Then some children were brought to Him so that He might lay His hands on them and pray; and the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.” (Matthew 19:13-14, NASB)
I’m still here! It’s December 15th 2012 and I’m still here! Yesterday, twenty beautiful children, and six amazing adults, had their lives snuffed out by a shooter at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. But, for some reason, I’m still here. Why? Why am I still here, and they’re not? It just doesn’t seem fair!
I’m not the kind of person who easily puts things into perspective. Rather, I’m one who, I think, takes too much of this world’s hurt to heart. I’m like a shock absorber—constantly taking on the bumps, grinds, heartaches, and sorrows of life all around me; and embracing it all and interacting with it as if I could somehow personally manage it on behalf of others. I know what you’re probably thinking, and I agree, this personality trait looks a lot like a pathway to insanity. In fact, I’ve even been told that this particular personality trait is one that is most conducive to causing cancer, as well as heart disease and other life threatening ailments. But, as of yet, I’ve seen no hard, cold evidence of that; except, of course, for the fact that I do have cancer—hummmm…
So, it comes as no surprise that I think my recovery after this second surgery is being somewhat hampered by the terrible tragedy playing itself out on the television above my hospital bed. It is as if I can feel myself being physically weakened with each news report. Yet, I simply can’t make myself turn away and focus on anything else. I keep putting myself in the parents’ shoes; trying to imagine what they must be going through. I keep putting myself in the teachers’ shoes, wondering what I would do if ever confronted by a madman like they were. And my heart was in no way lightened when a particular news reporter, trying to put things in perspective, I guess, reminded me that, over the course of that same weekend, perhaps twice the number of children who died at Sandy Hook would die as victims of domestic violence all across America.
I’m going to start preaching now, so brace yourself! But, I have to ask, what kind of a sick culture constantly and continually kills its children? I guess it’s the same culture that sacrifices more than a million unborn babies a year to the god of convenience on the altar of abortion. It’s the same culture whose biggest entertainment industry, with revenues exceeding that of all professional sports combined, is pornography and the exploitation of women. It’s the same culture that celebrates violence in almost every conceivable form—from video games, to music, to movies, to television, to what some call sport. It’s the same culture that justifies and exults that which God deems unholy and sinful while spurning “church” as unnecessary and even laughable. It’s the same culture that perpetually staggers under the weight of addictions of every kind—drugs, alcohol, food—and then marvels at the rise of drug wars and gang violence being played out on our city streets daily.
I have learned that “moral authority”—the right to speak and be heard on any given subject—is a tricky thing. On the one hand, moral authority is often lacking among the “moralizers”; you know, those “goodie two-shoes” and “teetotalers” who make it their business to pronounce the judgments of God upon all the alleged “evil doers” who they perceive as spiritual law breakers. While, on the other hand, moral authority is often gained and heightened, at least in some circles, among those who have actually walked the dark trail of tears required as the consequence of their own moral failures. Who, then, is capable of speaking to such issues as those now confronting our sin-sick and weary society? Who has the right to ask what, if anything, can be done? Activist on every side rise to the occasion. Some say outlaw guns. Some say put prayer back in school. Some say, “Here you go, Phil, here’s a band-aide, now go take care of your cancer.”
I’m finally coming to the conclusion that I can’t solve all the world’s problems—“duuuhhhh… ya think?” I don’t even know that I have the moral authority to attempt to address them. But, at the same time, I might be able to do some little something about solving some of the problems in my immediate world; and, perhaps, with God’s blessing, in the little worlds of those precious people whose lives are entangled with mine. Perhaps I’ve gleaned, through both failure and victory, the moral authority to speak to a few of the issues in our everyday world that I feel need to be addressed; particularly things pertaining to the well-being of our children.
Our Lord Jesus does not mince words when it comes to how He feels about those who would harm a child, saying: “let the children come to me and do not hinder them” also said, “but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea” (Matthew 18:6, NASB).
But now I dare to ask the terribly tragic question, and the one that will probably get me into trouble with a lot of people and may even cause me to lose a few “friends.” That question being: “Who really does the most harm; the madman who enters a school with a Bushmaster .223-caliber rifle and summarily dispatches 20 innocent children into the arms of angels waiting to bear them straight on home to eternal glory; or those who continually place spiritual stumbling blocks before the children, leading them away from Jesus, away from truth, away from all that is good and holy and into lives of greed, materialism, wantonness, immorality, violence, substance abuse, and all like manner of lifestyle so abundantly prevalent in today’s society???” And furthermore, dare I ask myself, “Where does my life’s example fall on this spectrum?”
Let me give you just one example for your consideration. According to Daugherty and O’Bryan (2004) of PRI (Prevention Research Institute), every single person is a potential alcoholic or drug addict; just as we are all potential candidates for heart disease or cancer. All of us, due to our genetics and body chemistry have a particular threshold, or “trigger level,” for becoming addicted. For some people this threshold is quite low while, for others, it is higher. By the way, one’s “tolerance” for alcohol, or any substance, is not the same as one’s dependency threshold; and, actually, the higher one’s tolerance level—the more alcohol he or she can hold before manifesting obvious intoxication—the more likely it is that he or she will exceed the dependency threshold some time in their life and become an addict.
Daugherty and O’Bryan (2004) go on to note that, when the amount of consumption—quantity and frequency—finally exceeds one’s dependency trigger level, addiction is all but assured.
Addiction, by the way, is not the same as perpetual drunkenness. One may have an addiction to a controlled substance with or without full-scale, long-term, intoxication or inebriation. Signs of addiction include: a sense of emotional relationship to the substance, the need to defend the choice to use the substance, the need to set and assert predetermined controls over the use of the substance, anticipation over how and when one may again use the substance, and, of course, chronic life-problems that can be attached to the use of the substance, as well as the denial that the substance might have anything to do with those life-problems. It’s also a fact that certain social groups can have substance dependency issues, ranging from mild to severe. One belongs to a “substance dependent group” when the group cannot conceive of being together without the presence of the substance; at least on most social occasions.
Daugherty and O’Bryan (2004) also reveal that there are four major factors that help push people toward their substance dependency threshold; that is, factors that lead them into a life of addiction, these being: body/brain/biology (physiology, chemistry); psychological factors (personality traits, attitudes); social factors (influence of family, friends, culture); and, of course, the resulting personal life choices that interact with all the above (p. 11).
The dangers of adolescent drinking are becoming increasingly evident not only with regard to direct damage to the still developing brain, but also regarding the risk factor of crossing one’s dependency threshold very early in life. In a health article in the New York Times, Katy Butler (2006) reports that:
Mounting research suggests that alcohol causes more damage to the developing brains of teenagers than was previously thought, injuring them significantly more than it does adult brains. The findings, though preliminary, have demolished the assumption that people can drink heavily for years before causing themselves significant neurological injury. And the research even suggests that early heavy drinking may undermine the precise neurological capacities needed to protect oneself from alcoholism. (para. 5)
The new findings may help explain why people who begin drinking at an early age face enormous risks of becoming alcoholics. According to the results of a national survey of 43,093 adults, published yesterday in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine, 47 percent of those who begin drinking alcohol before the age of 14 become alcohol dependent at some time in their lives, compared with 9 percent of those who wait at least until age 21. The correlation holds even when genetic risks for alcoholism are taken into account. (para. 6)
Concerning both the psychological factors and social factors, a report to Congress by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (2006) concerning underage drinking notes that:
Many different factors contribute to the drinking decisions of underage youth, and multiple approaches to reduce such drinking are possible. Two significant factors that are recognized to influence underage drinking decisions are parental attitudes and the norms and actions of the community in which they live. (p. 37)
According to Komro and Toomey (2002) of the NIAAA (National Institute and Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism):
Adolescents choose to consume alcohol, not just because of personal characteristics, such as personality type or level of social skills, but also because it is a part of daily life in their communities and, for many youth, in their homes” (Wagenaar and Perry, 1994). As Wagenaar and Perry indicate in their theoretical model (1994), numerous social and environmental influences affect adolescents, including messages they receive from advertisements, community practices, adults, and friends about alcohol. Comprehensive interventions targeting underage drinking may need to counter or change all of these messages to motivate individual adolescents to choose not to consume alcohol.
I think we can see in these, and in numerous other reports, that the problem of underage drinking, and addiction in general, goes far beyond mere access to alcohol, or even peer pressure. I hope we can all realize that every adult bears a deep and profound responsibility toward our children—in both attitude and in the examples we set concerning the use of alcohol. The very fact that the adults in their lives, whom they love and look up to, use alcohol in their presence is often enough for them to justify to their own minds making the choice to consume alcohol themselves, whether or not they’re of legal age.
Furthermore, is it not only the youth—those under the age of 21—that we should be concerned about, or to whom we each bear a responsibility in this and all other matters of morality. Over the past year I’ve been privileged to get to help out with an organization called Alahou Clean and Sober, a living community addressing the needs of recovering alcoholics, drug addicts, and people returning to “normal” life after prison. I would no more consume an alcoholic beverage in front of one of the people I love, serve, and teach at Alahou than I would one of my own granddaughters. The possible consequences of doing so are simply too devastating to contemplate.
But, how many other people, besides the kids in our lives and those adults fighting obvious addictions, might our use of alcohol harm or influence toward harm? I remember the Apostle Paul said, “Do not tear down the work of God for the sake of food. All things indeed are clean, but they are evil for the man who eats and gives offense. It is good not to eat meat or to drink wine, or to do anything by which your brother stumbles” (Romans 14:20-21, NASB). I fear that not even very many who call themselves “Christians”—let alone people in the non-Christian, secular world—are capable of taking this admonition seriously anymore.
I have given but one example—the prevalent use of drugs and alcohol—of how we as a sin-sick society may be contributing to the destruction of our children. We could discuss many others: sexual immorality, violence, materialism, greed, and even our dangerously indulgent diets. The fact is, we make such a fuss, and rightly so, when inconceivable atrocities, such as occurred at Sandy Hook, invade our sense of safety and security—and especially that of our children. Meanwhile, the very fabric of our society, the moral strength of our nation, crumbles all around us while we denigrate the Bible as a book of myth and legend, spurn the church as an old-fashion, outdated institution, and tip our glasses to, yet, another round.
I am no “teetotaler,” nor am I just another religious zealot or “legalist” making up rules and regulations based on my own opinions and binding them on people as though they were the word of God. I concur that there may very well be an appropriate use of low alcoholic beverages in certain settings. After all, Jesus did turn the water into wine at a marriage feast in Cana (John 2:1-11), and it was not for no reason that the Pharisees said of Jesus, “Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!” (Matthew 11:19, NASB). Jesus did, indeed, eat and drink with sinners. Furthermore, the Apostle Paul told Timothy to, “No longer drink water exclusively, but use a little wine for the sake of your stomach and your frequent ailments” (I Timothy 5:23, NASB).
And so, I am judging no one. I am, however, asking all of us to rethink the examples we’ve been setting before our youth and to make serious inquiry from our hearts as to the direction some of those example have led, or may be leading, the kids whom we love—especially some of those kiddos, or other individuals, who may, by virtue of other factors in their lives, already be at considerable risk.
I am not qualified even to begin speculating why a young man like 20 year old Adam Lanza did the things he did. According to a CNN report, “A former classmate told CNN affiliate WCBS that Lanza ‘was just a kid’ — not a troublemaker, not anti-social, not suggesting in any way that he could erupt like this” (Yan, 2012). However, in a later article in The Atlantic Wire, Adam Clark Estes (2013) reveals:
Soon after the shootings, it was reported that Lanza had been diagnosed with Asperger’s, and many wondered if that was the whole story. Asperger’s, after all, is not typically linked to violent behavior, certainly not the level of violence that Lanza unleashed on Sandy Hook Elementary School, so many wondered if there was something else going on. Schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, psychosis—something must’ve tripped a wire in his brain and made him snap. (para. 2)
Indeed there was something else, but it was none of these conditions. Lanza was diagnosed with sensory integration disorder (SID) as a young boy. This condition essentially heightens sensory perception to the point that they can become overwhelming. It’s possible that this is what a school official was referring to in December when he said that Adam Lanza could not feel pain, though the new information suggests that Lanza felt too much. (para. 3)
Everything I’ve read seems to indicate that Adam Lanza was a disturbed young man; and very lonely. I can’t help but wonder how life may have been different for him had he grown up in a different culture; a culture of grace and compassion, rather than a culture of violence. What if he would have had strong, positive, caring, and consistent role models in his life? What if his mom had spent the money she used to buy guns on caring for the needy? What if, instead of teaching him to shoot, she taught him to love like Jesus? What if, instead of taking him to a shooting range, she took him on mission trips to love and serve children? What if, instead of having to struggle for whatever little recognition he could achieve, Adam had received his accolades through encouragement to volunteerism and service to others? Would all that have resulted in an altogether different kind of kid?
I know these are just hypothetical questions that don’t help us much as far as understanding a disturbed young mind like Adam Lanza. But such questions might prove useful in helping us discern the general direction our nation is heading; as well as in challenging us to reconsider the individual responsibilities we bear toward the young people in our own lives. You and I may never be called upon to “take a bullet” for a child. But, while we may never have to take a bullet, we can do our part to help ensure that our children are able to “dodge a bullet” when the time comes; and not have their mortal lives ruined, or their eternal destiny destroyed, by wanton examples set by self-indulgent role models.
The Bible says, “Righteousness exalts a nation, But sin is a disgrace to any people” (Proverbs 14:34, NASB). People want to talk about “band-aides”—gun control and mental health—when what we need to discuss is “heart surgery”—and the corruption and decay of a society slowly losing sight of God’s righteousness and the personal responsibilities that we all bear toward those we claim to love. I long for the healing of our nation. I long for a day when the nuclear family—mom, dad, and kids—are again the rule and our churches are filled to capacity with compassionate people who care. I long for a day that, I fear, I will never live to see; at least, not in this world.
I see no rainbows today. That doesn’t mean they’re not there. I, just, can’t seem to find them right now. The children are gone. I’m still here!
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