When I woke this morning to the news from Dallas, I just felt gut-kicked. I’m sure a lot of you felt the same way. How many more killings must we endure? What will it take to make it stop?
As I scrolled through my Facebook and Twitter feeds, my depression just grew. Even the heartfelt and eloquent calls and prayers for unity and reconciliation seemed somewhat empty—not because they lacked passion or authenticity, but because even those just feel like more band-aids slapped on a gaping wound.
My opinion may not be any better. Certainly I’m as powerless as anyone else in pinpointing causes and offering answers. Part of that is because it’s not easy. There’s no single place to point blame, any more than there is any single solution to apply. Complex and nuanced issues are uncomfortable for us to confront. We’re more interested in fixing blame than healing wounds. We care more about voicing our rage than confronting the evil in our own hearts.
Which is probably why most of our responses—even the most articulate—ultimately amount to little more than kicking the can down the road…until the next black kid is murdered, or the next cop gets gunned down, or the next mass execution of innocents, or the next mom shoots her babies.
America is an angry nation right now. And in my experience, anger comes largely from fear. Fear of feeling victimized. From feeling wronged. From sensing you have no real control. We’re angry at other nations that fail to fall in line with our values. We’re angry at ideologies that conflict with our sense of moral superiority. We’re angry at refugees and immigrants who wish to share our benefits. We fear what all of that will do to our comfortable, privileged lifestyles.
Mostly, though, it seems we’re angry with each other. We can’t even carry on civil conversations about politics or economics or religion without calling each other sophomoric names or posting opinions and memes that do nothing but exacerbate our divides. We’ve come to believe that any thought that disagrees with our own lacks legitimacy. We view each other as enemies and compromise as weakness. We are obsessed with the us/them divide.
But what’s worse perhaps than this escalation in anger is our pervasive belief that our anger is righteous, and therefore any actions we take to express it are justifiable. That indulging our anger through acts of hatred and violence is acceptable. That somehow justice is served when we retaliate.
We forget, though, that justice and revenge are not at all the same thing.
Whatever the underlying causes, and whatever the ultimate solutions may be for our escalating culture of violence, at some point America has to deal with its underlying anger problem.
And that means you and I have to deal with it. We have to do the hard work of reconciliation and forgiveness.
We have to see each other as human.
In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets (Matt. 7:12, NRSV).
We have a choice to make, America. And it’s more than a political or cultural or economic or religious choice. It’s a choice about who we are fundamentally going to be.
And if you’re one of those people who want to sacrifice other human beings at the alter of your anger, let me ask you: How’s that working out? Is your life better because of it? Are you really happier? More secure? More peaceful?
There is, as the Apostle Paul put it, a “more excellent way.” But the path to that way doesn’t come cheap and it doesn’t come easy.
It requires something of us. It demands we release our sense of justified outrage and self-righteousness and embrace the worth and dignity of every single human life. It compels us to face issues of privilege and entitlement and to realize that there are other humans on this planet who have every bit the value, even if their experiences, beliefs, cultures, and perspectives are different.
It means we have to recognize those voices that claim to report “news” and “facts” for what they are: hucksters of coliseum-type entertainment, selling our fears and anger back to us in the name of ratings and the dollars they bring.
I hope that we can be brave enough to do the right thing. I hope we can realize that love is a bigger weapon that fear and anger and hate.
Because ultimately, it’s the only one we have.
“The people who sat in darkness have seen a great light, and for those who sat in the region and shadow of death, light has dawned.” (Matt. 4:16, NRSV).
America was once a place where people saw light and hope. May it be so again. And may we be its instruments.