‘The red line of the unthinkable …’

Image by Miki Yoshihito / Used with permission under Creative Commons licensing

“The red line of the unthinkable has been moved again.”

Those 10 poignant words by a psychologist discussing the massacre of 26 people – 20 of them six and seven-year-old children – at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, sums up the world that we live in nowadays.

This event coupled with a never-ending 24-hour news loop on cable television prompts the same reaction that we have become accustomed to when there is yet another mass killing – revulsion, anger, fear, dread and the inevitable finger-pointing about why.

The bodies of the victims had not been identified on Friday before suggestions on how to prevent another mass shooting started. Talking heads on television, people on message boards and social media and of course politicians always looking to further their cause and re-election all had a variety of answers on how to make life in the 21st Century safe.

And of course passing tougher and more stringent gun control measures is as always at the top of the list. Others want to have an armed security guard at every school and every business in America while some believe that arming school officials, teachers and employees is the answer. Others say add prayer back to our schools and into our daily life and these horrific mass killings will stop.

While all these issues merit discussion I believe attempting to find an answer to what is happening in our country lies much deeper.

Let me explain.

Several years ago I wrote a series of columns about what I called the subtle erosion of America. Certainly, this point of view will be looked at by some as simplistic because I’m from a generation that grew up before Columbine, West Paducah, Pearl and now Newtown. The list of places where a mass shooting can take place has now grown to include any business, any church, any mall, any movie theater and any town, big or small. Close your eyes, point your finger to a location on a map … and that could be the next location for mass murder.

The way this erosion works is a simple two-step process. You see, what once shocked us and made us gasp and recoil in horror now barely merits a raised eyebrow. What once was considered perverse and bizarre is now considered the norm and oftentimes even celebrated. And what once was looked at as outlandish, unheard of and over-the-top is now considered to merely be routine. And this has happened because a silent majority has failed to speak up and voice their opinion and take action when necessary.

The second step in this erosion takes place when every person that does have the courage to offer a differing view is quickly shouted down and labeled as judgmental, moralistic and bigoted … and, of course let’s not forget the pet word of those leading this erosion – intolerant. Not wanting to meet the wrath of this group, who by the way, might be the most intolerant and judgmental crowd that exists, most people do as they’re told and shut up.

And that’s allowed the erosion to take place, one small step at a time. The direct result of this erosion is that we are now a country where God has been booted from the courthouse, the schoolhouse and virtually every other aspect of life. After all, we’ve been told, we must be tolerant and not offend anybody.

Now, here we are in 2012 looking for reasons why a 20-year-old man who has no conscious or value of life could open fire at close range on a group of innocent babies. While all the arguments being tossed out might be symptoms of what is taking place the disease that is causing young men to kill at will I believe, is a cultural issue.

Consider this.

During this erosion we have allowed a culture where a generation of young people have embraced songs that talk about killing, rape and shooting police officers and its celebrated as freedom of expression.

We have allowed a culture of violent video games where people are massacred and slaughtered and these are then gobbled up by parents for their childrens’ entertainment and as a babysitter. Again, freedom of expression.

We have allowed a culture where children think reality television is real, where teen pregnancy is glamorized, where a ‘gangsta’ lifestyle is a goal for some and where 90-plus percent of what is on television is trash and not fit for any eyes, let alone the eyes of troubled young people.

We live in a culture where small children are routinely given anti-depressants and psychotropic drugs even though the effects of those drugs are many times violent, irrational and unpredictable behavior. We live in a culture where mental illness is still talked about in hushed tones and in many instances completely overlooked. Out of sight … out of mind, right? Well, out of sight that is until a mentally ill person opens fire in a first grade classroom, a church or a busy retail shopping center. Again … any town, any place.

In short, what shattered the tranquil setting of the small New England town of Newtown is a cultural issue caused by the erosion of America and no amount of gun control legislation or armed security guards can protect any of us from a deranged shooter hell-bent on killing. Shootings in malls, movie theaters, crowded street corners and even churches is proof of that. Ironically, the morning after the shooting I read a story in the Chicago Tribune with the headline: 10 people including four teens shot overnight on South Side.’ And Chicago has the strictest gun laws in the nation.

As a footnote, let me add that I think the prayer in school issue certainly adds irony to what has taken place in Newtown. In my life I have watched as God was literally booted out of the schoolhouse by a small minority of people – part of the erosion of America group. And again this erosion has taken place because the majority stood back and allowed it to happen. And perhaps the Christian community is the most at fault because they have sat on their collective hands and ‘shut up’ as they were told.

But, isn’t it ironic that nearly every comment and every plea from everybody involved in the Newtown massacre has asked that the victims of this horrific and senseless act be remembered in prayers. I also found it interesting that when the crazed gunman was in the building that teachers and children turned to God and prayer to protect them and in the days since the killings there have been countless prayer vigils. There used to be a saying that stated ‘there are no atheists in foxholes.’ I guess the 21st Century version of that is that ‘there are no atheists in schools and its OK to pray in the classroom when a deranged gunman is hunting for somebody to shoot.’

Gun control, armed guards, armed school administrators, prayer in schools and beefed up security are all items that merit attention but only after the cultural issue — the root of this problem — is addressed. Because, if this is life in the 21st Century there is no place of safety — let me emphasize that again– there is NO PLACE OF SAFETY — that exists and God help us all.

If we continue on the path we are on, as horrific as it is to imagine, that ‘red line of the unthinkable’ will move again one day – because the erosion will continue.

Fundraising goals met for Rend Lake College music program

Shawna Hall speaks to hundreds of guests at the 2012 Rend Lake College Foundation Annual Dinner, held Dec. 6, in Mount Vernon. Hall, CEO of the RLCF, took the opportunity to announce that a campaign to raise funds for facility and equipment upgrades in RLC’s music program has generated more than double the initial funding goal of $50,000. Looking on, from left, are event Master of Ceremonies and FranklinCounty-News.com Publisher Jim Muir, and RLC President Terry Wilkerson.


A crescendo of support from music and education enthusiasts in the area made it possible for the Rend Lake College Foundation to reach more than twice its funding goal of $50,000 for “The Music Project.”

RLCF CEO Shawna Hall made the announcement Thursday night at the RLCF Annual Dinner Meeting in Mount Vernon. The project is aimed at upgrading the RLC music department’s facilities and equipment. It’s initial goal was set at $50,000. More than $100,000 has since been raised.

Hall spoke to the hundreds of guests in attendance about how grateful the students and faculty are to receive such generosity. She thanked them for their commitment to bettering the college and its students, saying the project had personal significance for her. Hall is among those who contributed money to the campaign.

A video presentation, prepared by Bruce Baldwin of Baldwin Media Development, asked viewers to “imagine a world without music.” The video featured students and administrators, RLC Music Director Sara Alstat, RLCF Board Member and RLC Trustee Randy Rubenacker, and RLCF Board Member Mary Ellen Aiken, a Benton resident who championed the project as its co-chair with Hall.

“It occurred to me while I was watching it that each person we featured in that video only took one take to tell their story,” Hall said. “… I believe the reason they all did so well is that they are passionate about this campaign. They truly understand what a world without music would be like and they understand that our music department is how we bring the community into our community college. They don’t need a script. They are speaking from their hearts.

“I want to thank my campaign chair, Mary Ellen Aiken, and each and every person who donated to this,” Hall added. “Without Mary Ellen and all of our donors, we would not be able to do this.”

Through the campaign, supporters were asked to meet a number of needs in the music program, including remodeling the practice rooms, upgrading music rooms, providing scholarship funding, and purchasing equipment like risers, lockers and a library system.

Contributors to the project include Mary Ellen and John D. Aiken, Hunt Bonan, Scott and Jenifer Spears, Dr. Gary and Karen Sweeten, Mary Pericolosi, Peoples National Bank, Randy Rubenacker, George and Mary Slankard, Buster Leeck, Cindy Leeck, Steven Beal, Shawna Hall, Chris Kuberski, Dr. Robert and Marilyn Parks, Dr. Warren and Phyllis Petty, the 2013 RLC Concert Choir, the 2013 RLC Concert Band, Sara Alstat, Cindy Caldwell, Millie Caldwell, Cathy Cross, John Kabat, Mark and Pat Kern, Larry Phifer, Matthew Flanigan, Jim and Marian Leuty, Tom Malkovich, Trish Reed, Dr. Sue Tomlin, and Rich and Donna Yunkus.

Over the past year: More than 700 students have enrolled in music classes of various types at RLC; More than 1,200 individuals have attended dinner theatres, concerts and other musical events; and nearly 1,500 people went to musicals and other theatrical events. Every one of these individuals will be affected by the upcoming renovations to the music department at RLC.

Work was quickly underway last week in the music department. As soon as students had finished taking their fall semester final examinations, equipment was being moved to make room for facility upgrades.

For more about the music program at RLC, visit online at www.rlc.edu/aca/music.

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