Already – a horrendous year of violence. Just seven weeks into 2018 and there have already been eight school shootings in the US.
Violence begets violence. Our center is not holding and the world implodes around us with the sickening weight of hatred, anger and fear.
How can this keep happening? I ask myself. How far can this spiral take us down into the darkness?
Then I look at the story of the human family over the ages and I remember that cycles of violence have taken us into this abyss over and over again.
Instead of recognizing that we are one human family, we imagine each other as “other.” Instead of acknowledging our deep human connection, we see our differences as divides so we create and perpetuate the fragmentation of our human community.
This is madness.
Sometimes I wonder if some people actually fear a future where everyone is equally accepted and equally valued. It seems incomprehensible to me that such a vision might be motivating humanity’s violence. But I can’t help but wonder.
In the ancient biblical story, the Pharaoh of Egypt proclaimed that all the male children of the Israelite people should be murdered at the moment they were born; Pharaoh didn’t want anymore of “those kinds” of people in his kingdom. The Gospel of Matthew tells another story about King Herod sending soldiers to Bethlehem to kill all the male children of the Israelite villagers; Herod feared a competitor.
Throughout the human story, this violence is repeated again and again. Within the American story, once again it is our young people, our children who bear the consequences of our national sins. They die on foreign battlefields. They die on neighborhood streets. They die in school classrooms. They die while dancing.
When reflecting on some of these horrors, the Old Testament prophet Jeremiah and the New Testament theologian Matthew both borrowed the image of their ancestor Rachel: “wailing with loud lamentation, weeping for her children and refusing to be comforted because they are no more.”
How can this keep happening? I ask myself.
Losing our children is much worse than even the heart breaking, gut wrenching loss of any one of these unique and precious individuals; it is also the loss of a future. For most of us, our children give us hope for the future. But for others – I wonder – is their vision of the future so clouded with fear that they may see the Michael Browns and the Tamir Rices and the Philando Castiles and the dancers at the Pulse as some sort of threat?
In the collective consciousness of our society, do these conjure fear because they represent too many of those kind of people in this American “kingdom”? In the collective consciousness of too many angry young white men, does the emerging empowerment of others feel like dis-empowerment for themselves?
As a Christian minister, I see both fear and hope everywhere I turn and I recognize this as nothing new. Herod sent the soldiers to Bethlehem because he feared the child Jesus was a threat to his power. And he was right: his power was at risk. The “kingdom” God is bringing into being does threaten the power of all the kings and pharoahs among us.
When the reign of peace, justice and respect gains more ground in the attitudes and actions of more and more people, then the status quo of oppression, intimidation and inequity must lose ground.
The status quo IS changing. And I say “Thank God.”
I firmly believe that God is birthing into our midst a new multivalent rainbow community that will finally end the power of white, male, straight privilege. I believe God’s upside down power of grace and love will finally bring about a future of hope where every life matters, where each one is valued for who they are, where all our children are able to grow up to become the people God created them to be. This kind of vision for the future gives many of us great hope.
But for others this vision of equity and inclusion fosters fear.
When fear and prejudice have easy access to a gun, it’s not just our children who are in danger; it’s all of us. When fear and prejudice are given both a gun and a badge then – yes – it is high time for prophetic challenge and peaceful protest. Each of us individually and all of us together must raise our voice and stand with our hands in the air – open, vulnerable and powerful in the upside down way of God’s life-changing power.
And so in the meantime, while we watch and wait for the vision to become reality, things continue to be painful, messy and chaotic. Maybe one reason why is because the oil and water of fear and hope continue to keep us fragmented – both within our society and within each of us. Maybe because we are all at the same time good and bad, light and dark, hopeful and fearful.
We are Rachel, weeping for our children.
And let us remember that all these children are all our children.
Maybe as we seek Rachel’s comfort even in the midst of this chaos, we can find ways to let go of the fear, lean into the vision, and help our nation hold onto the hope.