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God, guns, and glory

January 16, 2015

This week, our 8-year-old will be attending his first lock-in at church. I am in disbelief that he is old enough for such an affair, but he will be there with his dad and he is incredibly excited. We got an email detailing the schedule of events at this shindig and the word “pizza” appears repeatedly in the list. Sounds like a party to me!


Perhaps the most looked-forward-to element of the night is a church-wide Nerf gun chase. Tonight we drove out to Target (of course) to purchase the boy’s first Nerf gun. I’m not a fan of guns and we live in a town house that’s full to the brim, so it never made sense to us to load up on Nerf weapons like many of our friends have. I didn’t want him to miss out at the lock-in, so we caved and got one.

When we got to the artillery aisle, the choices were overwhelming. Multi-chamber. Crossbows. Holsters. There were giant guns that could be taken apart to make smaller guns. Everything cost roughly fifty dollars. Pretty quickly, a theme emerged among the packaging…

Preparing the next generation of white dudes to shoot stuff.

Nerf: preparing the next generation of white dudes to shoot stuff.

I pointed this out to my husband and children. “The packages have only guys. That’s dumb. They’re all white, too. Geez. AMERICA.” They listened for a second and then went back to shopping.

I thought about the men who brought loaded guns into the toy section at a Target last year. I remembered being horrified to the point that I boycotted the store until they made a public stand against that kind of display.

Then my mind flashed to John Crawford who held a toy weapon in a Wal-Mart and was killed by police for it.

I was ready to get the heck out of there, but we still had a task ahead. “Which kind do you want? How about this one?” I asked my son, pointing at a reasonably-priced model. “I want a big one,” he responded. Of course you do. I found myself getting sucked into that self-defense armament argument for a moment. I thought about the kids who would be coming for him at this thing. Kids who were well-rehearsed in fast reloading and chasing their cowering siblings around furniture. I know some of these kids. They are perfectly nice children who own holsters and many of them got multi-chambered Nerf guns for Christmas. The kids have to label their bullets, so they’re being more responsible than Congress, right? “They’re just kids playing,” I tell myself to lighten up.

I feel my heart rush to back to Tamir Rice, throwing a snowball, holding his toy gun, not knowing the cops are on the way. Not knowing that as a child, he will be seen as a threat.

It felt like the air has been sucked out of the store. I looked back at my family and came back to the moment. I didn’t really want my boy to be a part of this. None of it felt right. Rehearsing violence in a country where inflicting violence is practically a birthright for some and a perpetual nightmare for others? How does it honor God to play at this? It doesn’t.

I decide, once again, I’m over-thinking it. After all, they are playing other games, too. Like dodgeball. This whole thing was shaping up to be a festival of social Darwinism. I didn’t mind dodgeball too much as a kid because it was widely known I was an arthritic. I could survive until the final rounds based on pity alone. My son doesn’t have any of those physical issues, he can keep up. But he is sensitive to situations where he feels ganged-up-on and situations where other people are being ganged-up-on (the latter is one of my favorite things about my kid). I recalled how horrible he was at laser tag this summer: how quickly he ran right into enemy fire and how oblivious he was to those out to get him. He had a ball playing, but he was crestfallen when the score sheets came out.

While we live in the age of everyone-gets-a-trophy sports, sometimes it feels like childhood has become this decade-long competition of who has a phone and who doesn’t, who is better on Xbox, who comes out on top. It’s rare to see children encouraged to play cooperative games, though they are widely available if you know where to look. It seemed counter intuitive to be staging a play war at church. When did everything get so militant? Couldn’t we re-enact Jesus telling Peter to put his sword away? Takers?

At least this elementary-age group wasn’t revisiting the middle-schoolers’ Hunger Games theme from New Years’ Eve.

I think someone on staff missed the point of the story. Does this make my church The Capital?

I think someone on staff missed the point of the story. Does this make my church The Capital?

My son stood in the aisle unsure of which weapon to choose. I was willing to buy him something for this lock-in, but I wasn’t excited to be succumbing to this kind of play. My offer to make him a conscientious objector vest was rejected as soon as I explained to him what it was.

I couldn’t blame him. I’m not the most peace-loving person myself. I slayed at laser tag. If I was planning things, we’d probably follow that Peter scene with Jael stabbing Sisera in the head with a stake.

Try going to sleep after that one, kids.

Try going to sleep after that one, kids.

The thing about parenting is it tends to hold a lens up to what we do as people and it makes us keenly aware of what we are passing on to our children. Everything we do teaches. It’s a terrifying responsibility. Sometimes we cave to culture. Other times we resist. In this situation, I am making allowances. Some may think it’s capitulation, many may think I’m being too analytical about this. I never want to stop questioning choices that seem to be the default, especially at church. I realize as an evangelical, this gun culture is my bedfellow. If I were in a Quaker church, things might be different for us. This is our community and we have to navigate this context and try to interrupt the status quo where we can.

Still, every day we do this and make these kinds of compromises, I ask myself if I am doing right by my kids. If I tell them the truth about the world we live in and how God would have us move through it, can I give them what they need to live a courageous contrast? Am I actively modeling these convictions or am I self-satisfied by my righteous rant in the Nerf aisle at Target? I’d like to be tougher as a mother and not be so unsettled by these questions, but as a person, I never want to be hardened about violence.

After all, none of us are bulletproof.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. January 16, 2015 12:20 pm


  2. January 16, 2015 8:13 pm

    One of the often overlooked aspects to children playing with toy guns is the moral develop they experience as the work through the different scenarios.
    Cop or Robber, I shot you — fall down, no you missed. Kids learn and explore the moral dilemmas in a safe fashion.

    It is also an opportunity to teach gun safety in a non-threatening way. The four rules of firearm safety

    The Four Rules

    All guns are always loaded.
    Never point the gun at anything you are not willing to destroy.
    Keep your finger off the trigger until your sights are on target (and you have made the decision to shoot).
    Be sure of your target and what is beyond it

    Are better taught with something is much less likely to harm then with real firearms or never being taught.

    I agree we should we should never become hardened to violence but we also shouldn’t pretend (I don’t think you are doing that as some do) that it doesn’t exist. Children may not immediately make the connection between getting shot and dying; as they grow older they will. They will start making that connection more than just sitting out until the next round but what happens if someone gets shot for real.

    Bob S.

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