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Dean Minnich: Fear and death in the season of peace

I am conflicted.

When I was five, the most memorable Sunday School lesson for me was the passage where Jesus said to adults who would deny access to him, "Suffer the little children to come unto me," for they, in their innocence, are the kingdom of God.

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I felt safe.

I was thinking of that passage the other day, watching the news; and then President Barack Obama used it in his address to the people of Newtown Sunday night.

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Of course, as I grew older and more exposed to the ways of the world, it was comforting at least to know that the good guy gunslingers would stand their ground and hold off the bad guy gunslingers so that the women and children could be saved.

Women and children and the elderly were first into the lifeboats, first out of the burning buildings. Protected, cherished, valued.

Then I grew older, still, and found that in the real world we also cherished other things as much - and more - as we cherished women and children and the elderly.

Money, for instance. And social status. Careers and self-expression. Some nebulous ideal of freedom - freedom from responsibility, obligation, the drudgeries of everyday family life or having to accept different ideas.

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For many, rights became more important than saving the women and children.

Picking sides in social debates was demanded, and that meant redefining older, simpler values. Including becoming one of the good-guy gunslingers for whatever side I chose - or chose me.

Like many of my generation, that responsibility required that I serve my nation in uniform, and be willing to sacrifice my life for our collective values.

By now, I was learning that in my country, it was no longer enough to suffer all the little children to come unto God.

Some women and children were worth more than others. Value was no longer based on our humanity, but by race and religion and gender and social class and other measures - despite what our Constitution says.

If I felt less safe, how do 5-year-olds feel?

They see the news, hear the talk. They are not immune from the low murmuring grumble of incivility that divides not just the nation, but the church, the town, even the family. Old friends are going separate ways over definitions of conservative or liberal. Choose a side.

Children did not take up guns and kill people when I was a child. That's a consequence, somehow, of the new value systems of America.

What has changed, and when did it begin?

How have we come to this place where teenagers and young men, in particular, find themselves compelled to pick up the scepter of individual power, the gun, and massacre the women and children?

Too many Rambo movies? Blow-em up video games played by unsupervised children and celebrated on the internet?

Celebrity - popularity - is valued more than humility. Accomplishment is measured by accumulated wealth.

Wisdom is corny. Sincerity and charity are reserved for the aftermath of the consequences of unexplainable tragedy.

True, millions of first graders go to school every day and come home each night to the sanctuary of family. But do they feel safe?

Does today's 5-year-old share that sense of security that children of my generation felt, even in the aftermath of world war? Does she or he even expect it?

Or do we put them to bed with a goodnight kiss and lower the lights to leave them with visions, not of sugarplums dancing in their heads, but of the echoes of gunshots in a schoolhouse, and the television newscasts of massacres in malls and busloads of commuters being annihilated by suicide bombers. Should we be surprised that as they learn more about their world, they pick up their video controls and play games that celebrate the sniper and the rocket launchers and the warriors - games in which the safety of women and children is at most an afterthought?

Do you think it's enough to tell them that they have a constitutional right to arm themselves, or do we have an obligation to do more to ensure that we don't revert back to warring tribes retreating to fires in our cultural fortresses?

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