by Joanie Butman
The alarming thing about the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting is the fact that the shock value no longer exists. No one can deny the horror of last weekend’s events. However, the frequency of these types of violent acts has led us to expect them. It’s no longer a question of if it will happen again but where and to whom. Therein lies the true terror – that our society has become one where hatred and violence have become commonplace. Not only in horrific ways such as Saturday’s massacre, but in the manner we treat each other daily. What’s happened to the rules of civility? It would be easy to sink into despair when focusing on the state of our nation – and our world.
The only remedy I know of to avoid hopelessness is in choosing where to focus your attention. Personally, I don’t concentrate on the evil act of one hate-filled heart. Who could ever comprehend what motivates someone to commit such an atrocity? Rather, I purposefully choose to focus on the outpouring of love as hordes of people (regardless of race, religion or politics) unite to rally around the suffering. It is in pain that our shared humanity is most clearly felt. Loss and grief connect us at our most basic level. In the wake of Saturday’s events, I see the truth of the scripture playing out in real time, “You meant it for evil, but God used it for good.” In the Book of Joy, the Dalai Lama and Archbishop Desmond Tutu discuss one of life’s ironies, “sometimes it takes a major disaster for followers of all different faiths to come together and see that we are the same, human brothers and sisters.”
The hatred that causes someone to take up arms against another begins long before they pick up a weapon. We all need to do our own part in changing the ugly, angry, divisive, contentious tone so pervasive today. How does one do that? By choosing to treat everyone in our path with care, kindness, compassion, dignity and respect regardless of our differences.
On the same day as the shooting, my daughter and I were lambasted by an elderly woman for parking too close to her car. We were well within the lines, but they’ve intentionally made the parking tight due to lack of space. She just railed at us with a rage incommensurate with the situation. My immediate thought was, “Eleven people were just murdered and you’re going to get a bee in your bonnet over a parking space?” Stifling a retort, I smiled and apologized profusely, agreeing with her that the parking was too cramped. When we got in the car, my daughter was furious. “Why were you so nice to her? She had no right to treat us like that. That was unfair and makes me so mad. I hate when someone yells at me!” I couldn’t disagree with her but suggested she pray for the cranky, old bat whose behavior had to be coming from a place of deep pain. Going back to rules of civility I mentioned earlier, Foundations Magazine describes them as the “small sacrifices that we should all be willing to make for the good of all and the sake of living together.” My parking incident is a silly example, but often our decision to be kind can diffuse a prickly person or situation. Furthermore, you never know if or when your response to someone who feels marginalized will be the tipping point one way or the other.
There is a saying, “Nothing unites humans like a common enemy.” Make no mistake, hatred is our common enemy – one that can only be defeated with one weapon: love. You will never cure hate with hate. We can choose to let conflict and fear reign our lives or choose to turn in prayer to the only One who will eventually put all things right. Political pundits may perceive the offers of prayer as platitudes, but for most of us it’s the only choice available. By choosing to lift up the victims, their families, the disturbed gunman, our country, and our world in prayer, we ourselves are reminded of God’s sovereignty. Only love can cure hatred, and that’s God’s specialty. It is times such as these when my faith in God’s providence and justice becomes the lifeline I choose to hold onto.
Love will win in the end.