Another mass shooting. At least 14 dead in San Bernardino. Once again there are the expressions of grief and appropriate expressions of sympathy to families who lost loved ones today. Once again expressions of outrage against what was plainly an outrage against every standard of decency. Men [and, according to reports after I wrote this, one woman] with long semi-automatic rifles decimating a gathering in a conference room.
And in the outrage, it seems the conversation begins to deteriorate. Some cry for gun control, others for arming ourselves against the violence. Meanwhile I see posts on social media about how rhetoric feeds the anger that ends with attacks on Planned Parenthood clinics. Others raise the question of whether similar anti-police rhetoric leads to shootings of police. Advocates for safe space fight with advocates for free speech. While domestic gun violence is claiming thousands on our streets and in our schools, churches and public spaces, we live in fear of enemies from without.
It is right and appropriate to grieve and lament, comfort and pray. Yet I also wonder if we have taken stock of how far we are from a healthy and flourishing good society. What I wonder is whether we are reaping the society we have sown. Can we constantly glorify violence in our games and media and contemplate committing violence against humans with many of the guns we purchase and not have a violent society? Can we constantly foster a vicious rhetoric of us versus them and not have it turn from words to violence, as much as the words are defensible as free speech?
I wonder if it is enough to lament if our lamentation does not also include confession and repentance. While it is true that neither you nor I pulled triggers in the events of today, do we see ourselves as part of a society that has made its peace with a violent way of life, violent in thought and word and sometimes deed? Repentance doesn’t simply mean mourning our sin. It is metanoia, a change of mind. It means a mental “one-eighty”, turning decisively away from violence and our constant celebration of violence, except when it happens in real life (and even then the incessant media cycle serves to celebrate the deeds of the violent, especially in a violent subculture who emulates them).
Frankly, I wonder if we are really ready for that. Yet I would suggest that if, as a society, we are not, our expressions of grief and lament are a bit hollow, as sincerely as we think we mean them. We have not truly decided to lean into the long, hard work of writing and living stories where conflict ends in peacemaking rather than a hail of gunfire, or verbal or physical abuse. We have not truly decided to write and live stories where grievances are acknowledged, repented of and forgiven rather than nursed into deep bitterness and raging revenge.
This has been a year of staring into the abyss of violence. I wonder if it is also a year of seeing the abyss of the human heart, the abyss of violence in my own heart. I wonder…
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