Does hope purify?
1 John 3:3
And every man that hath this hope in him purifieth himself, even as he is pure.
Dozens of people have been murdered in the United States, in the last 18 months, by young men on killing rampages. When teenage boys killed their fellow students at a high school in Colorado in 1999, our country was shocked and appalled. But, this wasn’t the first mass killing in a school. And it wouldn’t be the last. About a year and a half ago, the murders of little children at Sandy Hook Elementary terrified and enraged us again. Just this week, a killer shot and murdered a student and shot a teacher at a school in Oregon, and then ended up dead himself. There seems to be an epidemic. It’s even worse than you might remember – take a look at this timeline starting from 1984: http://timelines.latimes.com/deadliest-shooting-rampages/ Men from the ages of 55 to 11, most of them under 30, have made the decision to seek out human beings and kill them, arming themselves for the rampage, wanting to destroy their lives. Sometimes they commit suicide directly. Sometimes it’s almost a matter of suicide by police. None of them get away. Why do they want to do this?
The President of the United States has said, in light of the most recent killing, “this is not normal.” But isn’t “normal” a relative word? Certainly we would agree with the president’s assessment, I mean, it’s kind of a no-brainer to call this “not normal” – but isn’t it becoming normal? For some people in our country, perhaps for some young men who live just down the street, these killing sprees look like the exact right thing to do – they look perfectly and brilliantly normal to them. For me, the most chilling murder by young men is one that hits close to home, literally. And, I think, it points to a reason why the abnormal is becoming normal.
In 2009, in the small town of Mont Vernon, four seemingly normal young men, ages 17-20, took a drive, armed with knives and a machete, looking specifically for someone to kill. Anyone. They broke into a home in the woods and found a woman and her 11-year-old daughter sleeping there. They brutally and viciously stabbed, slashed, and hacked the woman to death, hacking away at the little girl as well, so violently that they not only smashed bones but also hacked bones into pieces. The little girl only survived by playing dead. Why did these four boys do such a thing?
No, they were not mentally ill. They wanted to know what it was like to kill people. One of these boys, even after the fact, thought that this was cool. The four of them had called themselves the “Disciples of Destruction” and enjoyed violent music and images. In an article on CrimeLibrary.com, Michael A. Washburn writes, “Like many suburban kids with too much time on their hands, the “Disciples of Destruction” were drawn together by a shared fascination with the cultures of death and mayhem.” When Judge Abramson sentenced one of the killers to life in prison with no parole (the harshest penalty allowable) +76 consecutive years, she said to him that she wanted “to ensure that you stay in that cage for the rest of your pointless life.”
His pointless life. Indeed. I think that’s exactly the point.
Many of these serial killers who do all their murdering in one rampage were, I’m quite sure, mentally ill. But, people who think that other people are not worth anything, people who want to feel the thrill of killing, are not necessarily mentally ill. We, as a nation of people, absolutely have to get together and truly help people among us who are suffering from mental illness. We need effective ways to find them and treat their illnesses. But this won’t be enough. Just as banning or regulating guns won’t be enough (as the Mont Vernon attack shows). As these killings more and more become the new normal, we have to be aware that there are young men among us whose lives are pointless, who have no positive direction, who are drawn to darkness and destruction – who have no hope.
What are we, as a society, offering them? Meeting beautiful women in bars, drinking alcohol, getting laid, playing video games, and putting up with a crappy job with a jerk for a boss so that they can afford the beer, the games, and maybe a hot set of wheels? Isn’t this the ideal life of a twentysomething? And, no, the answer isn’t to provide better jobs – Please! Is no one listening? Is no one watching what young men are watching, hearing what young men are hearing? Frankly, I can see why some are rejecting “normal” behavior. I can see why young men might want to neither become couch-sitting gamers with five kids from three nagging baby mamas nor workaholics with professional prestige and empty, materialistic lives. I also see why some would not want to be neatly dressed, mild-mannered fathers-of-two, whose biggest excitement is an enthusiastic “Amen!” on a Sunday or the thrill of an amusement park ride once a year. Is this really all we’ve got? Have we nothing of real value to offer?
Meaningful relationships. Yes, that’s a start. But… what do relationships mean? Working with their hands to create something solid that actually helps real people. Yes, that’s good, too. Are you making your sons do that? If you are, are you making them do it so that they can be “nice”? If so, it’s not going to work. Nice ain’t gonna cut it. Real love is the only thing that makes a relationship meaningful. Real love is the only reason to build improvements for other people’s lives. And real love is the only thing, the only thing, that keeps our lives from being pointless.
No, I’m not going to blame the parents. Unless, that is, we, as a society, are the parents. It does take a village to raise a child, because often the parents can’t do it by themselves, either because they are too busy, too ignorant, or too wounded themselves to know what real love is. So… What is real love?
Let’s take the qualities that the young killers at Mont Vernon were attracted to: courage, bravery, honor in brotherhood, something different than ho-hum-get-through-the-day, the newness of discovery, the experience of something hands-on, pushing themselves beyond where they had ever been before. Yes, I know, even I’m feeling kind of disgusting writing down those words in light of what they did with their desires. But, now, take those qualities to the classroom. Now they don’t seem so chilling, but, rather, exhilarating and exactly right. Take those natural desires of young people to the home and give them a direction in which to go. A path to take that is beyond ordinary. Help them to love something, really love something. I don’t mean a particular someone – how many murders have been committed because a young boy put all of his energies into one girl? I mean a love of nature, a love of construction, a love of science, a love of arts – poetry, music, performance arts, literature, painting, sculpture, photography, film, etc. – a love of travel, a love of commerce, a love of sports (maybe, at least they won’t have “time on their hands”) a love of community. Teach them not to look down on other people. Teach them that we are all interconnected. Teach them that every human being has – that they have – inherent value that no one and nothing can take away. Teach them about the human soul! Every human longs for something more! Don’t misinterpret, and therefore stifle, that longing to mean more money, more clothes, more accolades, more excitement, more thrills. The something more for which we all long is Something More. Something more infinite than the outer reaches of space-time… Something more intimate than the inner depths of feelings. Infinite and intimate love that calls for courage in making new discoveries and bravery in giving of ourselves completely; infinite and intimate love that doesn’t merely help us get through the day but pushes us beyond ourselves to the sharing of that infinite and intimate love – real love.
I know that I can’t change the world. And I certainly know that these words are too abstract to be translated into any concrete action. But, we seriously need to take a look at hope in our country. (Not the kind of hope that’s marketed and branded by politicians, who are too narrow-minded in their understanding of hope, and who invariably disappoint anyway by getting bogged down in politics, selfishness, or even just the practical, and lose sight of the big picture – lose sight of Something More.) Every person is unique and has unique gifts for the building up and the giving of life. Every person is loved into being – hope in that. There’s the point. No person is worthless. No matter how bored, how small, or how voiceless. A culture of life would understand this. A culture of life would make decisions out of real love and not out of fear or hopelessness. But… ours isn’t a culture of life, is it.
Christina Chase ©2014
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