We’re Only Chasing Safety: Sandy Hook Elementary

A little more than half of my work week is spent in an elementary school.  A few weeks ago our school corporation’s resource officer visited our school to talk about updating our safety procedures as they pertain to dangerous persons entering the building.  Needless to say the conversation was morbid in nature.  Much of what we talked about that day revolved around what teachers and staff can due to reduce the death toll in the event of a school shooting, along with identifying other potential security threats.  All said and done, I left that meeting even more convinced of  the illusion of safety that we so often promote.  I’ve written about this before, but with the tragic events of Friday, it seems that many want to add their perspective (however misinformed it may be).

As I write this we continue to learn more regarding the details of the shooting. It’s not wise to come to any far-reaching conclusions until all the facts are in, but I want to again restate what I believe to be the underlying reality behind this event and others like it.

First, anyone who wants to enter a school to harm its occupants will be able to do so should their efforts be forceful enough. We can discourage lesser threats (i.e. upset parents), but forced entry is another matter all together considering the layout of many school buildings. Most killers plot out their shooting spree and therefore have researched the most effective entry point. The issue of building access also highlights the fact that school security procedures are designed to reduce casualties, not prevent them.  When safety professionals talk about protecting students in a school building it’s purely a numbers game (this course of action = this death toll, this course of action = different death toll).

Secondly, and I know I’m speaking from a particular bias, the horror of the Sandy Hook shootings seems to go against the grain of what we as a country think about the nature of people in general.  We want to believe that deep down inside, people are basically good.  I think this belief about a default human goodness clouds our judgement and gives us a false sense of security. If we actually considered that man, left to his natural course will choose evil (again a biased notion) over the general good, that might keep us up at night.  There is a collective lack of imagination when it comes to considering the course of evil in the public sphere of our culture.  Nobody thought that someone would actually hijack a plane and fly it into a skyscraper (the 9/11 Report is in sum, an affirmation of this sentiment).  Nobody thought that the financial industry to back massive amounts of toxic mortgages to they could temporarily line their own pockets, while putting the entire U.S. economy at risk. Alan Greenspan’s testimony following the financial collapse clearly shows that he didn’t think anyone would actually be so….greedy.  And then, we are surprised at a recent series of shootings in Denver, Portland, and the small town of Newtown Connecticut.  Why are we surprised?

I don’t mean to sound jaded.  This thing that happened, it’s beyond words.  At school today I watched our first graders walk to their respective buses and I thought to myself, “Who would want to hurt these children?”  The Enemy does, that’s who.  Evil is real and it’s on the loose daily, we shouldn’t kid ourselves with thinking that we’re  battling against flesh and blood.

Thirdly, as Theologian Roger Olson points out, our young men are in trouble!  Many of our recent shootings in this country are conducted by young men in their 20’s.  We’re helping numerous other demographics with various social concerns (teen pregnancy, women’s health, minority college enrollment, gang  activity, etc.)  which is great, but our young men need help as well. I don’t think that better psychiatric evaluations will get the job done, something more holistic is necessary.

Above all, we must remember that our lives are not our own.  Every day we walk out of our homes and face numerous opportunities for our demise and yet we manage to think that we’ve orchestrated our own safety by merely making all the right decisions. Last Friday children got up, left their homes, and went to school just like they had the week before.  Something completely out of their control entered into that routine daily equation and now those children are gone.  Their safety in the purest sense was an illusion, something only chased after, but not grasped.

When evil rears its ugly head we must ask ourselves where our trust really lies.  Do we trust Jesus or do we trust the pendents, activists, lobbyists, politicians, specialists, legislators, psychologists, etc?  Tomorrow I will get up and go to work, or maybe I won’t, but either way I’m in God’s hands and that’s the best place to be. As St. Augustine  wrote, “Our heart’s are restless until they rest in You.”  In these difficult and uncertain times, our wisdom is shown to be lacking, our collective ego nothing but a facade.  Let us humbly approach the Great Healer, ask him for grace, and abide in his presence, apart from the pretense of our self-assured safety and comfort.  That stands to bring light into a very dark world.