Last Sunday, Palm Sunday, my congregation had a conversation about violence. Not the violence of the Passion story, but the violence that had terrorized our city for almost a month. The Austin Package Bomber. At the time the conversation was planned, the source of the terror was still unknown. By the time we met, the perpetrator had been identified and was dead. There was a lot of compassion in the room, and a palpable struggle to understand why it all happened.
In the time between terror and relief, there had been lots of discussion locally and nationally about how to characterize the crime and the criminal. We’ve had lots of practice and a formula has emerged – white males who commit mass murder are mentally ill lone wolves; men and women of color who commit mass murder are terrorists. This is a distinction that is obviously racist and xenophobic, problematic in just about every way I can think of.
The way we distinguish between mass murderers is an ongoing conversation. During Holy Week, I think about the way we characterize all of them, not just distinguish between them. It seems important to label them as Other. Whether they are ill or misguided or not-from-here the key point seems to be that they are not us.
On Palm Sunday and again today, Good Friday, we hear the account of Jesus’ betrayal, arrest, torture, and execution. Throughout the story, it is clear that the perpetrators of those acts are not “other.” They are friends, good citizens, religious officials, ordinary folk. They are us.
“They cried out, ‘Away with him! Away with him! Crucify him!'”
They are us.
And that is the way I think about the perpetrators of mass murder in our communities today. As troubled or misguided as they may be, as much as I can say I’d never commit such acts – it is clear to me that they are us. They come from our communities. They come from families and congregations and schools. They are either living out or reacting against their perception of our social and political values, not acting outside them altogether. There is no holding them accountable until we hold ourselves accountable, as well. Not just as individuals – not many people commit those acts – but as communities, cities, nations.
As we struggle to understand what happened, our hope to prevent the next awful act is also not Other. It is within our power and within our ability to organize our common life in a way that is less adversarial, more collaborative. Less individualistic, more mutual. Less us-versus-them, more all of us together.
I’d love to know what hope you see for creating safer communities in a way that honors the fact that we ARE communities. All of us together.