Daily we suffer violence–verbal or visual or vicarious–our own and that of others against us. We live a tragedy and in our fear we grasp for the safety of power, power against others, which is just another word for violence. In our reflexive self-defense, we actually increase our own vulnerability by intensifying the struggle for control. And as we make power the key player on the chessboard, we forfeit other pieces in its place–forgiveness, negotiation, withdrawal–and trading off other alternatives leaves us dependent on force, an ever deepening addiction to a cycle of fear and reaction. Against our deep assumptions, power over others does not bring freedom, but bondage.
I am repeatedly guilty of this failing. Just yesterday a friend on Facebook posted a meme declaring the ungodliness of those who believe as I do, and I left a sarcastic comment, passive aggression. That sort of response typically yields polarization and antipathy, heat rather than light: sides are drawn, camps solidified, villainization and attacks ensue. Emotions carry us forward, tromping over fairness, insight, and empathy. Anger runs in my blood, in my genes actually, and though I usually keep it caged, I feel its hot breath clamoring to be loosed whenever I am crossed. Multiply that through thousands of thoughts and interactions spread across the whole of our society (with the help of the web) and you have today’s social maelstrom.
And as a contributor to this seething caldron, I am in part responsible for the Orlando shooting. Perhaps this is my most valuable lesson to take from this tragedy–to reflect on how I myself breath life–or rather death–into the antagonisms of our age. I am shocked at how we use Christian beliefs to defend our gun culture… until I see how quickly, reflexively, unthinkingly I turn to emotional self-defense as I reject the other and grasp for power. As a nation, we trust power above all, but that only keeps the war going.
Jesus showed us a different way, a holy way, a frighteningly difficult way that is only accessible by faith. We had but two responses to threat: flight or fight. Until Jesus showed us the only redemptive way–to absorb antagonism rather than counter it or flee it. Absorbing is quite different from yielding. It is not passive acquiescence but active engagement; it is not being pushed around, but holding ones ground while giving only grace; it is accepting anger, hatred, and malice and returning empathy, kindness, and understanding. “Bless those who persecute you, pray for those who mistreat you,” Jesus said. We overcome evil with good. It is the way of the cross. It is the only way I know to be part of the healing of this land rather than its demise.