As people who follow the news in the US know, there has been yet another school shooting, this time at Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon. On Thursday, October 1, Chris Harper-Mercer killed nine people and wounded nine others, engaged in a shootout with police, and then killed himself. Our loving thoughts and prayers go out to everyone involved in this tragic event.
Sadly, these shootings are becoming so common (one organization says there have been 45 of them just this year in the US) that for many of us they are hitting very close to home. I grew up in Oregon, where several such shootings have taken place. One happened in 2012 at the Clackamas Town Center mall outside of Portland, right across the street from the apartment where I used to live. The current one took place in the small town where my grandparents used to live, a peaceful, bucolic town I’ve visited countless times.
Of course it’s all over the news now, but unfortunately things seem to be unfolding the way they usually do with these shootings. One group of people angrily says “We need gun control!” Another group of people angrily says “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people-and the way to stop them is more guns!” They’ll yell at each other for a while, demand action of one sort or another, say “Never again!” and then everyone will forget about it until the next shooting. And on it goes…
Now, in fairness, that last paragraph is a bit of a caricature. In fact, there are plenty of cooler heads offering some promising long-term solutions to this problem. For instance, a few days ago I read an article by Matthew Albracht of The Peace Alliance that has some ideas I think are really worth looking into. But there is a lot of anger out there, and as a Course student I can’t help but think that all that anger is not the solution, but an expression of the problem.
The heart of the matter, according to A Course in Miracles, is that we are constantly faced with a choice between two diametrically opposed impulses in us. One is the impulse to murder. Now, that language is extreme, and of course most of us don’t literally murder anyone, but the Course unabashedly says that we all have a “wish to murder” (T-23.IV.1:7). This impulse to murder is the fundamental impulse of our illusory egos, which want to attack just for the sake of attacking. Indeed, “What is not love is murder” (T-23.IV.1:10), which means that all of our unloving thoughts, words, and actions are forms of murder-including all of our anger.
The other impulse is the impulse to work miracles. This impulse stems from our true nature, our spiritual reality, which wants to love and only love. This impulse is far stronger than we imagine-the Course’s early dictation, in fact, calls it the “miracle drive,” a drive far stronger than even our drives to eat, sleep, and breathe. We have a huge pull deep within us to extend love and helpfulness to other people in thought, word, and deed. It is the only thing that is in accord with our true nature. It is our one and only purpose on earth.
The human dilemma is that we have these two impulses side by side within us. (Yes, the ego impulse is illusory, but as long as we believe in it, it is a live option in our lives.) If we choose the ego’s impulse to murder, we open the door to everything from giving our partner “the look” to fighting over what to do about guns to opening fire on random college students. If we choose the spirit’s impulse to work miracles, we open the door to everything from giving our partner a hug to having a calm, respectful discussion about guns to voluntarily taking bullets to save those students (as Chris Mintz, shot seven times and now recovering in the hospital, did at Umpqua Community College). The key question in life, then, is this: Moment by moment, which impulse are we choosing? Which one are we allowing to govern our minds? Which one are we expressing in the world?
On this choice depends everything. Especially relevant to our topic here: It can even be the crucial element that prevents someone from becoming a school shooter. In an earlier Course Meets World piece, I told the story of James Fallon, a brain researcher who discovered that his brain perfectly matches the profile of a psychopathic killer, yet he is not a killer-most likely, in his view and that of many scientists, because he grew up surrounded by love. In that piece, I suggested that this has major ramifications for how we live our lives:
This is a huge incentive, I think, to become extenders of love ourselves, not only to our own children but to everyone. Just think: You could be the one who turns a potential psychopathic killer to the way of love. What if Hitler had had enough such people in his life? Extending love to others is what the Course calls a miracle; indeed, at one point the Course says the choice before us is “the choice of miracles or murder” (T-23.IV.9:8). Will we “murder” others with our attacks and reinforce their own murderous pathology, or will we offer them miracles of love that can heal them? The choice is ours.
In my mind, then, while conversations about gun control and other ways of preventing school shootings can be very helpful if conducted in the right spirit, in the long run it really does come down to our moment-by-moment choice-even in the apparently smallest and most insignificant of matters-between miracles and murder in all of our interactions with one another.
The wonderful thing about the Course is that it trains us in how to make this choice. Let us realize, then, that the ultimate way to end shootings like the one at Umpqua Community College is the same way the Course would have us end pain and suffering of any kind. Attack is the problem; love is the solution. Shootings like this are heartbreaking, and I grieve for those whose lives are touched by them. But I trust that, to the degree that we can open ourselves up to God’s guidance, we can learn over time how to make the choice that will ultimately heal us all: “Who with the Love of God upholding him could find the choice of miracles or murder hard to make?” (T-23.IV.9:8).