A Call to the Nation: Voices Without Violence
Building Pathways to Peace
June 19, 2016
Matthew 5:3-9, Matthew 7:1-4
I awoke last Sunday morning to the same news you did. Twenty dead in a night club shooting. We drove to Jacksonville to the congregate care retirement center where my in-laws live to take my 90 year old father-in-law out for an early Father's Day lunch. In the span of an hour's drive 20 dead had become 50.
I've known my father-in-law about half of those 90 years. We've had a strange and unusual relationship. He's strange and I'm unusual. For those of you who remember Archie Bunker, when I was first dating his youngest daughter I affectionately called him Archie and he called me Meathead. One of the National News programs was on and the sound turned up loud enough to drown out the roar of engines at the dropping of the green flag at the Coke Zero 400. Bob doesn't hear very well. The station broke to the President's press conference and then it was back to the studio where the moderator interviewed three published Obama haters. Adding intellect to the equation is an effort to validate the hate. Their collective bile made me question whether or not we had heard the same press conference. Bob added to the commentary: "Anyone with an Arabic sounding name under the age of 30 should be deported." What he didn't see or hear was how his words broke his daughter's heart.
Unrelated, but maybe not, we stopped on the way home in Palm Coast at the Home Depot. We were leaving the parking lot when the automobile directly across from me signaled for a left turn. I was going straight. He was driving a huge Ford Expedition and with the way he was driving he turned it into a Bully-mobile. I was driving our humble Hyundai. In the Darwinian jungle the big fish eat the little fish and on the highway the big vehicles eat the little vehicles. We had the right-of-way which did not seem to register in his consciousness. I wish you could have seen the rage on this man's face as he thrust the middle finger of his left hand with such hatred you would have thought I must have desecrated his mother's grave. If he would have had a Bushmaster AR-15, I and everyone else in that parking lot would have been dead. He was a lone wolf terrorist in search of a cause or a reason to kill.
We live in a world with pandemic levels of anger, anxiety, rage, and hatred that are free-floating, viral, and cancerous parasites, in search of a host. At times it attaches to a theory, theology, philosophy, or ideology that will in turn infect a group, clan, tribe, or even a nation. All of these parasites will eventually kill the host and then search for another to infest.
The food that feeds this beast is oppositional energy. We will continue to live in the ongoing battleground of oppositional energy at least until the second Tuesday in November. Oppositional energy is fueled by opposing another. Oppositional energy must create enemies in order for it to work. Once it flares, there is no longer conversation but rather consternation: Right-wrong, good-bad, smart-stupid, winner-loser, and when it de-evolves down into the pit it becomes love-hate. Hate and intolerance are the signature DNA markers of this beast.
We are right now on the global stage of an international crisis in our own back yard. In the last six months, San Bernardino, Paris, Brussels, and now Orlando has been added to the list. Since 9-11, every act of domestic terror has been committed by an American Citizen. Omar Mateen was born in Queens, N.Y. as was Donald Trump. As a footnote to this horror story, a Nebraska family in town for their dream vacation eye witnessed their toddler’s tragic death which quickly turned the Magic Kingdom into the Tragic Kingdom. No amount of manufactured happiness can be bought with a ticket to an Orlando theme park can Mickey, Minnie, or Harry Potter our way through this. We have all been numbed and are covered in a shroud of pain.
We are by nature meaning-making creatures who seek to make sense out of experience. How do we make sense out of all of this? What did the victims experience? What were their last thoughts before they died? Did they suffer? What about the first responders? What was it like when they entered the carnage and in the eerie silence of this massacre and heard cell phones ringing from the bodies of the dead while on the other end were anxious family and friends calling to find out if love ones were ok? No, they weren’t. Now we are in the cycle of coverage for all of the funerals. How will they adjust? How do we recover? Who is Omar? Was he a homophobe and a homosexual who hid behind an ISIS mask? Did his Momma not change his diapers? Did his Daddy tell him he'd never amount to anything? Why didn't the FBI stop him? Mateen had been investigated twice before. An Orlando gun shop owner reported he had tried to buy body armor and 1000 rounds of ammunition. Who dropped the ball? Whose fault is this? There has to be somebody to blame?
Blame is at the bottom line. It is even in the bottom line of the story that attempts to explain all of this mess we are in. The 1st Testament talks about this as the fall. It is the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. According to my theory, there must have been a group of rabbi's that sat around on a Thursday night At Stavro's drinking beer and eating pizza and they are asking the questions about human suffering and how to make sense out of it. Why is there so much pain and suffering? Who is to blame? Do you see their fundamental dilemma? It had to be either God's fault or our fault and it couldn't have been God's fault, because after all, it's God we are talking about! They came up with this story. Once upon a time in a land far away we lived in paradise. We had it made. We were on easy street. There was only one rule. "Don't eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and of evil." The unconscious mind doesn’t understand negation. When my son was little I’d tell him, “Don’t stick the green beans up your nose.” What did he do? He stuck the green beans up his nose."OOPS!" The blame then follows a chain of command. "The woman you gave to me told me to eat it." "It's her fault." She says, "The snake told me to do it." It's the snake's fault. So God came in, kicked butt, took names, and it's been hell every since."
I've never really been comfortable with corporate punishment that we all suffer because they screwed up. I learned this in Mrs. Houser's 4th grade in class at Hogan Spring Glen Elementary School in Jacksonville, Florida, where I grew up. Diana Faulk reported to Mrs. Houser one day that someone had stolen her lunch money. Mrs. Houser announced, "If whoever took Diana's lunch money doesn't come forward and turn in her lunch money, no one will go to lunch today. Nobody came forward. We didn't go to lunch. The next day Diana announced to the class that no one had stolen her lunch money because her Daddy had forgotten to put it in her purse." Diana almost didn't make it through recess that day.
We don't have to go back to pre-history in search for an answer to this question. During the 20th century we have to own that we belong to the only species that murdered 100 million of our own species. We are all in some way a part of this global dysfunctional family.
I can’t tell you how many times over the course of the last 20 years parents have dropped off their teenagers in my office wanting me to fix them just to stick them back in the same family that made them sick in the first place. The psychobabble term for this is “the identified symptom bearer.” It is ironic if you think about it. We come out of that maze and come here to try to step into amazement. After the benediction you have to go back out into that world that made you sick in the first place. Transformation is safe and easy in here. Where we have to make it stick is out there.
A young man, in his late teens, came to my office and told his story. He came looking for direction, not in terms of, “do you know the way to San Jose?” but rather, “What happens after the party is over? What am I supposed to do with my life?” “Why am I carrying around so much pain?” He told me he was going to quit playing video games. “All I’ve been doing is killing things on the computer for hours: this can’t be right.” The same Darwinian emotions getting stirred up: kill or be killed. He went on to say he doesn’t watch the news anymore because there is so much bad news. He turned off the television during the ongoing coverage of the Pulse massacre so that his grandmother would not sit mindlessly watching the carnage and absorb it. It was an attempt to protect her and him from the pain.
Pain is the theme in this story and what we do with it. It has a way of awakening us to deeper truths about our family, our world, and ourselves if we can learn to stay with our pain. The young man had gotten into some trouble and he was awakening to issues of faith. His story was similar to my own. I could see myself in him when I was at his age and stage of life. The empathy bridge had already been built.
Our stories were similar, yet different. His parents had divorced after a lengthy marriage, primarily, I had gathered, because of their difficulty of ongoing unresolved conflict and the inability to process toxic emotions. You know the ones I’m talking about. They are hate, rage, disgust, and shame/humiliation. The same stuff I heard spewing from the mouths of the three experts on the news channel. The same face I saw in the parking lot of the Home Depot. The pandemic levels of anger, anxiety, and rage are free-floating, viral, and cancerous parasites, looking for a host to attach, dominate, and control. Has it infected you?
Since the beginning of time we’ve tried to figure out what to do with these emotions. These were, incidentally, the four emotions that put Jesus on the cross. We’ve sacrificed people, sacrificed animals, symbolically spit on goats and run them over cliffs. We project these emotions onto other people, other nations, other races, and conveniently deny our own shadows. When these emotions are trapped in a family system often the child becomes the identified carrier of the toxins and looks for ways to escape the pain. Someone ends up as a family kidney, attempting to purify the poison.
“My folks, they love me, they are good people, but sometimes my Dad just goes off on me. He always comes back later and apologizes, I don’t really think he means it, but he keeps doing it over again.” Earlier in the week his Dad had awakened him and raged about a minor item, over-reacting to a trivial incident. He had left a few things in his car: a gym bag, empty soda bottle, etc. “He really has a thing about keeping cars clean. I just stood there and took it. That’s what I have to do.” After he had been the lightning rod for his father’s rage and rectified the situation with the car, he went back to the bathroom and noticed his Dad had left a mess in the sink with shaving materials, combs, brushes, etc. Seems like whoever said, “before you remove the spec from your (son’s) eye, remove the 2” by 4” from your own,” makes a lot of sense.
If we project our pain, like this father did to his son, what we do is project rage, hate, disgust, and shame on to and into others. Without owning our own pain, we simply create more of it. When we scream at each other we temporarily release these intense feelings, and if we haven’t dealt with them, they will begin to build again until there is another crescendo in a week or two. It will happen again. When we use the verbal club and we are screaming at the top of our lungs, we communicate these four words: “I don’t love you!” You can’t be loving me and yelling at me at the same time!
The toxicity is contagious and poisons the minds of groups, tribes, clans, or nations and become embedded in the DNA for generations, as it has in the Middle East. No one is exempt from the collective human dysfunction. Not them. Not us. Think back to the prison pictures from Abu Ghraib and you will have a clear snapshot in your mind of what hate, rage, disgust, and shame looks like. No one is exempt from the collective human dysfunction. We are all infected with the same disease.
We will either transmit our pain or it will transform us. If we are a Christian, a Muslim, or a Jew, in whatever shape, in whatever expression, in whatever culture, in whatever form, authentic faith is not about the finger, but it is the finger pointing to the moon. Authentic faith forces us to face our shadows and to deal with our pain: not to project it on to others. Authentic faith, in whatever form, is about a heart transplant. Life in the global village means the entire cosmos is sacred space. We alone make sacred space profane. Friday was the one year anniversary of the nine who were massacred at the Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, S.C. If we wouldn’t dream of being violent at church, synagogue, or mosque, why would we think it would be ok to be that way at home, school, work, or the roadways? Every space is sacred and even more so when we discover the sacred space, both without and within. Legendary golfer Bobby Jones once was quoted as saying, “The narrowest fairway we’ll ever hit is the five inches between our ears.” Why? It is sacred space.
How do we stop the madness? By seeing it for what it really is: It is insanity. It is our collective and individual dysfunction. Individually, we choose to decide whether to participate in the collective madness or not. Eckhart Tolle has written, “What would you do if you held a hot coal in your hand? You would drop it!” We must find ways to stop it and drop it!
The teaching of Jesus is so simple. It is easier to see what you don’t like about others than to see what you don’t like about you. Stop focusing on “those people.” Turn the spotlight on you. Stop focusing on the imperfections of others. Focus on your own. Stop trying to fix them. You can’t fix them. You can only fix you!
Today I’d like to issue a challenge to all Dads. We are called to a higher consciousness: not to participate in the pandemic of anger, anxiety, rage, and hatred. Let us pledge to be peacemakers! Habitat for Humanity seeks to eliminate homelessness one house at a time. Let us pledge to eliminate violence one hearth, one hope, and one heart at a time. We can no longer allow another human being to emotionally cannibalize another child or another human being. Let us put an end to verbal violence and all other forms of violence. Bullies become bullies because someone taught them how. Are you bullying your children? If it’s not working, get help. Look within! Take a parenting class. Find healthy ways to de-escalate, detach, and de-stress. Take a yoga class, jog, or find your way to a gym. Make yourself accountable to others and pledge yourself to the pathways of peace. Build bridges of empathy. Cast the vision! Be purposeful! Lead the way! Communicate! Make your home a safe place. Target your home for transformation where love, peace, discipline, and nurture raise up children with confidence. Turn to a more excellent way, to real family values: Faith, hope, and love last forever, but the greatest of these, is love! Hate is not the opposite of love, for true love has no opposite, and creates no opposition. Make it real! Make it stick! Make it happen! Build pathways to peace. Make your voice a voice without violence!