Tuesday, December 8, 2009

Columbine Reality. . . .

Last week I finally got around to a book that's been sitting on the pile for quite some time. I wanted to read Dave Cullen's Columbine before the 10th anniversary year of the watershed school massacre came to an end. Riveting reading, it was difficult to put down. Considered the nation's foremost authority on those who perpetrated the event now known by the simple one-word name of the school, Cullen has spent ten years investigating every nook and cranny of what happened in Littleton before, during, and after April 20, 1999.

I remember where I was when I first heard the news. I was in the car driving from speaking to an English class at Lancaster Bible College, heading a few miles south to speak to some at-risk students in an after-school program at Lancaster City's McCaskey High School. An initial radio report had informed me that there had a been a school shooting in Colorado and a few kids had been injured. By the time I got back in my car a couple of hours later, a more grim story was unfolding fast. I was up all night glued to the TV. Since then - in fact before the bodies were removed from the school - Columbine reality and myth have been woven together in a mix that's allowed the truth to get muddied by chaotic confusion, trauma-fueled desire, misinformation, hasty assumptions, false conclusions, irresponsibility, and lies.

Yesterday, after finishing Cullen's book, I ran across this quote attributed to John F. Kennedy: "Belief in myths allows the comfort of opinion without the discomfort of thought." Timely. The age of rapid information has combined with our desire for easy answers, our lack of good research, our need for Evangelical heroes, and our bent towards believing what we want to believe to cloud the truth about Columbine. And this bad habit is not only limited to the Columbine massacre. We do it all the time. And Evangelicals - a group I'm a part of that values truth and integrity - is usually no different. Mainstream media, viewers worldwide, Columbine families, and my own Christian culture jumped to some hasty conclusions. Then along comes Dave Cullen, shedding light on the facts and thereby illuminating the truth about Columbine in some undeniable ways. Granted, Cullen doesn't know everything and he has the advantage of post-dust-settlement hindsight. But he's helped us know more than we've ever known before.

Cullen's desire is to tell the truth and to get his readers to learn from Columbine. . . . about the mind and motivation of the school shooter, about the best way to respond, about the way we handle grief, about the need to forgive, and about how to find the truth in the midst of absolute chaos. Like so many others, I was quick to believe reports of a Trench Coat Mafia, jock-targeted killings, revenge on bullies, anti-Christian sentiments, a unified police response, violence born out of disengaged parenting, and modern-day martyrdom. Very little of this was true. Dave Cullen took me on an eye-opening journey into Columbine's before, during, and after.

More than anything else, Dave Cullen's Columbine reminded me to carefully seek, find, and consider the facts in an effort to be a person of integrity. Because we say we value truth, we need to value truth. . . even if it means having to suffer the discomfort of doing an about-face on long-held assumptions and opinions that we'd like to be true.


Dan said...

Amen! I'll have to check it out. I was deeply impacted by the massacre (one of the reasons I went into student ministry). However, evangelicals have had a habit of taking a smidge of truth and blowing it into way more than it was intended. I saw that with the anti-Rock n roll movement. From the fact KISS was an acrostic for about 20 different things, to the tales of what Ozzy supposedly did at concerts. We love the sensational.

Dave Cullen said...

Thanks for the nice review of my book, Walt.

Really well said. I appreciate such a thoughtful read.

That Kennedy quote--yow, some things don't change.

john mcclung said...

Well put, Walt.

I read this book as soon as I could get my hands on it--it's a real page-turner and I believe every youth worker should read it.

Lisa said...

Walt, you should know that this book isn't without controversy. There are more than a few people out there who have found great fault with the book "Columbine", alleging that the author gets many things wrong.

Chief among them is Randy Brown, the father of Brooks Brown, a friend of both Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold and who also attended CHS at the same time as the two boys. Mr. Brown has probably spent as much time or even more than Mr. Cullen studying everything having to do with that day at Columbine in April 1999 and he's expressed great dissatisfaction with the book "Columbine", even going so far as to almost call it a work of fiction. You should check out his comments on the book at Amazon. Here's the link: http://www.amazon.com/review/R3AJEK6T7746K6/ref=cm_cr_rdp_perm

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