Aurora continues to gather and grieve those lost in the shooting over a week ago. As I’ve listened to reactions, I hear our fear and anger and confusion. We wonder if we have let this happen, and could have prevented it. We wonder if it is our fault as consumers whose demand supplied some unable to filter it an inhuman vision of meaningless horror. We wonder if it is our fault for placing limits on people’s rights to forcefully defend themselves against violence. We wonder if it is our fault for being too protective of tolerance to openly question the stability of our neighbors. We wonder if it is going to happen again.
We want to convince others of our ideas to prevent this, or supply the right people with enough power to defend us from someone like this.
Many are following the story of the shooter. Maybe we hope that a fuller story will tell us why this happened. Maybe his story will deepen our sense of justice in the consequence to come.
There is another story I have followed, as well. There were many who did not fight or flee, but turned to protect the people with them in the attack, and lost their lives shielding others. It doesn’t mitigate the tragedy to say it, but it is true that there were more people in that theater who gave life than took life.
We have wondered what stories might have twisted someone into the villain we fear could return. What kind of stories might have shaped those who became saviors in that moment?
Maybe, in a photo-negative of what many speculate about the assailant, there lies in the hearts of certain people the potential to suddenly take a radical, counter-intuitive action that offers life. Maybe there is a process through which we become sensitized and capable of such goodness if exposed to the right ideas and influences, engaged in practices that, over time, instill a virtuous response. I imagine for me, it’d be a little nature and a lot of nurture.
I am thinking of a process, too, that doesn’t begin with a quest for validation or power, but with surrender. It is a training of the mind, heart, and strength to respond in love rather than fear. After a thousand little decisions of putting the self to death, we might become capable of an ultimate act on another’s behalf.
When I consider the outcome of their self-offering action, I wonder how far I would really take this proposal. Can I really give myself to a process that means my own end, and not only in some “spiritual” way? Would I be willing to suggest to a group of people that this will mark our community; a slow, constant growth in dying to ourselves? Would I be willing to raise my children with this vision of life?
Could it be true that this self-emptying is the nature of “life to the full?”
When I imagine this as the progressive formation of a community of Christians, I feel somewhat confused by the anxious call to political action we hear in an election year, or in the recent announcement of economic campaigns to impress a social vision on others. If my time, energy, and resources are constantly being weighed by their effectiveness in increasing “our” influence or power through what we’ve accumulated for ourselves, I’m not sure I can also be ready to give my self for the sake of love. It seems to me this is a kind of training in building, retaining, and preserving what I have or want. It attaches me to means and outcomes that disciples say in the Lord’s Prayer – Your kingdom, Your will – we release to God. This kind of activism may be in the name of some greater good, but at the expense of my own capacity to live in the freedom in the Spirit.
In I Corinthians 8, Paul addresses a dispute among believers about which social customs threaten the faith of those who participate. He counsels those divided by the issue that there is nothing to fear from a false power to begin with, but, even if I am not afraid, I’m not going to eat at those who disagree. Without getting into too much direction on the matter, he quickly moves on to the bigger picture, which is the problem of confusing my “rights” with my “freedoms.” He is, of course, not appealing to the post-1776 American concepts here. And, I suppose, this begs the question of whether I need to do so, either.
Instead, we follow Jesus. We carry this good news, delivering us from the fears and anger that bring our defenses up, and we let nothing get in the way of others’ access to this message.
For though I am free with respect to all, I have made myself a slave to all, so that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though I myself am not under the law) so that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (though I am not free from God’s law but am under Christ’s law) so that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, so that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, so that I might by any means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings.
After Christ, the one through whom and for whom everything was made, all these labels are suddenly so temporary that I don’t care what you want to call me so long as you can hear this message. I am free; I have a freedom so deep and so true it does not need defending. This is, itself, one of its blessings.
So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do everything for the glory of God. Give no offence to Jews or to Greeks or to the church of God, just as I try to please everyone in everything I do, not seeking my own advantage, but that of many, so that they may be saved.
It may take some training to deepen this willingness. A thousand little practice denials of self. But the witness of my life, and perhaps your experience, is that every strategy born of fear, anger, and defensiveness breeds more of the same.
May we have the courage in each season, in leisure or in crisis, and with every passing issue, to be good news, the Word that freely takes on humanity for the advantage of the other. May we live, and speak, and spend our resources and our lives in the glorious freedom of God’s children, through which creation is obtaining its freedom.
May they know we are Christians by our love.