‘I wonder how I would have reacted,” Eric Anderson admitted.

“You mean if you were in a nightclub and you saw a guy by the door prepping an automatic weapon?” asked Dominique.

The conversation at the Main Café about the mass shooting in Monterey Park, California had been going on for 20 minutes by the time Eric asked the question that had been lurking in the back of the minds of the eight men sitting at the big round table in the back of the cafe.

Ryan Becker made a confession. “I’m embarrassed to say this,” he began. “When I heard about what happened in Monterey, I felt nothing. No shock; no sadness; no anger; no empathy. Nothing.”

“I hear you Ryan,” said Asch, the octogenarian to his young friend. “This is what, the 39th mass shooting in 21 days?! But when we’re watching the news, my wife Dorothy almost always chokes up at first and then starts cussing. Lots of mixed feelings.”

“There you liberals go again,” said Alice as she refilled coffee cups. “You’re so damned woke you won’t admit that if any of those people at the dance club had been carrying a gun, what’s his name — Huu Can Tran or something like that — would have been dead after firing one shot.”

Most of the men at the table were at least semi-woke but decided not to argue with their longtime and opinionated waitress.

But they weren’t woke enough to admit that there was at least a little truth in what she had just said.

“But that’s not my point,” said Eric Anderson. “My question had to do with what I would have done in that situation. I mean, that young man, Brandon Tsay, said he didn’t even think about what to do. He said he just reacted.”

“Makes me think that there was already something inside that young man,” said Asch, “that launched him into action.”

“You mean like character?” asked Dominique.

Mitty decided to steer the discussion toward religion and asked, “Or years of Sunday school and hearing Bible stories?” 

“Maybe,” Asch replied, “but way back when I was in basic training, we were actually conditioned to react without thinking.”

When he got home, Mitty called his neighbor, Michael Rosenthal, as he usually did when unanswered questions wouldn’t leave him alone.

“So what would you have done?” asked Pastor Walt after summarizing the discussion at the Main.

“I know what I would like to have done,” his good friend replied, “but I can’t honestly say I know for sure.”

“Honestly, I think I’m where you are — not sure what I’d do,” Mitty said.

“You know,” said Michael, “what you said Asch said, about conditioning, I’m wondering if we need more conditioning these days, I mean the good kind.”

Mitty laughed. “I just imagined a football huddle in which the quarterback asks everyone for their opinion and then takes a vote regarding the next play.

“But I see your point, and that makes me think of 9/11 and all those first responders running toward the burning buildings while everyone else was running away.”

“So, Walt, do you just explain behavior like that by operant conditioning or does it have to do with character, too?”

Mitty pondered the question and did some thinking out loud. “I’m preaching on the Sermon on the Mount tomorrow, and in that chapter Jesus says things like, “You have heard that it was said, do not resist an evil-doer. If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also.” 

“If you take that literally, that eliminates any thought of bringing a gun to a Saturday night dance party, doesn’t it?” was Michael’s response and then added, “if you take it literally.”

“That’s always a problem with interpreting the Bible,” said Walt, again thinking out loud. “On the one hand, the biblical texts were written 2-3 thousand years ago, so I have to apply them to today’s reality, but at the same time Isaiah, Jeremiah, Amos and all the rest of the prophets were not worried about making their message palatable to their contemporaries. Their only concerning was speaking God’s truth.”

Now it was Michael’s turn to laugh. “Rabbi Levine likes to say that the Ten Commandments are not the 10 suggestions.”

“So he and I are on the same page regarding the authority of Scripture,” was Mitty’s next “out loud” thought, “but I can’t think of anything in the Hebrew Bible that encourages pacifism.”

“So do you have to be violent sometimes in order to stop violence?” asked Michael.

“Are you saying that turning the other cheek doesn’t work?” Mitty asked his friend.

“Didn’t seem to work 2,000 years ago in Jerusalem,” Michael responded, “and it doesn’t seem likes it’s working there right now.”