Thursday, December 3, 2015

To My Neighbor, Considering Violence

Dear Neighbor,

I don't know you, not now.  But I sense that you're angry, beyond angry, that you've lost faith in the rest of us.  And I sense that you've nearly given in to despair.  Maybe you're thinking of taking such despair into your own hands, making it into a bomb or a rampage, even giving your life to make a mark.  I can only imagine your rage: whether it's fueled by some kind of faith or some kind of disappointment.  It must hurt terribly.

I can't tell you that I know how you feel, because I certainly don't.  I do feel hopeless from time to time, with the world's mean spirit, with the huge disparity between the rich and poor, with the havoc we humans cause among other species and life itself.  I look to my faith for comfort and inspiration, and sometimes I find both.  Sometimes I find only frustration and cynicism.

I don't know you, but I want to reach out to you, somehow.  I want you to resist any impulse that might destroy life or hurt the weak or sow terror into the hearts of your neighbors.  I believe (with all my heart) that giving in to such an impulse hardens the heart and weakens the spirit.  Muslim teachers teach this; so too, Christian and Jewish and Buddhist teachers.  Violence only perverts the image of God in human flesh.  It scars the beautiful stuff we're made of. 

I believe you have something yet to give to the world, something important, something holy.  It's not violence, and it's not death.  Even your anger, if transformed into meaningful action, if channeled into collaborative passion, can advance the cause of justice.  But violence and hatred will not.  They never have in human history.  And they won't now.

I have many Muslim friends, and their deep faith is a constant source of encouragement for me.  They love God with great passion and conviction.  And such love is bravely translated into kindness, courage and justice in the world.  While they too are often angry at the world's injustice, even at the West's callousness, they turn that anger into an abiding commitment to change things for the better.  They join coalitions of good people, building nonviolent movements, and they reach out to make common cause with Jews and Christians and others.  

This work -- doing justice like this -- is even harder than building a bomb or planning some kind of awful rampage.  It requires the truest and deepest kind of faith: faith in the power of God (rather than the simple and terrible power of violence and hatred).  The power of God, I find, demands prayerfulness and patience, humility and intelligence.  But it is the true source of life, even eternal life.  And it is worthy of our time, our effort, our sacrifice.  Trusting the power of God, we can change the world for the better.

I would like so much to know you, to sit with you, to explore this power with you.  You could share with me your faith, even your anger; and I could share with you my own.  Maybe we could find ways to build a project, to cooperate in making our communities safer and more just, to make even America a more equitable place for all of us.

We have so much to do, as an earth community, as a human community, as an American community.  And we need every soul engaged in the project, every being awake to the challenge and alert to the possibilities.  You are important to this project.  You have a role to play.  Your death cannot help us.  Your lifetime in a prison cell somewhere:  this will not add to the power and potential of our movement.  

So I beg you.  Reach out.  Reach out to a kind friend you can trust.  Call a wise imam at your local mosque.  If you want, call a pastor like me in a church like mine, or a teacher you've enjoyed, or a policeman whose counsel you count on.  Let one of us help you turn  your anger, your disappointment, your despair into something more powerful: something like God's grace, something like God's oneness, something like God's passion for justice.

Our many faiths affirm this: that God's passion is for justice and freedom, not death, not mayhem, not misery.  You are needed.  You are beloved.  You can do so much still with your life.  So call someone.  Give up the fantasy of death and weaponry and destruction.  And let us help you, so you can help us.

With hope for you, with hope for the world we share,

In brotherhood and hope,

Dave Grishaw-Jones
Pastor, Peace United Church of Christ