In the wake of the bombings in Boston and the pursuit of the suspects, I’ve been trying to find a way to respond. Something that wasn’t part of the noise. Something that was honest to my experience of needing to watch, but knowing that the coverage would be far too speculative. Studies of the effects of the media on the public narrative have proven how important those first stories are, and how inaccurate reporting becomes a permanent part of the narrative–stories that are untrue, lead to permanent elements of the overarching storyline.
As a Christian, I also was moved to respond with courage and conviction that our response to tragedy is not to encourage the making of more tragedy, but in the seeking of love and compassion.
On Wednesday, Miroslav Volf posted on Facebook something that spoke to my heart:
We cannot love Jesus without loving *both* those killed/maimed in Boston and the prisoners, not charged with a crime and tortured, at Gitmo.
That our love remains persistent and not somehow removable. I am reminded of a quote that chilled me years ago, when the verdict in the Timothy McVeigh trial was read–that he was to be put to death. Outside, the people scratching at the chainlink fence like rabid dogs, invited by a reporter to way in on their feelings that one of the men responsible for the bombing in Oklahoma City was to be executed by the state. This woman, looking straight into the camera, cackling with joy exclaimed:
He gave up his right to live.
I have never been so frightened. Never before or since.
I remember a bit by David Cross from deep in the aftermath of 9/11. He was going on about the coverage and response. That we had “no idea why” al Qaeda and bin Laden would want to attack us. “Well, actually it is because…” and he goes on to list several reasons. Then he says “How do I know? Because he told us!”
We act as if the violence is senseless. That there is no reason. That it’s perpetrators must be sociopaths or crazy. Unlike us. They are the depraved.
Then we sing “Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran”.
This act of terror was Monday.
On Wednesday, a minority of Senators filibustered all attempts to create safer gun laws. Laws that might prevent future tragedies.
On Thursday, Congress passed CISPA, an act whose purpose is to give immunity to corporations who break contracts with people so that they can hand over any information they gather online to the government. It doesn’t provide new power to prevent terror, but civil immunity to the corporation.
This isn’t politics as usual. This isn’t ideological gridlock. This is purposeful. This is what some people actually want.
It is times of tragedy, like these, that we must look inward, at our own hearts to see ourselves; to recognize our own evil, our own sadistic tendencies; our own wishes for torture upon another person’s soul in the name of “justice”; an obfuscation of our true desire for vengeance and murder.
That we turn, rather from our cultural priorities, to the instruction that we received long ago. That in telling those wandering Hebrews that they are to take an eye for an eye is to restrict retribution to the scale of the crime. It is our heart’s desire to escalate and fantasize the revenge on another, like Jacob’s sons, who murder all the people of the village for one man’s rape of Dinah.
Sometimes, I wonder if the scapegoat is of value. Whether the culture needs a demon to exorcise. Whether that might be the only way we can deal with the outrage.
Then I recognize that it is the only way we ever have.
We seek out the one who did it. The other. The evil one. The one that comes from somewhere else. We even blame our own actions on him. He is the one. He made me do it. I had no choice.
In the end, it is us. We are responsible. Because we are so afraid of the evil the others do, yet we refuse to even recognize the evil for which we are responsible.
Because this was true from the beginning.
When we look back at our foundational stories, we can see who we really are. Where we came from shows us where we’ve been and where we’re going.
We came from the puritans. They traveled halfway across the world to escape religious persecution. And when they got here, they persecuted others. And each other.
This new start in a new land was a new opportunity to be the abuser. That is why we do what we do.
There is a reason, we are called into baptism. Why we are invited into transformation. So that we may not be a people of murder and selfishness and fear. That we may be co-creators of the Kingdom.
A Kingdom expressed in love, mercy, and forgiveness.