Violence

What Would Jesus Say To the NRA?

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A demonstrator from CodePink holds up a banner as the NRA's Wayne LaPierre delivers remarks. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

What does the birth of the baby Jesus 2,000 years ago have to offer the violent, troubled world we live in? Or what would Jesus say to the NRA?

I want to suggest — a lot.  A whole lot.

Jesus entered the world from a posture of absolute vulnerability — as an unarmed, innocent child during a time of tremendous violence. The Bible speaks of a terrible massacre as Jesus was born, an unspeakable act of violence as King Herod slaughters children throughout the land hoping to kill Jesus (which the church remembers annually as the massacre of the Holy Innocents).  

Perhaps the original Christmas was marked more with agony and grief like that in Connecticut than with the glitz and glamour of the shopping malls and Christmas parades. For just as Mary and Joseph celebrated their newborn baby, there were plenty of other moms and dads in utter agony because their kids had just been killed.    

From his birth in the manger as a homeless refugee until his brutal execution on the Roman cross, Jesus was very familiar with violence.  Emmanuel means “God with us.” Jesus’s coming to earth is all about a God who leaves the comfort of heaven to join the suffering on earth. The fact that Christians throughout the world regularly identify with a victim of violence — and a nonviolent, grace-filled, forgiving victim — is perhaps one of the most fundamentally life-altering and world-changing assumptions of the Christian faith. Or it should be. 

So what does that have to do with the NRA? Underneath the rhetoric of the gun-control debate this Christmas is a nagging question: are more guns the solution to our gun problem?  

Gun Deaths Are No Accident

No guns, no gun deaths. That was the mantra ingrained in me from a young age. It is the line that runs through my head when I read reports stating that around 3,000 of the more than 30,000 gun-related deaths in the U.S. each year are of children. In 2015, 265 minors were responsible for accidental gun shootings and 83 of these children killed someone, often because they found a loaded gun in the house and were curious.

Why Is Our Christian President So Willing to Use Violence?

For his final State of the Union address, President Obama delivered a characteristically eloquent and passionate speech. He issued a heartfelt call for unity and cooperation in a country whose political climate is just a few notches short of civil war. He asked us to consider how we might move forward as one nation, affirming our highest ideals rather than the hateful rhetoric of would-be despots.

Obama’s final State of the Union was in many ways a masterpiece of American political theater. He reminded us of the best of our tradition, calling us to live up to our history of welcoming the outsider and being a land of opportunity for all people. Despite the fact that this canonical history is to a great degree aspirational rather than actual, I was at many points uplifted to hear the president invite us to live into the more beautiful aspects of the American Dream.

Youth Ambassador Returns to Work Four Months After Being Shot

Image via Roger Newton/JJIE.

Semaj Clark is a determined young man. The Los Angeles teenager’s steadfastness helped him emerge from a childhood punctuated by a string of foster homes and arrests to become an ambassador to troubled youth. Now he’s determined to learn how to get around in his new wheelchair. And he’s resolute that his anti-violence campaign can take root anew in Savannah, Ga., where he’d taken that message of hope and transformation in October — only to find himself with a bullet in his spine. 

On Divine Revenge: the Execution of Nimr al-Nimr

Image via Twitter.

There is a definite pattern of revenge to this story, but it has nothing to do with God. As René Girard has taught us, revenge is human, not divine. Girard claimed that humans are mimetic — and we are particularly mimetic when it comes to violence. Humans imitate violent words and actions, passing them back and forth. But violence escalates because each side in a conflict wants to deliver the final blow. In this sense, the Saudis and the Iranians are just like the majority of human beings. 

Muhammad Ali to Trump: You Don't Know Islam

Image via RNS

Muhammad Ali aimed a powerful and impassioned message at Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on Dec. 9, saying that the recent global terrorism crisis has “perverted people’s views on what Islam really is.”

Ali became a Muslim and changed his name from Cassius Clay during the height of his career as one of the greatest boxers in history. His message came in a statement following a week in which Trump cast doubt on President Barack Obama’s assertion that several American “sporting heroes” practiced Islam.

“I am a Muslim, and there is nothing Islamic about killing innocent people in Paris, San Bernardino, or anywhere else in the world,” Ali said.

These Days, We Need a John the Baptist

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Perhaps here is where we need John the Baptist most. He might turn to us and call us to ordinary acts of grace. He might call us to give what we have. He might call us to stay at our jobs and do them well. He might call us to the radical idea that seemingly ordinary lives can be imbued with the extraordinary spirit of God to transform the world.

During this Christmas season, we expect to enjoy times of family and conviviality and joy. Such expectations have been shattered this year. We could throw our hands up in despair. We could lament over a shattered world. We could grieve those we have lost, the dreams that have been shattered. We could pray fervently for courage and hope. We could worship together and so resist the encroachments of death upon our lives. We could protest and march and demand change. We could call our representatives and demand action.

We should do all these things.

And as we do all these things, we should also live ordinary lives infused by the extraordinary call to love God and love neighbor. 

John the Baptist is an irritant in the midst of Advent.

In the Gospel reading for this week in Luke 3:7-18, he is in the wilderness excoriating the crowds who came seeking baptism and repentance and deliverance.

“Who warned you…?,” John wants to know. Who told you to come out here? What did you think you would find? Who the crowds find is a fiery prophet of God, preaching judgment upon the injustice that permeates this world.

'What Kind of God Are You?' Black Theodicy in Times of Tribulation

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One of the most common criticisms of faith I have heard is this: if there is an all-powerful and loving God somewhere out there, why does this God allow horrible things to happen? In a world where there has always been war, sexual violence, starvation and murder, where is this omnipotent God? Why does he allow these things to happen? Where is she when people suffer injustice?

The Bible gives us plenty of examples of the abuses of the faithful, sometimes even at God's own hand (like in the book of Job). We read of the systemic oppression of the Jewish people and the early Christian church. Through this, God's people were always able to remain steadfast in their faith. Forming a defense of faith in God in the face of realized evil is known as theodicy.

So: In a nation where Blacks have been enslaved, lynched, and raped because of their race, and in time where people must declare that “black lives matter,” how do black Americans form their own theodicy to justify this violence, abuse, and systemic oppression?

And is it necessary to do so?

Humans Wired for Violence? Evolutionary Biology Begs to Differ

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Given the terrorist attacks of the last few weeks, one might be forgiven for feeling a bit bleak about the human species, its frequent use of violence and its failure to negotiate solutions. We must be hard-wired for violence. Or perhaps “war is a force that gives us meaning,” as Chris Hedges put it in his 2002 book of the same title.

It turns out, however, that we’re evolutionarily wired not for violence but for cooperation.

"The vast majority of the people on the planet awake on a typical morning and live through a violence-free day — and this experience generally continues day after day after day," writes Douglas Fry.

"The real story should be the 13,748 gazillion times human beings default to cooperation and kindness!"

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