticed something in the wake of the shootings in Atlanta last week that I’ve noticed as we have tried to tell the stories of victims of violence stemming from racism: the trend of sharing the names of the victims for precisely the purpose of humanizing them. This is good—it is part of what we, as the church, should be about.

What I saw for the first time, however, was news that told their stories more carefully. I’m sure that news was available in previous events, I just wasn’t aware of it. This time, I not only saw an article in the Washington Post telling their stories, I took the time to read it, to remember each one of the victims and grieve that they died simply going about their personal business.

The Post also shared the stories of the victims of the shootings in Boulder. Again, the names are important, but the stories remind us that they were people—created by God just like you and me.

I’m not even close to the first to suggest this, but the fact is that it’s much more difficult to objectify someone when you know their story. It’s important for us to do the work of getting to know our neighbors if we can ever hope to love them as we love ourselves.

Getting to know people is time consuming work. Sometimes it can be extraordinarily difficult. But it is always worthwhile. Furthermore, if we actively engage in that work, we can change the way people respond to horrific acts of mass violence. WE can tell their stories. WE can change the course of the dialogue.

Let us engage in this work together—starting now.

Grace and peace,
Pastor John Fleming

PS: If you’d like to read the profiles published by the Washington Post on the victims of the shootings in Atlanta and Boulder, you may click the links below.

Atlanta

Boulder

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