The Insidious Nature of Violence

When I think about the phrase “violence leads to more violence” it seems a distant abstraction. I am not a violent person. I have never really been involved in a physical fight with another, so it would make sense to me that since “other people” cause violence, the circle of that violence is “over there”. I am but a witness to a turbulent time and yes, I have a responsibility to call for justice and peace but I make that call from over here—in my sphere of safety.  What a foolish and egotistical perception. The truth is that violence is one of the most pervasive sides of evil. It sneaks into places you would otherwise not have noticed and creates much of the brokenness in this world.

The recent incident of a school security officer violently throwing a student to the ground and dragging her out of the classroom flooded the media and social networks and caused another avalanche of public opinions. People were rightly outraged at these now all-to-familiar scenes of excessive force, but what saddens me is the way in which we turn our disgust and frustration on one another in the aftermath of an act of cruelty and injustice. The talking heads, political pundits and media moguls often seize on these moments to ramp up the emotional distress of the public, creating a veritable feeding frenzy of divisiveness. Legitimate questions of what happened and how turn to mistrust for all authority and accusations of victim blaming. It reminds me of the way the crowds were incensed by external forces when Jesus was brought forward to be judged. It wasn’t enough that he had been arrested and beaten, he was paraded through the streets and the public was made to despise him.

Violence takes many forms and if we are not vigilant, we may not even see how and where it creeps into our “sphere of safety”, nor will we understand that we can become complacent to its grip within our communities. I was recently reminded that one of the beautiful qualities of the Episcopal Church is that more than our individual relationship with God the emphasis is placed on the community with which we exist. Only together are we the Body of Christ. When it is at its best, the Church is a reminder of how a community can respond in love, grace and mercy to acts of violence and it exemplifies a watchful community who is always examining where brokenness and injustice exist.

In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus instructed the disciples to be alert and awake, but they quickly fell asleep and danger was upon them.  May we all be vigilant together and remind our neighbors what it means to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry” (James 1:19, NIV)


My apologies for the long silence…

Each year my parish’s Education Committee (of which I am a part) selects a topic for the adult formation series presented, and this year will center around the question, “Who is my neighbor?”  When I think about my “neighbor” I am immediately drawn to one of the many homeless faces I see day in and out in this city. It seems easy and logical for my spirit to come to that conclusion as “the one in need.”  However, the more I examine this in my mind, the more I seem to be replacing the word “neighbor” with “stranger”.  When you live in a city as vast and diverse as Chicago, this becomes more than mere semantics. I live in a high-rise with over 100 units and barely know the names of 10 people—not including my actual neighbors!  Even after years of attending my church there are throngs of strangers I have never met. I may pass these people in the halls or at coffee hour, exchange greetings… but there it usually ends.  When I realize the frequency and ease of my avoidance of stangers, I am ashamed. I cannot help but think of my mother’s childhood in rural New England in the 1960’s, when they literally knew all their neighbors and a stranger was a very obvious anomaly.

Jesus stated, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” (Matthew 25:35, CEB) and yet in this area, I truly struggle. Could it be that I am afraid of what will happen once I take an introduction to the next level? Am I more concerned with feeling judged for approaching these people than I am for the calling to do so?

In the theological journal “Conversations”, I read a wonderful article recently about this very topic and author Jan Johnson frames it this way, “Who are our strangers?” People appear to us as strangers for different reasons but they usually fit into one of these categories: outcasts, wrong-doers, anyone who isn’t like me and anyone we are tempted to exclude and ignore. She goes on to examine each of these categories, showing us how Jesus welcomed these types of strangers.

My Community centers on the discipleship of Mary, the mother of Jesus and we use her title “Our Lady of Cana.” Hospitality and welcome are embedded in the every ethos of our Community, so it is a painful experience for me when I am confronted by the stranger I have not yet learned to welcome. The saving grace is that the Holy Spirit is nothing if not consistent and will continue to present me with opportunities to grown and share, even as I struggle to learn. For now, I continue to hold these moments in my heart and pray, “May the needy not be forgotten, nor the hope of the poor be in vain.”