I heard yesterday that the most commonly reported form of violence in my neighborhood is battery. I don’t think about it much, but I must confess that I am prone to rage fantasies when pushed into a situation that I find untenable. When I can’t see a way forward part of me reverts to wanting to hurt someone. That is quite scary to me, especially when I consider all the times I’ve witnessed the aftermath of serious violence. Homelessness, hospitalization, surgery, recovery. When it touches someone you know it makes you sick. To be near an assault, or to be threatened with assault is to feel your very world as you know it threatened with extinction. Some of the blogs I’ve recently read regarding pacifism remind us that Christians are called to suffer. I wonder whether or not this suffering of violence in the abstract is not in itself a retreat. I agree with them, and I certainly don’t wish suffering on anyone, but just today I got word that someone I know was near fatally beaten and hospitalized by a mentally ill person who they were trying to help. This news saps me of all energy and makes me feel downright sick. I can’t help but think that anyone I know could be next. When you reach out to wounded, desperate people, there is really no protection from violence in this world. I spoke similar words to my friend whose wife works with a family with a history of violence. He has to block the possibilities out of his mind. For my part, I am chastened that I must deal more quickly with my own inner violence. Resentment and inner rage is the seedbed for violent action. I often think of those words from Alcoholics Anonymous “taking the actions of love to improve our relations with others.”
Violence is always what is possible, but how much more is love? Fear and hatred are very real things, but so are gratitude and generosity. I think back on life in the believing fellowships where I grew up and now serve. Thousands have been sheltered, comforted, and enriched by this family of God. There were terribly fearful situations at times, but all in all, the life of sharing all things in common was often simply boring. You get used to living a certain way, you know? You get used to strange and wonderful people sharing your food and home. When someone acted out in a profoundly disturbing way it hurt us, like the time I saw my mother’s face slapped hard in our front yard by a woman mom had to ask to leave. I stood there powerless to do anything. But by being close to the poor for a short time you realize that you only have a taste of their daily fears. And there’s no doubt in my mind that Jesus knows this pain and fear and calls me to know it too. To be the Church is to drink the cup of pain Jesus drinks. We are not immune.