Making Gentle the Life of this World
by Joe Waters
We have once again been confronted by the barbarism of mass shootings. Two young men unloaded ammunition meant for battlefields from weapons banned in most of the world into public places in Texas and Ohio. 32 people were killed, dozens more injured, and many families left heartbroken or destroyed.
It is comforting in these moments to channel our rage into calls for political action: more gun control, more mental health care, more police or security guards with military-grade weapons colonizing the places where we eat, shop, worship, and go to school. We rightly condemn white supremacy and political rhetoric that seems to permit violence and walks right up to the line of inciting it. And, yet, I suspect our political action will not quell the hatred of those who take up weapons against their neighbors, comfort the afflicted and grieving, keep company with the lonely, or calm our rage at such senseless violence.
Less than 24 hours after these shootings the social media-fueled culture wars were revived. Name-calling resumed. The President told a former Congressman to be quiet. He did not call for a day of fasting, humiliation, and prayer. Mourning turned not into dancing, but into politics. The afflicted were not comforted. We confronted evil not with weapons of the spirit, but with 280 measly characters.
Confronted with another evil act, Robert F. Kennedy said:
What we need in the United States is not division; what we need in the United States is not hatred; what we need in the United States is not violence or lawlessness; but love and wisdom, and compassion toward one another, and a feeling of justice toward those who still suffer within our country, whether they be white or they be black…. Let us dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and make gentle the life of this world.
Love, wisdom, compassion, justice. These are words that have been excised from our national lexicon. These are words that express ideals for which we no longer reach.
What then are we to do when confronted with such evil when the spiritual and moral resources to resist such evil are so lacking?
First, let’s recognize our solidarity-- our shared human condition in all its vulnerability and brokenness-- with everyone. The victims -- and the shooters -- are our brothers and sisters. Something has gone terribly wrong in this country when I cannot see that something done to my fellow citizens, my fellow human being is done to me. Something has gone terribly wrong when we cannot mourn whatever trauma or tragedy that led two shooters to those horrible moments of destruction. Let’s hope that in the days and weeks ahead our hearts can be open to fraternity that is the basis of peace.
Secondly, we should recover the deep, powerful spiritual traditions of our country and of our people that demand the practice of peace. From my own Christian tradition, the Bruderhof, the Amish, the Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Catholic Worker, L’Arche, and others all have something to offer me and even those who don’t share my Catholic Christian faith. Parallel traditions in other faiths can teach me how to make peace with myself, how to quell the anger and hatred that have settled in my soul, and model the discipline required to resist evil with the seriousness of a runner training for a marathon.
Thirdly, we must create oases of peace. Places where people can heal and new traumas do not reach. Places of quiet discipline and disciplined training where we can learn to constructively confront the violence, the fear, the loneliness, the fragmentation that gives shape to modern life in America. And, we must not wait for churches, synagogues, other faith communities, or the government to create these oases for us. We must start now -- today -- in our homes, in our businesses, and in the places where we shop, exercise, and go about our daily rounds.
All of this is not a recommendation that we stop working for systemic change. These suggestions are not meant to let our political class off the hook. None of this should be construed as a call to stop being angry. These are suggestions for how we might turn our feelings of powerlessness into power. Our despair into hope. Our anger into a constructive peace. Wherever we are, whatever our job or capacities, let’s make gentle the life of our world.