A Quaker Meditation: Hating the Good News?

Except for how it turned out, I hate almost everything about this report:

A mass school shooting was foiled on Thursday, December 13, 2018; that’s the good part.

College students and adults too: warning booklet, in a college dorm room at a large Quaker conference.

But the first thing I hate about it is not in the news, but in myself: when I began checking the evening  headlines yesterday, a thought came:

Isn’t it about time for another big mass shooting? How long has it been—? Let’s see . . . the Pittsburgh synagogue, hmm. Oh yeah, late October: 11 dead, six wounded. . . .
Seven weeks ago; right? So  . . . another one is about due . . .”

Yes, I thought that, unbidden, and I hate that I thought it. A premonition? I don’t think so. It’s just that after these past few years, it does feel like there’s some sort of gruesome rhythm to such events.

The new ABnormal.

Then I glanced at the BBC News feed, and there it was:

Thursday morning December 13, an Indiana teenager allegedly grabbed a rifle and a pistol, and forced someone to drive him to a school less than a mile from his home. Five hundred-plus students were inside.

Meantime, somebody (later confirmed it was his mom) called to warn the school. Staff there ordered a lockdown, which seems to have been completed just in time.

The cops were alerted and also got there in time; and though the boy shot his way into the building, he heard resource officers in pursuit and soon felt cornered in a stairwell. He fired at the officers, they fired back, and then he was found in the stairwell dying of a gunshot wound, reportedly self-inflicted.

It was all over in about three minutes.

No students, teachers or police were hurt. Again, the good part.

The attacker’s name was Brandon Clegg. He was 14. The school superintendent said he was not a student at the school, but went vague about whether Clegg had ever been a student there..

It was a very close thing.

If the cops had taken a few more minutes . . . .

If the lockdown was slower or less complete . . .

It’s great that those pieces fell into place.

But at the same time, I hate it, because it’s like the World War Two air raids during the London Blitz, when civilians learned to rush to the Underground when sirens blared, and wait out the bombing runs in dark tunnels. Some Londoners didn’t get to the tunnels til too late.

American kids today are being trained to act like they’re targets of an enemy blitz, and with good reason.

Except now the “enemies” aren’t foreigners, but typically their own schoolmates or neighbors, almost always males.

We’re at war, with ourselves; and I hate it.

A very close call: If the driver had gone a little faster . . .

If the warning call had been ignored or had touched off a panic . . .

This incident happened in Richmond, Indiana, a small Rust Belt city on the Ohio border. At the Dennis Intermediate School there.

I hate that too, because one of Richmond’s distinctions is that it’s a Quaker city, one of the American centers of this sect, my sect, outside its largest in Philadelphia. It’s twice been selected as an All-American city.

Not that Quakers run the city today, or make up the bulk of its population. But Quakers founded it, and many Quaker institutions are there. And Quakers presume ourselves to be apostles of peace, injecting an irenic influence in public life.

Yes, Quakers are known as exponents and models of peace, and that’s not only in our own humble estimation. We’ll tell you about our Nobel Peace Prize at the drop of a bonnet. (Okay, it may be getting a little dusty, since it’s from 1947, seventy-plus years ago, but so what?)

We took the prize.

This is a very comforting self-image; we congratulate ourselves about it at every opportunity.
Me too. So I hate when its illusory character is exposed, even if it’s only likely to be noticed by other Quakers. And few events reveal our hollowness more nakedly than when this present American war of any against all erupts in or near our own back yards.

Our own back yard? Take a look:

A “Quaker Back Yard”: This whole incident took place in an area of about one square mile.  Within this mile, there were two sizable Quaker meetings, a Quaker college, a Quaker seminary, and arguably a Quaker neighborhood. In addition, the target school, David W. Dennis Intermediate, is named after a Quaker Congressman who was born in Richmond, lived there all his life, and whose father was president of (Quaker) Earlham College in the 1930s and 1940s. There are other Quaker institutions in Richmond as well.

I mean no criticism of any of these groups, or for that matter the late Congressman Dennis.  What would I do in their place? Nothing as skillful as the teacher who ordered the lockdown, or the officers who had practiced for such events. And the area’s Quaker presence did not protect a school named after a Quaker. The data confirms a comment by the city’s chief of police:

“If this happens in Richmond, Indiana, it happens absolutely anywhere,” Chief Jim Branum said. “If you had told me 30 years ago that we would have to train officers on entering into a school after a shooter, I wouldn’t have believed it.”

Believe it, Chief. Depending on the definition, there has been a mass shooting in the US almost every day in 2018. (My internal sense of their frequency was way low.) Richmond Indiana almost joined the roster, except for well-trained resource officers, a quick lockdown, and a mother’s desperate phone call.

Speaking of mom, as the BBC report put it, “Police say tipster saved countless lives” in Richmond.

I believe it. Almost six years to the day earlier, Adam Lanza in Sandy Hook, Connecticut foreclosed that possibility by shooting his mother, before he headed for the school where he blasted his way through a locked door, then killed 20 students and six adults.

This is not abstract for me: I have grandchildren in school in three states. Besides, schools are hardly the only targets of this internecine guerrilla war: it also breaks out in big cities and small towns; churches, a synagogue, yoga studios, outside a Vegas casino, restaurants, a newspaper office, community colleges, a self-service car wash,  a gay nightclub, and lots more.

What are we Quakers, and others who don’t have a peace prize to flaunt, going to do about this war that can break out anywhere, and can’t be traced to some foreign enemy?

Beyond just facing up to it, I truly don’t have a clue. And you know, I really hate that.

David W. Dennis Intermediate School

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2 thoughts on “A Quaker Meditation: Hating the Good News?”

  1. Hi Chuck,

    You ask “what are we doing”

    I ask “what are we doing to bring our message of living in and by Spirit to all members of our social communities?”

    The answer I get is that “we welcome anyone who comes in the door.”

    The answer I give is that we can do much more.

    We can find ways to bring Quaker worship, Quaker life, to others in ways that weren’t invented a few hundred years ago. The de facto creedal absolute that only by hymns, prepared messages and silent waiting with spontaneous messages, or only by silent waiting with spontaneous messages alone, can we engage Spirit, leads to the present result: irrelevance to most people in our social communities.

    We need to start with the people we are not reaching and find ways to foster spiritual community based on the core of Quaker worship — ask, wait, listen, be led, take action –in ways that engage those we are not reaching.

    Anything less is irresponsible.

    Thanks for the prompt,


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