I have been deeply affected by two recent events that have taken over my Advent meditations. I offer them to you with the words of Philo of Alexandria:
Be kind to all- for everyone is engaged in a great battle.
I have a friend, Doug, whose life journey has significant correspondences with my own. Doug worked in a position equivalent to mine, in another jurisdiction which happened to include my home town. At one point, he followed a religious call to institutional ministry and worked for a few years as a missionary. He received his law degree in the second half of life. He'd been married over thirty years and was a father. We gave workshops together and riffed off of our pretended competition-him serving as a Marine pilot and me being a grunt. A few weeks ago, in a public park in my home town, he shot himself in the head. I could not have been more shocked. His wife said that he had lived a full and amazing life but, in the past couple years, "a darkness came over him." He was 59 years old.
A week after Doug killed himself, 22-year-old Dylann Roof was convicted of murdering nine people in June 2016 while they were praying after a Bible study in a historic black church in Charleston, South Carolina. He killed them because they were black. He left one woman alive to "tell the story." He hoped that the killing would begin a race war. The people he killed were Cynthia Hurd (54), Susie Jackson (87), Ethel Lance (70), Depayne Middleton-Doctor (49), Clementa Pinckney (41), Tywanza Sanders (26), Daniel Simmons (74), Sharonda Coleman-Singleton (45), and Myra Thompson (59). Roof's blank, expressionless, white face haunts me.
I do not know how these events are related except in their ability to shock me with their violence. A man in the second half of life, tremendously successful by outward appearance, turned a gun on himself. A younger man, seemingly lost, emotionless, bound by a hate-filled vision, turned a gun on others. Men doing violence. Men losing their center, their purpose, their life.
After the presidential election, an Illuman leader was asked by a close friend, a black woman who has worked for years in social justice, "What is it going to take for men's groups like yours to stand up for us?" We say that we are men transforming men through a power greater than our own, that we seek a life-changing spirituality. I am profoundly aware of the need for our work. I am reminded of William Stafford's words from the poem, "A Ritual to Read to Each Other":
For it is important that awake people be awake,
or a breaking line may discourage them back to sleep;
the signals we give-yes or no, or maybe-
should be clear:
the darkness around us is deep.
Brothers, may we stay awake this Advent and Holy Day Season. May our voices be clear, even when we say "maybe" or "I don't know." May we hold and help each other to end the violence against ourselves and against others. Tell other men about Illuman. Show other men what you have received in the work. Show up. Stand up. Celebrate the Feast of the Incarnation.