April 16, 2013

Another way pt. 3

As I was getting caught up on the news this morning, I was reflecting on a conversation I recently had with a clergy friend concerning the church and mentally ill persons. We both shared from our experiences of working in churches that due to their ministry to the poor often brought about relationships with folks whose addictions were out of control and or their mental, emotional brokenness laid bare. It could be exhausting at times. There seemed to be no clear equation for what might bring about a violent episode. Therefore, it was easy to feel unable to control the situation. But here's the thing: people don't desire to be controlled, they desire to be loved.

This truth was demonstrated in the story I shared recently about Mennonites. And it was something I learned from an artist friend who used to be the director of a church-based homeless ministry. I watched him treat the most mentally unhinged homeless person with the same dignity as a successful career doctor or attorney. This changed outcomes, I believe. It soothed souls when they were listened to–really heard, their humanity intact, and shown affection, care, love.

This didn't extinguish violence altogether. The clergy friend and I who were recently speaking came to the end of our conversation cognizant that it seems violence will always be around, crouching in the shadows.

Indeed, what happened in Boston yesterday is evidence of this. But the knee-jerk reaction of some to condemn whole groups of people, perpetuating the isolation and dehumanization of whole groups is not the right response. Whether we are speaking of whole groups or individuals it seems proven that this never diminishes violence. And for those of us that are Christians, it goes starkly against the grain of Scripture and the Gospels in particular.

Not only does the demonization of "the other" go against our biblical mandate to love our enemy but it is a response based in fear. More than anything, it seems to me that we need to be people of hope right now, not fear. Especially people of faith. We ought to be those that hope for another way, another kind of world–what we Christians call the rule and reign of God, Shalom complete.

The Gospels capture a particular narrative that might guide our living. It is one in which "the other" is embraced. Indeed, God becomes one of "the other" through Jesus. In so doing, he absorbs the violence and death inflicted by our fear and brokenness. Yet, ultimately, violence and death are conquered. The perpetrators of violence and death, reconciled. Followers of this Jesus were encouraged to hold fast to hope and live as if this way was reasonable. Embrace the other. Live as if violence were not necessary. Respond to violence when it happens with yet hope, again, for another way.

I pray we have the courage to do so.

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