Thousand Oaks


By Rev. Wes Stanton

Another week, another mass killing.

It hasn’t always been this way.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Not only are there more mass murders, including mass murders by firearm, in the U.S. than any other developed nation, but the rate of such violence has seen a drastic rise in the past decade.

There are multiple “causes” — lots of links in the chain. It’s not just high-capacity and high-speed firearms. It’s not just the firearms industry lobby. It’s not just toxic masculinity. It’s not just mental illness. It’s not just military experience, PTSD, or moral injury. It’s not just that people need Jesus (the U.S. has more Christians, as a percentage of population, than just about any other country – heck, we’re the birthplace of evangelicalism! – and it has far the highest level of deadly violence in the developed world). It’s not just political extremism. It’s certainly not just that there’s a ten-year shortage of “good guys with guns.”

Rev. Wes Stanton

What it feels like to me: the difference in the past decade is a generally elevated societal stress level, that makes our small problems bigger, peels away our abilities to cope, puts each of us closer to the edge of some extreme method of coping or responding, and more of us fall over that edge than before — into violence, or self-harm, or self-isolation, or cynicism, or extremism, or several of the above. I’m sure the sociologists or public health folks have a technical term for generalized societal stress levels, and can measure it and find a graph to prove or disprove the correlation that I’m feeling. But what I feel is that people (me included) are more stressed-out, to the point of dysfunction, than before. It’s doing damage, not only when folks commit violence, but also in day-to-day living, as we “zone out” at work and can’t live up to our vocation, as we escalate irritation into rudeness, or nervousness into fearful isolation.

We’re not all equally overwhelmed, though. Some of us have healthy networks of caring community. Some of us have spiritual practices that help. Some of us have been taught that seeking assistance is honorable, and not a failure of masculine virtue or warrior integrity (the military encourages seeking help now, in ways they didn’t, back in the day). Some of us have not lived through the trauma of war, or the trauma of coming of age in the 90s or 00s. Some of us are cushioned by privilege and economic security. Some of us are cushioned by functional family systems.

It hasn’t always been this way.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

So what will you do? What will you do, not only to help yourself to live further from the edge of violence and isolation, but to transform your web of acquaintances, your neighborhood, your community?

How will you strengthen your existing groups – civic groups, faith groups, workplaces — to be welcoming, caring communities?

How will you practice your spiritual practice with gentle constancy, and encourage others to grow in their own spiritual practice (without being “judgy” or “holier-than-thou”)?

How will you seek appropriate help when you need it, and encourage others to seek it, both by your example and your testimony?

You’ll notice I’m not talking here about a more rational firearms law. I think there’s a place for that, but just as there’s not a single cause, so there’s not a single remedy. We can work for a transformed society today and every day, in all our interactions.

It hasn’t always been this way.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

Wes Stanton is an elder in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference serving as pastor to the people of Trinity United Methodist Church in Ritzville, Washington.

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