They Just Can’t Handle It

Officials in Littleton, CO, are receiving a bit of flack for their decision to erect a memorial statue to a fallen Navy SEAL. Gunner’s Mate 2nd Class Danny Dietz was posthumously awarded the Navy Cross, an award second in precedence only to the Medal of Honor. The choice to erect the memorial, a statue of Dietz seated and holding his automatic rifle, in a park frequented by children has been criticized by opponents as “glorifying violence.” They further argue that it is inappropriate because of the park’s proximity to several schools, among them Columbine High School.

My guess is that they haven’t considered, or have flatly dismissed the big picture. The citation does not come anywhere near “glorifying violence.” The Navy Cross is not an excellence in violence merit badge. Dietz was honored because he “demonstrated extraordinary heroism in the face of grave danger.” He was honored because, although he was wounded, “he bravely fought on, valiantly defending his teammates and himself in a harrowing gunfight, until he was mortally wounded.”

Dietz is not an Eric Harris or a Dylan Klebold. While it is certain that the vocation of a SEAL is a vocation that must unfortunately employ necessary and appropriate violence—on behalf of those who are thankfully spared such a necessity, it must be remembered that not all violence is equal. It is not all senseless.

Such a memorial does not glorify violence. It places before our eyes the virtues of courage and selflessness, of service to one’s neighbor—virtues that are woefully lacking in contemporary American society. In light of the overwhelming amount of senseless violence and selfishness that abounds, we could use more such examples before us, and not limited to those of a military nature.

According to part of my vocation, I tend to wax theological. To me such an outcry smacks of a secular version of Gospel Reductionism, if I may go there. Give us nice, happy, fluffy, feel-goody things to look at while sparing us the darker side of things. It’s the kind of thinking that considers with sentimentality the beauty of the cross while ignoring the fact that the cross is itself an instrument of violence, used by God against His Son Jesus, so that we might be spared from death and given life instead. It accepts the peace that such a violent event enacts while ignoring the reality that demands such an act. Not all violence is equal. It is not all senseless. It ought not to be universally relegated to the “things from which we must largely be spared” category.

This is in large part a context for my issue with children’s bibles. We begin building the worldview early, and it becomes more difficult to address later. As the father of young children, I’m generally appalled at what is offered to kids in the pages of such books. In the pictures everyone is smiling. The stories are benign, having been extremely selective in the aspects of the stories they include. From early on we tend to foster a benign understanding of evil and God’s salvation. We do it because kids “just can’t handle it.”

But they can. They don’t need all the gory details of everything, but kids even from a young age understand hurt, loss, and sadness. They can handle more than such books give them. They don’t need to be spared everything we tend to spare them. Letting them reckon with some of the harder things is actually appropriate. Helping them to see the good news through the bad news is good for them. Doing appropriate Law and Gospel with young children is actually a gift to them—just like it’s a gift for older kids and adults.

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