Mass Murder & Patriarchal Masculinity

April 20, 1999 – Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold enter their high school (Columbine) and shoot 12 classmates, 1 teacher, and themselves. 15 dead. 21 injured.
October 2002 – For 23 days John Allen Muhammad (adult) and Lee Boyd Malvo (minor) engage in a series of shootings in Washington DC, Maryland, and Virginia. 11 dead 10 murdered, 1 later executed. 3 injured.
April 16, 2007 – Student, Seung-Hui Cho, engages in the deadliest mass shooting in the United States after 2000 at Virginia Tech (Blacksburg, Virginia) killing 32 people and then himself. 33 dead. 29 injured.
July 20, 2012 – James Eagan Holmes enters a movie theater in Aurora, Colorado and opens fire on moviegoers at a showing of Batman “The Dark Knight Rises”. 12 dead. 59 injured.
December 14, 2012 – Adam Peter Lanza shoots and kills his mother, Nancy, then drives her car to an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut and opens fire. 28 dead 20 children, 8 adults. 1 injured.

. . . And the American public is up in arms – puzzled and bewildered as to how and why something like this could ever happen.

What in the world would possess someone to do this?

In effort to help the public make some sense of the chaos and not feel powerless, we pry into the personal lives of the shooters-who-are-also-victims, reignite stalemated political arguments, and encourage folks to run to their prayer closets.

We hope that the mental histories of the shooters-who-are-also-victims will reveal what went awry in their lives causing them to perform such atrocious acts. For those who don’t kill themselves we incarcerate them, try them in a court of law, and typically administer the harshest punishment of which we’ve conceived – execution state-sanctioned murder – perpetuating the cycle of violence. Over 1,300 human beings murdered since 1976.

Persons on both ends of the gun debate double down on their convictions. Pro-Gun Groups defend the Second Amendment and explain why the shooters-who-are-also-victims are different than the other “reasonable” and “sane” persons who own and use guns. Anti-Gun Groups recall the American history of mass murder in effort to tighten restrictions on gun availability and ownership.

As to not be overcome with sadness, some appeal to their faiths to arouse hope. Facebook and Twitter ramp up with old religious adages – If we ever needed the Lord before, we sure do need him now. / When there is nothing left to do, we can always pray!Some people’s faiths take them so far as to ruthlessly claim that even in these acts of violence the will of The Divine is in some mysterious way being enacted.

Though we attempt to quickly turn the page, fooling ourselves into believing these mass shootings are exceptions to the norm and that it will not happen again, the truth lurks in the corners of our minds. No matter how much we discover about the lives of the shooters-who-are-also-victims, no matter how strict gun regulations become, and no matter how hard we pray the truth haunts us. And that truth is these shootings are not exceptions, but are extreme representations of the normative violence that has become the common currency of our world as a result of our infatuation with patriarchal masculinity.

But the truth is too hard to deal with. To acknowledge that there have been over thirty mass shootings in America since 1999, taking around 250 lives – at least seven of which have taken place in 2012 alone – would force us to surrender our illusion of peace and security. To see the shooters-who-are-also-victims, not as mentally unstable nutcases, but as our coworkers, our friends, our neighbors, our classmates, our students, our war veterans, our family members, our children would be to admit that we are all prone to such acts because of our schooling in the violent halls of patriarchal masculinity.

Until we deal with the fact that our society relies of rigid constructions of gender, wherein to be masculine means to be physically strong, powerful and domineering, unfeeling, unemotional, independent, detached, etc. such violence will continue. Until we start teaching people, particularly men people, healthy ways of coping with frustration and disappointment, giving them spaces to feel their pain and express their anguish – express their humanness – violence will continue to be seen as the only way to cope with problems.

Until we stop distracting ourselves with the red herring that is the gun control debate such violence will continue. We need deeper discussions about the conditions that lead some people to believe gun ownership is necessary in the first place. Even if we confiscated every gun in the world, locked them up in a safe and threw away the key, violence would still be pervasive in our culture. We’d soon find ourselves having debates around knife control, crowbar control, hayfork control, broken beer bottle control, etc. Because while limiting gun availability is a step in the right direction, it merely addresses a symptom of the problem and not the disease itself. In the words of one of my old Sunday School teachers, You dont go to the doctor to get treated for sniffles, you go to get treated for a cold! Likewise, we must address the disease of violent patriarchal masculinity as opposed to the symptoms thereof.

Shall we continue steamrolling ahead, debating symptoms while disregarding the disease itself?

The disease is so subtle that many times we don’t even recognize the ways it seeps into our subconscious, shaping and forming us from the earliest moments of our childhood.

It forms us every time a young man cries and we tell him Man up, punk! Real men dont cry, denying the reality of his hurt and pain.

It forms us every time we teach a young woman that her ultimate fulfillment will come in marrying a good patriarchal man – as if there is such a thing. It forms us every time we teach young women that their ultimate purpose of existence is to do the feeling that men won’t allow themselves to do.

It forms us every time we are divided – girls on one side, boys on the other – and taught to view ourselves in a binary fashion, as completely different than one another.

It forms us every time a mass shooting occurs and the media mantra of “if it bleeds it leads” controls the way the story is told. We broadcast trauma for the world to see as if it’s an action film with a twisted plot as opposed to a tragedy.

It forms us every time our tax dollars are used to continue blindly funding Israel in the Palestine-Israel conflict as a result of our un-interrogated “religious convictions.” It forms us when we don’t treat the killing of 1,477 Palestinian children by Israelis and 129 Israeli children by Palestinians (since September 29, 2000) just as seriously as the killing of 20 children in Newton, Connecticut.

It forms us every time we attempt to turn the page on trauma, not allowing ourselves to lament but forcing ourselves to move on in the name of maintaining the illusion of American patriarchal strength.

It’s been so deeply engrained into our psyches, and so well disguised as the foundation of our country and world that it’s difficult to conceive of as a problem. We’ve been taught we need it to survive. Ironically, it is this very assumed source of survival that is killing us daily, well before any mass shooting takes place.

As long as we refuse to see the shooters-who-are-also-victims as extensions of ourselves and byproducts of the violence we perpetuate daily in milder, but just as detrimental, ways we won’t have a serious discussion about patriarchal masculinity and the violence it fosters in our world. As long as we fail to see the killing of 28 people in Newtown, Connecticut, the acceptance of the “Stand Your Ground” Law as a reasonable defense against the murdering of black flesh, physical and emotional violence against women (who in many cases of mass shootings are directly targeted) as intricately connected our efforts will be in vain.

In addition to arguing about gun control and praying, we must shed the chains of patriarchal masculinity and the violence it perpetuates. We cannot continue giving patriarchal masculinity a pass and blaming violence on the symptomatic manifestations thereof.

We must allow these violent manifestations of patriarchal masculinity to lead us in the challenging and changing of the standard of patriarchy undergirding our society. No longer can we settle for just being bewildered or running to the closet and praying. No longer can we settle for only talking about the symptoms. Knowing the disease of violent patriarchal masculinity, and knowing it well, we must directly address it in truth, understanding that it is not an exception to the norm, but the standard that must be debunked if we are to continue living.

We Still Wait

Psalms:   Psalm 18.1-20, 18.21-50
Old Testament:  Isaiah 2.12-22
Gospel:  Luke 20.27-40
Epistle:  1 Thessalonians 3.1-13

In today’s gospel passage we are placed smack dab in the middle of political and religious tension. Having focused on Jesus’ ministry, the gospel writer turns our attention to the aftermath.  Everyone is not excited about the good news Jesus has been proclaiming: some folks are down right mad about it.

In the twentieth chapter of the Gospel of Luke all our favorite characters come out to play. The chief priests, legal experts, and elders all try to trap Jesus in his words, but to no avail. So in the 27th verse, the Sadducees give it a go and attempt to trip Jesus up with a riddle about the resurrection. Having heard the promise of life everlasting, the Sadducees are bogged down with questions of property and ownership – “… all seven brothers married her… in the resurrection, whose wife will she be?” (v. 31-33)

In typical Jesus-fashion, however, Jesus’ response turns the question on its head. He asks the Sadducees which age they belong to – the present age or the age of the resurrection? For in the resurrection, Jesus says, there is no need to be married or given in marriage. Those who share in the resurrection are not property; they are angels – God’s children.

It’s strange to think about resurrection during this liturgical season. Easter is so far away, and this passage interrupts our Advent rhythm. But perhaps, Jesus’ invitation to the Sadducees – to live in the age of the resurrection – can be instructive for how we wander through this season of waiting.

In our time we perpetually live in light of the resurrection and the joy it brings. Yet, we still wait. We presume to know how the story ends. Yet, we still wait.

We await another coming of Christ. The day the Lord of heavenly forces has planned when all that is haughty and lofty will be made low; when pride will be brought down and human arrogance humiliated (Is. 2: 12, 17). We wait for the day when the Lord will truly be exalted: when people are no longer property, when our identities are no longer commodified, when the Kingdom of God is on earth as it is in heaven. We still wait.

In this Advent season, may we wait in a way that reflects the promise of that trickle-down justice that comes with resurrected living.

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This entry was originally written for the Belmont University School of Religion Advent Devotional 2012 Advent Devotional Guide. Click here to continue following this advent devotional guide online via Belmont’s University Ministries Blog. Or click here to download the devotional guide in PDF format.

Advent Blessings!

On Staring: A Subway Confession from Munich

Everyone else is staring, so why don’t we?

I see you look at me out of the corner of your eye – gazing ever so obliquely to ensure that our eyes never meet. Darting eyes engaged in a dreadful dance, so filled with longing yet swallowed by the fear of what might happen should we actually fully acknowledge one another and confess our sameness.

Is our shared reality so real, so painful that to see one another, even if just for a brief moment, might send our worlds spiraling out of control as the emotions we’ve tried and are trying so hard to mask rise from the depths of our shuddering souls, which we believe should be colonized beyond the point of feeling by now?

It can’t be the fact that your Afro- is German and my Afro- is American: no, it can’t be a cultural difference, because everyone else is staring!

Staring and seeing what we ourselves refuse to espy. They’re staring at you… staring at me. . . staring at us, together in our difference from them.

What is this thing between you and me? What has conditioned us to believe our shared identity is unworthy of acknowledgment; is unworthy of celebration? Why have we failed to remember the strength that is birthed in sharing even the most fleeting moments of solidarity? Has our quest of assimilation so fully eclipsed the intrinsic desire for mutuality between ourselves currently gnawing at our souls?

Why is it that I refuse to see you refuse to see me while everyone else is staring?

[Oh, this is my stop. . .]

Beyond Vote or Die: A Conversation (Part 3)

by Joshua Crutchfield and Brandon Maxwell

The following is the third and final installment of our conversation on voting.

Click here to read Part 1.
Click here to read Part 2.

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JOSHUA: Earlier you mentioned that not voting could be a source of resistance following in the tradition of our ancestors. How is choosing not to vote an act of resistance?

BRANDON: Choosing not to vote is an act of resistance, for me, because it is a conscious decision. I’m intentionally changing the way that I relate to the interlocked system of oppression. I’m resisting the very practices that claim to give my voice and creativity a place to be expressed while actually limiting them both. Choosing not to vote, and I’m speaking specifically of voting for elected officials, is an act of resistance because I see a system that does not truly desire my participation and I try to figure out ways to subvert it that do not simultaneously authenticate it in the way that voting does.

JOSHUA: And what are you resisting when you do this?

BRANDON:  A lot of things! My sister and fellow sojourner, Amaryah Shaye, recently wrote a beautiful piece entitled “On the End of Imagination: Voting as a Sacred Seduction”. The following quote is helpful here:

“We are being abused by our government and yet every four years we go back and subject ourselves once again. As long as we are in an abusive system that corrals us into voting democrat or republican, that requires you have to be rich in order to run a legitimate campaign… that requires consenting to maintaining violence against black and brown people and countries, our votes every four years will just be an affirmation of our hatred of women, queers, blacks, the environment, the church, mosque, temple, the children.”

In not voting, I’m resisting abuse. I’m resisting violence. I’m resisting hatred. I’m resisting intolerance. I’m resisting capitalism, sexism, homophobia, racism.

This is the part where someone asks, “Can’t I vote and still resist these things?”  One of my favorite German words so far is – Jein (yes and no).

Sure, one can vote and be completely opposed to the aforementioned forms of oppression. I would also ask, however, what does one sacrifice in voting? What does voting do to/for one’s soul? I contend that every time we enter a booth and in debt ourselves to the political process we give up a little bit of ourselves. Knowingly or not, we offer a certain portion of our voices, our hearts, our souls as a sacrifice to the very system that has stolen so much of these things already. Whether intentional or not, we sanction whiteness, patriarchy, capitalism… At this point in my life, my only option is to resist these things whole-heartedly in ways that are authentic to being: today, this means standing in opposition to the process and not feeling bad about it just because of some half-hearted, uncritical appeal to (fill in the blank).

Let me be clear, I’m not attempting to demonize those who choose to vote, but I am attempting to problematize the process of voting. I’m attempting to desacralize the right to rite of voting (shout out again to Amaryah Shaye) and to move beyond the notion that persons who choose not to vote commit the most tragic of atrocities.

Voting can no longer be considered the apex of political action and citizenship. Whether you choose to vote or choose not to (and let’s not forget those who aren’t allowed to) be mindful of what you are doing, and be intentional about it: think about it, feel it. For the consequences of voting surely outlast that brief moment of gratification that comes with the “likes” you receive on that picture of yourself with the “I Voted!” sticker.

In the spirit of not demonizing those invested in the process, can we talk a bit more about your involvement in the election this go around? I’ve been extremely intrigued by the creativity of the Obama campaign during both the 2008 and 2012 elections. The Obama for America ground game is something serious! While I applaud the creative campaign strategies employed by OFA, these strategies also remind me that place matters in elections! Based on your political activity during this election cycle, how has your understanding of the ways place matters in the political process developed?

JOSHUA: Space absolutely matters! And it matters in important ways, especially when the question of voter apathy is raised.  I believe with all my heart that the Electoral College has perpetuated feelings of voter apathy among voters in states that are habitually red or blue; it works both ways. I cannot blame a Democrat in Tennessee for not being excited about voting in a state where their vote is virtually ineffective. In the same way, Republicans in Illinois may experience the same feelings of hopelessness in this system. Not to mention the people who don’t identify as Democrats or Republicans.

One of the things Obama for America has done to curb feelings of apathy is focused more on battleground states. For example, in states like Tennessee that vote red, volunteers put their efforts into the battleground state of North Carolina. Since I’ve been involved in Obama for America I have hosted phone banks to independent voters in North Carolina and been on canvassing trips. This gives volunteers a sense that they are making a difference in the outcome of the election. It does not, however, make them feel like their vote is important.

There are other things that may contribute to voter apathy. Things that come to mind include inconvenient polling hours, voter ID laws, and registration confusion, just to name a few.  If America claims that voting is an essential part of citizenship, then it must back its claim and make voting easier and more accessible for all Americans.

BRANDON: Agreed. Any other thoughts?

JOSHUA: Yes – The notion of space reminds me of the importance of local elections: which we haven’t discussed up until this point. Often times, there is so much hoopla around the Presidential Elections every four years that we forget about the local ones that occur every two. These elections, these officials, enact the policies that will affect us most directly. Furthermore, local elections frequently require us to vote on propositions and ballot measures, which is an additional aspect of the electoral process we haven’t discussed. I think voting in local officials who reflect our passion for justice and who will enact policies centered in a love ethic is important.

I concede, however, that it must not end, and does not have to begin with voting. We must continue to put loving pressure on these officials and our unofficial leaders to do justice and to do better.  But change does begin with us. Subverting systems of domination does begin with us.

Which brings me to a final question for you – in what ways is choosing not to vote an effective way of creating change?

BRANDON: I think its imperative to ask what really change means: especially after President Obama made the word synonymous with his campaign in 2008. Currently, I reject the term change because of the way it has been pimped by the Obamas and the Romneys of the world. Furthermore, I think transformation – which, for me, is one step beyond change – gets more to the heart of my desire.

To resist something, forces one to be creative. The creative process fosters conversation fosters ideas fosters action fosters transformation. This process begins with us being willing to simply ask the question – what would it mean for us to birth something entirely new, different in our country, in our world?

JOSHUA: How will you measure such a transformation?

BRANDON: I’m not concerned with measurements. Measurements are what patriarchal reasoning demands to stifle imagination and sustain itself. I’m concerned with transformation happening! I can tell you what transformation looks like, though, utilizing a Rev. Joseph Lowery quote. Transformation will have occurred the day when  “black will not be asked to get back, when brown can stick around, when yellow will be mellow, when the red man can get ahead, man,” [sic] I might add, when the “suffragette” will not be considered a threat, when queer can unashamedly be here, “and when white will embrace what is right.”

Such transformation should be the goal of our political action – whether that action is voting or standing in resistance to the voting process. I think it is beyond time for us to take inventory of our actions and the processes which claim to provide avenues for such actions to take place.

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Over the course of this dialogue we’ve attempted to offer honest reflections on voting from our different vantage points. If there are two things we agree on they are: 1) we cannot go on esteeming voting while trivializing those who choose to engage in other forms of political action (including, but not limited to, resistance), and 2) we must find better language to talk about the struggle of our ancestors, de-homogenize their narratives, and rely on their ever-present spirits for guidance in our current struggles for freedom.

We leave you with a quote from Audre Lorde: “…For the master’s tools will never dismantle the master’s house. They may allow us temporarily to beat him at his own game, but they will never enable us to bring about genuine change. And this fact is only threatening to those women who still define the master’s house as their only source of support.”

Peace . . .

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Read Joshua’s blog here.
Read Brandon’s blog here.

Beyond Vote or Die: A Conversation (Part 2)

by Joshua Crutchfield and Brandon Maxwell

This blog entry is part two of our series on voting, and picks up right where the last one left off. If you missed Part 1, click here to read it.

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JOSHUA: So what is your response to people who say, “Our ancestors fought for the right to vote…” and/or “If you don’t vote, you have no right to complain”? I don’t identify with either group entirely, but I do think the statements deserve a thoughtful response.

BRANDON: These are fragmented critiques.

First, sure ‘nough, our ancestors fought for their right to participate in the American political system. Too frequently, however, persons making this argument emphasize “…the right to vote,” while downplaying the reality that “our ancestors fought…” – which is quite ironic considering that the argument appeals to the fight of our ancestors to give it credence.

Though sometimes uncritical, the statement itself points to the reality that my ancestors had a contrarian relationship to the American political system. Before my ancestors could vote, they fought: they engaged in create-ive political action against the system in order to bring about change. The right to vote was one byproduct of their political action, and became one method to further their causes, but it certainly was not the sum of their political action.

Sadly, the narratives (plural) of our ancestors have been homogenized by mainstream american cultural in order to create the illusion of inclusion through the electoral process. This illusion perpetuates the half-truth, which suggests that political action begins and ends with voting; that the only way to be accountable to the struggle of our ancestors is through voting. However, I contend that, in very subtle and nuanced ways, the act of not voting – political resistance, if you will – can be just as in-step-with and faithful to the political actions of my ancestors as is the act of voting.

JOSHUA: That’s thoughtful! I definitely agree that our ancestors were some “create-ive” folks. They had to be! I’m reminded of the “create-ive” political action of Civil Rights leaders whose approaches did not stop at fighting for inclusion in the system, but went beyond the system to affirm their community’s humanity in ways that were not contingent on the political process.

BRANDON: Exactly. Their create-ive action included a fight to be included in, but not consumed by, the american political process. Our ancestors did not struggle only to vote, they create-ively struggled for freedom. I’m grateful for the freedom to choose to vote. I’m grateful for the freedom to choose not to. I’m grateful for the freedom to engage in my own create-ive political struggle to bring about change in the very spirit of my ancestors.

JOSHUA: And as for your response to the “If you don’t vote, you can’t complain” camp?

BRANDON: The either-vote-or-shut-up argument and all its corollaries – i.e., the “Vote or Die” movement – are byproducts of our individual and collective political imaginations being taken captive. This argument alleges that because the American political process is so clearly defined, one must participate within its confines or not at all. There’s no need for create-ive political action… There’s no need to imagine new ways to engage in political action together when the system has already been so clearly defined, right?

Wrong! This binary thinking further divides people who should be closely aligned. It is another tool used by the majority to skew our collective struggles for freedom, relinquish us of our imaginative power, and divide us along the lines of registered/unregistered, voting/not-voting, etc. – which is very much an extension of the ways we are divided along the lines of gender, class and race and invited to participate in whiteness (See The History of White People, Nell Irvin Painter, Ch. 8). The point is, to silence one’s voice because they do not vote (read, they do not fit neatly inside the confines of mainstream culture) is counterproductive and prevents pertinent discussions that will aid in the interrogation of our political system and the ways it regularly fails us. I mean is nobody going to talk about the fact that many of us are voting, and still dying?

JOSHUA: I agree that political action does not always require the ballot. This question of why nobody talks about the fact that people – black and brown people, poor people, women people, queer people – are voting and dying is clever and pertinent. I am curious to know how voting has changed those rates of folks dying – and in our time this doesn’t always mean a physical death. It seems as though since the voting process was opened up to include colored people and women much has stayed the same, maybe even worsened. Black and brown people are disproportionately poorer; more of us are in prison and dropping out of school than our counterparts. Women are still paid a fraction of what men are paid, and are still commodified, demonized and trivialized by the political process. That’s the reality before the election, during it, and after it.

BRANDON: Seeing that we agree that voting doesn’t always equal “pulling a lever,” and that folks are voting and still dying my question to you is, how can one engage in political action that takes seriously the inequities and injustices to which you alluded?

JOSHUA: I think we first must define what political means. Of course, we have the political that has something to do with voting, polls, elected officials, public policies, etc. – all the stuff we’ve discussed so far. But there is also another type of political action named and popularized by our feminist sisters in the 60s & 70s. This is the type of political action, which acknowledges that the personal is always political! That is, everything we do means something in the larger scope of things.

When we shop at Wal-Mart, that’s not only getting what we need at a low price, it’s also political action! When we volunteer with an organization that advocates for the poor and homeless, that’s not just passing out sandwiches to fill ourselves with warm fuzzies, it’s also political action! When we protest violence against women, its political action! When we canvass for Barack Obama in battle ground states, it’s political action! When we protest the voting process itself and take a stance of resistance, it is political action!

So, to answer your question directly – we engage in political action that takes injustice seriously by understanding that everything we do has political ramifications. Political action can be and is performed without a voting ballot. Many folks in this country – namely, people of color and women – have been not voting longer than they’ve been voting. So, there is a long (and successful) tradition of political action outside of the voting process to learn from.

BRANDON: That’s helpful! To wrap things up, I want to return to your initial statement about choice. Can we really call what we have in this election, in any election for that matter, a choice? Is a forced choice – “he’s the only choice we have” – a choice at all, or is it something else?

JOSHUA: Do we have a choice in this election? I guess the way I framed my initial statement, “We don’t have a better alternative than President Obama” doesn’t help my case in this discussion. Let me be clear, I think voting in this election is important. “Choice” may not be the best way to describe the option between the candidates, but there are clear distinctions between what each candidate stands for.

My vote for President Obama is influenced by my personal politics and my stance as an ally to LGBTQ folks, poor folks, and women. Though the candidates are similar on Foreign Policy and in ignoring the poor I believe Obama’s platform is more in line with my personal politics. Furthermore, I believe his leadership will continue to move our country in the right direction in many – but not all – areas, while Romney’s leadership will take us back a few decades.

We could certainly talk about the limitations of a two-party system – I concede, it doesn’t always provide a real choice. We could also talk about the limitations of the Electoral College and the way it infringes on our votes (a choice, of sorts). I think the take away from this discussion, however, is that by broadening our understanding of political action – which can include voting, not voting, where one shops, what one protests, etc. – we get to the heart of true democracy and true political action. Political action that is “create-ive,” – sometimes exercised within the confines of the election process, but never limited to or confined by it.

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Thanks for reading! Stay tuned for Part 3 of our discussion where we’ll engage in a brief discussion on the dynamics of place in politics and provide some concluding reflections on the discussion.

Read Joshua’s blog here.
Read Brandon’s blog here.