1 John 4:19-5:4
We celebrated Christmas and welcomed a new year, yet we live in the shadow of violence and death. A gunman murders his mother, then shoots his way into a school and kills over 20 undeserving victims. Another man, acting for the thrill of it, kills his sister and sets a deadly ambush for the firefighters who would prevent him from burning down his entire neighborhood. These are but two of the more recent and shocking stories, yet the march of repeated incidents of inhumanity pierce our complacency and leave us achingly bewildered.
When I think of these events, my primary experience is one of vulnerability. I lust after safety and security. Is there a way to protect my loved ones and myself, or to stop these evil things from happening? Knowing that complete security and protection is impossible, my reaction (which I hear reflected all around me) is to throw up the barricades and adopt a mentality of exclusion, mistrust, insulation, and isolation.
This is an individualistic attitude based on fear. It says teachers must walk through our schools with guns strapped to their bodies. It dictates that our nations, cities, and neighborhoods be gated communities that keep out the "unwanted" or "unknown". It teaches us to hoard our money for fear of losing it or not having enough to live the way we choose. It prompts us to go to war to maintain the flow of natural resources coming to us, to exact revenge for any hurts or embarrassments dealt to us, and to grab as much power and control as possible.
The problem is that our fear-based individualistic strategies do not ultimately make us any less vulnerable. We may feel secure for a while, but the truth is we are not in control. Jesus never promised us an easy, secure, or seamless life; in fact, exactly the opposite. Perfect safety and certitude are illusions. Evil things happen. Power corrupts. Death is a guarantee. Markets collapse. Greed bites back. Natural disasters come crashing in. Our children get hurt. Our parents get sick or sink into dementia. Sooner or later, our house of cards topples.
There is a basic choice in this milieu: Do I live in fear, mistrust, and exclusion, or do I open myself to the love and solidarity that Jesus proclaimed? It is far riskier, and yes far more vulnerable, to love in the face of evil and death. I know that when I am vulnerable I will get hurt. I know that not everyone in the world is as good-hearted as I’d like. I know that when I dare to speak about living a Gospel life, especially in light of the calamities of our world, people may wish to throw me off a hill, declare me crazy, or run me out of town.
Yet I cannot profess to love the God I cannot see if I do not clearly and openly love God’s people whom I can see. I would rather be crucified for trusting, sharing, and loving too much than live a life shaped by fear, isolation, and exclusion. As disciples, we are called to proclaim liberty to captives and freedom for the oppressed. We are called to self-sacrificial love in imitation of the one who died to show the depth of God’s love.
Perhaps, then, less of our energy needs to go into self-preservation and more into self-emptying. Perhaps we need to loosen our grip on fear and strengthen our grip on compassion. Perhaps we need to uproot injustice and replace it with institutions and systems that work for the common good of all. Perhaps we need to concentrate on understanding and personally encountering the "unwanted" or "unknown" rather than excluding those who are unlike ourselves. Perhaps we can be prophets proclaiming a different path – a path of justice, mercy, non-violence, and the love of God.
After all, that is what the Christmas we just celebrated is ultimately all about.
Amy Florian is a teacher and consultant working in Chicago. For many years she has partnered with the Passionists. Visit Amy’s website: http://www.amyflorian.com/.