Tuesday, November 7, 2017

as the killing continues...

On Sunday during worship, yet another broken and bewildered white man went on a killing rampage. Like so many other wounded men in these semi-United States of America, he went berserk: how many more isolated, fragile white men with access to weapons and turn to mass murder to assert a sense of dominance in the world will it take before we wake up? It is no secret that male impotence – social or sexual – regularly explodes as violence against the vulnerable. Every day this rage is inflicted upon women, children and animals. Other times, male fear and anger turns inward and finds release through a bottle or needle. Why is it that some white men give shape and form to their powerlessness through the senseless slaughter of innocents in public?

There are multiple factors to consider: ineffective gun control of automatic weapons, the national myth of cathartic violence, inadequate mental health resources, the loss of healing rites of passage for men, economic instability, the legacy of domestic violence, virulent sexism and racism as well as the collapse of a shared commitment to the common good. This catalogue is not exhaustive, merely illustrative. So let me call attention to one other piece of this puzzle: the absence of a redemptive spirituality. Jung noted that when people forsake or abandon healing practices of heart and soul, pathological ones pop up to fill the void. Learning to live as a part of the sacred rhythm of life – the dance of light and dark, hope and anxiety, joy and sorrow, life and death – has been replaced with the idolatrous logic of the market place. In Let your Life Speak, Parker Palmer wrote: “The master metaphor of our era comes from manufactur-ing not agriculture or the seasons. As a result, we believe that we make our lives rather than grow them. Just listen to how we use the word in everyday speech: we make time, make friends, make meaning, make money, make a living and even make love.”

What we are seeing and experiencing in our epidemic of murderous white male violence is what happens when the emptiness of the market place takes up permanent residence in our soul. It fails to deliver. It is a false god. A sacramental reading of God’s first word in nature teaches that the created order ebbs and flows with balance. There are always times of abundance as well as scarcity, feasting and fasting, day and night, summer and winter, flood and drought. But as St. Paul wrote in Romans 1:


Ever since the creation of the world his eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things he has made. So they are without excuse; for though they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their senseless minds were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools; and they exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling a mortal human being or birds or four-footed animals or reptiles. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts

God’s wrath in this context suggests the absence of God’s loving rhythm in our lives. It is as if a loving parent steps back from engaging with a beloved child for a season and says: “Do you really want to do these things? I’ve tried everything else to help you make better choices, but you seem hell-bent on doing it your way. So let me get out of you way; maybe if you experience the anguish of your selfishness, pride and fear – maybe if you “hit bottom” – you’ll want to return to my loving care?” Like the father in the Christian parable of the Prodigal Son, God’s grace stands waiting even when we become bestial. God is not the cause – nor is the Holy One rendering punishment – rather the Holy is evoking space for us to experience the consequences of our actions.

In America’s escalating encounter with mass murder, I see God’s wrath – God’s absence – as we hit bottom. Las Vegas, Sandy Hook, Sutherland Springs, Texas is what hitting bottom looks like: we are turning our inner anguish into outward rage and making others pay for our own bleak despair. I believe the American imagination has become so addicted to the bottom line brutality of the market place that we routinely confuse control with value. Our hearts have atrophied through selfish indulgence. Our collective psyche has been so trained to trust that meaning is created only by self-directed activity, that when we bump into the inevitable emptiness of the rhythm of creation we no longer know what to do except lash out in our pathological scramble for control. Like Malcolm X quipped after the assassination of John F. Kennedy: “The chickens are coming home to roost.” It was cold and insensitive – and true. Spiritual direction teaches us not to put whipped cream on bull shit. I will let Parker Palmer have the last word:

From an early age we absorb our culture’s arrogant conviction that we can manufacture everything, reducing the world to mere ‘raw material’ that lacks all value until we impose our designs upon it. What would it be like, however, to accept the notion that our lives are dependent upon an inexorable cycle of seasons, on a play of powers that we can conspire with but never fully control? That would be a truly counter-cultural challenge… that takes on our egos and institutions that desperately want to believe that we are always in charge.

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