Last Friday night I had a slightly scary experience, which I managed to twist into an excuse to have some peanut butter ice cream for dessert. I was traumatized, for heaven’s sake!
Ok, in all seriousness. I was coming home from work, 6ish, normal time. It’s dark now here by 4:30 (HOW is that right??) but my psyche is slowly getting used to that. So I get off the L (the elevated rapid transit in chicago; it’s awesome) and I have about a 4 block walk to my front door. The street is always full of people going about their business and Friday was no exception.
As I neared the corner where I turn onto my street (with 2 blocks still to go) suddenly there were a swarm of youths around me. I mean, they weren’t around ME at all–I don’t think they even noticed me. They just happened to be traveling down the sidewalk and suddenly our respective paces were such that I was in among them.
and it turns out that they were actually two groups of youth. I’m totally generalizing here based on frightened recollection, but I have the impression that one group was mostly hispanic dudes and the other was mostly black dudes (definitely all dudes). Suddenly there were a lot of them, yelling at each other and running up from other blocks. One threw a punch at another. One threw a glass bottle, but it just hit the sidewalk and didn’t even break.
at this point I was still shaking my head thinking something along the lines of "oh, these kids today" and just trying to get around them. Annoyingly they were still moving at about my pace, so I was still in among them when they abruptly spread out across the street (there were no cars coming) and that’s when I heard the shot fired. They were running now behind me (though I did NOT look back) and I heard two or three more shots and I suddenly found myself walking very rapidly towards my front door.
Absolutely nothing happened to me. It would have been a lot smarter for me to duck into any of the open businesses along the street rather than determinedly heading towards home, but nothing happened and I’m fine. I got upstairs and called 911 just to let them know what I saw and heard, and then I sort of crumbled into tears when I realized how scary it was. Esther soothed me and proposed the aforementioned cheat night from our diet...comfort food.
this all got me thinking, not surprisingly. Not so much about our safety in our neighborhood (for the most part it’s fine, but even if it wasn’t, I don’t want to start running away thinking I will find an Invincible Neighborhood, or even Invincible Country, somewhere.)
more than that, it got me thinking about Hate. Between human beings. If what I witnessed is what I assumed it was (and of course I’m not necessarily right), it’s likely it was a meeting of two different gangs who hate each other because....why, again? Because their older friends or fellow gang members told them they should? Fueled by underlying racism (or other -isms), which is nothing more than illogical, unfounded hate?
I feel like there’s a lot of hate floating about these days. I feel like politicians prove their worth by showing a sufficient amount of loathing for opposition parties. I feel like love for family/country in our social discourse has gone quite far into the extreme of hating others’ families/countries as its principal expression. Our entire planet’s concept of nationalism and patriotism has to do with maintaining dangerous, violent, serious separations between Us and Them, whether at a simple passport check outpost on a lonely border crossing or nuclear armaments and the whole idea of preparing a multitudinous group of people for years and years so they’ll be able to take others’ breath away. People shooting off handguns on my block may be the most immediately visible outcome of this culture of hate, but it’s not the most prevalent, consistent, celebrated or ingrained by any stretch.
If you’re wondering what my point is, I have two. One is that I wish I could be a part of reversing this trend of hate. I wish I could be a peace -giver, -maker, -bringer. I hope I can figure out how to do that in my daily life, family, career, self. I’m not trying to dismiss religion or faith here, and by gum I am still a christian and love Jesus, but I don’t think the easy answer "Jesus is peace" is going to cut it here. I was essentially removed against my will from being a missionary because my bosses and supervisors no longer believed that I was following God, but it turns out I’m quite OK with not being a missionary anymore–at least the kind of missionary that I was. Focusing on verbal confession of faith and internal support and community, while an amazing experience for me during those years of my life, isn’t what I think can actually heal the world. (If you think I sound like a heretic now, wait til you read the next paragraph). So far in the history of this earth, religion hasn’t had a great track record as far as creating connection between ALL human beings. Sure, I know that theoretically it SHOULD and for a long time I really did believe that if everyone would just believe in Jesus, there would be no more wars, poverty, violence, sickness. But the thing is, everybody DOESN’T believe in Jesus. And they also don’t all believe in Allah, or in Jehovah, or in Krishna. I can’t reasonably fathom a world where suddenly we all did worship the same God, and I bet you can’t either. I mean, you can WISH it, but thinking of all the people you know who don’t do so and yet are valid human beings, can you imagine them all spontaneously abandoning what they believe in their very innards, ignoring what all their life experiences, studies, dreams and hopes have told them thus far? Doesn’t really seem likely, or even especially desirable or beautiful to me. So that’s when the ideal of "belief-in-Jesus-bringing-world-harmony-and-peace" begins to show its cracks. And yes, I believe healing the world is very much related to healing of our souls.
my second point is about religion. isn’t that funny–seems like I just got done talking about how religion ain’t the cure. By the way, I didn’t exactly mean that. But I’m not any longer convinced by nor interested in religion that abides or allows hate. Which is why I’ve suddenly found myself even less convinced that my God loved israel to the point that he was willing to kill off all the people in front of them to get them home (I’m talking old testament here, by the way–NOT 1948). This is an old complaint that we used to get periodically when I was in college ministry. ‘The god of the old testament seems mean, how can I believe in him?" And along with that standard issue came the standard answers: "we don’t really understand God well enough to question him on everything", "he was trying to show israel and us how INCREDIBLY much he loves us", and from the slightly more liberal viewpoint, "remember this is our perception of God through human understanding, which isn’t perfect at all." And sure, I think there’s some truth in all of those viewpoints. Especially that last one, if you add to it the fact that the history books of the bible may very well have been written with an eye towards comforting the reader with God’s total strength and ability and desire to protect them. But not necessarily in the most accurate way–for can the lion who lies down with the lamb* truly be the same as the military commander who directs his followers to kill every last woman, child and infant in the occupied lands and dash their little bodies upon the rocks? (1 Samuel 15:3; Psalm 137:9). I don’t think so. I DON’T believe so. I have no problem believing that the bible is a holy book that God has used time and again in my life and in the lives of others. But it’s physically impossible for me to believe that a deity who would command this slaughter is the same Jesus I know. I don’t have a method for forcing myself to believe that and can’t say I would want to anyway. It doesn’t hurt my relationship with the divine to consider that scripture may have been written by human beings who didn’t always get it all right.
I’ve written too much, as usual, and at this point you may be confused and wondering what my point one and point two have to do with one another. see if you can follow this connection from inside my brain:
I want to be a part of peace / my traditional answers as to how that can happen aren’t satisfying me anymore / I may have to start finding new ones by consciously letting go of old ones.
There is some pain in this process, but mostly just in the knowledge that some people aren’t going to understand what I’m saying and are going to form their own opinions about how lost or confused I am. In contrast, I don’t have any internal pain from finally being able to say out loud "I don’t think God actually sent Samuel the message that the amalekites be destroyed." I don’t think it! I don’t! I don’t personally know any God who would say that! My God doesn’t protect his loved ones by hurting others (in fact, I’m not sure if my God HAS any ‘others’–as we are all his loved ones).
all this from three scary minutes walking down north sheridan one winter afternoon? Well, no, probably not really. This was probably just an excuse to ponder what I’ve had percolating inside for a while. Is it ok that I’ve shared it?
*the lion in question, in isaiah 11, actually lies down with the calf and the yearling, while the wolf is the one who lies down with the lamb. But same basic idea.