Our Response to Violence
Cain & Abel are the first children born from Adam & Eve. Cain, the oldest, grows up to work the fields and till the ground - Abel is the keeper of the livestock- the sheep.
Anyone who grows up with siblings knows there can often be tension in that relationship. We bicker, we argue, we can be competitive, we fight.
I remember the very first and last time I boxed. I was about 10 years old at my Grandparents house and my cousins were egging me on to fight with one of my older siblings. Well, I did…and after one punch she beat me! My sister gave me a bloody lip. Our Grammy came running in the room to see the commotion and I was the one she yelled at. As you see, I don’t harbor any bad feelings almost 40 years later…
In the case of the siblings in Genesis, Cain feels slighted, marginalized, no access to the privilege Abel receives because God thinks higher of his sacrifice. Now that’s a pretty big dis…you might have your company pass you up for a promotion or get overlooked for a school award…but this is GOD saying…”you know your brother really did better at this sacrifice thing...I appreciated his lamb sacrifice a lot more than fruits and grain on the altar…Cain feels angry, frustrated, maybe hopeless- He gets mad- he is SO Angry…and in a moment of hot-headed rage, he kills his brother.
So, from the earliest chapters in the Bible we have violence and murder as a part of our story. At this point in the book of Genesis, there were only FOUR HUMAN BEINGS on the earth, and still we could not manage to get along without murder being a part of the story. So since it’s always been there since the beginning should we resign ourselves to a way of life of violence?
I got my hair cut yesterday at the same barber I have for about twenty years. I met my barber Lee when he was about 19 cutting hair at Roger’s shop in Plainfield. Now Lee has a shop of his own over on Plainfield’s west side, near the corner of Front St. and Clinton. As I sat in the barber’s chair we began to talk about life. He said ‘Well, you heard about the terrible news I guess.’ I asked ‘What news?’ He told me about a shooting that occurred on Friday afternoon up the street. A 24 year old man was killed, and a 6yr old girl was shot in the leg and survived. Lee said ‘we shake our heads and say it’s terrible and then go on about our business almost as if this has become routine.’ It’s a frightening development in our common lives if we have become numb to tragic violence like this. Our calling as a faith based community is to not turn away, not to act like this is routine- we have an obligation to not succumb to fatalism... We do have a choice in how we respond to violence we see in one ourselves and in our society.
We need to confront the violence that is harbored in the homes in which we live.
Domestic violence is not an argument or disagreement. [according to the clark county prosecutor’s page] It is a whole pattern of behaviors used by one partner to establish and maintain power and control over the other or the children. The use of coercion, threats, isolation, economic abuse- (which is not allowing any control over finances) or sexual or physical abuse is used.
Domestic violence is an issue that touches us all but remains largely hidden because of fear, shame, and guilt. Advocating for victims of domestic abuse and calling perpetrators to accountability and get help is a part of our call as a community of faith. There is a ritual in Christian churches around baptism that asks the question of those getting baptized or sponsoring the baptism- Before the water is applied, the minister asks us ‘Do you Reject the forces of wickedness and evil?’ I see that crucial question asking us Will we do our part in naming and dismantling the cycles of violence that perpetuate themselves in our homes, on our streets, and in our world?
The Black Lives Matter campaign didn’t appear out of thin air – it is born out of the tragic racism of our history - and the more recent deaths of black people. Some of you might have heard the names:
This list of people (this is not exhaustive but the ones I could find) have the following tragic things in common: between April 2014 and April 2015, they were unarmed people of color shot & killed by law enforcement or while in custody of police. In these cases the police were not only white, but black or other ethnicities. This is my question: can we withhold Use of Deadly force in situations where people are unarmed? One friend said to me “Black Lives Matter because All Lives Matter”. This is a huge problem that threatens to overwhelm us- what can we do? How can we have an impact?
We need to begin by looking at ourselves- and dismantling the stereotypes and quell the fear we have at people who might look differently from us , who may appear not to have anything in common with us, and we start to talk with one another. It is very encouraging to see the dialogues around race hosted by the interfaith community here in Summit. STAR- Summit Teens against Racism is another powerful example of this very idea, that we can come together across racial lines to understand each other and underscore our shared need for basic human rights and dignity. I mentioned my barber and friend Lee from plainfield- he talks to young men on the street who don’t really have a home to go to and tells them there is a way out of the dead end path of quitting school and pushing & dealing drugs. He knows, because as a young man he was out on those streets. Lee has founded a boxing academy where he gives young boys and girls a place to go and realize their self worth- that they are somebody. But he struggles because he sees so many young people who don’t seem to have hope. Have lost a sense of hope…and some turn to violence
I cannot speak about the havoc violence is wreaking on our society without mentioning the disturbing and frightening proliferation of guns in our nation.
According to Gun Violence Archive there were 12,567 deaths from guns in this country in 2014. And almost double that number of people injured- 23,021.
There are 897,000 guns assigned to law enforcement in this country. Does anyone have an idea how many other guns are out there? 1 million, 10 million, 100 million? Somewhere around TWO HUNDRED AND SEVENTY MILLION. 270 million. This is madness. The man in his 20s that was killed and the 6 yr old who was wounded were shot by a machine gun- an UZI…
It’s difficult for me to think of our country as civilized when we cannot keep semi-assault weapons banned and off the streets. Can faith communities across the nation…can our community come together to resist the powerful and well-financed gun lobby and live to see a law in our land (again) that would ban these kind of weapons? We owe it to our children to try.
How do we not become cynical and bitter? How do we resist choosing sides and laying blame at the feet of those we disagree with? How do we not decide to just arm ourselves and meet out violence with violence and retribution?
Before we do that let’s revisit the end of the story of Cain and Abel- Cain has killed his brother Abel and Cain is afraid that God will cast him out and he will die. But God does NOT take his life…in fact God protects his life and will not give the punishment of death for death.
‘Hatred cannot drive out hate….only love can do that’ those are the words of Martin Luther King- believing that non-violent civil disobedience in the face of intimidation and terrorism was the key to transforming an unjust society. Where did he find the will to resist violence?
Where did the Amish community of Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania find the strength to forgive the attacker, who in 2006 killed five school children and injured 5 others? In fact the community reached out in love and concern to the family of the killer.
Where did the congregation of Emmanuel African Methodist Episcopal church find the courage and the will to say ‘we forgive you’ to the man who shot dead 9 people at a Bible Study in the Sanctuary?
That power and strength and courage comes from a deep spiritual reservoir.
Earlier you heard in the good news of Matthew when Jesus turned the saying upside down of love your neighbor/hate your enemies and said Love Your Enemies- pray for those who persecute you. Jesus is asking us, in essence, to Break the cycle of Violence. That is not an easy saying- in fact, in certain tragic horrific circumstances it might be too hard for us to bear as individuals. But I’m convinced we are not called to anything this challenging, this difficult, by ourselves. These are only things we can achieve together as a community of faith…
Together we Cultivate values like Respect- respecting and honoring our wonderful differences, our diversity of age race, gender orientation, abilities, and talents and gifts…Together we discover the truth that each one of us is a child of God, of sacred worth- everyone here, called Beloved. Together we nurture Values of Forgiveness and Reconciliation…that doesn’t mean we don’t fight and bicker, like family, that we don’t argue and disagree… but that we find away to not let anger get the best of us- to resolve conflict without resorting to violence. Together we immerse ourselves in these values - right here in this church - we rehearse them through our Sunday school and preaching- through study and dialogues, through readings and poetry and prayer and music- we become a place, with all our human failings that tries to mirror the love that Jesus shows through his teaching, his living, his dying and his resurrection which offers us the truth that Love (love that bears all things, the believes all things, endures all things) is, in the end, more powerful than death. May you and I be vessels of this life-giving- death defying love. And together, like vessels, may we be freely poured out to a world this is thirsty for justice, for hope and for peace.
For the Love of God, may it be so. Amen
We are called to stand up to use our time, our talents, our gifts (our money)
Person on person violence. Effects of Racism and poverty a pervading sense of hopelessness leads people down wrong paths
But it is not just guns- we in the church have the responsibility of instilling the values and creating the community that keeps us connected.
Somehow we have to not return evil for evil. This is what Jesus is teaching us.
Something very powerful about a people, a community that answers violence and murder with forgiveness and love. But it not just what we reject that will give us the power to help shape community towards the good. It is the active intervention of people that will