Stop The Country, Please. I’d Like To Get Off

Fair warning: I’m angry today. This is not my usual story

I’m writing this because I’d go crazy if I didn’t. Though I usually stick to writing self-improvement, today that feels shallow in the wake of last Tuesday and yesterday’s events. What I’ve read on here today felt flat, scrolling through article names like “Demigod Jeff Bezos’s Morning Routine… Fewer Melons Than You’d Think!” and “Is Bitcoin Still Blah Blah A Monkey Typing On a Keyboard Could Have Written This!”

Jessica Wildfire heavily inspired my processing of the last week’s tragedies.

In the last 6 days, two men separated by 1400 miles took the lives of 18 innocent people who were trying to run their businesses/buy groceries. I refuse to say the shooter’s names, though the one from Atlanta shares a name with me, which has driven me crazy the past four days.

I’ll admit, I was late to the party. Not out of any desire to be disconnected, but because I teach during the day and coach soccer after school. So it wasn’t until last Friday that I knew there’d been a mass shooting in Atlanta, after seeing #Stopasianhate on a friend’s Instagram and googling what it was all about.

By the time I got there, the media was so busy rage-worshipping a man who thought of Asian women as subhuman that it took me 20 minutes to find an article about what actually happened last Tuesday, and wasn’t about the shooter and his stupid, otherwise boring suburban church-going life.

A life that had remarkable parallels to mine, years ago.

As I skimmed article after article about (a name I won’t say) I couldn’t shake the feeling that I could have been him, with just a few missteps. I grew up in a very similar church, which taught me that there were “pure” women and “loose” women. We were taught that there was a tremendous amount of worth to virginity, that we needed to protect it lest we become chewed gum or gross used tape (the girls I grew up with went through a far worse washing machine of brainwashing).

We were never really taught what sex was, just that it was a “temptation of the flesh” that we needed to avoid, lest our future wives be furious with us for not waiting to lose our virginity to them (as we could of course be justifiably furious with them if they hadn’t saved themselves for us as concepts years before they met us).

It’s always hard to explain these attitudes to someone who didn’t grow up brainwashed by “we-have-a-rock-band-and-free-soda-so-Jesus-is-cool-now” Evangelical Christianity. In my research for this story, I found an article called Moving On From ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Pease. IKDG was the defining text of christian anti-dating.

Published in 1997, it destroyed lives, and the author has made an entire documentary apologizing for it. I’d like to share a quote from the article that sums up the attitudes I grew up around:

“My mid-90s education featured “Christian worldview” training which told us we lived amid a rotting moral culture. We were told it was our job to memorize solid “biblical” arguments that could dismantle other beliefs, expose them as wretchedly sinful and transform them into a Judeo-Christian worldview.

Weirdly, this rhetoric bred a generation of Christians who were terrible at incarnating the way of Jesus but great at yelling at people. We had simple answers that sounded good, confidence we were doing the Lord’s work and — for people like me with aggressive personalities and youthful arrogance — a willingness to use this training as a culture warrior club, concussing people into faith.”

These attitudes about purity and sexual repression, that you are right and the entire world (except your people) have lost their way in a colossal fight against “sin” and “darkness” are perfectly reasonable in the community that I grew up in, until the moment someone goes on a shooting spree. Then they wonder: how could this happen? We told this guy he was a warrior in a fight against darkness, that he was right and the entire world was wrong, we objectified a group of people and told him they were to blame for his rage… Incidentally, our culture allows angry people access to assault rifles… but how could this happen?

I was angry too, growing up. Luckily, even though I was homeschooled, I played public school sports, so my best friends were not in the Evangelical echo chamber. When I went to college, going out into the world showed me that the church I grew up in was not in any way superior. My church had the same ratio of loud idiots to quiet reasonable people that any other group of people on Earth has.

The homophobic ideals I grew up espousing were challenged by wonderful, patient people who showed me love I didn’t deserve. I got out of the church and sought education. I’ve still got a long way to go in terms of deconditioning, but I’m thankful every day that I’m no longer in that community.

But what if I’d doubled down? What if I’d had no outlet? What is it that stood between me, as a young, angry white man, and any of the mass shootings of the last 22 years?

If only there was adequate time to ask questions like this, and process between violent tragedies in our culture.

Yesterday, March 22nd, was my 28th birthday. I was visiting my family in Longmont, Colorado. As I was laughing with my family about “making it past the 27 club” and blowing out the candles with my sister who shares the same birthday, someone 30 miles away was opening fire in a King Soopers on people who were trying to shop for groceries.

One of the presents my family gave me was a gift certificate to a stationary shop that I’m in love with on Boulder’s Pearl Street Mall. After lunch, I left my phone at home. My sister and I drove to Boulder, stopped into REI to look at travel stuff for her upcoming trip to Thailand, then went to look at journals in the shop, where we ran into a family friend who took us out to dinner. It was all very lovely, except my favorite book store had closed early, which seemed odd.

I got home to messages from my friends and extended family asking if I was okay. I hadn’t even known that a few miles away, several hundred grocery shoppers were having the worst day of their lives as my sister and I were shopping for my birthday.

Please don’t mistake me. I’m not trying to connect myself to the tragedy. I was never unsafe, nor was I anywhere close to the shooting. The desire that we have to say things like “I could have been there” after shootings has baffled me for years.

I’m just tired. I’m tired of feeling numb to these events, of not having the time to process before the next one happens. Tired of conversations with my family and friends that end with us throwing up our hands. I’m tired of having lockdown drills in my classroom, and active shooter training in schools. I’m tired of the flaccid political conversations we have after shootings, where politicians give us flat rhetoric to delay having to do something that might threaten the profiteering domestic warlords’ right to make money. I’m tired of watching questions like: “should we demonstrate that we value human life over the economy by covering our mouths during a pandemic?” Or “should the average angry nutcase be allowed an assault rifle?” Or “are Asian people… people?” be labeled as “political,” rather than common sense.

Most of all, I’m tired of living in a culture where success is measured by the average person’s ability to test the limits of human greed, and then control the narrative. A culture where we pretend human life is important until the value of a human life runs up against the right to make money.

Our “ruling class” has spent unfathomable amounts of money to convince us that what we should really be angry at is each other, not them. That politics is an uncompromising struggle between good and evil, and we (whatever side we’re on) are the good ones. We wonder why we’re facing political gridlock and stagnation.

Stop the country, please! I’m feeling sick.

I wish I could offer some sort of logical consolation or solution. Unfortunately, until we rethink the way we live and what we value, we’re just going to live out this cycle over and over and over again.

Here’s what I can say: If you’re reading this and you’re lonely, or scared, or unhappy, reach out. I’ll talk over anything with you. The only way we reclaim our humanity is by reconnecting with each other on basic human levels until we realize that we don’t need the powerful to live fulfilled human lives.

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