My email to which she is responding is below hers. My note was in response to her writing a week ago on the Union Theological Seminary Website.

Dear Mr. Knight,

Thank you for your note and your absolutely right correction of our reference to the shooter. He is a murderer, and we must never forget that.

Thank you for all your work in this crucial area. Things must change! And you are an inspiration.

Peace, Serene

Rev. Dr. Serene Jones
Union Theological Seminary
3041 Broadway at 121st Street
New York, NY 10027

My email to President Jones:

Dear President Jones,

Thank you for your press release of February 26. A clergy friend sent it to me. It is not only an important theological statement but also an obviously heart-felt personal statement.

I invite you to join a tiny campaign I have started. The use of a single word can have an unintended but enormous impact. Roland Barthes’ discussion of the political use of words as connotation rather than denotation is the source of my thinking.

Your statement begins, “One week after the devastating shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School . . .” I have been trying to help people understand that the word “shooting” is used with a powerful political connotation. To call a murder spree a “shooting” hides the truth and minimizes the horror. To call someone who takes an assault rifle into a school and murders children a “shooter” connotes a game.

People go to rifle ranges and “shoot” for sport and pleasure and prizes. A good “shooter” is praised by his or her fellow “shooters.” Let’s not say that Nikolas Cruz was the “shooter.” Let’s say he is the “murderer” — which is what he is. I’m sure the NRA wants us to think of Cruz as only the “shooter.” To say that mass murderers are, in fact, murderers would give our language an element of truth and reality that the NRA does not want us to hear. “Shooter” is a much more polite word than “murderer.” If a man (and almost 100% of these people are male) is only a “shooter” and not a “murderer,” there is no reason to take his gun away from him.

Thank you for your kindness in reading my thoughts.
Dr. Harold A. Knight, retired
English Department, Discovery and Discourse Program
Southern Methodist University
Dallas, TX


A hallway in the Dallas [underground] Pedestrian Network on a Recent Friday afternoon at about 2.

(Here begins a personal note about my current spiritual/emotional state which, believe it or not, is directly related to the important discussion above.)    
I was in a mid-life crisis from 1980 to 2015, from 35 to 70 years of age. Now I’m 73, and I think I deserve a late-life crisis. It probably won’t last 35 years, but one never knows (my father lived to be 97, my mother, 92).

The fact is, I am somewhat in the midst of a spiritual/intellectual/emotional crisis. I assume anyone who gets to be 73 — if they are honest about it — has something like the crisis I am in.

Some time ago I gave up depending on the “God” of Christianity because I no longer believe in that construct. For a while I adopted the good ole meaningless American “spiritual but not religious” self identification. I doubt I ever referred to myself as an “atheist.” “Agnostic,” for sure.

Can I, having no faith, have a crisis of faith? Look around. Almost everything I’ve believed in other than religion is in process of being destroyed or dying “a [not so] peaceful death and that right soon” or morphing into something I do not recognize. I feel almost completely unmoored. Nothing in my life (I think that is “literally” true) is as I want it or where I want it to be. For example, the murderous gun culture.


I seem to be living in a long, dark, empty, underground hallway.
Every 73-year-old in the world might think that way. I don’t know. If you want to see how a late-life crisis works out for an old man, stick around. Thanks.