Dan Johnson: Reduce the violence


Published: Sunday, January 27, 2013 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Friday, January 25, 2013 at 11:00 p.m.

An open letter to President Obama:

As a member of the Christian church and a follower of the one we regard as the Prince of Peace, and as a citizen of this great country, I add my voice to the chorus of persons urging that action be taken to reduce the violence in our land and to increase the protection of our innocent children.

The recent events in Newtown, Conn., cry out for action and, as you said in your remarks there, we dare not move on from this tragedy having done nothing.

We urge the following be done:

1. We need a thoughtful, reasoned conversation about guns in our country. It is no longer, not anymore after this and too many other incidents like this, reasonable or responsible for persons to jump from suggestions of even a conversation to the conclusion that we are "disarming our citizens."

That is an irresponsible leap of fear; it isn't fair; it holds the conversation hostage and paralyzes any meaningful movement toward removing assault weapons from the hands of persons who will use them irresponsibly.

With Gabby Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, we urge a common sense approach to this very important topic. If we put our minds and souls to it, we can find the proper balance that protects our innocents while also protecting individual freedoms.

We can do that, and for God's sake and the children's sake, we must do it.

2. We need more open discussion of mental illness, such that those who suffer from it, and those whose children suffer from it, are not shamed into not getting help, life-saving help.

I'm so grateful that the local chapter of the National Association of Mental Illness meets monthly at our church. NAMI and other groups like it probably need to do a better job at helping our communities gain understanding, of helping persons come out of the shadows. In addition, our church will soon be offering the "Mental Health First Aid" course that is made available by Meridian Behavioral Health Center. Knowledge yields understanding, awareness and progress.

3. We need to take an honest look at possible contributors to the horror that took place last at Sandy Hook. We need to assess with courageous honesty the impact extremely violent video games might have on the mind of someone.

There may be absolutely no connection, but I'm not so sure, and this aspect needs to be pursued, against the resistance of powerful financial entities that insist otherwise.

Ditto for the extremely violent movies; what must the developing world think of us when they see some of our movies? We are all familiar with the phenomenon called "The Butterfly Effect," where the moving of the wings of a butterfly in one part of the world will cause a great storm in another part of the world.

I have a very strong suspicion that the red-faced, angry, bullying yelling over the airwaves and in blogs, the verbal and written hatred has had, over time, a cumulative effect on our own sense of who we are; it has taken a terrible toll. As individuals, it may well be our civic duty to avoid violent media expressions — of all kind.

4. We need for fathers to be dads! I may have missed it, but I've heard almost nothing about the young man's father, only his mother. Where was his father the past many years? Where are the fathers in our country!

When fathers are AWOL, turmoil and pain and anger are not far behind. The moral breakdown of the home is a great concern for all of us. It is a social and economic issue and it is an individual issue, and won't be fixed unless and until we individually recover our moral character.

5. We need to recapture the truth of the African proverb: "It takes a village to raise a child."

To be sure, the family unit is of utmost importance, but in addition, every community should realize the inescapable value of the intricate social network that makes a community vital and vibrant and whole, that lets no one fall through the cracks, that sees a loner and doesn't rest until that loner is somehow warmly welcomed into the life of the community.

The underbelly of our self reliance, self sufficiency and celebration of individuality is that people suffer alone and too often no one seems to care or notice. As John Donne famously said, "No one is an island." Our communities need to embrace that truth and live it.

6. Our churches need once again to be followers of Jesus in extending his love to all. We need to be Good Samaritans and get beyond our walls with loving abandon, in reaching out to the lost. I wonder if any church group ever reached out to the young man who caused such damage, or to his mother.

And while I speak and write as a Christian pastor, I know that all religious entities need to live into the best of their tenets and extend neighborly love.

7. We need to celebrate the people who make communities strong and vibrant and whole — our school teachers, who in the name of "improvement" are too often demeaned and made the "whipping boy" for larger society's failures.

Every teacher in the Sandy Hook school did what teachers do — they put their pupils first; they shielded them, they conveyed their love to them, they were there for them — heroes indeed. We also celebrate the places of worship that were present in awesome ways — one of those was our sister United Methodist Church.

People should spend less time criticizing the church and more time affirming it as the Body of Christ, which it certainly has been in these days in Newtown.

8. We need to pray — pray earnestly for the healing of our land, for a spiritual renewal, that moves us from our tendency toward violence and diminishing people to living into the dream God has for us as individuals and as a country.

Dan Johnson is senior minister at Trinity United Methodist Church.

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