When I was a kid, I was taught that I shouldn’t point my finger at anyone, because if I did, then I would have 3 fingers pointing back at me.
It seems like our country might benefit from this lesson. As we are reeling from yet another school shooting, on social media I primarily see a rush to point to who or what is to blame.
The guns are to blame.
Mental Health is to blame.
This group is to blame.
That group is to blame.
However, last time I checked, the blame game doesn’t solve any problems. Instead, the blame game continues to divide us and increase our fear and anger.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m all for responsibility. I think the time after a tragedy- just like the time after a success- is the time for the people with authority to assess the factors that allowed this event to be what it was. I long to see politicians enact common sense, bipartisan policies that can be a deterrent of school shootings like background checks and safe storage. However, that adds to my point.
If we ever want to stop living in fear, we must stop blaming. We cannot continue to look at our world through a black and white, binary right or wrong, lens. We must be willing to acknowledge that there is never only one factor that leads to violence. Instead, we must move from looking at where we can point the finger to what we as individuals can do to create a world where we aren’t addicted to violence, both the violence we do to ourselves internally and the violence we do to one another externally.
I am not naively suggesting that this is something easy. I am not burying my head in the sand and pretending that if we ignore the problem it will go away. Instead, I am asking myself, do I look for someone else to blame so I don’t have to change the way I live and interact with those around me?
I know why I like to blame, because then I can still be right. If it is that group’s fault, then it isn’t my group’s fault. I can transfer all my anger to that group or thing, and I don’t have to look inside myself to see where I might be wrong or where I might need to change.
But I don’t want to keep perpetuating a system where violence begets violence, a system where blame begets blame.
So, what if we began to dream about a world where instead of blame and violence being our first choices, they aren’t even thought of? What if we started to make that happen?
That’s the invitation from Jesus. In his most famous speech, Jesus invites us to start thinking in a new way, a way that will bring the Kingdom of God to earth.
Matthew 5:43-44 (NRSV)
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.
Jesus wasn’t saying don’t hold your enemy accountable or don’t fight for justice; he was telling us we can’t let our hate consume us. Jesus wasn’t telling us that thoughts and prayers are enough; he was inviting his listeners to bring God with them into the conflict. We have evidence that Jesus asked plenty of hard questions to people in authority, so loving our enemy doesn’t mean that we are hiding in our closets to pray. Jesus wants us to see the humanity of our enemies to prevent us from becoming our enemies.
Last week we got to talk to Shane Claiborne, who is passionate about non-violence. In or conversation we talked about how Easter is a demonstration of Jesus’ love to the extreme that he endures so much violence so we don’t have to.
As I ponder the approach of Holy week, as I put myself in the place of the disciples*, I recognize that I am at a crossroad, that our culture is at a crossroad, and we must make a choice.
Are we going to continue to promote violence even though Jesus told us to put down our swords?
Are we going to flee because we don’t know what to do if we aren’t fighting?
Or are we going to be at the foot of the cross, wondering what is next, loving one another, and trusting that tomorrow will bring us new life?
When we stay at the cross, we get to grieve and lament the death of kindness and love.
When we stay at the cross, we get to break cycles of violence by choosing not to retaliate in our grief and pain.
When we stay at the cross, we get to experience love and then wrestle with the question of how to be kindness and love to a world that doesn’t always know what to do with them.
Staying at the cross isn’t easy. Staying at the cross isn’t always influential. But staying at the cross is what Jesus did.
I want to be kindness and love because Jesus is. I want to love, even when it isn’t convenient. I want to grieve with those who grieve because that’s what Jesus did. I know it isn’t always easy, but I want to make choices that look more like the Kingdom of God.
*The roles that I imagine are drawn from the telling of the arrest and death of Jesus in John 18 and 19.