I went to see Anne Lamott speak last Tuesday. Her new book on prayer is called Help. Thanks. WOW. In her own indomitable style, she delighted a standing room crowd of over 500 at a local community church. I thought to myself that night: we as a people are surely hungry for something. Our souls must really need nourishment. Over 500 people came out a day after a foot of snow fell and roads were still almost impassible.
“Help Me,” Lamott said is the first part of individual prayer. I thought as she talked directly to each of us there: we, too, as a country need to scream out to whatever higher power we believe in, “Help Me.” It’s as if whatever is left of our national soul is making one final plea for help. We have sold out to the snake-oil salesmen for the last 30 years who have told us to war against each other, to fear, to hate, to believe that if we somehow care for one another, it is somehow a bad thing. We have allowed corporations and their greed to destroy the middle class. We cast out the hungry, those who seek medical care, and those who ask for work. We turn our backs on one another and bury our faces in texting, video games and walled communities. We think somehow our souls can be fed by things instead of human interaction. We are silly enough to think money is the be-all and end-all of our existence on this earth. That’s what I was thinking as Lamott spoke.
And then three days later, the all too familiar sound of shots fired, children dead and a country hurting, crying out, “Help Me.”
Yes, yes, yes. The discussion on gun control has to happen…now, tomorrow and always. But so too does the discussion of how we as a people, a nation, have allowed those who sell us fear and hatred for profit to dominate our lives and our culture.
The snake oil salesmen who laugh all the way to the bank. Fox News who tells us 24×7 to hate and fear. The gun industry who has fattened bank accounts with the blood of our neighbors and children. The military contractors who scorn the talk of peace while their corporate profits soar. The video game makers who delight in producing games that show nothing but how to kill and destroy. Even Catholic archbishops who pocket millions of dollars to drive campaigns aimed at enshrining hatred in state constitutions. Where are we to speak up and say, “No more.”
I wondered as I watched as this latest tragedy unfolded in Connecticut: Were we as outraged by the deaths of innocent Iraqi children when we went to war for oil and profit? Are we even aware that drones are being used in our name to kill innocent Afghan children? Are we incensed that our country puts profits ahead of universal health care for its citizens? What do we do when state legislatures meet in the dark of night to pass laws that destroy human dignity and the right to collectively bargain?
We as a nation have bought into fear – it’s us against ‘them.’ What is always so surprising is that we also want to call ourselves a “Christian” nation. The loudest message proclaimed by this Jesus of Nazareth is, “love one another,” “fear not.” And we refuse to hear those words or think they were meant for us. We here in Minnesota are still sorting through the story of a pastor who shot his granddaughter in the dark of night thinking she was an intruder. What was he so afraid of – this man of God?
We cannot arm ourselves out of fear. No amount of security, guns or bombs will ever be the answer. It is only by turning inward, calling out “Help Me,” and embracing the concepts of love and nonviolence that will bring about any real change.
The choice is ours. We can continue to live in fear and line the pockets of those who sell us “easy answers” while they profit from our fear. Or we can choose to change – as individuals, as a community, as a country, as a world. The human soul longs for connections to other human beings (aka, love and acceptance), not text messages, video games, and flat screen TVs.
John Dear, more than any of the many people I interviewed in 2012, comes to mind today. Few among us have dedicated their life to nonviolence in the way that this remarkable man has. People laugh and jeer at him for his message of nonviolence and yet today, his words are the only ones that make sense to me or can provide salve for my wounded soul. If you missed our interview, I invite you to check it out here.
You may think it naive or impossible, or laughable. I think of the number of adults who laughed in my face when I would tell them that our youngest daughter was graduating with a minor in Peace Studies. When did peace and nonviolence become laughable matters?
Without a change of heart, a change of direction – a cry for help, our nation, our communities, our families will be doomed to more violence. How do we stop that violence? I offer up the wisdom voice of John Dear, from his book A Persistent Peace, when he discussed his decision to dedicate his life to nonviolence (Defer to whatever higher power you call your god):
“And what has that road taught me? That Gandhi, Dorothy Day, Dr. King, the Berrigans, and (Thomas) Merton were right: Gospel nonviolence holds the key to personal, social, and global transformation. The future will be a future of peace, if we dare seek it, sacrifice for it, and enact it – a new world without war, poverty, or nuclear weapons…
This is a precious hope. But realizing it requires a few things. First, that our hearts and minds fill with a new mystical awareness, namely that each of us is a beloved son or daughter of God. The God of peace love us infinitely, loves us wildly, crazily….All we have to do is let God love us, and live in that love more and more every moment….it empowers us, fills us with happiness, meaning, and purpose – and sends us forth on the road to peace….
This truth leads us to a second realization. Because each of us is the beloved, apple of God’s eye, then east to west, north to south, each one of us is a beloved sister and brother to one another. Every human being on the planet is equal to every other human being…called to live in peace and nonviolence….that all life is sacred, lovable, called into God’s reign of nonviolent love….
Finally from this vocation of love, a new culture of peace and nonviolence will flower and grow and multiply. We know who we are: God’s beloved sons and daughters. We know who everyone else is: our beloved sister and brother. And so it follows precisely – we will never hurt another again. Moreover we will renounce every trace of violence and war. We’ll forsake corporate greed and nuclear weapons. We’ll refuse to be silent or passive or afraid or complicit with the world of violence. We’ll get involved, and give our lives so that every human being on the planet can live in peace with justice, with food, housing, healthcare, education, employment, and dignity.
We as a people and as a nation are hurting beyond measure. Without a change of heart and soul, we are doomed to repeat the cycle of violence and fear that we have allowed to overtake our lives in a way unseen or felt in our lifetime.