Shooting at Edmund Burke School

Edmund Burke
Washington Post photo looking north up the alley, with Edmund Burke School and the apartment building formerly known as The Consulate behind it. The Clue posters in the pedestrian-bridge windows refer to a fundraising event.

In northwest Washington DC, there’s a large apartment building set back from Connecticut Avenue on Van Ness Street. For years, the building was known as The Consulate, then a new owner changed the name.

In January a young man named Raymond Spencer rented an apartment in the building, with a balcony that overlooked Edmund Burke School.

momMy mom taught history in that school for a quarter century. She played a key role in making the school what it is. When she retired in 2005, they named a classroom after her. The alumni magazine highlighted her on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the school’s founding. (Burke began in 1968.)

Burke was like a second home to our family. The pedestrian bridge in the photo connects what they call the “new” building, on Connecticut Avenue, with the “old” Upton Street building.

But a quarter century ago, there was only Upton-Street Burke, and we called half of it the “new building.” I remember looking at the muddy construction site for the addition to the original building, out of the back seat of our 1976 Dodge Dart.

I was a student at Burke 1986-88, my brother 1985-1990, my cousin 1988-1991.

We typed the original student government “constitution” on the 1985 Apple Macintosh I had in my room during high-school. When I was president of the student body, the co-founder Dick Roth and I sat in his office and came up with the mascot name–the “Bengals.” I secretly made a copy of my mom’s key to the building, and my friends and I would sneak in and brew coffee in the faculty lounge late on Saturday nights, and sit and talk like grown ups.

Nine days ago, Mr. Spencer transported a large suitcase full of heavy weaponry into his apartment in The Consulate. The following day, at the time of school dismissal, he opened fire on the Burke pedestrian bridge over the alley, and at the carpool lane below.

The shots shattered the windows of the pedestrian bridge. But, praised be the Lord Jesus Christ, no one got killed.

Except Spencer himself, that is. He had set up a camera outside his apartment door. When the police came down the hallway to apprehend him, he killed himself.

Spencer’s shots did injure some people. May they soon recover. And of course there’s the trauma inflicted on everyone in the building at the time. They had to run for cover and hide for hours, until the police got to Spencer.

They handled it. Brave kids, brave teachers.

Why did Spencer do this? The Head of School has announced that the shooter had no “known connection” to Burke. No known connection, that is, other than having an apartment across the alley for four months, and then opening fire at the school one Friday afternoon.

Spencer knew what he was shooting at. While his loaded gun sat on his tripod, he submitted a revision to the Edmund Burke School Wikipedia page. He wanted to add the shooting to the school’s history.

I, for one, cannot see this crime as “another school shooting.” It’s a distinct crime, committed by a particular criminal, with unique individual victims. In a particular place that, for me, shimmers with memories.

Did Spencer rent his apartment in January, and only then realize that his balcony afforded a line-of-sight to a school, a school which he later learned bears the name Edmund Burke? Did he then at some point decide, in a haze that we probably will never understand, to shoot at the school?

Or did he rent his apartment because it afforded him the opportunity to shoot like a sniper at a particular school he wanted to shoot at, namely Burke?

Maybe we will never know. But there must be clues out there somewhere. May the police find them. Knowing the truth about this would help me. I imagine it would help Burkies in general.

Back in the 80’s, a mugging or two took place in the alley between Upton and Van Ness. But generally it was safe. I always felt completely safe.

I remember being in the alley one evening in the spring of ’87, at sunset. Then I stepped into the back door of the school, where there was a payphone. I called a girl I had a crush on, who went to Woodrow Wilson High School on Nebraska Avenue.

I wanted to tell her to look at the lovely sky. The crescent moon and the first stars of the night glittered in an arc, in the waning sunlight.

That payphone is long gone, of course. But I hope the day comes soon when a Burke boy gets to stand in the alley, without a care in the world, and see a sunset like I saw, and use his phone to make an Instagram of it, to impress a girl. I hope that day comes soon.

Guest Post by Ann White: McCarrick the “Cool Kid”

Think about the cool kids in high school. Think especially about the cool boys. Confident that whatever they did was okay, cool boys attracted girls–and they attracted other boys, who wanted to hang out with cool kids and be cool, too.

Dr. Ann White

Theodore McCarrick was a cool Catholic cleric.

He has many talents: charisma, great intelligence, natural leadership ability. He ran the show without appearing to need anyone’s approval. Like a cool high school kid, he exuded confidence that what he did was a good thing to do.

Theodore McCarrick did good things for the church. At least he thought they were good things, he said they were good things–and all the clergymen around him thought that such a very cool person could only do very good things.

Other Catholic clerics were not as cool. They needed the approval of others. Did they decide to become priests because a priest gets automatic approval and attention in his parish?

From the beginning, McCarrick carried himself differently. He wasn’t needy like they were. At least he didn’t appear to be. He just took control—politicking, organizing, giving speeches, seeking and getting the attention of bishops, cardinals, and popes with his wit and easy manner.

Was McCarrick ever nervous? He never seemed to be. Cool people speak and move and act with great ease.

McCarrick achieved fame, inside and outside the Catholic Church. He became a bishop, then cardinal archbishop. He conferred with popes. He went on diplomatic missions. All the uncool Catholic bishops and priests loved seeing him in newspapers and on TV. They thought he made the church seem cool. Even better, he made them feel cool because they were associated with him.

McCarrick sofaSo maybe we can imagine McCarrick, early in his career as a bishop, sitting with three other priests on the porch of his Sea Girt, New Jersey, beach house. He’s suggesting something about the five bedrooms of that house. What he means is: a priest (including himself) in each bed, and a good-looking, vulnerable boy in each bed, too.

One of his companions gets led into it. “Hey, I could do that.”

Yes, he could do that. He had the inclination, but—before now–he had never actually done it. But now, Mr. Cool Cleric is even organizing the party. Why not?

Another of the McCarrick companions on the porch thinks to himself, “Wait. I don’t know. This stuff he’s talking about–it’s wrong.” McCarrick stares at him for a long silent minute. “Well, okay. You’re so cool. I guess you get a pass on this.”

“A pass on this.” This companion couldn’t bear for the cool kid, McCarrick, to dislike him. So he and all the other Catholic clergymen give McCarrick a pass. And gave themselves one, too, if they wanted it.

The third oceanfront companion then speaks up. “Sure. Nobody will ever find out about this anyway.”

The perennial dynamic of peer pressure. From the “cool” kid. But with life-shattering consequences for the victims.

Eventually the world did find out. But only because victim survivors had the courage to speak out, after years of hidden pain. And whistle-blowers, lawyers, and journalists scoured broom closets to find the hidden skeletons. To this day, state attorneys general wonder if there are still more closets, more evidence of the considered-to-be-cool belief that “Nobody will ever find out about this.”

Criticize McCarrick. He deserves it. But remember who else deserves criticism. All the cowardly, Mr.-Cool wannabes who sucked up to McCarrick as though they were high school rejects sucking up to the cool kid in the group.

They carried on the myth that McCarrick deserved respect. Catholic boys and young men did respect him. Their parents respected him, too, never dreaming that he would use their sons as sex toys.

It took a long time before the uncool clergy got it together to remove McCarrick from the priesthood. They finally had to mete out a token punishment for the cool kid, because they couldn’t completely escape the pressure of an outside world that didn’t quite see the coolness in sex abuse.

But look at what those uncool Catholic clergymen have never admitted about themselves. They haven’t admitted that, with respect to McCarrick the sex abuser, they didn’t behave like adult men able to make sound judgments about a peer.

No, decade after decade, they behaved like high school kids who worshiped the cool kid in their midst. The clergy around McCarrick wanted more than anything else in the world to hang out with cool kid, be like him, and get him to like them.

Guest Post about Spanish Flu Church Closures

[The Civil War resulted in the death of over 600,000 Americans, more than all our other wars combined. The Spanish Flu of 1918 killed more Americans than the Civil War.

The current coronavirus does not appear as scary as the Spanish Flu, praise God. May the good Lord deliver us.

Our guest writer has many accomplishments to her credit, including a personal strategic reserve of toilet paper, built through years of careful contingency planning.]

Dr. Ann White

The Great Flu Pandemic and the Churches

“The quietest Sunday Boston ever saw,” proclaimed the Boston Globe about Sunday, September 29, in the year _________. You fill in the year.

You get a set of steak knives if you said the year was 1918. All the churches were closed because of the great flu pandemic, which began during the last weeks of World War I and killed more people than the war. In the United States, influenza killed 675,000 people. The flu pandemic lowered Americans’ life expectancy by twelve years, from 51 to 39.

Despite its horror, the 1918 pandemic never became part of Americans’ historical consciousness. My parents were children during the pandemic, but I never heard them say that their parents had talked about fearing the flu. In my many years of studying and teaching history, I never heard anyone teach about the great flu pandemic of 1918.

Now that we’re in our own pandemic, we can compare our experiences with experiences of Americans in 1918. There were church closings then. You know something about bishops suspending Masses now. Here I’ll give you a few glimpses of what the Spanish flu did to church life back then.

In 1918 the public-health authorities insisted that all buildings for public gatherings be locked. Many church leaders opposed the closing of churches. Sometimes they claimed that open churches had great psychological power. In Baltimore, James Cardinal Gibbons opposed church closing, saying that people called doctors out of nervousness, and this nervousness could be ended by “discreet words from our priests . . . in church.” Christian Scientists claimed that their worship would help to destroy “the dread of contagion.” Clergy in Louisville made a bigger claim. They said that reopening the churches would actually stimulate churchgoers’ resistance to influenza.

Spanish flu notice

Some clergy suggested that the churches were forced to compete with other groups – and that the churches were losing the competition!  In Grand Rapids: why should our churches be closed when schools remain open?  In Washington, D.C.: why close the churches when department stores, poolrooms, and bowling alleys are doing business as usual? In Baltimore: why are churches closed while stores, saloons, markets remain open?

In October 1918, the Roman Catholic bishop of Detroit, along with owners of closed movie theaters and businesses, begged for the lifting of the statewide ban on public gatherings. The churches would fumigate their buildings between meetings, cut services to 45 minutes, require all worshipers to wear masks, and employ special ushers who would eject anyone who coughed or sneezed. What was the reply from state officials? “No lifting of the ban!”

But not all church members spent their time begging that churches be reopened. In Worcester, Mass., churchwomen brought food to flu patients and provided food, clothes, and recreation to children orphaned by the pandemic. Newspapers printed sermons in New Orleans and Milwaukee.

And not all church leaders opposed church closings. Cincinnati’s Catholic leaders joined other citizens in protesting when one of their own priests held morning mass in violation of a health board order. The Cincinnati Enquirer reported “widespread indignation” that anyone would disregard an order “issued to safeguard the health of the community.” Police made sure the offending priest held no more masses.

Church closings might continue, but no one was allowed to forget their unfortunate financial results. The New Orleans States, the New Orleans newspaper that carried a sermon, printed a report on the financial loss from closed churches on the same page as the sermon: $20,000 to $25,000 which, it said, left little or no money for “benevolent work” in the winter.

In St. Louis, clergy and others protested the cancelling of all public meetings, but the health commissioner remained firm about closure. On November 2, 1918, a St. Louis newspaper carried these words: “Due to the health commissioner’s determined action, St. Louis has been spared the terrible fate of other cities of its size and larger… Let us be patient. Let us hope and pray for a speedy banishment of the dread monster, disease, from our midst, and a happy return to the healthy and normal life of the community.”

Perhaps you’re thinking that these were the words of a thoughtful Christian pastor. Think again. They’re the words of Rabbi Samuel Thurman, rabbi of the first synagogue west of the Mississippi River. Rabbi Thurman was correct in his view that St. Louis was better off than most other cities. With only 358 deaths per 100,000 people, St. Louis had the sixth lowest death rate of large cities in the nation.

Never giving in to protests and keeping its public buildings–including churches–closed, made a difference for St. Louis. Giving in to protests made a difference in the other direction for some cities–for example, for Washington, D.C. Leaders in Washington promptly closed schools, churches, and theaters at the beginning of their epidemic in October 1918. The closures continued until the end of October, when the flu epidemic seemed to be improving. They lifted the ban on public gatherings on October 29. But flu cases started spiking in early December. Leaders debated re-closing the public buildings but in the end gave in to protests and left them open. The result was devastating for the city: 608 deaths per 100,000 people. Washington, D.C. had one of the worst epidemics in the nation.

Your blog writer tells me that so far there have been no protests of church closures in the Diocese of Richmond. Here we have no desperate promises to eject coughers and sneezers if only the churches can stay open. Let’s hope that this steadiness of purpose results in a St. Louis-type result and not in a Washington, D.C.-type result. Remembering our brothers and sisters of 1918, we, too, pray for the speedy banishment of the dread monster, disease, from our midst.

–Ann White

P.S. I hope this post has given you some food for thought. But sorry, there are no steak knives.

Prince and Other Particularities

“But we know where he is from.” (John 7:27)

Got me thinking about: Where am I from?

Upper-northwest Washington, D.C. I’m from Redskins fans. And from white people– the most well-meaning and well-mannered white people you’ll ever find. With every passing year, I admire my mother and father more, and I thank God more heartily that He brought me into this world from Kirk and Ann White.

princeI’m from Chevy Chase Playground, at Connecticut Avenue and McKinley Street, where I spent most of the 1970’s trying to learn how to play basketball. Speaking of the 1970’s: I’m from a time when people trusted each other more, and got along better, I think, than we do now.

I’m from the complicated East Coast. I’m from the United States. I’m from the English-speaking peoples, from the race of William Shakespeare. Praise God!

All of us have our own particular origins. None of us can altogether escape them.

In my limited experience I have learned that the greatest delusion a man can fall into is: thinking that there is some life for him to live other than being his father’s son. And the greatest delusion a woman can fall into is thinking she can live as someone other than her mother’s daughter. The Lord gives us each total uniqueness and sovereign free will, to be sure. But He also gives us particular origins, and to despise our origins is to despise ourselves.

They thought that the Christ must be a man of incomprehensibly mysterious origin. How wrong they were! They had it altogether backwards.

The Nazarene, Who was raised by a carpenter and his wife, Who learned from them how to speak and walk and make pilgrimages down the Jordan to Jerusalem, Who frequented the same synagogue for years, where everyone could remember when He first started showing signs of a beard—the dusty-footed Galilean has revealed the truth:

We all have one origin: We come from God. And God brings each of us into the world in such a marvelously particular way that only He could come up with it all.

God gave me a teenage experience in which I listened to the greatest musician any of us will ever hear of, and I lived the years of high-school during his prime. God gave me Prince and the Revolution to grow up with, in their prime, when Prince wrote music and put on a show like no one since.

Only God could do something like that, give me something like that. Praise Him!

Guest Contributors

nytWe welcome guest contributors to the on-going discussion and debate on Preacher and Big Daddy.

First of all, don’t miss Loeb Award-nominated Ben White’s exposé on the front page of today’s New York Times. He will discuss this on MSNBC this evening! (Between 6:00 and 6:45.)

Continue reading “Guest Contributors”