We’ve had another few days here in the USA where violence has dominated the news cycle. A man shot by police while handcuffed and on the ground; a man shot in his car – several times – by a police officer who had no reason to do anything other than issue a citation (maybe) for a malfunctioning taillight; and then yesterday’s brutal sniper attack in Dallas killing five police officers and wounding six more.
When there is so much violence, then it’s helpful to look for a common denominator. What do all these incidents – and a host of others this year, too numerous to reference – all have in common? What crops up time and again? What is the elephant in the room?
IT’S NOT THE GUNS: Well it’s not guns. Now there’s no denying that guns certainly make the mayhem easier to perpetrate, or that guns too readily translate malintent into deadly outcome, or that giving guns the status of religious artifact in this country is seriously troubling… but weaponry is not the common denominator I’m concerned about today.
What I am deeply concerned about is our social evolution into a culture where relationships have become secondary to almost everything else. And, if we want to understand things from a theological point of view, it is our broken relationship with the Creator that stands at the beginning of everything else that can be classified as sin.
America has a sin problem and it is rooted in alienation. Alienation from God, and alienation from one another.
THE VALUE OF COMMUNITY: Let me put this in a more simplistic frame. Wednesday evening my men’s group enjoyed a remarkably candid and deep conversation about relationships. Our jumping off point was the question, “How can we get people to like us?” (chapter 15 of our ongoing Power of Positive Thinking study).
The bottom line turned out to be that other people are going to like us just about as much as we like them. We shouldn’t worry about our own popularity, but – instead – dedicate ourselves to serving others, being kind to them, listening to them, encouraging them, advocating for them, loving them, being on their side, being genuinely glad to be in their company…
What happens when we – as the Bible recommends – value others ahead of ourselves, is that we tend to then be valued and liked by them. But that’s not why we do it. Selflessness isn’t about being popular, it’s about being Christlike, it’s about doing the right thing.
But we live in an era when being oppositional is trendy, where being “right” is considered more important than working together, where we’re expected to stake out positions rather than solutions, where we divide into camps, where so much is understood in terms of “them,” and “us,” where vulnerability is considered a weakness, and where people are disassociating from community at an alarming rate.
For a supposedly pluralistic, cosmopolitan, “black and yellow, red and white, all are precious in God’s sight” society, nowadays we’re looking remarkably parochial, small-minded, narrow, partisan, and intolerant.
Generally, this movement away from a relational, know and be known, listening, compassionate, “let’s talk about this over coffee” culture is a wide-open invitation for violence.
It’s not the guns… it’s the alienation…
It’s not the guns, people, it’s the alienation. It’s a spiritual problem, and the sooner we start tearing down these walls between us and stop circling up into “like-minded” camps the better. We’re all brothers and sisters, we’re all children of God. It’s time to tone down our own rhetoric and start listening.
We can start by listening to this: “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” (Jesus – John 13:34-35)