When I think about the phrase “violence leads to more violence” it seems a distant abstraction. I am not a violent person. I have never really been involved in a physical fight with another, so it would make sense to me that since “other people” cause violence, the circle of that violence is “over there”. I am but a witness to a turbulent time and yes, I have a responsibility to call for justice and peace but I make that call from over here—in my sphere of safety. What a foolish and egotistical perception. The truth is that violence is one of the most pervasive sides of evil. It sneaks into places you would otherwise not have noticed and creates much of the brokenness in this world.
The recent incident of a school security officer violently throwing a student to the ground and dragging her out of the classroom flooded the media and social networks and caused another avalanche of public opinions. People were rightly outraged at these now all-to-familiar scenes of excessive force, but what saddens me is the way in which we turn our disgust and frustration on one another in the aftermath of an act of cruelty and injustice. The talking heads, political pundits and media moguls often seize on these moments to ramp up the emotional distress of the public, creating a veritable feeding frenzy of divisiveness. Legitimate questions of what happened and how turn to mistrust for all authority and accusations of victim blaming. It reminds me of the way the crowds were incensed by external forces when Jesus was brought forward to be judged. It wasn’t enough that he had been arrested and beaten, he was paraded through the streets and the public was made to despise him.
Violence takes many forms and if we are not vigilant, we may not even see how and where it creeps into our “sphere of safety”, nor will we understand that we can become complacent to its grip within our communities. I was recently reminded that one of the beautiful qualities of the Episcopal Church is that more than our individual relationship with God the emphasis is placed on the community with which we exist. Only together are we the Body of Christ. When it is at its best, the Church is a reminder of how a community can respond in love, grace and mercy to acts of violence and it exemplifies a watchful community who is always examining where brokenness and injustice exist.
In the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus instructed the disciples to be alert and awake, but they quickly fell asleep and danger was upon them. May we all be vigilant together and remind our neighbors what it means to be “quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to grow angry” (James 1:19, NIV)