Some of the best time of reflection and discussion for me happen on Sunday mornings as I walk around Tallahassee's Lake Ella with my partner. Satisfied with having had a good cup of coffee in the form of a mocha, we stroll along, in conversation. As you might expect, today's topic was the shooting in Connecticut, and all the violence that has occurred in recent days.
We kicked around the issue of gun control. I am adamant that we need to end the easy access to assault weapons. She says this is not the answer. So we touched on the mental health care issue and the need to fund services and not wait until the mentally ill "do something," which then often results in the ill person going to prison where they may, or may not, get help. But mental health care reform is a tricky issue given that "mental illness" takes in a broad range of things, and it would be expensive. So, what then?
She says we have to look at the root cause of what's happening. We are a nation that is very afraid. And fear is driving a lot of the craziness that is out there.
She has a point. The reason so many seem to feel the need to own a gun comes down to fear. We are scared because we are single women who don't feel safe in our homes. We are scared because we've seen our finances shrinking. We are frightened by what we see on the news. We need to have a gun because if we don't have a gun, the criminals will have a gun.
We are afraid of gays getting married. We are afraid of immigrants without papers getting jobs. We are afraid that anyone else might get access to affordable health care.
As NH Bishop Gene Robinson notes, "The opposite of Love is not hate; it's fear." And Fear seems to be spreading.
Here enters the recessional hymn from this morning's service:
Rejoice! rejoice, believers, and let your lights appear!
The evening is advancing, and darker night is near.
The Bridegroom is arising, and soon he will draw nigh;
up, watch in expectation! at midnight comes the cry.
In the face of fear, the answer is not to respond with more fear, but to act out of Love. During times such as these, Love seems to be a scarcisty in the world. But that is the very thing that needs to be growing in us if we are going to overcome the violence in our world. And it is from this place of Love that we need to act in order to change our world.
When we say we own a gun because we are afraid of (fill in the blank of any number of scary things), where is that fear coming from? Some will say it is from the endless stream of violent TV shows. I hate "CSI:Name-of-City," and really can't stand "Criminal Minds". The premise of many of these shows is a horrible, torturous crime against white women or children that now must be solved by a team of forensic experts. But are TV dramas to blame for our heightened fear? Perhaps.
Or, after the violent TV show, we stay tuned to the local news, where guns are used to settle disputes at gas stations over the loudness of the music that the teenagers are playing in their car. The shooter will say, "I was standing my ground. I thought they had a weapon." But there is no other weapon; just the one he had concealed, legally, in his car and then he used in a fit of fear of black teenagers with their loud music. Are reporters not to tell us when this sort of thing happens? No, we don't want that. Then we'd be afraid of censorship.
So where is this fear coming from? Loss of control? Certainly, there are a lot of things that feel like they are beyond our control. I think that's what a lot of people are feeling in the wake of this shooting in Connecticut, and the one in the mall in Oregon, or even the one in the Birmingham hospital last night. It's what we felt when two airplanes crashed into the World Trade Center, and another slammed into the Pentagon, while a fourth went down in a field in Pennsylvania. We don't expect first graders to get gunned down in small New England towns, or that airplanes will get highjacked and used as weapons of mass destruction. And the shocking and unexpeceted leave us feeling out-of-control.
I don't know that there is anything the President, the Congress or the local city council can do to make us not be afraid. Gun control, mental health funding restoration: yes, they can do something there. And perhaps this will address some of the anxiety level.
Scripture tells us repeatedly that we are not to be afraid, and yet we always seem to fall into fear. And I am reminded of the words based on Psalm 42 that were in our sequence hymn:
Comfort, comfort ye my people,
speak ye peace, thus saith our God;
comfort those who sit in darkness
mourning 'neath their sorrows' load.
Speak ye to Jerusalem
of the peace that waits for them;
tell her that her sins I cover,
and her warfare now is over.
Even now, as things appear so bleak and dark, we who are awaiting the arrival of Christ into this chaos must keep lighting the candles on the Advent wreath and bringing more light to the darkness in the world. Christ came into the world at a time of fear and chaos, and has come many, many times before to meet the world in its depths of despair. It will happen again this time.
We must not only keep the flames burning on the Advent wreath, but we must bring that fire within and kindle the spark of Love that lives in us to become the light outside our homes and in the world. We can't restore any of the lives in this country that have been cut short because of gun violence. We can resolve not to let that violence define our lives, lessen our Love, or extinguish the light of Christ in each of us. We must continue to extend our hands in Love. This is the only defense against fear.