A husband and wife walk into a pizza place and gun down two Las Vegas police officers eating lunch, flee to a Wal-Mart and shoot an armed bystander. The wife then kills her husband, and ends the episode with her own suicide.
An echo of the shooting at Seattle Pacific University last week; and of the deadlier shooting at UC Santa Barbara three weeks ago; and all the mass shootings – Tucson, Sandy Hook Elementary, the one-room Amish school, the Sikh Temple, Columbine. All just random nuts with weapons? Or are they canaries in our cultural coal mine of alienation, disempowerment, and desperation?
Does this have anything to do with the armed standoff of the militias and the BLM over grazing leases? What about the inability of our elected representatives to negotiate compromise solutions for the various issues of our day? Might it all connect somehow to the decline of participation in any sort of voluntary associations for common goals? And is that related to the decline of marriage and our inability to keep the marriages we’ve got together?
In the aftermath of gun violence, we reflexively say we need better regulation of firearms and we need more mental health services. Yes, obviously true. I am 100% for both those technical responses. But whenever we say those things in the aftermath of gun violence, people rush out to the gun stores to beef up their firepower, the daily attrition through gun violence continues, and a short while later (these days a very short while later), we have another mass shooting. The problem is deeper and wider than loose gun laws and the shortage of affordable therapists.
For whatever reasons – let competent sociologists explain them – people are becoming more and more disconnected. The loneliness and despair overwhelms us. We are alienated and in our alienation, we are disempowered, unable to influence our environment because the channels of influence – relationships – are broken. We lose the ability to shake hands, look each other in they eye, and have an honest conversation. In the absence of such organic connection, the economic machine chews us up. In despair, we drink, gamble, distract ourselves with work and electronic games, and some of us become angry – angry enough to kill, to kill someone, anyone – it doesn’t matter who we kill because we aren’t really connected to anyone. We don’t have the capacity to connect with anyone. We have lost the capacity to imagine how the world looks through another person’s eyes, and no one can imagine what it is like to be us. We live and die unknown. In a crowded room, perhaps in a casino sitting at a gaming machine, we are in solitary confinement. The only connection we know how to make with another human being is to shoot them.
My question is: where do faith and the community of faith come into this? Some of our congregations are open and welcoming, embracing people who come their way, offering them caring presence, attention, appreciation, and a chance to participate in activities ranging from the fun to the noble. I hear stories from people who were lost, alienated, and discouraged until they connected with a congregation, and little by little, they came back to hope.
I heard a story from one woman whose family life had been hard, so she had resolved not to have children. But when she saw how people loved and nurtured the children in our church, she changed her mind. Her children with her that day in church were born because of the grace she experienced in our community. I have heard stories of people who came to us from broken relationships and found comfort, hope, and healing. I have heard from people who had lived on the streets but were able to get back on their feet not just through material support we offered but also through encounter with people who understood that to believe in God we have to also believe in each other. We believed in those people and our faith in them gave them courage.
Not all of us get this. Some of us want to keep the church just for ourselves. Others want to grow the church to add to our institutional strength, so we can feel successful. Both approaches utterly and completely miss the mark of our mission. It is to give and receive mercy. It is to reconcile people to the human race. It is to give up the futility of acquisition and self-advancement for the better life of extending caring presence to other people and eliciting their caring presence in return. We might call it belonging. We celebrate it ritually as Communion.
When the loneliness in the world is so great, the call is to open our doors wider, make our porch light burn brighter. We have no time for crankiness or pettiness. There is a world to me healed.
amen. & amen!
Jesus was right when he said that it is from the heart that murders proceed. This is our great mission: To heal hearts.
It has been my experience that Episcopalians generally don't use words like 'evil' and the 'devil' very often, not because they don't believe such exits, but because it seems to be more a 'fundamentalist' approach, 'hell fire and damnation,' Bible thumping, etc, not something Episcopalians practice. The entertainment industry depicts 'evil' with rotating heads, deformed people crawling on the ceiling and so on, a little over the top. But as a result, it is what most think evil is, some grotesque form and extreme violence. Actually, such is the end result and the goal of evil. In truth, evil is subtle, cunning, even attractive, glib, well dressed, and most of all, well organized! True evil is that thing, whatever it may be, that separates people from other people. It is just that simple. Evil would have you believe that it is much more complicated, ugly and frightening. Consequently, true evil goes unrecognized and even embraced by those seduced by power.
God's message is simple; Love each other, take care of each other, I have given you everything you need to do that and in abundance! He has tried to 'persuade' us into it, the Old Testament, and love us into it, the New Testament, by example through Jesus. But somehow some of us are just are not getting the message. We are so diverted by all the distractions that separate us that we have lost sight of this simple truth. We are so preoccupied with just trying to survive in a culture that has increasing departed from it's Christian base because of ever increasing competition for employment and the ever increasing desire to augment our social status, a kind of displaced survival insurance policy. The devil seems to be getting his due. In this confusion, at times realizing things are not right, we point to corporations, or government, or the police, or the church, or whatever our imaginations can come up with, to lay blame. Some in their utter confusion and desperation act out against those they blame for it. In truth, we simply do not understand where it is coming from because we have lost sight God's simple message, nothing that could be more important, that being, we are 'Our brother's (and sister's ) keepers!' Even if those that are the most desperate, disenfranchised, those that have acted out, understood this, perhaps they would have found hope in God's greatest commandment, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind." and "Love your neighbor as yourself." Apparently, a package deal. Not to be irreverent, but it seems one is as important as the other!
Sadly, it is in our human nature for our cultures and economies to evolve into a condition were there is an ever increasing domination by those that have been corrupted by power, leading to even greater and greater corruption. Over time, a poorer and poorer 'distribution of income' occurs. Currently, in this country it stands at 1% of the population receives 90% of the wealth! It has gone to these numbers in the only in last 30 to 40 years! Actually returning to numbers that existed just prior to the 'Great Depression'! But this has also happened many times in history. An example would be what was going on in the Catholic Church, corruption so great that it led to the Protestant Reformation and the bloodshed as a result. Other examples would be the French Revolution, the American Revolution, most any revolution, Syria, Egypt, etc., and most recently, in this country and others, the 'Economic Collapse' that happened in many parts of the world. The results of corruption place huge pressures on civilization and especially on those that would be considered at the bottom rungs of 'civilization.' It just so happens that in this particular time in history and the current culture in this country, acting out with a gun has become a common method by those that have felt that pressure most acutely. Some point the gun at themselves, thinking they have failed and will always fail, others act out against their presumed oppressors.
The point is, the conditions that have led up to human desperation have happened time and time again throughout history, and surprising (or not), for the same reasons. That is, those things that separate people from each other, 'things' like tyranny, inequality, injustice, abuse of power and poverty. I'm not saying that poverty in and of itself is the cause, but 'poor distribution of income' is fertile ground for these type things happening. Seemingly, they are perpetrated by those corrupted by power. Corrupted by power because of an deep insecurity that caused them to need to take 'power' in the first place! Why they are insecure may be because at some time in their lives they felt completely alone, uncared for, disenfranchised from the human race for whatever reason. Frequently, we have heard the powerful people say, "Nobody helped me, I had to do it on my own!" Actually probably a complete misperception to begin with. It is true not all that are 'powerful' have this attitude, but there are enough that hold the idea, 'every man for himself,' an idea completely opposite of what God would have us do, to create havoc in our institutions! Whether the 'devil' is pulling the stings of those that are corrupted in this way, God only knows, but it is clear 'evil,' the separation of one from another, is alive and well in our world.
Perhaps, someday the human race will evolve to the point were this will forever be clearly understood by all and such removed from our institutions. We just need to remember God's simple message, 'Take care of each other!' And that He doesn't suggest we do, He commands that we do! If we don't, we have seen the results...far too many times!
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