How Big is the Number 315,000,000?

Thoughts on Mass Killings, Immigration, Sheep, and Bead Stores (I can string those things together!)

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s population clock, the number of resident people in our country is right now just shy of 315 million. One person is born every eight seconds, though one dies every 12 seconds. Add an international migrant coming every 46 seconds, and the net gain is four people every minute of the day.

So, my question is: How big is the number 315,000,000?  Let me give you a bite-sized way of getting a grip on that number by the use of an illustration I’ve thought of in recent years.

Those of you who know our family well know that we own a beads jewelry craft store business in Mechanicsburg, PA that my wife manages. It is part of the franchise of such stores begun by our son and his wife – Potomac Bead Company – with locations in 12 different places in several states and Scotland.DSC_0074_01

Most years, I only ever see our store once – on New Year’s Day – the day when business people everywhere take inventory. Yep – inventory in a bead store! Instead of choosing to sell something like cars or refrigerators, my family sells little things – millions of them to be exact.

When you walk into our store, you are overwhelmed with a sea of colors flooding your eyes. I have always enjoyed the exclamations that come out of the mouths of people who walk in for the first time! The colors come from strands of thousands upon thousands, nay, millions of beads of all colors, materials, shapes, and sizes. The choices are so vast that it sometimes leaves folks with a paralysis of analysis as to what to choose to make something beautiful.

Most of the product is sold in strands of, say, 25-75 beads of the same material strung and hung on the wall. But there are tubes with hundreds of tiny little beads called “seed beads” that are also available. Pretty much anything you can put a hole through and hang on your person is available.

One year recently while doing New Year’s inventory, I did some math by estimation of how many beads were in the store – counting everything … strands, tubes, etc. – and I believe a good round number is about 6 million.

Now consider this:  It would take 52 stores the size of ours to represent the number of people that there are in the USA. Now imagine this:  Picture those 52 stores all on the same city block. Let it be known that in that mix of beads, every so often, one of them was going to be totally toxic to a wearer. How would you find which one it is … or which ones out of the millions were potentially harmful?

That is what it is like trying to figure out who is going to be the next killer in a school or mall.

I don’t see a solution that is an assured fix. It is a problem about 30 times worse than dealing with illegal immigrants. Saying that guns should be eliminated is about 30x more difficult than saying that all illegals should just be deported. Right … just do it. Actually, I probably exaggerated. It is only about 20x more difficult given the estimated number of guns in the country.  But you get the picture.

If we take the problem back to its most central core, the issue is one of sin and evil that exists in the world. We are all terminally affected by it physically. And through faith in the work of Christ, we are spiritually saved for eternity. Yet in this world we are hampered by its continuous presence and expressions, affecting us all in varied degrees, and affecting some in such extensive amount as to yield catastrophic consequences in their lives and the lives of others.

The spiritual issue is one of separation – especially from God and the perfect relationship we were meant to have with Him. That separation, that loneliness, that sense of loss and isolation … is felt more particularly by some people over others. We know that the world abounds with people who, while still having no eternal fix for their separation from God, have rather successfully compensated for it by filling their lives with all manner of temporary fixes and pleasures.

Yet there is another smaller population who never gets a fix of any sort … not spiritually, and not even temporarily here in this world. Due to one of a variety of reasons – many related to mental illness, which is a very real and pervasive problem – they do not fit in. Their daily lives are hour-to-hour reminders that they are isolated from what appears at least to them to be a normal life of relational happiness.

As a coach in a public high school, I see some of these people every day. For some reason, they don’t fit – be it physical defects of size or appearance, social awkwardness and insecurities, the gaping wounds of family dysfunction, or the effects of mental illness or some debilitating condition – they walk through the halls alone and in a sort of daze. This school experience is not fun; it is a daily hell on earth. Some days mocked; many days ignored; all days miserable.

So, for that one bead out of 315 million who has had enough of the pain of life; and when the combination of evil, pain, and mental illness combines into a stew of anger and frustration that overflows, what becomes a prime target for that outrage?  A school fits well at the top of a short list of such … as would a mall, certain work places, or other public places of gatherings of people – such as even a church.

So how to fix or prevent this? Well, only God can (and will) ultimately fix the basic root cause. Until then, removing guns from society or eliminating the tools or places of the expression of this anger appears wrongly directed in my view. It seems to me the need is to help people – seeking to reach to those who are most disenfranchised. Now, this argument could immediately be used to argue for more funding to promote mental health and social welfare programs … and yes, I’m one of those conservative Republican types who is a skeptic about fixing things by merely throwing more money at it. I recognize these programs have a cost, and I honor those who give their lives fully to work in such difficult fields of endeavor as mental health and social services.

My rant here is to direct the consideration of any reading it to a personal involvement where you are with those you know who fit into varied disenfranchised profiles. If you don’t know anyone like that, you must really be isolated. I certainly see them in school and have had them on my teams … but I can tell you that they are around churches too. They are everywhere. And though my job does indeed, yes, lend toward my responsibilities being involved with bolstering, encouraging, and discipling hurting people, I choose beyond it to have a handful of folks with whom I’m frequently engaged – people who are not especially lovely in their current composition, but who need human connection and encouragement.

Within the context of the church family, this is our primary duty of ministry. And just beyond the walls of our church, reaching lost people becomes the primary strategy. And down to the level of our individual lives, it is the expression of Christ within us: the Christ-like way of doing as he did, illustrated by the parable of the shepherd with the lost sheep … illustrated as well by the hosts of occasions where Christ saw the hurting individual when the disciples saw only the masses of the crowds.

There is a silent fulfillment of life in this undertaking. I will tell you though that at times, when you bring a sick puppy into your life, it bites you. But Christ came and died for us when we were sick dogs biting him (see Romans 5:8).

We can’t fix 315 million; nobody can, and no law is able to do so. But we can be an agent by God’s grace to help fix a handful of people around us.

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