As I prepare for departure for a trip to Mexico to help a local Presbyterian congregation in a building project there and to teach VBS to their children, I am overwhelmed by the events these past few days in Louisiana, Minnesota and Texas. Such tragedy. Such violence. Such fear (which generates hate). I have spent the morning praying while packing and trying to put into words how horrible these killings are. I am struck by a couple things.
First, anyone who tries to suggest that any of the victims somehow deserved to die because of who they were or what they or others had done in the past is simply wrong. These comments in my view seek to excuse the inexcusable. Demonizing the victim to justify a killing is only necessary when the killing itself is so horrifying that we need to invent a reason for it because to believe it was a malicious act of hate or discrimination is just too disturbing to contemplate. We don’t want to believe we live in such a world. But it seems we do.
Second, we have lived this way since the fall. We just have IPhones that let us see it more clearly now. I remember growing up in the 60s. The Vietnam war was at it’s height. It was an unpopular war in part because we were seeing it on TV. Graphic pictures of war were more than many could bear. The pressure increased to bring the war to an end. So when we went to war in later years, while there were impressive pictures of bombs going off and destroyed enemy locations, there were no pictures or videos of bloody carnage that I recall. Why? My recollection is that there was an effort to screen such things from us by the military because many believed pictures of the horrors of war would be counterproductive to the war effort. We are less disturbed when there are no pictures. So now we have videos of people being killed for reasons that are – well there appear to be no reasons. Such pictures and videos are becoming more and more common. It will be interesting to see how we respond to these pictures and videos. Perhaps they will create a moment when we actually talk about how the events depicted can be eliminated. Even the President says that might still take several lifetimes. How sad.
How are we to respond as disciples of Jesus today? Is there anything we can do to make a difference today?
Jesus says that the peacemakers are blessed. So we must do what is necessary to bring peace. Even if it is just a little peace. A moment of peace. Because while we can’t stop all violence, conflict, fear and hate, we can do something. Something for the Kingdom of God. Something. Maybe just a small thing. Because when we do that small thing, we bring God’s Kingdom just a bit closer.
Some time ago I read a book by Leonard Sweet. I can’t think of which one it was but in it he talked about how we live in a universe where everything is connected. Quantum theory. He said that if that is true, when we do something good for just one person, we do it for every person. And maybe now is the time to do something good for someone else. Because everyone will be touched, even if just for a moment. Use these events, and those like them, to do something that creates a moment of peace between two people, or more.
But it is a bit harder than it sounds. It is easy to have a peaceful moment with a group of friends, doing good things for each other, and sharing some fellowship. Good stuff, really! But the kind of peace I am talking about is a moment with someone who does not look, act or speak like us and does not live where or like we live. How do we do that?
Some years ago at seminary I had many conversations with my friend Reggie, who is black. I am a white Anglo-Saxon protestant. I have never – ever – had to deal with the kinds of things Reggie has. Over our conversations I learned that I could no more sympathize or empathize with him than I could with an alien being. His live and issues were so foreign to me. Anything I said sounded condescending, self serving of just stupid. Cultural cross communication is often beyond our capability.
Then there is the issue of location. How can I try to reach out peacefully to someone of another race, nationality or religion when they don’t live anywhere near me?
There are no easy answers. And I have few.
But I do have one. When the opportunity presents itself, listen to those unlike you. Hear what they are saying. What are their concerns, fears, goals, desires? And then repeat what they say back to them so they know you heard and understood (while not necessarily agreeing, which is not required). Then ask that they do the same for you. You might get to know them, even when not agreeing, and its hard to be afraid of someone you know. Its hard to hate someone who took the time to listen to what you had to say.
I know there is a good deal of anger over these events. I am angry, too. But rather than just venting anger and vitriol, maybe do something good for someone in honor of those who died, in an attempt to make a bit of peace. Stop and listen. Bring the Kingdom a mite closer.
For me, I will go to Mexico and try to do something good for those who travel with me and those I meet there. I hope to spend most of the time listening to and learning from people who are not like me. In this way I (we) might be peacemakers for a time.