It has happened again. Another shooting spree, more photos posted across the internet and plastered across front pages of survivors cradled in one another's arms. The outcry for more stringent gun control has begun, the interviews with folks who just knew something was wrong but were helpless to do much about it...or didn't care to. Sadly, this has become standard fare in America, a place where our schools and shopping malls, our theaters and campaign trails are no longer where we gain a sense of community with our neighbors, but instead are where we find makeshift memorials and somber reminders that it all can, indeed, change in a New York minute.
We don't live in a war zone.
Or do we?
We live in a world where day after day children are bullied and driven literally to their deaths, where aging bus monitors are ridiculed and humiliated to the point of tears for no reason other than the delight of the young perpetrators. For chuckles we watch the likes of Jerry Springer and Maury Povich and call it "entertainment" as chairs are thrown and DNA tests reveal who slept with who, and who refuses to accept responsibility. We are so divided by race, by political party, by denomination, and by education that we no longer see the "we" in "We the people"...but even then the "we" was really white, land owning males, so I guess we have always been a country divided, classified and categorized.
What we fail to see is that for many of our citizens, each day is as if they are walking right into a war zone. That war zone may be the playground, where not a day goes by that someone isn't kicked, spat upon, or called vile names. That war zone may be the place of employment, where the almighty dollar wins out over decency, where daily our morals are tested and our livelihoods are at stake. Sometimes, that war zone is even our own living room, where we are ignored, tuned out, or worse, physically abused.
The soul can only be injured so many times and still bounce back.
How can we expect it to get any better? We want our children to be fair and decent to one another when our politicians use the spotlight to play as dirty as they possibly can with one another, never realizing that the mud they sling lands not just on them, but often spreads further than they ever might understand. We want our children to feel cared for and nurtured, but we place them last on our list, behind golf, work, the newspaper, that cell phone conversation, or whatever other distraction we adults can so easily find to keep us from having to be attentive to their needs. We want our churches to be havens for us, places where we can find peace and perhaps sense God's presence in our lives, and yet we insist on bringing the world into that sacred space, nitpicking at one another, back biting and finger pointing at those whose beliefs might differ from our own, leaving us no better off than we were before we stepped a single foot in the so-called sanctuary.
We yearn for peace, yet we raise our battle cry.
We yearn for unity, yet with pride we point out every possible difference.
We yearn for hope, yet we throw our hands up in despair and walk away.
We yearn for love, yet we are unwilling to be vulnerable.
How do we stop the violence? We open our eyes, we really see one another, and don't walk right on by. We open our ears, and really hear one another, even if we disagree. We open our hearts, and we really love one another...yes...even the unlovable. It's the hardest thing that we, as humans, can do.
We find ways to better care for our mentally ill, we reach out to those who are living life in the margins, we stop elevating ourselves and burying others beneath layers and layers of judgment.
And we stop teaching our children to hate. We aren't born that way, haters are "made".
In other words, do that stuff that Jesus taught...that's what we do.
It is not necessary to be the one who makes the Big Changes in the world, or wins the Nobel Peace Prize. Truthfully, the most meaningful Big Change will come when the small changes are made...when you stop your child when you hear them make a derogatory remark about someone else's race, faith or sexual orientation. The Big Changes will come when you take care of your neighbor, your co-worker, your own family in small ways that make a big difference. The Big Changes will come when you don't contribute to the nasty public dialogue, but encourage all to be kind and fair, regardless of their politics or religious beliefs. Kindness is kindness, and it doesn't matter whether you are from a red or a blue state, or whether you wear a Star of David, a star and crescent, or the cross of Calvary.
Somehow, we Americans have largely forgotten that. It's not all that hard, when one thinks about it, to stop the violence.
What becomes hard is when we realize that to see the Big Changes means we too have to make the little changes, not just "the other guy"...