I have been loath to share anything after the terrorist attacks in Gilroy and El Paso, and the shooting in Dayton. I have had to write or say something too often as Bishop about such things. I was mired in the helplessness of the Teacher in Ecclesiastes (1:2, 13-15 from the CEB translation): “Perfectly pointless, says the Teacher, perfectly pointless. Everything is pointless…. I applied my mind to investigate and to explore by wisdom all that happens under heaven. It’s an unhappy obsession that God has given to human beings. When I observed all that happens under the sun, I realized that everything is pointless, a chasing after wind. What’s crooked can’t be straightened; what isn’t there can’t be counted.”
Frankly, we were again faced with a culture of violence and dehumanization that has become "normalized” in the United States and that has no place in the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I suggest that this is part of the societal and cultural mental illness of the United States: Racism (with its related divisions and fear) and the inclination to violence (exemplified by our gun culture). I certainly believe it has been fed by the rhetoric of hate, division and violence coming by tweet and rally speeches from the current President, but he is a symptom of deeper societal illness and not himself the disease or singular cause. Harkening to a mythical "pure" past and creating fear of the other feeds our worst instincts and suppresses the better angels of our nature. Access to guns of unneeded and previously unimaginable fire power arms the worst in our midst — or creates fanciful scenarios that are now all too real.
Yes, it is the guns and the individuals; it is the rhetoric of the President, and the culture of fear and division; it is racism and white fragility; it is the school to prison pipeline and a for profit prison system; it is our failure as a society to deal with mental health and effective public education; it is violent movies and video games, and a culture of consumerism that delights and profits mightily in such “entertainment”; it is hyper-individualism and the loss of community; it is US, we — the people — are the problem. It is human sin. The cities with violence are part of an interconnected nation of states on the North American continent making the gun laws in one locale almost moot because of the easy transport and availability of guns from elsewhere. We are interconnected and responsible one for another. We are the problem in our failure to recognize and denounce hate and racism in others – including our leaders – and in ourselves. We are the problem in our support for industries that profit from violence. We are the problem in our silence and complicity. It is not a new problem, but this generation is reaping a new harvest of hate and violence. It is on us – all of us.
I am reminded of the lesson this past Sunday (August 4, 2019) from Colossians (3:8-11 from the NRSV translation): “But now you must get rid of all such things — anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practices and have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator. In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!”
As the followers of Jesus Christ, it is the love of the Incarnate One that we find hope. God is in the face of the refugee fleeing violence and poverty in Central America, it is in the ashen face of the child killed in El Paso and even in that of her murderer, it is in us. Just as we are the problem, we must be the hope. It is how we live and hold one another accountable as part of the Commonwealth of Christ. We must pray and act. We know how to live. Jesus said (Luke 16-17 from the CEB translation), “Allow the children to come to me. Don’t forbid them, because God’s kingdom belongs to people like these children. I assure you that whoever doesn’t welcome God’s kingdom like a child will never enter it.” We are given the vision of the Commonwealth of Christ. When he taught the parable of the “Good Samaritan” (Luke 11:25-37) or the warning of the “Judgement of the Nations” (Matthew 25:31-46), we are shown the way.
Today, my hope is in Christ Jesus and in you, God’s people, to lift up my arms in prayer even when I cry all is “perfectly pointless.” I can then turn my face to God and raise my voice against the violence and the evil. I am again reminded: “Who will separate us from Christ’s love? Will we be separated by trouble, or distress, or harassment, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written,
‘We are being put to death all day long for your sake. We are treated like sheep for slaughter.’ But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” (Romans 8:35-39 from the CEB translation)
Grant, O God, that your holy and life-giving Spirit may so move every human heart and especially the hearts of the people of the United States, that barriers which divide us may crumble, suspicions disappear, and hatreds cease; that our divisions being healed, we may live in justice and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.