Thursday, August 23, 2012

Thoughts on Violence

The recent shootings in Colorado and Wisconsin have created again an appropriate conversation about guns and violence. When Rap Brown declared in 1967 that “Violence is as American as cherry pie.” some people were taken aback.  They ought not have been. Brown was/is right and only the context seems to change and that allows us to think we are seeing something unusual. The real issue is why can’t we find a way to deal with our willingness to wreak havoc on one another?

We process civil unrest differently than we do the actions of individuals and react to Arvada because we see our children in the deranged perpetrator and his victims.  At Janesville, we are afraid we see our own darker side striking out against the stranger.

The attacks on 9/11 were horrific. It was a relief to have someone to blame and to hit back at.  Few remembered that in Oklahoma City we had at first thought we knew who to strike and were chagrined to find the enemy lived among us and was in fact striking back at an act of violence  unleashed by our own government ignorant of the apocalyptic dimensions of the Branch Davidians.  Janesville seems unique in the US, but is it?
The constant is not that guns are too available, although they may be or that ammunition can be bought too easily.  The constant is that when we are angry we strike out at others  rather than take responsibility for our circumstances and make the effort to turn the other cheek. Sometimes that may be due to illness, but often it is due to other factors.

It would have been political suicide to not strike back after 9/11. It is not cool to be patient when everyone wants action. We all felt better when we went after the Taliban, but ten years later it is hard to find anyone who feels good about how the war has unfolded in Afghanistan. The momentary respite from grief has given way to the reality: How are we going to care for those damaged by the war?

There has been a lot of talk about identifying with the Sikhs in the aftermath of Janesville. I am sympathetic with that notion and applaud the picture of the governor of Wisconsin  head covered at a memorial service. The object himself of anger because of his political initiatives, Governor Walker knows something about being held accountable.

It may be that we are wiser when rather than focusing on guns or anger at strangers, we focus on creating communities where violence is never tolerated or rewarded.  Those seeking their fifteen minutes of fame need to know that we ignore them rather than putting their pictures on the front page of the paper. A ticket to oblivion may be the most appropriate response.

This is work our religious communities can do, but it will take focus and courage. When angered we all respond with clinched fists. Remember how hard it would have been to say in the aftermath of 9/11 that we would send aid to Afghanistan rather than missiles.  More than two thousand Americans have died there and it will be a long lifetime before we see the last of those who are the walking wounded. They are the cost of getting even with our enemies. Today anger is the emotion de jour. May there come a time when peace making has the same cachet.

Robert M. Randolph
Chaplain to the Institute