[Editor's Note: This article was published before the shooting in Baton Rouge on July 17.]
So many souls lost. So many scars upon the land.
The mass shooting in Dallas, Texas, of 12 police officers that killed at least five of them followed by a day the shooting of a black man by a police officer in a suburb of St. Paul, Minnesota.
Which followed by a day the shooting of another black man by a police officer in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.
Which followed by a few weeks the mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people.
Which followed yet another atrocity.
The tragedies in America now come with a numbing rapidity. Some horror occurs — some disturbed or angry or hateful person picks up a weapon and slaughters innocent human beings — and we all shake our heads.
We say, "Something must be done."
The temptation is strong to blame this on the National Rifle Association and the other members of the gun lobby for turning this country into a war zone.
Lord knows the gun lobbyists bear tremendous moral responsibility. They have worked to corrupt our political system so it defies public will and they tirelessly — relentlessly — have sold a message of fear to the American people. The numbers show now that fewer and fewer Americans are buying or own guns, but that the ones who do have firearms are purchasing more and more of them, in the process turning homes into weapons stockades and average citizens into walking arsenals.
(One of the suspected shooters in Dallas was carrying so much weaponry that the ammunition was literally spilling out of his pockets.)
It's not unreasonable for a police officer or any other person to fear that the stranger on the street, Black or white, could be armed to the teeth because that is what we have allowed our nation to become — a weapons bazaar.
But only a fool would argue that nothing more than the easy flow of deadly firearms afflicts us.
The truth is that we are a divided, distrustful nation, too determined to believe the worst of each other, too willing — even eager — to heed the angriest and most irrational voices among us.
Blacks fear whites. Whites fear Blacks. Scared bigots want to ban Muslims. Other bigots want to punish and demean fellow human beings on the basis of gender or sexual orientation.
Those oppressed, insulted or marginalized look for ways to lash back.
Rage stalks the land, searching for — and so often finding — a trigger to pull.
At times like these, people of good faith quote Martin Luther King Jr. They search through the King library to find admonitions about the importance of peace and the need for us to love one another.
One of the downsides of King's elevation to secular sainthood is that it prevents us from seeing him as the moral provocateur that he was.
However soaring his rhetoric might have been, King's strategy was unwaveringly earthbound. He sought, always, to spur the conscience, to force Americans of good heart into a moral awakening.
He drove us to stop thinking impersonally.
To stop saying and thinking, "Something must be done."
And to start thinking and saying, "I must do something."
I must do something.
We live in a time of horror. We watch our fellow citizens die on a regular basis. We snarl at each other as if there were no other way for us to talk.
We walk down our streets fearful of each other. We see fellow citizens as enemies.
This is who we have become, but it is not who we have to be.
This is our country. We can make it what we want it to be, what it should be. We can start by listening to each other, by lowering our own voices when others shout, by trying to understand, as best we can, the person who looks or worships or lives differently than we do.
We should do this.
We must do this.
The consequences for evading this moral responsibility are all around us.
So many souls lost.
So many scars upon the land.