I lived in Chicago for forty years and during that time I became adept at navigating public transportation, both buses and trains, suburban and city. I have also taken the subway in New York City and public transportation in San Francisco. I’ve been on empty buses and trains and I’ve been in standing room only, squashed so tight one could not turn around, and the sheer volume of bodies kept one standing when the train or bus lurched to a stop or turned a corner. I’ve taken Amtrak from one state to another and I’ve flown across the country many times, not to mention driving across country dozens of times in my life. For many years I commuted to work, taking a bus and then a train from my home on the outskirts of Chicago to downtown. I remember thinking, on more than one occasion, that it was amazing that all these human beings could crowd into a small moving container and be safe. Sure, occasionally an individual was accosted or killed, but otherwise the mass of humanity traveling by bus and train, all moved in some unspoken agreement - no one was going to cause harm to the crowd. I wondered about this? What kind of social, moral, and civic accountability were we all agreeing to live by? This thought came to me before Columbine, before Sept. 11, before the tide turned and mass violence became normative, before shootings in schools and universities, before road rage became common. Now mass killings are almost an every day occurrence and I’m becoming numb to the trauma.
It’s not just violence that is numbing, it’s all of it - all of the anger, and fear mongering, and prejudice and racism, and violence against humanity. It’s the new normal to just spout off and say what ever one thinks or feels, regardless of how wrong or hurtful it might be. Now when I fly or take a bus or train I always wonder if this will be my last? Will someone blow it up or shoot us all? Not even this thought stops me, it too has become a kind of numbing thought, the aftermath of knowing that tragedy strikes far too often and I can’t do anything about it.
Okay, that’s depressing. Confusing as well in light of today’s readings about God healing people from the dead using both Elijah and Jesus to restore life. Where are the miracles in our lives, in our world? If God can bring back to life these dead boys, couldn't God intervene and change the hearts of angry people, preventing the violence in the first place? It seems like that would actually be easier.
We’re taught that God cannot be limited and that love is at the heart of everything God does, God is love and we are to love as well. In the first reading Elijah heals because the woman begs him too, in Luke Jesus heals without being asked, the woman never says a word to him. So God’s love is offered whether its asked for or not. Even Paul, in the letter to the Galatians, affirms this - God is love, and we are to love others as God loves.
And yet, though God is love and through Jesus God shows us how to love as God loves, God does not intervene in human lives to change us nor to make us love. Instead God works through humans, one to another. God gives that choice to us. We can decide how we are going to live and how and if we are going to love, knowing all along that the only life we can really influence is our own. I can change me and I can work on how I love. I can’t change you and I can’t make you love more. God has decided to not change us and we in turn end up learning that we can’t change others either. But we can make the choice to love more, share more, care more, be more aware of the ways we influence the negativity in the world around us.
So I work on myself to become more self aware and more aware of others. The curious thing is, when I do this, when I focus on myself and how I can be a better person, instead of focusing on others and blaming them for this, that, or the other, I begin to see the world differently. I begin to have a greater sense of compassion while at the same time a degree of “letting go” - I don’t need to control what is going on. I only need to examine myself, my motives, my actions, my thoughts, and work to balance them according to my values and beliefs - am I responding from a place of being gracious even if I am also focused on justice - or am I acting out of anger? How am I striving to love others? How am I trying to love as God loves - with honesty and truth but also with mercy and grace and compassion? This is hard work - living with integrity and being mature - but its how God works through Jesus, it’s the model we have for faithful living. If each of us did this, focused on the self, and how one can become more loving as God loves, there would be less anger, less blaming, less fear, less angst, less road rage, less violence. A world like this would be as if God had healed us, one and all. It just might be a miracle, like rising from the dead and finding new life.
a reflection on the readings for Proper 5C: 1 Kings 17:8-24; Galatians 1:11-24, and Luke 7:11-17