Love thy neighbor
Violence changes us. It drills into our hearts with anxiety and fear.
Violence drives us to self-protection. It puts us constantly on watch for enemies to defend against or perpetrators to blame. Violence demands action based on simplistic assumptions, bypassing careful thought and consideration for the immediacy of fight or flight.
Violence demands retribution and destruction of The Other. The myth of redemptive violence lies at the core of our national ethos. Violence destroys all that makes us human.
Our society thrives on violence. Violence is glorified in our movies, television shows, video games and music. Violence has been visited upon Orlando, San Bernardino, Umpqua, Charleston and Newtown. Violence is the first response when we feel threatened or insulted, whether as individuals or as a nation.
There are those who use violence to their own end, attempting to bend society to their crooked vision of what the world should be. Hateful men pour out their loathing through the end of a rifle, spitting lead for every perceived hurt they bear.
Others capitalize on violence. Politicians scapegoat minority groups and promise protection from The Other. Radio hosts froth with conspiracy theories, exploiting and perpetuating the paranoia and anxiety of their listeners. Those who profit from the manufacture and sale of weapons add to a climate of fear, spinning tales of enemies at every door while pumping more firearms into the world.
We have a choice. We can live in the world these fearmongers are trying to create, or we can create something other than this culture of violence and paranoia—this world that stockpiles weapons while hiding behind walls.
We have a choice and a chance to create a world that denies the dreams of these sick people, surprising them with beauty and joy and love and compassion instead.
The empathy embodied in prayer is good and right. Announcing that we stand strong with victims is appropriate. We must, however, go beyond that and take real steps to a world of mutual understanding.
Words like beauty and love and compassion are often empty sentiment, but after yet another act of mass murder, they should become our marching orders.
Sow seeds of love. Practice compassion. Remain curious. Forgive. Meet your neighbors, especially the ones who aren’t like you. Create beauty. Refuse to participate in the endless cycle of violence begetting violence.
Ignore the hatemongers who shift the blame to all Muslims or the LGBTQ community. Ignore politicians, radio hosts and religious leaders who speak hatred about fellow human beings. Ignore weapon dealers who feign innocence every time their tools lay waste to yet another group of innocent victims.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,” said Jesus. Blessed are those who create beauty and live lives of compassion, mercy and forgiveness.
We all have a part to play.