Over the last three week’s we’ve been exposed to some fairly severe tragedies: the murder of three women by an angry, lonely, depraved man; the drunk mother who drove the wrong way on the Taconic, killing eight.
For most of us, these are clear examples of right and wrong, concrete representations of injustice and horror. I’ve heard the word “evil” spoken even by individuals who believe that everyone is, in their hearts, good. “How could she do such a thing?” I’ve heard over and over; “That man will burn in hell.”
Anger, surprise, frustration – all rational responses. The rage and selfishness of these two individuals seem beyond our comprehension. How did the man get to that stage of anger? How could that woman have been so selfish?
And our moral outrage is justified. It is our way of honoring the humanity of those whose lives were cut mercilessly short.
Last week the scriptures stated that Jesus is the “bread of life.” This poetic description of Christ is an alteration: instead of Jesus being violently sacrificed for the sake of peace, we’re invited into a different way of gathering people into a community.
What happened in the community of hearers was a complete change in their relationship with one another. As Jesus was inviting them, through love, into a relationship with a different, non-violent, non-judgmental, loving spirit, they were invited into gracious, encouraging, joyful and hopeful relationships with each other. The bread of life was the glue that helped them endure each other’s quirks, frailties and challenges: because being in relationship with other people is hard work. Jesus is saying – stay connected. And you don’t need to kill people to do it.
George Sodini and Diane Schuler were both extremely isolated. To some extent, they were free to make the decisions they made; although theologically, Augustine would argue they were “slaves to sin.” Sodini was enslaved by his anger; Schuler was enslaved by drink.
The church’s perspective is not much different than the popular view, in some ways. We mourn the dead. We hate what is evil. We pray for justice. We trust that witnessing tragedy evokes some transformation toward what is beautiful and good in others.
These two individuals, who were closed from society and their own deep own emotional needs, stand in stark contrast to the fundamental task of the church. We exist to keep people connected; to remind people that they can learn to hold their anger, rage and sorrow without violence, while trusting in a community of faithful believers, if they so choose. A friend of mine, sober for 22 months said to me, that by giving up the hooch, she gained close new friends. Although not everyone needs to be abstinent, the truth is that it is often our connections that save us, and we find many ways to cut people off.
We say there is no justice sacrificing others at the altar of our own self-righteousness, frustration or hatred. There is no eternal redemption or peace at the bottom of a bottle. They are temporary, ephemeral satisfactions at best. And at worst they destroy lives, and break our hearts.
As the innocent die, the cross again represents. As well as we must confront the implicit, if paradoxical, challenge to those of us witnessing: it didn’t need to be that way.