O Yahweh, how long shall I cry for help,
and you will not listen?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
and you will not deliver?
Why do you make me see wickedness
and look at trouble?
Destruction and violence are before me;
strife and contention boil up.
So the law becomes slack
and justice never prevails.
The wicked surround the righteous—
therefore judment comes forth perverted. (Hab 1:2–4)
Habakkuk cried out these words, probably at the end on the seventh century BCE to the people of Judah. But the truth of his words speaks to every generation. The pain and frustration of witnessing violence perpetrated on the innocent. It is important to both cry out and to bear witness.
Rodney mentioned in his post this past Monday that screenwriter and director Scott Derrickson commented about the Colorado shootings that he “was appalled and deeply disturbed by the Aurora theater shootings. He realized that the movie theater is a kind of sanctuary, a dark place where we are supposed to be safe to imaginatively face our fears. So James Holmes’s murderous act, besides being horrible in itself, was a sort of profanation, a desecration.”
The shooting and killing on Sunday morning of Sikh community members preparing for worship and a community meal in Oak Creek, outside of Milwaukee, is the latest barbaric act of gun violence on innocent victims—this time in their sacred space. In addition to the six killed, two other community members and one policeman were seriously wounded. My prayers are with the families and friends of the dead and wounded. We have to cry out and to bear witness against the violence, the racism, the intolerance.
The comments of E. J. Dionne following the recent Colorado shooting are apt here: “The worshipers of weapons also lay heavy stress on the psychological disabilities of the killer in a particular incident to create a sense of futility and resignation. Crazy people, they say, will do crazy things, and there is nothing we can do about this. Never mind that more rational laws would help keep guns out of the hands of people with a history of mental illness. Never mind that it’s harder to get a license to drive a car than it is to own a gun. Never mind that even a Supreme Court ruling that gave an expansive reading of the Second Amendment nonetheless acknowledged the right of the people through their legislatures and Congress to enact sensible gun regulations.” (I highly recommend his entire opinion piece: “Colorado Shooting and the Gag Rule on Guns,” Washington Post 7/20/12). Dionne goes on to implicate almost everyone—not just the NRA, but both Republicans and Democrats, including President Obama—as failing to address fundamental issues in gun control. (Note too a recently published volume from Cascade Books: James E. Atwood, America and Its Guns: A Theological Exposé.)
I am reminded of another commentator years ago saying that she agreed with the strict constitutionalists that the U.S. Constitution guaranteed the right to bear arms. And to apply the strictness of the Constitution, she would limit those guns to what was available in the eighteenth century when the Constitution was written: muzzle-loading muskets.
The U.S. has become a society of self-destruction: underfunding education, healthcare (including mental healthcare), and social services, while simultaneously overfunding the military (the $650+ billion is larger than the combined military budgets of the next highest 14 countries!) and giving carte blanche to gun advocates. It seems to me that a community of faith that follows one who was violently tortured and executed by a militaristic empire must live in hope that the word of the cross articulates comfort and hope and embodies grace to a world hell-bent on giving free rein to a culture of violence and hatred.
Sikhs affirm the spirit of chardi kalaa (‘elevated spirit’), which articulates an undefeatable courageous attitude in light of their faith in God. This seems a real parallel to Paul’s statement to the Corinthians: “But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, to show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to us. We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies” (2 Cor 4:7–10; see also Rom 8:37–39). We stand with the Sikh community to cry out against the violence and bear witness.