I just can’t take it anymore. I am soooo tired of this crap. And even those words fall short of the level of powerlessness alive in me. Millions of us who, like me, watch with horror, confusion, desperation and helplessness every time there is a mass shooting. This one in San Bernardino less than a week after the terror in Colorado Springs.
And did you know that earlier in day there was another shooting? A gunman in Savannah shot four people, killing a woman and injuring three men. Bet you didn’t hear about that one. I can’t even process any of this. How do we grieve? How shocked do we actually get anymore? Is this what we should expect as routine? As I have heard repeatedly in the last 24 hours, “this is the new normal for us in the U.S.” How disgusting.
The other night the BBC World News opened its broadcast about the massacre by announcing that it was “just another day in the United States of America: another day of gunfire, panic and fear.” It doesn’t even bother me that they said this because I know it’s true. The data about these types of shootings is mind-numbing. I vacillate between feeling numb, helpless, confused and apathetic. I have learned a few things about shootings of this nature during the last several days, and frankly they are things I didn’t really need to know. What can I say, it is f***ed up.
Did you know there is a website that tracks mass shootings? I didn’t until recently. The group that maintains the data is used by major news sources like CNN, NPR, The Washington Post, and others. The site is so busy that I received this error message when I tried to visit: “Error 508. Resource Limit Is Reached. This website is temporarily unable to service your request as it has exceeded it’s resource limit.” This means there are too many visitors and the server can’t handle the traffic. Also something I didn’t need to know.
Did you know that there is a definition for what constitutes a mass shooting or a mass murder? And if having specific definitions wasn’t bad enough, we have had to redefine the terms! There is an “old” definition and a “new” one because we have refined our capacity to kill, and because there have been so many shootings we have enough data to delineate different types of massacres!
- OLD: “Generally, mass murder was described as a number of murders or woundings (four or more) occurring during the same incident, with no distinctive time period between the murders.”
- NEW: “The general definition of spree murder is two or more murders committed by an offender or offenders, without a cooling-off period.”
Did you know there have been more shootings this year than days have passed? Did you know this is the deadliest mass shooting in the U.S. since Sandy Hook in 2012? This means we have degrees of deadly in our culture. I don’t think I needed to know this.
So where does this leave me? Well for starters don’t talk to me about guns, either pro or con. Don’t talk to me about prayers and thoughts being sent – like it or not, they aren’t enough. I don’t want to hear about the mental health issues the gunman may or may not have suffered with and the national health crisis. Don’t talk to me about how enough is enough, and then do nothing. I think we all agree that something has to be done. That’s fricking obvious, and if you can’t see that, then stop reading now.
But what’s to be done? I don’t have the faintest idea, hence my overwhelming sense of helplessness. These moments remind me of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s statement, “Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted.” Yup, that sounds like me – creatively maladjusted. I know I can’t do anything about the general state of affairs around mass shootings, gun control and domestic terrorism. So I ask myself again, what’s to be done – BY ME? My standard question: What do I need to do so that you know peace, freedom, safety, love and joy? How do I demonstrate being creatively maladjusted?
I recently attended the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Salt Lake City, and found myself challenged over and over again in how I think, how I speak and how I engage with world. In one workshop I listened to the speaker talk about ISIS and what WE can and should be doing about terrorism. WE means those of us in religious and spiritual communities. We can no longer hide behind the cloak of “it’s political and we don’t get involved.” That’s just bullshit. This has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with practicing what we believe.
I listened earnestly to these words, “International Humanitarian Law bans genocide, piracy, slavery, torture. IHL comprises a set of rules that seeks to protect persons and property that are/may be affected by war, and IHL limits the rights of those driving the armed conflicts.” I asked myself two questions based on the speaker’s comments: How often do I see genocide, piracy, slavery and torture going on in my own backyard? What role does religion play in educating and upholding International Humanitarian Law? The first question was easy to answer, and remains too easy to answer as evidenced by San Bernardino and the 354 other shootings this year alone.
The second question took me deeper. While my work as a minister may not be connected to International Humanitarian Law directly, it certainly does have everything to do with being human right here in my own backyard. It has everything to do with responding to events like San Bernardino, Sandy Hook, natural disasters, terminal illness, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and anything about the human condition that produces suffering and violence, as well as a culture of helplessness and apathy. I don’t get to have the luxury of just praying and sending good thoughts, or being silent.
Most every faith has a version of the Golden Rule, love your neighbor as yourself. But I have found over the years it is a little self-centered. To love my neighbor as myself means to do unto another as I would like to have done unto me. What if my neighbor doesn’t want to be treated the way I would like to be treated? What if my neighbor has needs very different from my own?
So next comes the Platinum Rule, which I have found much more compelling and transformative, as well as challenging too! It says, “Do unto others as they would like to have done unto them.” This requires a deeper connection on my part with another. It means I have to actually engage with my neighbor to discover what they need, desire, and yearn for. It means I have to care about their world, their life, their dreams, and work through our differences.
Then, I was struck deep in my by another thought – the next evolution of this edict. What if I love my neighbor as my faith? The thought caught my breath for a moment. As I sat with the idea, the implications seemed overwhelming. What did this really mean and what did it look like? Faith is a powerful, soul-level, driving force for all humanity and ironically it has little to do with religion, or even the content of your religion or spirituality.
Faith, I believe, is more about a particular way of relating to the universe, to the context of life, and creating meaning. So it doesn’t matter if you believe in any particular deity or creed. It simply means you believe in something of ultimate reality, and make meaning in your life though that lens. New challenge: to love my neighbor as my faith.
I took a deep breath, became still and directed my attention to loving my faith. In order to do this I needed to understand my faith. At its core, my faith is the center of the stream of life, the never-ending, unstoppable current. To act on my faith is to continually find my way to that center – REGARDLESS of the circumstances. So my faith is believing that the current is always there, carrying me home. This a powerful pull! It is seeking what is most pure and essential in life. And what does loving that feel and look like? I’m not sure there are words to describe it.
It has an edge of survival – like grasping at life for my last breath. That experience of being under water and fighting furiously to make it to the surface before my lungs burst! There is a single point of focus that urgently requires all of my attention, energy and strength if life is to continue. That is the power of seeking what is most essential, and in doing so, I become essential, you become essential. YOU are my breath. That is loving my neighbor as my faith.
If I want to know the depth of loving my faith, all I have to do is think about it being gone. My world stops, I lose my way, I am alone, afraid and adrift on that current that I no longer realize is even there. If that is my response at the thought of no faith, then loving my faith becomes a primal urge, a cosmic bloodstream breathing through me, lifting me, loving me, rejoicing in me, delighting in me and my place in this world. And what if we loved our neighbor like THAT? So don’t talk to me about prayers, intentions, gun control or whatever. Talk to me about loving your neighbor as your faith.