Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Civility Violence and Evil

Today I signed Sojourner's Peace and Civility pledge" I could agree to all the points of the pledge and so feel it is the least I could do in response to shooting of Representative Gabrielle Giffords and the six others.

Yet, what are we to do? What does such a pledge mean? For me I signed it because I know hatred and evil lurks in each and everyone of us and because to the best of my knowledge and awareness I am already living according to the pledge. It would be false of me to say that I signed it out of some sense that I had failed in recent memory to do what I have now pledged to do. Maybe I am in a minority and suddenly liberals and conservatives are realizing the small or large ways they contribute to vitriolic in our public discourse, but I doubt it.

I suppose I am not sure Jim Wallis is correct to suggest as he did in his editoiral yesterday in the Huffpost that this violent event is a moment of transformation. I am not sure that if I believed vitriolic was perfectly okay 7 days ago that this event in and of itself (as sad and tragic as it is) should cause me to change my ways. Partially I am unsure about that because I am not sure we can truly say we know the causes of this event. Second, because as much as the pledge and Jim Wallis are seeking to call for introspection, it falls short of real and deep and truly transformational self-examination.

You see I can read the pledge and feel satisfied. I agree with it wholeheartedly, I even can honestly say that I have for most of my life sought to live according to the principles that the pledge seeks to encourage. But as I read the Christian tradition it teaches us that sin and evil are far more subtle, and thus tell us that something far more disturbing than vitiolic is at the root of the violence that occurred in Arizona this past weekend.

Jim Wallis actually gives us the easy way out. He wants us to take responsibility, and thus wants us to correct the wrong and the environment that caused this to happen. This is an easy way out because I am not asked to identify both with victim and perpetrator, rather I am to see how I who would never succumb to the evil of this violence have inadvertently through violent language caused something I personally would never do. This sort of distancing from another human being is what I see the Christian Tradition and Scripture and Jesus calling self-righteousness. From the Christian perspective pledges and even gentle rhetoric will not uproot the evil that lurks in us and is the true source of this tragic event. The transformation we seek comes from a God who in human form suffered this very violence not from the hands of "madmen" but from legitimate peace loving authorities.

In the end I took the pledge not only because I could agree and have striven to live according to the principles of the pledge, but because I know that this evil lurks in me as it does in us all, and I follow the one who suffered this evil to rescue us all from it.

My friends this is much worse and the good news is someone has already begun to transform us and our world and liberate us from it. But we need to name it as evil, we need to name it as that which is in all of us, whether we use vitriolic or not. In the end we can't take responsibility but must surrender ourselves to the one who suffered this evil to free us from it. Only in allowing ourselves to be close to victim and perpetrator as both fully human and sharing our humanity may we find the place of finding a truly transformative word and action, whether or not we have or have not used vitriolic.