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From Columbine to Dallas, this millennial is sick of the violence

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Layout 1Dallas. Baton Rouge, Falcon Heights.

Click any of the above hyperlinks and Wikipedia will fill you in on the violence our nation experienced last week.

This isn’t what I wanted to write about.

I had much lighter fare in mind, but on the night of the Dallas shootings I found myself sitting at a keyboard at 1 a.m. reading about a sniper killing five cops.

Hours earlier, I watched a grainy and brutal cell phone video of a man’s death at the hands of police. Moments later, someone asked me if I heard about the other shooting. There’s always another shooting.

This column isn’t about how to handle the gun violence issue or end racism. That’s above my pay grade. Rather this is about grieving for the millennial generation, which grew up and continues to grow up, in a world where headlines about police violence and mass shootings are commonplace.

How long ago was it now we all read about Orlando? Before that was San Bernadino, Colorado Springs, and Aurora. Fort Hood and Blacksburg, Va. and Sandy Hook.

I’m tired of the damn violence.

I was 14 years old when I read that two boys not much older than me killed 13 of their classmates, and then killed themselves at a school called Columbine. The aerial video from the news choppers at the campus and the worried faces on parents and students are burned into my memory. As the first generation to grow up with 24-hour news networks, we had the benefit/detriment of hearing about this shooting, and each one after it, all day, every day.

Today I can’t help but think about Columbine again. I can’t help but remember the honest shock and strange feeling of “what if that were my school?” It was a scary thought for a 14 year old.

I worry that my sons, ages 3 and 16 months, will have to grow up with scary thoughts more often than I did.

This cannot be our new normal. The headlines almost feel routine, but each murder we read about via social media is a loss the world cannot replace. Each person killed, whether followed by a media firestorm or not, was made in the image and likeness of God Almighty. Each person that dies in a riot, a war, an altercation at home — anything — was a child of God. I submit this should cause us to feel sadness yes, but also outrage.

Older millennials like me grew up watching coverage of Columbine. Double-digits killed in shooting is a headline we have become numb to reading.

In Cincinnati we watched our city descend into race riots just months before 9-11 where we witnessed the second plane crash into a tower on live TV — a scene most of my generation watched from our classrooms. The younger half has never known a time we weren’t involved in war in the Middle East. They came of age watching “shock-and-awe” bombings of Iraq, Katrina’s unrest, and the never-ending stories of their own mass shootings and violence.

Human life is sacred from the cradle to the grave. Despite that, we live in a world where millions die before the cradle through abortion, and too many meet the grave before their time. We just go on about our business. That has to stop. The violence has to stop.

Violence isn’t new to humanity. From Cain and Abel on, each generation had moments defined by violence and fear. Pearl Harbor, JFK’s assassination, the Cold War, Kent State, the 1992 L.A. riots etc. but millennials have seen our share too. With social media and 24-hour news cycles, there’s hardly a break before the next big tragedy hits us.

The millennial generation started by most accounts in 1980. Not a full year in, now-Saint Pope John Paul II was shot in St. Peter’s Square. He survived, and over the only papacy millennials ever knew until his death, he worked for peace.

Peace is a gift from God that man must accept, the Holy Father said in his World Day of Peace Message in 1996. Let’s accept it. Yes sometimes our anger is justified but violence almost never is. We have to do our part to heal divisions, but let’s bring it all to God. He’s the only one who can bring us lasting peace.

My fellow millennials, I don’t know what legacy we will leave our children, but I pray we heed the call of the former pontiff and begin to unite.

“It is therefore to men and women of good will that I address this confident appeal,” Pope St. John Paul II said. “Let us all unite to fight every kind of violence and to conquer war! Let us create the conditions which will ensure that children can receive as the legacy of our generation a more united and fraternal world!

Let us give children a future of peace!”

Have an idea for a Millennial Catholic column topic? Email John Stegeman.

Previous Millennial Catholic columns
The Internet: Excuse killer for collegiate Catholics
Faith in the age of Internet comments

Why aren’t more Millennials in the pew? Let’s ask
Millennials at Mass: To whom shall we go?
“Bad” Catholic school experience helped student become  better man

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