Monday, February 11, 2013

Sense and Senseless: Searching for Perspective on Public Violence

I was awoken today by a CNN news alert at 6-something in the morning. Usually if news is breaking then, it's a big deal. Today it was the announcement that Pope Benedict the XVI is resigning at the end of the month. I (eventually) dragged my tired butt downstairs and turned on the news to get more information. I found all the local channels covering a shooting at the New Castle County Court House, just up the road in Wilmington, DE.

Even as I write this, the details are unclear. It appears the shooting involved an ongoing custody battle and the shooter knew and chose the victims purposely.

I hate to admit, but that made me feel better, somehow. Learning that the man had a reason to do what he did, to kill, somehow made it seem easier to handle or explain or deal with emotionally. I'm not sure it should be that way. Shouldn't we be shocked and saddened at the loss of life and not immediately ask why? Have such killings become so accepted, so commonplace that we take the actual loss of life for granted and fixate on the justification (even if it's poor justification)?

As a follower of Christ's way, I am committed to non-violence and I've intentionally sought to foster practices that shape me and my reactions in that direction. Thankfully I live in a place where violence is not even an occasional occurrence. It's not as though I have ample opportunity to exercise my alternative responses. What I've settled for is an attempt to expand my gospel imagination. In what new or different ways could I handle such a situation. What is the gospel approach, the non-violent response here?

Sadly, there have been ample opportunities over the years, and especially in recent months, to think about the tragedy of encountering violence. I won't pretend to be an expert or even a novice; so many people in this world respond to violence every day - and do so with more humility, grace, and commitment than I could ever muster. Still, I think the exercise worthwhile.

When we thought the worst, that this shooting in Wilmington was random, an act meant to instill fear, it was more confusing. In cases of targeted killing or specific threats, it's at least easier to imagine how one might respond. If the shooter is angry or upset or sad or depressed, but not at you, there's room for loving intervention. It may not be likely, but it's within the realm of our imagination. Perhaps there is someway to connect with this person, beloved of God, who is angry enough to take life.

When there are indiscriminate bullets flying at anything that moves, that response becomes less likely to result in peace. I am amazed at how paralyzing it can be to encounter a situation where neither fight nor flight is a morally acceptable response. I've never even been close to such a scenario, but even the thought of it this morning created intense anxiety.

Ultimately, the logical, theological side of me says this is the result of living in a broken world. There are violent and destructive acts which are truly senseless. There just may not be an answer. I appeal to the notion that Jesus always knew the right thing to say or do. On countless occasions he disarmed hostile crowds with incredibly creative responses the likes of which I could never hope to imagine. But then I realize, despite all of these effective, non-violent responses, even Christ didn't solve the last conflict. He ended up on a cross.

Still, it sits wrong deep inside that I lack the imaginative and creative abilities to solve (or even attempt to solve) such problems in the world, problems that seem so fundamental to God's redemptive work in which we've been invited to join. Then again, the taking of life is supposed to sit wrong with us. That's what drives this longing for non-violent response in the first place. Death is not a solution to death, nor killing to killing.

In the end, all violence is senseless. It doesn't have to happen. But it does happen. Our attempts to make sense out of the senseless really distract us from the opportunity to breathe life into lifeless situations. The only response to violence is love. Comfort the hurting. Pray for the aggrieved. Refuse to accept such violence as simply the way the world works.

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