The Las Vegas Shootings and the American Soul

One of Ann Lamott’s favorite prayers seems most appropriate to me right now: Help, help, help!

No words adequately express the horror of the shootings in Las Vegas. News stories report body count and hospitalizations in an attempt to convey the incomprehensible magnitude of the violence.

The number of the dead and wounded could describe a pitched battle in Afghanistan or, long ago, in Vietnam. Nearly sixty dead. Over five hundred in need of medical treatment.

But of course, this wasn’t a battle fought on foreign soil. This was a country music concert. On American soil. And the attacker was an unremarkable American citizen who possessed a personal arsenal. Of automatic weapons. As he so dreadfully demonstrated, weapons designed to kill human beings in large numbers very efficiently.

We don’t yet know why the killer opened fire from his 32nd floor hotel room. But we are reeling from the savagery of his actions and the random senselessness of the deaths. He indiscriminately maimed and murdered scores of complete strangers who were out on the town for nothing more than a rowdy good time.

One of Ann Lamott’s favorite prayers seems most appropriate to me right now: Help, help, help! Help us O God in our grief and our fear and our utter confusion. Help us to find a better way to live in community. Help us to find tranquility in our hearts, peace on our streets, and love of our neighbor. Give repose to the dead, healing to the wounded, and comfort to the sorrowful.

While we cannot today find a final answer to the great puzzle of our national addiction to violence, perhaps we can nonetheless finally admit our addiction. As frightful as the Las Vegas killings are, they join a long list of mass shootings. Such violence is all too frequent. The murders last Sunday stand out only because of the numbers.

As a nation we have been at war since 2001. Since I was born, the years of national conflict nearly outnumber the years of peace. And I’m not including the Cold War, covert actions, and episodic military interventions. Some of my younger friends have never experienced an America at peace.

It’s time to admit that we are violent. Not just those people. We are. Gun sales will likely rise now as a response to these shootings, proving that our go-to response to violence is violence. I can’t for one minute believe that the Prince of Peace would say, “Great idea!”

There is no question that the type and number of weapons hoarded by the Las Vegas shooter made him exponentially more lethal. We can and should arrive at reasonable political measures that address an individual’s capacity to wreak such unspeakable havoc.

And yet, even when we achieve a political solution, our spiritual challenge remains. To be followers of Jesus the Prince of Peace requires reflection, repentance, and transformation. So long as violence in any form is our customary means for maintaining our security, our status, and our stuff, we will all remain mortally wounded.


  1. I think you hit upon it: It is addiction to trauma , violence , and the whole package of addictions that follow . I don’t see it as evil. I see it as pervading illness . Your words and your work help bring healing and health . This is our task now: to tend our own health , to share healing with others , and to love everyone .


  2. Murders in Chicago: in June 84; July 76; August, 50; September, 59..So far the total is $2900. How can we NOT protect ourselves? Self-preservation is a God-given instinct. Until the nation is safer, there is no recourse…I do agree that assault guns should be prohibited…the numbers in Las Vegas might have been less if the gunman had not had assault artillery…admittedly, I do not know the answer….but gun laws seem to make no difference..we have seen the horrific damage with knives, razor blades, etc. I can only pray.


    1. There’s terrific work being done at the community level treating violence as an epidemic and applying epidemiological techniques to de-escalate and defuse conflict. Real progress is being made. There’s also a TED talk about it.


  3. If Violence is our addiction —one way to collectively deal with it is through the twelve steps —-This nation is now powerless over our addiction to violence —-God is waiting for our admission ready and able to restore us to sanity

    Liked by 1 person

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