It is closer than you think.
The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?
When evildoers assail me to devour my flesh — my adversaries and foes shall stumble and fall. Though an army encamp against me, my heart shall not fear; though war rise up against me, yet I will be confident.
One thing I asked of the Lord, that will I seek after: to live in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to behold the beauty of the Lord, and to inquire in his temple. For he will hide me in his shelter in the day of trouble; he will conceal me under the cover of his tent; he will set me high on a rock.
Now my head is lifted up above my enemies all around me, and I will offer in his tent sacrifices with shouts of joy; I will sing and make melody to the Lord.
Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud, be gracious to me and answer me!
"Come," my heart says, "seek his face!" Your face, Lord, do I seek. Do not hide your face from me. Do not turn your servant away in anger, you who have been my help. Do not cast me off, do not forsake me, O God of my salvation!
If my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will take me up.
Teach me your way, O Lord, and lead me on a level path because of my enemies.
Do not give me up to the will of my adversaries, for false witnesses have risen against me, and they are breathing out violence.
I believe that I shall see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.
Wait for the Lord; be strong, and let your heart take courage; wait for the Lord!
Sadly, too predictably, this is a reposting, with tragic additions, of a reflection from earlier this year. I continue to stand by it.
San Bernardino, Parkland, Charleston, Strasbourg, Paris, Orlando, Boston, Ft. Hood, Marrakesh, Pittsburg, Peshawar, Las Vegas, Jolo, Christchurch, Gilroy, Dayton, El Paso … And so it goes.
Another shooting, another heartrending list of names and life stories, another series of funerals, another set of demands for solutions, another chorus of angry denunciations against “those people” who are responsible for the despicable actions of the perpetrator.
It has become a tragic, heartbreaking routine. And it will continue, as long as we ignore the real cause — which we assiduously, incessantly refuse to do.
We are eager to attribute the motivations for these unconscionable acts to specific belief systems, cultures, or communities; thus establishing an identifiable villain, an “enemy of the people,” to blame. It’s a very workable system, enabling us to believe that all of our troubles will be resolved if only we were rid of: the NRA, racists, radical Islamists, fundamentalist Christians, drug cartels, white supremacists, illegal immigrants, international bankers ….. or whatever group we currently love to hate. They are responsible; they are the guilty ones; they cause all the trouble; if it weren’t for those people, everything would be great.
We’re also perfectly willing to assign someone we’ve never met to one or more of these categories, and ascribe the most destructive and diabolical goals of that group to this person. He or she may be none of those things — but it’s simpler and more comforting to assume the worst. Because… well, because it isn’t us. We, of course, are not like them. But that other person is probably guilty of something.
We are on the side of the angels: we are able to point out the sins of those others. We, with our unblemished hands, can sit in the judgment seat and despise and condemn all of those horrible, utterly other people — of whom we know nothing, other than the attitudes and beliefs we attribute to them: primarily mindless prejudice, and, of course, insensible, insatiable hatred.
An odd accusation, coming from a culture that is consumed by hatred and division.
“Them!” “Those people!” Thoughtless, unsubstantiated labels are handy devices to affix to a person or group, effectively dismissing and discounting all that they say, all that they care about, all that they are. Individuality is erased with a single word; people are turned into mere caricatures serving to further our prejudices.
Because “it sells” (= is what we want to believe), the media have produced vast assemblages of prejudicial material, further inculcating and inflaming this hatred of “the other.” Whenever the interest in one group begins to fade, another one is raised up: “Look! Over there! A new group we can despise and hate and dehumanize. Another group that isn’t us, another group we can feel superior to, another group to blame for the raging hatred in our world.”
As we are repeatedly told how evil, despicable, deplorable, are those “others,” we grow convinced that they seek only to hurt, kill, and destroy; they are a danger to society. Considering these “facts,” eliminating these threats begins to seem … reasonable. Not merely reasonable, but necessary.
And then Christchurch happens. Or Orlando. Or any of a hundred other tragic events driven by hatred and fear and self-certainty.
Recently commentators have begun to use the term “radicalize” to describe those whose belief turns into an obsession. It is the development of a focus so narrow that all that can be seen is the “evil” that is blocking the achievement of the desired goal — which is, invariably, to make the world a better place (in their view). Those so radicalized believe that the destruction of this evil will be a good thing. And so they act accordingly.
The victims are not human beings to these murderers, they are enemies; they have no reality beyond their status as an evil to be eradicated. The overarching cause isn’t an “ism,” but an attitude. It is hatred and a conviction of irresolvable “otherness”: it is the ultimate form of “not us.”
These terrible acts are an extreme reaction to the “radicalizing” to which we’ve all been subjected, and in which we have all willingly participated. It all begins with “the other-ing” of one another. It begins when we cease to see one another as human beings. It begins when we categorize and condemn and hate people we do not know.
And it will continue, for as long as we continue to fuel the fires.
This does not mean we ought to accept as “normal” these terrible, unspeakably tragic killing sprees; murder must always be condemned in the strongest terms. What it does mean is that we need to admit our complicity in the spread of hatred, prejudice, and “othering.”
The common thread in of all these tragedies is humanity. Human beings are murdering other human beings. People just like us are murdering people just like us. And the impulse to do so exists inside every one of us.
When we are tempted to think that the world would be improved if only “those others” were eliminated, we are murdering them in our hearts. Wholesale slaughter takes place in our imagination every time we divide and despise and condemn; each time we set ourselves as worthy of judging who deserves to exist.
The original sin remains as it always was — nothing to do with sex or nakedness or communing with snakes. It is the deep, distorted desire “to be as gods.” We yearn to be different from the rest of mere humanity: we want to be special, separate, apart; and, above all else, we want ultimate control over the world: that we might give life and take it away.
The situation cannot be more clear: our world is being destroyed by hatred and division. And as for us, what shall we do? What should we say, how should we act, what should we hope for, pray for, work for, and believe in?
As followers of the Lord Jesus Christ, the answer should be equally clear: overcome evil with good. We are called to be compassionate, to heal, to bless, to encourage, to uplift. We affirm that all people are children of God, none are outside of the divine encirclement — there are no “others” in the eyes of God.
It is hard — painful, in fact — to admit that the same hatred that kills multitudes, that same hard-heartedness and self-certainty, exists within all of us. In unguarded moments we succumb to the desire to eliminate our enemies. We may sugarcoat this murderous fantasy by claiming that the removal of these others would “save the world,” but the intention is the same. We want “to be as gods.” We want to set ourselves above all others; as superior beings, able to judge and condemn.
We live in a world starved for kindness, hungering for compassion; longing for simple mercies of acceptance and understanding. It is a world in desperate need of Christ’s gospel: divine love, enacted in word and deed. This is the work we have been called to; may we be inspired and empowered to do it, gloriously.
Christ’s grace and healing love be with you,
Make contact with a person who is different; one who is an “other” to you. Be compassionate; listen. Do not proselytize or try to convince: simply listen, and seek to learn, and to be a friend.
“Do not judge, or you will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and the measure you use on others will be applied to you. How is that you notice the dust in your brother’s eye, but not see the log in your own?” ~ Matthew 7:1-2