Lens of tears.

Usually, I wouldn’t do this, but early in December I started to write a post and then never finished it, partly because my mind hadn’t wrapped itself entirely around the topic and partly because holiday chaos overtook my capacity to think through it further.  But my head’s back in that same place today, so I’ll work with it now.  Originally, I was struggling with understanding a speaker I had heard at seminary, Reverend Tyler Wigg-Stevenson, who is the director of the Two Futures Project, an evangelical effort for a nuclear weapons-free world that works primarily with younger Christians.  This man, who’s only a little older than myself, spoke eloquently and passionately about the need for our nation and the nuclear-armed West in general to lay down its weapons for the sake of the future of our planet and our species.  He stated, referring to the fact that we are armed and yet simultaneously denouncing countries who are building and newly testing nuclear weapons, “As it stands, we’ve got no moral authority to oppose them; you can’t preach temperance from a barstool.”

The day after I heard him speak, a song came on the radio, one that I’m sure is familiar to most of us, “Someday At Christmas” sung by Stevie Wonder.  The lyrics felt like a collision between real life and dreaming: “Someday at Christmas men won’t be boys/ Playing with bombs like kids play with toys/ One warm December our hearts will see/ A world where men are free/ …Someday at Christmas there will be no wars.”  Music is an emotional experience for me, tending to sort out and clarify difficult feelings into organized thoughts and pictures, and this one hit me right in the chest.  I remember I was driving in my car, and the image of children of God playing with bombs as though they were toys welled up a sense of deep sadness and horror in my soul.  Then I remembered what Tyler had said about preaching temperance from a barstool… and I began to reflect on what Jesus said in Luke, “Can a blind person lead a blind person?  Will they not both fall into the pit?”  And, also, in Matthew, ‘You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, “You shall not murder”; and “whoever murders shall be liable to judgement.” But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgement; and if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, “You fool”, you will be liable to the hell of fire.”  Maybe these two verses don’t seem to fit together, I don’t know.  But they popped into my head and forced me to consider how nuclear weapons have anything to do with the anger I feel toward other people.  How the violence in my own heart can be as damaging, at least according to how I understand what Jesus might be saying, as a bomb decimating a city.  Am I exaggerating? Perhaps.  But I don’t think so, for two reasons.

First of all, how can I judge others to be in the wrong, when I’m comfortably sitting on my own barstool waving a hefty glass of antagonism, pride, need for power, and self-protection, even prejudice and, yes, hatred?  I think I hear Jesus saying to us that the slide from one type of violence to the next, from violence in our souls, little violences done daily, to larger violence done in the world is a slippery one.  That, possibly, the small angers and hurts we inflict upon one another sums up, combines, lives cosily together in a miasma of badness that ultimately must lead to larger violences.  Like that scene in Ghostbusters when the glowing pink goo takes over the city, a collection of the people’s evil boiling up from underneath.  Perhaps it’s about desensitization.  Research has taught us pretty clearly that small negative influences are gateways to larger ones.  But I also wonder if what Jesus was telling his people was that these small ways of being out of line with the way of God turn us even farther away from that vision for peace and justice, wholeness and love of neighbor, so that we must hedge ourselves against the small evils in order not to find ourselves unprotected when the big ones come.

I mean, we have to admit it…. we live in a fallen world.  There are big badnesses, real threats ever present, lurking in the shadows and looming in plain sight.  If we’re blind to our own ways of living violently with one another, whether it’s through cruelty of words or use of fists and weapons, neglect of those around us who live in need of basic kindnesses,  manipulation and coercion to make our own lives feel more secure… if we’re blind to these, then we can’t very well claim the high moral ground when others follow our example and take it even to the next level.  Especially when we’ve modeled that level so well and used our resources to exhibit our power.  How can we really ask others not to do the same if we are unable or unwilling to admit the wrongs we’ve done and resolve ourselves to learn from the lessons there?  I remember Tyler made another statement, toward the end of his talk, that has stuck with me.  It reminded me that it’s okay to make errors, as long as we can learn to see ourselves in an honest light.  God’s vision isn’t of us as unbroken, but it is of humanity as transformable, if we begin to see as God does.  He said, “In a fallen world, the only way we will see as God does is through the lens of tears.”  It won’t be easy or perfect, but tears can be cleansing.  Regret isn’t the end of the world.  Refusal to lay down our weapons, psychological, emotional, nuclear, will be.

(For the United Methodist position on nuclear arms, you can read the denominational statement,  “In Defense of Creation”.)

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1 Comment »

  1. Allan Said:

    I love that you managed this post while somehow incorporating Ghostbusters into the mix.

    Of course I very much appreciate your thoughts on this – and your candor. I will add that I feel very much the same way, except that in my recent experience I find myself less willing to take hard-handed stances on anything, either from a moralistic standpoint or from a “justice-seeking” standpoint, because I find both to very troublesome in those moments when I am able to pass through the veil of mist before the kingdom, and I catch the smallest glimpse of the wonder beyond. Of course there are great public evils that must be stood against – or rather, that the faithful believer will find oneself in conflict against – but transferring those evils to the opinions of individuals is a slippery slope that breeds bigotry on all sides.

    Is anyone of us so certain about the world to stand in such certainty? Is the peace of Christ conveyed in surety? I’ve begun to feel that those fellow believers who feel and think various things, and who do so thoughtfully and without coercion, usually do so for good reasons and legitimate concerns. When I finally get past the mentality that faith is a zero-some game of orthodoxies at war, I find that even deeply held differences can be overcome by love. Little by little the ego of self is transformed into something concerned with more than its own preservation, interest and promotion, and finally the world conveys something that neither truth nor certainty nor faith can completely capture.

    Or at least I hope it does.

    Here’s to those who are also willing to stumble in the direction or a rumored promise land and hope in a future so far beyond the horizon.


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