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What Seinfeld taught me about American men's gun, anger, and violence problem
I was at a party the other day. These days, the only parties I go to are kid’s parties, but it was a party nevertheless. And I walked up to my friends. And, like is common for me, the small talk turned into a reference to Seinfeld. They said it was record time that I brought it up. It’s true, I love Seinfeld.
The sarcastic show, which has aged surprisingly well, teaches us a lot. Not because it is full of moral direction or vision for our lives, but because in its lack of content (after all, it is often called “a show about nothing”) we learn something about how we are supposed to live. It plainly points out the absurdity of life and the problems we face, but it rarely offers a solution. It is the sitcom version of Ecclesiastes. Check out the following two clips which will frame my argument in this post. Men need to grow up.
I don’t think “family” is the key to our growing up. Getting married and having children is not entirely fulfilling. Read Ecclesiastes. It can just be a toiling under the sun. But I’ve been thinking about lack of meaning and purpose in this last week as the U.S. has faced yet another preventable, senseless shooting. It seems like we have no shortage of wake-up calls to the moral vacuum we have in this country. It was Las Vegas last year. Orlando the year before. I am going to keep leading through the violence because I think we need leadership in times of distress (and quite frankly, our elected officials are providing none of that).
I have a lot of (possibly too many) opinions about gun control legislation. And I do think some common sense laws (see Nick Kristof here) can prevent many deaths. Of course, reducing gun ownership and access does not tackle the fundamental problem we have at hand, but remember, gun control is not about solving root issues (if you want to do that, start with prayer, psychotherapy, and time with your pastor or cell leader). We won’t solve the reasons people want to harm each other and themselves. But we may reduce their efficacy in doing so. That will save lives.
But what is that root problem? Why is it so American? Why are men usually the shooter? What is going on?
I don’t have the expertise or presumption to answer these questions, but I do have one idea.
I think many men who own these weapons, for one thing, own them because they are fun. Hey, I’m into chef’s knives and, to be honest, I have more than I need. Why? Because they are cool and I like cool things. I will admit, they don’t all have a utility, but it is a hobby of mine. It’s the same reason I like the Eagles. I like having fun, I like participating in something of little import, and expressing myself that way. Granted, the tears I have shed over Eagles’ (and Phillies’ and Sixers’) losses have shown me that I’m probably a bit too invested.
Men love their guns because they are fun. They hold onto their fun, because their lives lack purpose. A life lacking purpose, coupled with a person who has a hard time receiving love (maybe because they were not loved well), can result in an angry person. An angry person without purpose and a human-killing toy is a bad combination. This is not about mental illness. It’s not about background checks. It’s about something in the American fabric that fails to mature men; they lack community, they lack mission, they lack leadership, they lack nurturing. It is a deadly combination.
I think some of the problems men face are about the pressure on them to fill certain roles. They are pressured to have a meaningful job. They are pressured to be a bread winner. They are pressured to “act masculine.” They are even pressured to have certain hobbies and interests (maybe even a passion for guns!). They are pressured to be a romantic wizard, being able to enchant women into sleeping with them (and we’ve seen what a mess that’s created!). These lies are sold to men and they get thrown into a political economy that reinforces them, and a market economy that does not supply them with any of their actual needs!
Many of us suffer with these problems, and do not go on a shooting spree in a school. But I think it is elemental for us to empathize with and not otherize people who commit these acts. The more we marginalize them, the worse they get. So try these suggestions on for size, and share them with people you know. This won’t solve anger, violence, and the shooting problem; but it may help us know that some of the reasons these shootings happen are things we all may suffer with. And it may deepen us too. Your despair may not lead you to violence, but perhaps you can be led out of it.
Be discipled in community. For the men committing these acts, I really believe they have a lack of leadership in their life (not unlike the whole country). They have a lack of parenting. A lack of being mothered or fathered. A lack of family. My suggestion is to look for a leader and a community—or maybe be a leader to someone else, acknowledge your influence. Someone could learn influence from you. Seek out mentorship, and then let your heart be moved as you listen. Demonstrate the humility you need to be shaped. It won’t feel good. And you’ll feel like your mentor is wrong. Sometimes they are. But, if they are a good one (like Circle of Hope is full of), they’ll often lead you well (and not just give advice) all the time. If their direction makes you uncomfortable, pay attention to that. You may find your mentor in your cell and you may find your community there too.
Use your body and have fun. But don’t expect it to fulfill your every desire. Yes, having fun matters. Using your body in healthy ways matters too. Not only will it keep you from unhealthy habits (bad sex and bad food), it’ll teach you to earn your rest. Use your body and wear yourself out a bit. Be tired from some physical activity, not just a few drinks too many. Have fun too, you might even develop a hobby, but don’t hold to it too tightly. Don’t merely use it as escapism. There is real work to be done.
Let Jesus give you your purpose. Read the Scriptures. Start with the Gospel of John. See what God is calling God’s people into. Find out how you can participate. We all have a role to play in the body. We need to find it. This is not really optional. I don’t presume you will have a job that is fulfilling, and most aren’t. But I believe that sharing the love of Jesus, and I do through our cell multiplication movement, can change you and change your world. Sincerely ask and answer this question: what does God have for me to do? I believe God has something for you. Your mentor can help you discern that.
Know that you are loved. Start with Jesus. This is the hardest thing for me to believe. Not only does Jesus love me, he wants to be one with me. This is incredibly challenging, not just because it is fairly abstract, but because receiving love is so hard. Our parents may have failed us. Our broken marriage may give us the idea that we are unlovable. Our boss who fired us might do the same. What might block you from love? Your past. Move through our past. Maybe sign up for therapy. And look for the love that the people in the church, the community in which you will be discipled and where you may find your purpose, will be offering. Receive it. And then dare to give it back. Love your neighbor. Consider them better than yourself. Make a sacrifice for them.
Those are four very simple suggestions that I think begin to approach some of the circumstances that bring people, and men specifically, to commit these violent acts. I hope you find them useful. And I hope in doing so you can learn that we all have a project to work on together. Our lives depend on it!