First Person Shooter

by Andrew Stephens-Rennie

At a loss for words, yet struggling to make sense of it all. To make sense of life come and gone in this North American culture of death. Competing arguments divide us, as political battle-lines are drawn. And the growing sense that whatever side you’re on, your side is probably wrong. Sniping’s not reserved for shooters with military grade ammunition. Any moment now, we’ll be drawing fire for political indecision.

This week, talking to a friend, I asked, “Why do you think this tragedy is affecting you so deeply?” A pause. “Because I can see myself in those shoes.”

Not the shoes of the parents, of the children or teachers. Not the shoes of the lawmakers, of the politicians or their enforcers. Not the shoes of the news reporters, bloggers or bull-headed pundits spouting opinions with nothing to say.

And I can see it. I can see it too. I can see myself in those shoes. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas once famously shared:

“I’m a pacifist because I’m a violent son of a bitch.”

And I think I get what he means. Beneath the surface. Beneath our clever facades. Beneath whatever image you or I might project the world, I think I get it.

There is this darkness, and it’s not all that far away. In the bleak midwinter, each day grows darker still.

There is this darkness, and it’s not all that far away. Who of us is willing to look it in the eye?

This look. This gaze. Is this the same thing as staring down the barrel of a gun? Face-to-face with the darkness, I’d much rather avert my gaze lest I catch my own eye in the pool’s dark reflection. Lest I recognise some grain of truth, some dark seed of violence within me.

Much easier to lay the blame on someone else’s door. Much easier to blame an individual or an illness than to deal with the fundamental brokenness of my own humanity. What might the truth require of you? What might the truth require of me?

Someone is Adam Lanza’s mother, but I am Adam Lanza. And so are you.

We all carry that dark seed. The ego protests, and yet, General Romeo Dallaire, witness to his fair share of darkness, asks, “Is the human condition not defined by an endless struggle to control the ego’s subterfuges?”

Our own deceits will tell us that we are exempt. We would never do such things.And yet, the heart of darkness is never far away.

Why does the tragedy of Newtown CT resound so clearly? It may be because it reveals the dark violence of our own hearts.

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Andrew Stephens-Rennie
Andrew is a writer, dreamer and organizer with a keen interest in developing leaders in faith, compassion and justice.

He currently serves as the Director of Missional Renewal for the Anglican Diocese of Kootenay on the unceded territories of the Sinixt, Syilx, and Ktunaxa nations. He previously served as the Director of Ministry Innovation at Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, BC.

Andrew is cofounder and contributing editor at, and co-editor of "A Sort of Homecoming: Essays Honoring the Academic and Community Work of Brian Walsh" with Marcia Boniferro and Amanda Jagt.

4 Responses to “First Person Shooter”

  1. b.e. noll

    In a “book of quotes” that I started many years ago, filled with quotes from real & fictitious people, I remember a quote from Star Trek.
    Kes speaks to Tuvok about her rage.
    Tuvok says something very frightening to her…
    “…to pretend that your violent impulses do not exist, is to allow them the opportunity for escape…”


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