Last Sunday, I preached on Revelation 21:1-5, part of which says “God will wipe every tear from their eyes…” When reading it to the congregation in the wake of this week’s news from Buffalo, New York, I felt the heartbreak in this beautiful expression of God’s compassion for Her Creation as the Divine witnessed Good Friday all over again, this time in Buffalo.
Maybe it was my recent coming out of a powerful retreat with other clergy in Holland, or maybe it was the jet lag, or maybe it was knowing a beloved former companion in ministry now pastors in Buffalo as a woman of color. Maybe it was all of it. Or maybe it was how Spirit has been working on me in recent years more and more to keep my heart open even in the midst of the painful and often violent consequences of human beings being out of touch with love and God and Creation.
Now I know the pattern of human and collective psyche in these events. When our gun saturated culture blends with the cancer of white supremacy in a lost soul, violence and tragedy are the result. The demonic lie of projection can take root in human souls such that violence against another person or group or country becomes a siren song, a tragic temptation, an illusion of solution: “if only we or I could just get rid of or control this ‘other.’” Projecting inner tensions, fears, insecurities, and unresolved trauma onto the "other" and making them an enemy, a dehumanized object, is a lie as old as Cain and Abel and at the core of what keeps humanity alienated, in conflict, and out of step with Divine Love.
And I know Jesus calls us to be conscious of all that is in us and to resist this sin of projection with an image of a plank in our own eye (Matthew 7, Luke 6). This is a spiritual practice.
And there is another spiritual practice here: faithful heartbreak.
Before I move to condemning a perpetrator and complaining about guns or racism or whatever truly misguided value and deeply distorted narrative needs resistance and redirection, I sense I need to feel the heartbreak. Jesus can be my exemplar, weeping for Lazarus in his grave and weeping for Jerusalem. Somehow, I suspect this is part of what keeps us human amidst the inhumanity, that keeps us closer to the Way of Jesus than the way of empire.
The Rev. JT Smiedendorf has been a UCC minister since 2001, serving churches in Oregon, Colorado, Wyoming, and Washington. He has a particular passion for reclaiming the earthy, embodied, and experiential aspect of Christian spiritual practice. He and his wife Allison are co-founders of The Sanctuary for Sacred Union, an inter-spiritual initiative, and he is currently earning a postgraduate Certificate in Psychedelic Therapies and Research. Read more about JT here.
Dear Plymouth Family,
Again, I write to you in the wake of another shooting in Colorado. And as I said in my sermon last Sunday, I will continue to be vocal about the need for sensible gun legislation in our nation.
Last night I was in a meeting with our Strategic Planning Team, one of whose members is a Public Defender, providing legal representation for people in a range of cases, including murder. Something she said really struck home: Many of the people who commit horrendous acts like the one at King Soopers in Boulder last night have severe mental illness and they do horrific things…and the availability of guns makes the fallout so much worse.
As a moral question, I wonder what it is in our society that causes so much mental distress (especially, it seems, among young White men)? What message is our culture sending to people that says violence and mayhem are the only answer? Where are the faith communities in all of this? Why are we a lone voice among faith communities for sensible gun laws?
From a spiritual perspective, I cry out, “How long, O Lord? How long?” What is it in the spiritual lives of Americans (who some claim are a Christian nation) that allows us to tolerate shootings again and again and again? What is NOT being said from the nation’s pulpits?
Columbine. Aurora. Colorado Springs. Thornton. Highlands Ranch. Boulder.
Friends, we in Colorado are at Ground Zero for public shootings. Let’s do something about it. Here are steps you can take:
This hits close to home for Jane Anne (who served Community UCC as an interim minister) and for me as a former resident of that neighborhood in Boulder.
In the coming week, many churches will hear the story of Jesus and the Empire’s myth of redemptive violence…that executing Jesus will make it all go away. You will hear about a triumphal parade that led to desertion, betrayal, sham trial, and crucifixion. That should speak loudly to every person who claims to follow Jesus that violence is not his way, nor should it be ours. And we will also hear the story that violence and death is never God’s final word.
Deep peace and more action,