Reflection on violence
It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed.
In the face of violence that has been assaulting us in recent days and weeks (and years), a sense of hopelessness creeps into our lives like a foreboding fog. We struggle to find our way. Lost and unsure, we want to cry out. In fact, given where we are, that may be a good thing. Our country could benefit from some unbridled wailing.
Alas, if we are going to overcome this hopelessness we will need a lot more than wailing.
The twin vipers of fear and frustration, birthed from the womb of ignorance, mature into slithering hatred. When they attack their deadly venom spreads not to one doomed body, but to all of us. The family and friends of the dead must endure the unbearable loss, but our families, our communities and our nation share in that loss. We are all victims of violence. We all lose.
It’s painful to have to endure yet another shooting. We want to block it out, yet we know we have to guard against the psychic numbing that comes when today’s loss is added to the one before that and the one before that… lest we become inured to it. If we are ever to move against this evil, we have to feel the pain each time anew. We must try to know each of these victims as if they were our own family. We can’t isolate violence from our hearts and minds, because if we do violence wins.
We who are called to minister to others and help them find meaning in life’s difficult moments find ourselves challenged. One violent death from hate or racism is hard enough, but when the deaths continue at a sickening pace such that the words for one seem inadequate for a whole nation, we are driven back to our biblical and theological resources in search of some new perspective.
For myself I have looked and, in the end, come full circle, finding a voice for the many in the singular. How many funerals have I led struggling to find good and tender words for one grieving family? And yet, often I discovered the most meaningful moment came when I simply invited the family to recite the 23rd Psalm together. Those six verses provide a gentle reassurance of God’s abiding presence and a rejection of fear in the face of evil that few well-labored sermons or eulogies ever could.
Today I think the right place for us to be is back there beside the still waters and along the paths of righteousness. It is as relevant a spot for a nation as it is for a family. “What is the path of righteousness – right living – in a violent and hate-filled world?” Politically there are many answers, but ultimately the only real issue is what each of us will do personally to live more rightly. If politics only confirms what the people have already decided, then we can no longer equivocate. Each of us has to decide. For in deciding we reorient and define ourselves; we set a courageous course out of the dark fog (and the collective PTSD) in which we find ourselves. We have to decide that we have had enough of hate, enough of racism, enough of gun violence and that we are willing to do more than wail about it.
ABSW, President for the Interim