We are a violent people.
We built our nation on a foundation of the genocidal slaughter of one race of people and the brutal enslavement of another. The legacy lived on in generations of the lynch law, bullying, hazing, and ridicule, and a near-religious passion for objects that kill. We callously ravage the earth for its resources, which we treat like our own personal treasures.
We treat one another with profound disrespect. We fail to see the humanity of others. We close our eyes to the dynamics of power that suffuse our daily existence. And so we witness yet another wrenching tragedy.
And yet –
We are also people of profound courage. I read this morning of the stunning instinctive bravery of Chris Mintz, a military veteran who charged directly toward the shooter in Oregon yesterday in a tragically unsuccessful effort to subdue him and save others. Beyond physical courage, resilience and tenacity and strength of the soul are genuinely commonplace in our culture.
We are also a generous people. We want to care. We want to give. We want to help. We don’t always do so in the most skillful way – good intentions are not enough and something is not always better than nothing. But the heart is there. We may put boundaries around how far that can reach, but the heart is there. I believe we can open up those boundaries around it to embrace the full humanity of one another.
I believe in gun control and I share that belief with many of my friends. I also have friends who ardently oppose gun control. Every one of them is a decent and interesting human whom I am proud to call a friend.
In this situation, if we make this an argument about gun control – or only about gun control – we’re not going to get very far. Aside from the fact that there are enough weapons in circulation now to supply the apocalypse (seriously), this is an issue that deeply divides us. The very mention of it closes off space for conversation about the root causes of the problem. The root cause of the problem is the embedded violence of our culture. We may even be able to dig deeper than that, but turning our gaze on the violence of our history and of our everyday existence is a good start.
Yes, guns are an efficient mechanism for destruction. If the shooter in Roseburg had been armed with a spoon, the day would have turned out differently. The precious lives of 10 (or more) people might not have been taken. But we must look deeper and we must do it together. If we want to avoid more mass killings – and I think we all do – we are going to have to look beyond the question of guns and into the very substance of our individual and collective souls.
We need repentance and we need reconciliation. We need to face up to the unbelievable violence we have wrought in the past, especially on Native peoples and black people, but also on other people of color, on women, on the disabled, on low-income people of all races, on LGBTQIA people, on people who live beyond our borders, and on the body of the earth. We must actively create better ways to avoid it in the future. This is the world we’ve created for ourselves. It has been done and it can be undone. The key is for us to face it and then to find ways to work together in the undoing of it. That does not mean that we have to agree. That does not mean that we all have to be the same. Our differences are the source of our richness. But we must be accountable and we must be willing to hear.
In that process, we have to be explicitly mindful of power relationships. We must also be mindful of the pain of others – especially when we have caused it and even if that wasn’t our intent. We must stare into the face of our deep cultural alienation and our rendering of so many people as disposable.
In many ways, we are a smart people. Our achievements are impressive. Yet our failure to heal – or even attend to – our deepest wounds points to a deep problem with priorities. We can fix that if we do so together.
I don’t know what the future holds. But I do know what sort of future I want to work toward – and to bring that world into being, we must focus on the deepest and most tender parts of our being. It is not safe work, but the world is not safe. We need each other.
May it be so.