Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Balloons

“Nooooooooo,” my 2-year-old son screamed into the sky! “MY BAWOOOON! Come back!”

“Well, that balloon’s up in space now,” his big sister said matter of factly.

I just stood there, increasingly frustrated, holding onto two small hands, a drink carrier of milkshakes, and a heavy diaper bag that was slowly slipping down my arm.


We watched it go up higher and higher until it was out of sight. I sighed and voiced exactly what I was thinking: “Buddy, I told you 5 times this would happen! Why didn’t you listen?” It’s exactly the scenario I had laid out only a minute before AND the minute before that one.

The kids and I had gone out for a special Friday-Funday lunch – grilled cheese, milkshakes, and balloons for those who ate their food. My son had his eyes on a purple one all through lunch, and as we paid, the hostess made his dream come true. Two special purple balloons for two special kiddos.  

Within seconds, though, my son’s balloon floated up to the ceiling. I pulled it down as it slowly deflated. The nice hostess gave him another one. Realizing he’d lose it again, I tried to tie it to his wrist. He refused to let it be tied to wrist, shirt, or bag. When I explain how balloons can fly away, he became even more indignant. I held onto the top of the string as we walked outside, but he swatted away my hand, sullenly proclaiming: “No. My bawoon. No touch.” I warned him that he had to hold on or it would fly away. “I hold. My bawoon” he said.

We made it across the street – a good 30 ft – when that purple balloon broke free … just as we all knew it would.

My son wailed and wailed. He cried all the way to the car. Then all the way home. Then all the way inside. Then all the way up to his room. Then he cried himself to sleep. He cried for a half hour at his great loss.

My son is 2. This means he’s just learning about responsibility and loss. It’s not easy, but lessons like this will help him learn. Next time, he’ll hold onto it. Maybe. If not, maybe the time after that. This is parenting: helping children navigate these losses and problem solve, so those skills can be used on bigger problems with each passing year.

Throughout the entire incident, I couldn’t help but also think: this is being a citizen in The United States of America right now. We continue to experience great losses over and over again. We citizens continue to tell those in charge what is needed to prevent the next one: background checks, assault weapons ban renewal, increased age limit to purchase firearms, better access to mental health care, better training for first responders, better resources for mental health professionals, etc… Yet again and again, those in charge of our country (on both sides of the aisle) stand, wailing up to the sky about this newest loss, this newest tragedy. They stand in front of cameras crying, offering thoughts, feigning prayers, promising change … and doing nothing. They let go of the balloon again and again, wondering how this could’ve possibly happened.

We Americans refuse to learn from our mistakes. Then we mourn, and wail, and ask why. Just like a 2-year-old who knows to hold onto a balloon, but doesn’t, America knows what to do, but refuses to do it.

I’ve spent the last few weeks engrossed in the news, witnessing the aftermath of this latest series of mass shootings. I keep hearing experts on gun violence say: “it’s a complicated issue” … or “it’s too big a hill go climb” … or “there’s a lot of nuance here.” While I’m the first person to argue the complexity of issues, I want to express here in righteous anger, justified rage, and the collective grief of a nation: there is no nuance in school children being shot to death while leaders in charge do nothing. There is no nuance of a military grade weapon legally in the hands of a teenager, which mutilated the bodies of precious children in seconds. There is no nuance here, there is only leaders refusing to do anything about it.

The gun debate in this country has been out of control for decades. One side refuses to enact any reforms at all in fear of an imaginary “slippery slope. The other side refuses to do anything because they want to blame the other side for not doing anything. Somehow, we can’t even have common sense check and balances on weapons. Somehow, we can’t ban assaults rifles (designed for war). Somehow, we don’t enact safety laws for fear of angering gun owners and losing their votes. We put safety precautions on everything from vehicles to food; yet we refuse to do so for a product designed for one purpose: to take life.

We are putting the preferences of individuals over the sanctity of life – over the common good. I am not against the 2nd amendment. I believe you can sensibly and safely own a weapon. Yet, the 2nd Amendment is only 1 of 27, for the U.S. Constitution has other rights and requirements that guide who we are as a people. The Preamble to the Constitution states the reason behind establishing our country: “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.”[1]

Are we ensuring domestic tranquility if any person can buy an assault rifle for sport and shoot school children? Are we providing for our nation’s defense, if its own citizens can legally obtain weapons to attack shoppers, worshippers, concert goers, school children? Are we promoting the general welfare of our citizens when generations of school children live in fear and anxiety of being the next target? Are we securing the blessings of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness for all people … not just people who happen to like guns?  

We are putting individual preferences over the common good of our people. In these last weeks, I keep thinking about the biblical book of Judges. In the time of the Judges, the Bible tells stories of horrific events (war, murder, rape, mass killings, human sacrifices) occurring when the country lacks strong leadership. In the absence of leadership, there’s a line that repeats throughout the entire book: “And all the people did what was right in their own eyes” (Judges 21:25).

All the people did what was right in their own eyes. The Bible calls this a sin. We Americans must name it as a national sin. We cannot only do what is right in our own eyes. We cannot disregard the common good. We cannot provide for our own personal defense and not protect the safety of our community. We cannot think that our actions do not affect our neighbors. We cannot insist that our way is the only way. We cannot storm our Capital because we don’t like the election results. We cannot refuse to mask because we value our personal comfort over the health of others. We cannot own military style weapons when they are a threat to the life of another. What can we say of America today: the people thought freedom meant doing what was right in their own eyes?

Yet freedom in God’s eyes and freedom in the American founders’ eyes was not this. It never was. Freedom in Christ means knowing Christ set you free from sin so you could love. As the Apostle Paul writes, “You were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only don’t let this freedom be an opportunity to indulge your selfish impulses, but serve each other through love” (Gal 5:13, CEB). Jesus Christ gains power only through sacrifice and humility. Life in Christ is a servant-life.

Freedom in America, as we say every Memorial Day, is never free. Freedom means sacrificing for others. Freedom means being a part of a society. Freedom means to ability to love, care, participate, voice, do, and act. Life as an American means a servant-life.

This is what we teach our children. This is what the Bible teaches us. This is what our constitution teaches us. This is what history teaches us. Yet, we refuse to listen. We refuse to act. We refuse to change.

In a few months, I will be a parent of a public-school child. For over 5 years, I have dreaded the day of her first active shooter drill. On that day, I will be forced to tell my 5-year-old about these truths. How can I possibly tell my own precious child about this grave sin? How can I possibly explain that her nation refuses to keep her safe, so she will have to do it herself? How have we put this on the backs of our children and teachers for 23 years and counting?

When will we do what is right in God’s own eyes?

When my son awoke from his nap the day of the popped balloon, his big sister took her own shiny purple balloon over to him. “Here,” she said, “You can have this one.”

Our children know how to give up something for the good of another. Our children know how to do the right thing. Do we? Can we do what is right in our children’s own eyes?

[1] United States Constitution. Preamble.

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