The Shape of Community
[Two notes to those who follow my blog: First, you may have received an emailed release of today’s blog that had little more than a draft subject line. As you will note, this was a hard one to write, and I had deleted my first edits and thought it was back in “draft mode.” I saw the same thing you did.
Secondly, this is a hard one, friends. I know … I know we want to focus on the good and beautiful, and we so wish, especially in the time of pandemic and societal conflict, that we could just talk about easier things. The problem is that Jesus rarely talked about easy things … especially as he journeyed to the place of brokenness known as the cross. As followers of Jesus, we are called to stand face-to-face with the truth. So I urge you to stay with me.
As Tony Campolo is famously quoted, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming.”]
We stand at a unique crossroads in history. During Lent, we have talked about brokenness, and then two more mass killings across our country highlight just how broken we are. I don’t believe this is just a time for “thoughts and prayers.” I believe this is a time to confront the truths about ourselves and commit ourselves to the hard work of reshaping community.
To talk about the shape of community is to uncover and address the hidden demons that shape us without our awareness.
Dr. Robert Patrick is from Georgia, and has served as a United Methodist elder. After earning his PhD in Latin and Classics, he began teaching at the high school level and has held adjunct faculty positions in theology and language pedagogy over the years. Yesterday, Bob wrote the following post that has been shared multiple times in social media. It reads as follows:
We so reveal ourselves. So much.
The white 22 year old male drives across counties into Atlanta to various locations to shoot and kill 10 people, 8 of whom are women of Asian background. Besides being white, we were told nothing else immediately about the man except that he said this was not racially motivated and that he was a sex addict.
“He was having a really bad day.” The police officer said.
The 21 year old male with an Arabic name walked into a grocery store in Boulder, CO and shot and killed 10 people. We were not told immediately anything else about the man except that he had lived “most of his life” in the US. (that’s a dog whistle).
“We will hold the evildoer responsible to the fullest extent of the law for his actions,” said the Gov. of Colorado.
Young white male killer of 10 people has really bad day.
Young male Arabic-named killer of 10 people is an evildoer.
See what we do? And we do it without blinking or thinking.
Truth: two mass killings happened within days of each other in our nation. The assailants were two young men whose lives are effectively over. This is domestic terrorism. We don’t know, yet if ever, what infected these two young men with life-twisting ideas and experiences. And just because it can never be said enough: mentally ill people generally do not commit violent crimes like this.
These are two young men – from among us – [who] have committed acts of horror. They won’t be the last. We have not begun to cure the hatred that runs us.
Let’s name it. The shape of our contemporary community is so often based on fear and hate … even in the church. The Jesus of the gospels, however, is one who calls us to create a community based on this radical love and compassion.
Jesus, who even offered a forgiving word for his executioners, was unwilling to let hate be what defined his death, and he is now challenging us not to let hate be what defines any part of our world. Period.
As we think about community, what would happen if we began to reshape community to reflect the Christ that has been infused into everything. What happens if we begin to speak truth about the shadowed fears in our lives.
Then we reshape our community with love … not just love … courageous love. This is love that speaks truth as Dr. Patrick has done here. This is the love that dares to stand non-violently against violence. This is the love defined by Jesus … Mahatma Gandhi … Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who himself called us to the “beloved community.”
So as we reshape a community based on courageous love, maybe the words of Dr. King ring the truest: “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”
May this courageous love define the community that you and I create together.
God, infuse us with your courageous love that we might create the beloved community. Amen.