Another mass shooting, another young man at the center of the mayhem. We can predict all the normal moves from here on out:
The gun control crowd will fight against the fierce defenders of the 2nd Amendment. The politicians will back whichever side proves to be most advantageous to their base to gain momentum for the next election cycle. We’ll hear emotional pleas from those whose lives have been permanently and suddenly altered by this senseless act of violence. We must do something; this cannot be the status quo. Once again, we’ll wonder about the mental health crisis in our country and once again we will wring our hands with no idea what to do about it. Is it the result of an over prescription of SSRI’s? Is it the subjection of truth to internal feelings of self-worth and self-identity? Is it the revenge porn of video games and the latest Marvel movie? The pertinent questions are too painful and disruptive to entertain, and the ones we entertain don’t ever get to the heart of the issue.
I wonder though, does the Church have something useful to offer in this moment? And I don’t mean just as another form of triage where we run to those most affected to offer the salve of forgiveness and the promise of life beyond this age. Not that those things aren’t part of what the people of God have to offer. In fact, these very things are the core of what the Church is about and this is the main reason that God’s people ought to be part of the discussion and part of the solution. Yet I believe there is something else that the Church can do here, something that can have a real effect on this growing and terrifying problem. Instead of only offering prayers for those grieving, the people of God can do something proactive before it gets to this point.
I’ve been a pastor for almost 20 years now and over that time I’ve been privileged to get to know some fine young men who have grown up in the life and rhythm of God’s people. Thinking back over the many conversations and interactions, I think I’ve learned a thing or two from them on how the Church can and perhaps should impact them in a positive way.
A few years ago, I read a great book called The Boy Crisis, the authors (Farrell and Gray) marshal ample evidence linking mass shooters to what they call dad-deprived homes. The presence of a dad in the home has a massive impact on a boys’ economic future, emotional intelligence and marital potential. One of the maxims of their work is, “When boys are hurt, they hurt us – physically, psychologically, and economically.” It is a challenging read and if you’re up for a discussion about what might lay beneath this issue, this is a good place to begin. Since reading their arguments, I have often thought that the people of God have a specific role to play in the lives of young men.
I don’t think it is a difficult argument to make that our world, as it is currently structured, puts boys and young men on the outside of what is acceptable. Historical masculine qualities are decried as toxic, the overly active are drugged into compliance, a devaluation of truth leaves them confused and often angry without always knowing why. Many no longer know what it looks like to be good at being a man much less what it means to be a good man and yet the desire for action, for purpose, and meaning remain.
This is where the church has a role to play. Not being a father to the fatherless (though that may happen from time to time) but by promoting and celebrating masculine virtues. Above all the people of God, as they gather around the gifts of our Lord create abundant opportunities for service. And I don’t mean simply putting away folding chairs or taking out the trash after a fellowship meal. I mean the young men of our fellowship ought to be taught to serve as a natural outcome of their innate call to action. They ought to be given responsibilities before the assembly where they care for, protect and provide for the people of God. This can be as simple as being an usher or an assistant in the Divine Service. In my previous congregation the teenage boys (and only the teenage boys) were crucifers. They took that task seriously and with a sense of pride and camaraderie. Could anyone do these things? Sure, but it was good that we tasked our young men with it.
What I’m saying is that the people of God can honor young men for being men and channel that to works of service at the very time our world sees them as annoying or useless. We can honor them and thank God for what they have to give.