The latest wave of mass shootings at the Gilroy Garlic Festival in California, the Walmart at the mall in El Paso, Texas and the Oregon entertainment district in Dayton, Ohio resulting in at least 34 deaths, including 2 of the gunmen, and injuring another 64 people has stirred up a hornets nest in both the mass media and social media. All three of these attacks occurred within the space of about a week. A fourth tragedy was averted when a grandmother in Lubbock, Texas persuaded her teenage grandson, who was planning to “shoot up a hotel” and “then commit suicide by cop”, to instead visit a hospital and seek treatment. He was subsequently arrested by FBI and ATF special agents.
Despite the fact that all three mass shootings were carried out by young, white male U.S. citizens who were apparently using legally purchased assault rifles (as was the fourth planned assault), the majority reaction in both forms of the media has consisted of calls for legislative action of some sort while pointing the finger of blame at one political or ideological party or another, or some hated individual or group. Pointing at anyone but ourselves that is.
The truth, I believe, is that we are the real problem. A problem that stricter gun and/or border control cannot resolve. It is matter of the heart and mind. As Richard Rohr has said,
“People’s hearts must change before structures can change. This change is the basis of genuine reform and renewal.” 1
The first word Jesus spoke in beginning his ministry was “Repent”. The Greek word used to translate this call from the Aramaic Jesus spoke is “metanoia”, meaning “change your mind”. In other words, change the way you look at things, the worldview through which you filter everything you see, hear and feel. I have likened this to trying to see things the way God sees them.
As Richard Rohr has said:
”God refuses to be known in the way we usually know other objects. God can only be known by loving God…To love God is to love what God loves. To love God means to love everything…no exceptions.” 2
Throughout his ministry Jesus strove to get across to people the difference between their worldview and God’s. He kept saying, “You have heard it said…. but I say to you…” something completely different. For instance,
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors (read the IRS) doing that? And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5:43-48 NIV)
But do we love our enemies and those who rail against us in the media? I see little evidence of that. We tend to fire back words of hate and condemnation at those with whom we disagree. The art of civil discourse is sadly lacking in today’s society it seems. And that is the root cause of the evil we see acted out so often these days.
Much of society lives in fear: fear of what the future (or even the present) holds for the economy, the way of life to which we are accustomed, our safety and the safety of our children. Mass shootings, stock market dives and massive immigration (legal and illegal) fuel this fear. The seeming inability of our government (much less ourselves) to control the course of events often leads to a feeling of despair (helplessness and hopelessness). At some point this despair turns to anger and hatred of whomever and whatever we deem to be responsible for our dilemma. We see this acted out in all the vituperative language being flung about and ultimately in the acts of violence that seem to be almost every day occurrences.
So what is the answer? The antidote for fear, despair and hatred is simply what the Apostle Paul said to the church at Corinth,
“And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” (I Corinthians 13:13 NIV)
Our faith should cause us to trust that God will take care of us, for he has said, “I know the plans I have for you … plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” (Jeremiah 29:11 NIV) When we realize that we should have no fear of what we see happening around us and therefore no reason to be angry. And we should be sharing this good news with others we see who are fearful, despairing and angry. In doing so we are showing them love.
When faith has replaced our fear, and hope our despair, then we can act in love, rather than anger and hatred. As Christians we are taught that God is “slow to anger and abounding in love” (Psalm 103:8 NIV) and that we are to be like him, “quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry” (James 1:19 NIV), because “A hot-tempered person stirs up conflict, but the one who is patient calms a quarrel” (Proverbs 15:18 NIV). So let’s learn to take the time to listen to what those who differ from us are saying and try to understand where they are coming from. And let’s be slow to respond to them, and when we do, let’s replace our angry words with kinder ones. Then maybe we can help to tone down the rhetoric, relieving society’s anger and hatred, healing the sharp divisions that are rending the fabric of our lives and restoring peace and tranquility to our land.
- Richard Rohr’s Daily Meditation, Monday, August 5, 2019: Meditations@cac.org
- Rohr, Richard, August 17, 2016 blog: https://cac.org/seeing-gods-eyes-2016-08-17/