peace

Advent Lament

It’s been a busy month for the cycle of awful, devastating news. A guy shoots up a Planned Parenthood. A couple shoots up an office party at a center for the disabled. A leading presidential candidate advocates for religious persecution. We have seen lots of hate. Lots of death. Lots of blood. Events happen before, the same day, and after that we don’t even hear about. We’ll see more.

It’s difficult, even as it makes a kind of sense, to see all this in the light of Advent, a season where we are waiting on the bringer of Peace. We wait in a darker world, hoping it gets lighter. Not only do we wait, we are active in our preparation. We have our role to play. But the weight of that role seems heavier when the shit, deep and horrifying, rests itself on our daily lives. How can we anticipate the new when the tragedy we see every day is anything but new? It’s old hat at this point.

Our society is used to seeing people die on the other end of a barrel. We are used to seeing hatred spread across the faces of our neighbors, an entrenched hatred for the other who is also our neighbor. We are caught in between feuds that, more often than not, only one party knows exists. This is the world in which we do Advent.

I am weary. I spend more time than most reading the words of, and interacting with, those who cannot agree with me on the pacifist nature of the Gospel. Over the years, my faith has taken large turns, some lovely, many tragic. It is unrecognizable from what it once was. I’m happy about that for the most part, but not for everything. Still, while much of what I felt I agreed with and understood about Christian life has left me, the commitment to non-violence has remained. Such a pity, then, that I should maintain this tenet in a world obsessed with violence. More the pity that I live in such a callously violent nation, especially one which so arrogantly touts its love of civility and lawfulness.

Things are dark in these Advent days. This is as it should be. The light of Emmanuel, God With Us, is not yet here. Oh, that it would be here. Oh, that people could see the gift that is our ability to lay down our swords for ploughshares. If only it were a world of our readying work, of our actions to bring about Love, Joy, Hope, and ultimately Peace. If only it were a world that kept the lamb close and let the lion roam. If only we remembered to continue the work on December 26th.

Peace. Peace. Peace be with you.

Morning

I’ve always been an anxious person. As a child, fretting over something in the middle of the night (probably because I hadn’t done an assignment for school the next day; I was indeed that lame), my mom would hold my shoulders and say, “Can you do anything about it right now? No. Wait until morning. Things will be better in the morning.”

That mantra has stuck with me. I still repeat it to myself in the wee hours when all seems so fragile and lost. I’m dealing with more than forgotten homework these days, but the mantra holds. I breathe it in, let it consume all the angry, buzzing anxiety in my lungs and then breathe the whole mess out like some oil and water mass.

Except, things aren’t always better in the morning. That’s the everyday theodicy, the mundane “shit happens” of life. We’re all familiar with it, and we’re all tempted to see it as conquerable. Sometimes, though, it just isn’t. The morning light appears, ready to comfort, only to find you still cradling the tiny, momentous pain you rocked all through the night.

This isn’t just an issue of theodicy, of hoping that God or the universe will suddenly realize that bad things happening to good people is actually as awful as everyone’s been complaining it is for all of human history and thusly banish such a concept from reality. This is the paradox of faith, which is one even someone with no faith understands. Beauty and suffering never separate. The terrible is always knotted so firmly to the lovely that wondering how or if one will come apart from the other is a waste of time.

For Christians, this is the paradox of the cross Logan was talking about last week. But this goes beyond the cross (even the cross goes beyond the cross; huzzah for paradox!); this is the rich, fertile soil upon which all life is built. We grow in it, learn to live and love in it, face heartache and death in it. It’s all-encompassing. Which is why, for me, the most complete healing comes when I root myself in nature, the space where I get most of my metaphor.

Last week, I felt panicked, jittery, and unable to connect. So I retreated to the hiking trails. I walked under trees that rose from both sides of the path until they arced and bowed, forming a patchwork cathedral ceiling. Above it, the sky that was the kind of blue only a crayon can be. By the time I finished walking, all the panic had seeped out and I hadn't even noticed.

It’s not always better in the morning. It’s not always better any time. Like a good apophatic theology, our painful experiences tell us so much about what isn’t. But, also like a good apophatic theology, they clear a path for us, helping us to understand what is. Because sometimes it is better. Sometimes the air is cool, the music on the radio is right, and the sky is so wide that our hurt couldn’t possible contaminate it were we to just exhale our troubles into the big, vast nothing that is also a good, good something.

In Memoriam

It’s Memorial Day, and I’m one of those Americans who has the day off to relax and BBQ and cram a few extra chores in. This is the reality of what we do, and there’s nothing wrong with that. Though it’s important to remember why we have the day off—because people died when they didn’t want to, doing something they’d rather not have been doing, but did anyway for a host of reasons ranging from noble and heroic to mundane and tragic. Nobody wants to fight and die, but a lot of people harnessed that fear and tried to do something with it, something they felt was important and worth doing no matter the personal cost. That’s worth remembering. Courage and camaraderie usually are.

For me, it’s been a day of thinking about the dead. Memorial Day is the obvious, and the most recent mass killing in California lurks, too. When I first heard there’d been another shooting spree, I deliberately avoided the news about it. I stayed off major news sites and barely touched social media. I sure as hell didn’t click any links. I didn’t avoid the story because it wasn’t important, but because I knew that what I read wouldn’t give credit to how important it really was. The fact that we’re talking about “another” shooting is abhorrent, but the pre-written scripts people now pull for these events are tragic in their own way.

I knew that as soon as I opened up an article, I’d find the buzzwords “gun control,” “mental illness,” “legally registered firearm,” and several synonyms for “unexpected.” Eventually, I did read up on the story because it’s my mental way of clipping another article from the paper and putting it in the “Is There Any Hope?” scrapbook. Sure enough, the first story I found from CNN contained all the right lingo, the total lack of nuance, and even some surprises. Rodger’s motive (at least as he expressed it) of retribution, based upon his perceived rejection and slights against him by all women, was an unusual component to what has become a common story in this country. The hashtag #YesAllWomen, which sprang up as a way to express how prevalent violence against women still is in our society, only added more to the conversation. Not all of the murdered in Isla Vista were women, but the rage and well of hate fed by Rodger’s narcissistic and misogynistic worldview can’t be ignored.

This is exactly the point, though. There’s nothing about this story that’s cut and dry. The nuance abounds. And despite how news sources and pundits who bring us the stories of mass killings time and again reduce the events to soundbites and singular issues (generally speaking, gun control for the left and mental illness for the right as a way to deflect from gun control), they just aren’t that simple. This one story, this one incident, is about a lot. It’s about hatred of and violence toward women. It’s about mental illness. It’s about how yet another person bought a legal device made to kill people easily and used it to kill people easily. It’s about how all of these things sit on a foundation of willful cultural ignorance about what plagues us. We are a society which breeds violence like a fighting dog, feeds it and gives it all the images and vitriol it needs to grow, then acts surprised when we are bitten. We let people get away with saying “If only a good guy with a gun was there” and “Why should therapy and meds be paid for on my tax dime?” and “Well what was she wearing?” This one story is about all these issues making up a cultural pathology, and when we don’t acknowledge all the pieces of the puzzle exist, we can’t fix a damn thing.

So where does that leave us? By ignoring the nuance and by not following the strands back to their rotten core, we’re left with a pretty simple reality on the surface: just as soldiers live with the reality of violent death on the battlefield, we civilians will only grow more accustomed to violent death in our neighborhoods. On this Memorial Day, it might be worth admitting that so many of those soldiers who died in throws of war and violence did so with the hope that the heinous scenes of the battlefield would never plague their home soil. Perhaps we can truly honor our fallen dead with a pledge not to let violence and death be our norm, not to let the deaths of those who fought in wars abroad mean less because we cannot squelch war at home, and to be the blessed peacemakers who make it a point to ensure fewer and fewer soldiers and civilians die before their time. I don’t pray much anymore, but this is my prayer. Amen.