I miss my Granddaddy and his simple, straightforward wisdom. He’s been dead for about twenty years, but his influence in my life remains. He was a man of limited formal education, having only finished the 8th grade (although his 8th grade primer exceeded all the standards of our current 12th grade). He was a farmer turned policemen, who rose to the position of Chief of Police in his small Southern hometown.
Granddaddy had a mischievous sense of humor about him. I remember lots of silly, funny things he would do to us and the ways he would “pick” at us, all trying to teach us valuable life lessons. He also had a no-nonsense approach to life on many levels having lost a child, lived through The Depression, and lost a house in a fire. His life experiences, strong character, and way of talking straight didn’t go unnoticed to anyone who knew him. His determination to do the right thing didn’t go unnoticed by anyone either, especially me.
When I was a child, my granddaddy was still Chief of Police, and he always had a sidearm on him. As I grew older, I discovered guns all over the house, but I was taught very directly and with forceful language to respect the damage they could do to me or someone else. So adamant about the dangerous nature of guns was my granddaddy that he wouldn’t allow us to even point our finger at anyone and pretend it was a gun.
My granddaddy had seen people after they had been shot. Only on one occasion, in the line of duty, did he pull a gun on someone. He didn’t shoot, but it left him profoundly changed.
When he took me hunting, there was a progression to my training. First, I carried the smallest single-shot shotgun he owned. I kept the shell in my pocket (think Barney Fife’s bullet). Only when instructed did I take the shell out and load it into the gun, and then only if he or Dad were behind me, helping me to point. (We were quail hunting and there was no way I was ever going to kill anything). The next season, I got to put the shell in the gun, but had to keep it breached. The next season, I got to be ready with the safety on, but Granddaddy and Daddy were in constant communication with me and always reminded me of the dangers to them and me.
When I entered adulthood and my Granddaddy was no longer around, I lost my infatuation with guns and hunting. I missed the experience with him more than holding a firearm.
Now, this is not a diatribe against guns. I was raised, as I pointed out, in a culture where guns were much more easily attainable and more abundant. I have no real problem with guns, but they must be respected, and they must be appreciated for the fact that they are meant to do damage.
There are many researchers in the last 10 years that have shown that mental health issues are on the rise, especially among teenagers. There are also many researchers that have shown that the proliferation of violent video games and the numbers of adolescent males that play them has reached a dangerous level. (I would recommend searching in Google Scholar to read some of these studies).
Back to my upbringing, Granddaddy would have disapproved and never allowed violent, realistic video games to be played in his house. My parents would not have allowed them. One more thing, they aren’t allowed in my house either. While the vast majority of those who play them will never, ever harm someone in the real world, those who already struggle with mental illness or have a propensity toward depression can certainly be impacted in a negative way.
After I watch movies where there is sword play, martial arts, or gunfights I often feel inspired to act out the scenes in real life (ask any Dirty Harry fan from my generation). This is more common than we want to admit. If I have a healthy relationship with God, with other people, and a stable emotional makeup, then these desires fade rapidly. If I don’t have those things, and I turn my attention to the fantasy world of dealing with death in a virtual world, then I am not in a healthy place.
I am writing these things, as I said, not as a diatribe against guns; although, some people should never have them, in my opinion. I am greatly concerned, as are many mental health professionals, that violent video games alter reality for impressionable young men. Combine that with an overall devaluing of life, and the detachment that more and more of us (young and old) have from meaningful face to face relationships with each other, and you have a ripe cultural environment for people to hurt themselves and hurt others.
It might make some of us feel better to get rid of guns. It might make some of us feel better to rid the world of all violent video games. It might make others of us feel better to spend more money on mental health services. Any combination of these approaches might soothe our consciences and make us feel like we have made the world a safer place. Sadly, I think these approaches (at least to a certain degree) will not make a dent in the underlying and very real problems at hand: an unhealthy view of the value of life, loneliness created by the digital age, and a lack of genuine spiritual formation.
So, what can we do beginning today to make a lasting difference in our lives and the world around us? Let me offer three challenging admonitions.
1. Practice spiritual self-examination. Most of us struggle with spiritual self-deception. So, we should be willing to pray this prayer from Psalm 139:23-24 and mean it:
“Search me, O God, and know my heart;
Try me and know my anxious thoughts;
And see if there be any hurtful way in me,
And lead me in the everlasting way.”
2. Express a genuine love for your neighbor (family, friends, classmates, coworkers, etc.). Talking about what the Bible teaches on the subject, and practicing it, are not the same things. We must move from head knowledge to heart practice. “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39) has to become a reality in our lives that is clearly modeled for our children, grandchildren, friends, and even strangers.
3. Seek to live an integrated life. Too often, we look at our lives and attempt to approach them in a very compartmentalized way. We try a pie-chart approach with different parts of life coming together in some fantasy balance, but we are spiritual beings whose lives are meant to have God at the center. Trying to separate our social lives, recreational lives, educational lives, vocational lives, intellectual lives, relational lives, and spiritual lives into equal parts isn’t how we are meant to function. We must seek the Kingdom first and recognize that “whatever we do in word or deed” is to be done in the name of Jesus, “giving thanks to God the Father through him.” (Colossians 3:17).
I am in no way trying to minimize the impact of the trauma of any past or future tragedy. I am not trying to eliminate needed national conversations about guns, games, or mental health issues. I am trying to suggest proactive, theologically and spiritually grounded personal actions for followers of Jesus that each of us can take on a daily basis to live healthy lives and to make a positive impact on those around us.
Thank you for reading and contemplating what I have written. I appreciate you.