By Nathan C. Vance
I love life! I love the feeling of joy that my wife and son give me. I love the feeling of accomplishment I have whenever I finish a big project. I love the feeling of hope that I have even as I write this post. I love the people who love me and I try my best to love the people who don’t. I wake up every morning, even on the bad mornings, mindful that this existence is a gift. And I am reminded daily of the words contained in James 4:14, “Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”
I love life like I love a good day off. I enjoy it as much as I can but, in the back of my mind, I know that I’m never more than a moment away from losing it. That may sound bleak but, for me, it is of very little concern. This thought has plagued me for weeks and today I’m going to do my very best to lend what I hope to be a calming voice to the sea of madness that is raging in our nation. (I am sure that many of you tuned out the moment I added a scripture to the text, and that’s ok…That’s what we do in modern America; we listen to what we like and tune out what we disagree with. It is for that very reason that I’ve decided to add my two cents).
I live in Western Kentucky, approximately 30 miles from Marshall County High School. I have been to the school for multiple basketball and volleyball games and hope to attend the annual Marshall County Hoop Fest when my son is old enough to enjoy it with me. Before 2018, that game was the claim to fame for Marshall County, Kentucky. If you’ve never heard of the event, you’re probably not alone: much of the world hasn’t. I can only tell you that many of the stars of the NBA have been there and played in the rural gym. If you ever get a chance to go, that event is the mecca of high school basketball.
Unfortunately, Marshall County has a new claim to fame. It was the site of a school shooting responsible for the tragic death of two children, both too young to drive, and for countless other victims. That event was horrifying. My wife and my mother-in-law are both school teachers, and my brother-in-law is an elementary school principal. I didn’t know any of the children or their families and can’t imagine their pain but the event impacted me in a very personal way. It also opened a 20-year old wound. Many don’t remember that Heath High School, which is approximately 30 miles from Marshall County High School, was the site of one of the first school shootings. I was a sixth grader within the school district at the time. I remember the devastation on faces of friends and I remember the security changes that we went through. I remember how uneasy life was for a time after that. I see it again today. The fingerprints of both of these shootings will remain a part of our local fabric for a long time.
I thought it was important to add that background to this post so that you know that I’m not speaking from a merely theoretical view point but as someone who has been there and is there. I may not be my wife but if I ever lost her, I might as well be gone too. She and I are one. She, and my son, are my entire life. Because of that, I do the only thing I know to do and that is to speak God’s protection over them. You might wonder if that seems a bit silly. If you don’t, I wish you would wonder that because in wondering that, it lets me know that you are at least thinking as you read this. And I can certainly understand why that might sound silly to some. But I want to tell a quick story about why it is so important before I go on.
Three major world religions trace back to a historical figure named Abraham. Moving from him, there eventually came a man named Moses, another figure revered by Jews, Muslims, and Christians. He was the freer of the Israelites (Hebrews) from the tyranny of Egypt. In the story of Moses, the Pharaoh had ordered all of the Hebrew children to be killed. He was also responsible for enslaving the Hebrew people. He was a horrible tyrant. Moses continued to appeal to Pharaoh to let his people go but the Pharaoh’s heart was hard and God sent a drastic message to him. As a part of the infamous ten plagues, Moses was told that all male first-born children would die. This may sound harsh but it was justice for the injustice that had been imposed on the Hebrew people. God also gave the Hebrew children protection from this plague—they had to put the blood of a sacrificial lamb over their door posts so that the angel of death would pass over them. The Egyptian children died and the Hebrew children did not and, as a result, the Pharaoh finally consented and allowed the Hebrew people to leave Egypt. While this may sound like a very dark nursery rhyme to some, it is studied as fact by 70 percent of the world.
Now, if you’re still reading, I thank you. I promise I’ll get to the point soon.
There are so many people in modern society who are so certain of what will and will not work. This is not exclusive to any particular ideology or a political party. I see it coming from every side. I assure you, I am not a political animal. I am not about to go on a rant defending the political beliefs of any side. I am a person of faith and I see the love of Jesus as the answer, no matter the question. If you don’t believe me, take a look at my website, loveidemic.com. I want you to proceed without caution as I’m not about to champion Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, President Trump, former President Obama, or future president whomever. Each of them has strengths, weaknesses, and each of them have been shaped in some way by their experiences. Aren’t we all? Isn’t that the flaw in each of us? So why then are we so certain that WE, whoever we are, have THE solution that will fix ALL of the problems?
Let me give a couple examples of opinions I’ve seen that many think are THE solutions.
First, let me address the rhetoric of arming teachers with guns. As someone who does not own a gun, I absolutely hate this idea. My wife was a great athlete. She can be stubborn and she can be tough as nails. She is a fantastic educator and her greatest strength is that she cares about each and every student that has ever or will ever dawn the doors of her classroom. She won’t ever give up on any of them, not a single one, and she believes that every day is an opportunity to reach someone that no one else ever has. I promise you that anyone with my wife’s specific skill set has no business holding a gun because she could never look at any student and shoot with intent. It would destroy her to be put in a situation to do that. She would absolutely jump in front of any of them as a shield of protection but she would not, could not, shoot back. Also, as much as I love her, I would hate for her to run into a person who could take her gun and use it against her. The entire idea gives me high anxiety. It’s a bad idea. Let me also state, as a sub-point against this suggestion, there are more than likely teachers who do not need to possess a weapon because of an inability to use sound judgment. Arming people in a civilian place of business is a danger to every other person in the building. No boss, co-worker, or student could ever feel safe again.
Second, let me move to the opposite side of the fence. To anyone thinking that we should completely disarm the general population at large, this is a horrific idea. First, it is impossible. Too many people have too much access to firearms to disarm them. Even if there were laws passed that made the possession of a firearm illegal, the enforcement of such a law would end in an unprecedented death toll. The task would be far greater than any police force could ever be asked to undertake and the resulting civil war would be so severe that the nation could not recover from it. There is a second reason to avoid such a far reaching position. It has been pointed out by many that the Second Amendment need not apply to modern society because it was written in a different time and its intent is no longer valid. While not a student of the Second Amendment, I was privileged enough to study the foundation of this nation and the Revolutionary War. Having just overthrown a tyranny to form the United States of America, it was important for the general population to be armed in case any government tyranny ever re-emerged. The founders were implementing an ideal of “NEVER AGAIN.” While a military dictatorship or a hostile, tyrannical takeover doesn’t even sound plausible to many American citizens, it is a reality of many nations around the world. “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” This phrase sums up the possibility perfectly. The counter to this is, of course, that our military might is such that armed citizens would be no match for them, but the threat our citizens pose does keep our politics balanced to a degree.
Obviously those are both extremes and not the reforms that many Americans are calling for. I used them as examples of some of the bad ideas that I’ve seen. There are a significant number of other bad ideas being proposed and, while conversations need to take place in order to fix this significant problem, specifically school shootings, it’s not conversations which are being had. Somewhere in the vacuum of social media, we’ve all become the worst version of ourselves. We become so inflamed in our emotions that we often fail to see reason or, more importantly, listen to other viewpoints. Twitter, no matter the topic, is simply a forum for people to yell. As a country, we can’t make sound decisions by yelling. We can’t heal by yelling. The idea that they who yell loudest win the argument is utter insanity. Good ideas are not birthed by this process. Good ideas are found in reasoned, well thought-out conversations. Somehow, our country has become so fractured that our ability to see red has given us an inability to really talk.
To be fair to the first two ideas that I flattened, here are a few others:
We don’t need to lower the voting age to 16. That is an idea that borders on Orwellian (thought police have haunted me since the 11th grade.) We honestly would be better served to raise the legal voting age. I remember myself at 18. I was emotionally immature, politically uninformed, and romantically unsure of myself. It was a bad combination. (Yes, but look at the students from Broward County Florida. They are exceptions, not rules). At the same time, we probably do need to raise the age of purchasing a weapon from 18 to 21 as we let children emotionally mature into adults. In doing so, however, we would have to change the age to enter military service from 18 to 21 as well. Otherwise we would be sending our young people an incredibly mixed message about what is right and what is not. And there should be a few other restrictions to weapons purchases considered. It would behoove us to take a hard look at the gun rights of any of the following: convicted violent offenders, ex-convicts, those with a history of mental illness, and children raised as wards of the state. A weapon of any kind in the wrong hands is a danger to each of us and we should be safeguarding society against mental and emotional instability.
There should also be a much higher federal floor placed on teachers’ salaries as teachers are tasked with molding the young leaders of the future. Is there really a more important job? Find the funding for education! Also, why haven’t we taken the same practical stance on protecting schools from gun violence that we took on protecting schools against fires some 50 years ago? We have to see that, in the short term, there are practical solutions that can work. Metal detectors should be placed at main entrances of every publically-funded school in the nation. Schools should have funding for multiple security officers to be in place daily. There should be more emphasis on the role of the school counselor in identifying students who need extra attention, and frankly, extra love. There were multiple failings by multiple parties in Parkland, Florida but not identifying and trying harder to salvage an at-risk youth were at the epicenter of them.
You may likely disagree with much of, if not everything, I’ve just said and that’s fine with me. I am simply trying to point out that there are steps that need to be taken TODAY. And there is no such thing as certainty. We can’t get bogged down in unattainable extremes. There are too many lives at stake. This can’t be a country where we only see things as far left or far right, but the hundreds of millions of shades of grey in between. I have read so many posts that articulate a sentiment similar to this, “They believe the answer is either blank or blank and that’s why a conversation can’t happen.” This is all too important to dig our heels in to win the battle of who is more certain. Frankly, I wish I could be more certain about the specifics of solutions when all I ever seem to know is how great the problems are.
But then, I have the advantage of not being political. I have an answer that, as I stated earlier, probably seems silly to you. The answer is to do what Jesus instructed. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Love your enemy. Do good to those who harm you.” Can you imagine living in a world where everyone championed those two simple ideas? That’s what I hope to continue to do. I spread the love of Jesus wherever I go. I try to treat everyone I meet the way I hope they will treat me. And I apply the protective blood of Jesus over my family each and every day because, in the end, his sacrifice at the cross is the only certainty I have. No matter what laws we pass, someone will break them. No matter what solutions are enforced, there will be a variable that was missed. I can’t be with my wife and my son everywhere they go, so, I have to have faith that the angel of death will see the blood from Jesus’ sacrifice and pass over me and mine.
In the end, I guess I am certain of something. In the famous words of Marvin Gaye, “Only love can conquer hate.” The love I’m referring to is the love of Jesus.