The Beasts Have Reared Their Ugly Heads

By Craig Kennet Miller

In April of 1999, I was hosting a consultation about the youngest generation at that time, the Millennials, when the news of the shootings in Columbine came to our attention. We were devastated by the news. No one could image at the time school shootings would be so pervasive that every student in America would be taught what to do in case a classmate decided to go on a murderous rampage.

As we wrapped up the event, one of my colleagues, who was the Director of Chrysalis, a spiritual formation program for young people, told us a chilling story. The night before someone had knocked down the doors to her house. What we didn’t know was that would be the last time anyone would see her. Later that evening she was murdered by her husband. What made it even worst, if there is ever such a thing as worst, was he had hidden her body in the woods some miles away. So for a couple of months no one knew what had happened, she was just listed as missing.

Both these experiences came to mind as we are faced with another massacre in a school in Florida on Valentine’s Day and on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent. A school is a place where students and teachers gather to prepare for the future. A future that 17 of them will never see. These events are not distant. They are personal. They affect the very fabric of our society and culture.

How personal is this? On the same day as the Florida shootings, a man was shot as he was leaving the library that I go to every week. Just a couple of blocks from my house.

And how is it that it has become normal for me to say good morning to an armed security guard as I enter the sanctuary on Sunday mornings? He was hired after the recent occurrences of shootings in churches.

One of the first results of sin is found in Genesis 4:8 when Cain murdered his brother Abel. A few verses later in Genesis 4:23-24 we find Lamech singing to his wives, “I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me. If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.”

You would think thousands of years later humanity would have evolved, that it would have given up its violent ways. But our culture and our experiences tell us differently. The newest Sci-Fi drama on Netflix, called Altered Carbon, tells of a future where the human soul along with all its characteristics of personality and memories, has been captured in a small portable disc that can be moved from one body and placed in another. The bodies, called sleeves, are interchangeable so that the soul can inhabit any number of bodies and thus obtain a kind of eternal life.

You would think this would lead to a society that focuses on beauty, on refining the arts, of exploring spirituality, of making the creation a better place. But no, in the minds of the creators of the show, this gives them the excuse to turn the drama into a bloodbath of violence and gore because you can always get another body.

But in real life we can’t get another body. Our soul is not a commodity to be traded and sold. We, who were created in the image of God, are precious, the living temple of God’s grace, love, and hope.

Perhaps that is what we have lost, the belief that each person has value, that each person is a gift from God.

Yes, we should ask why a teenager can get his hands on a weapon of mass destruction so easily. Yes, we should seek ways to better protect our children and ourselves. Yes, we should advocate for gun policies that make some kind of sense. But fundamentally this is a spiritual issue that goes at the core of what it means to be human.

In Mark 1:12-13 it says, “And the Spirit immediately drove Jesus out into the wilderness. He was in the wilderness for forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him.”

Today we are in the wilderness. We are surrounded by the beasts and its very, very hard to find the angels.

Craig Kennet Miller is the author of Boomer Spirituality and iKids and host of Rehab: A Podcast for Lent.