Prayers for my home

I stumbled on this passage from the prophet Hosea a few weeks ago, and it has been drilling a place into my heart ever since:

“…thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.” –Hosea 4:14

It was six o’clock in the morning today when I stumbled on my sister’s Facebook status, referencing a shooting of some kind that took place yesterday in America.  I quickly tried to find out what happened, and was horrified when I was brought up to speed.  The reason I was up at six o’clock was because I could not sleep last night.  That happens a lot here.  Ever since arriving in Germany, I am just more and more haunted by the state of affairs in my own country.  In my own state.  I literally lose sleep over it.  Something was eating at me last night and I could not sleep, I could not feel restful.  It had been a perfectly fine and busy day, but there I was in the middle of the night feeling unsettled.

“…thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.”

If there is anything that can equal the horror of the violence that occurred at a Safeway in Tucson, Arizona, it must be listening to the politicians instantly politicize the tragedy.  Governor Jan Brewer  speaks of the tragedy as if it were old news, saying just hours after the event, “We need to move on,” and that we “have, for whatever the reasons, disturbed people in our communities that, for some reason, do terrible, violent things.”

“…thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.”

Pima County Sheriff Clarence Dupnik seems to be the only one able or willing to not write this off as a random act of insane violence.  Although we can all agree that it certainly was that, the Sheriff contributes some understanding to the event.  The Sheriff–as opposed to the Governor–asserts that there are some reasons why this is not a random or unexplainable act.   He said, “I think it’s time as a country that we need to do some soul searching.  Because I think it’s the vitriolic rhetoric that we hear, day in and day out, from people  in the radio business and some people in the TV business, and what we see on TV and how our youngsters are being raised…Arizona has become a Mecca of prejudice and bigotry.”  He goes on to say that the gunman apprehended “has a troubled past, I can tell you that,” it is clear that the Sheriff sees some cultural evidence that explains this particular act of violence, and it is not just simply the act of a “troubled” person.

“…thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.”

Even on Countdown With Keith Olbermann (I have to tell you, I’m not a huge fan of Mr. Olberman’s show, but 1) MSNBC is one of the only American news outlets I can get in Germany, 2)Mr. Olbermann can usually be counted on to give some firm reprimanding when it’s necessary, but tonight…) we hear a call to those who use violent imagery and metaphor and language to “put it away.”  Mr. Olbermann’s heart is in the right place, and no one can fault him because he speaks out against what he sees as the determining factor in America’s current political climate, the violent rhetoric of certain political figures that legitimize violence across the board.  But, for any of us who have worked with youth, the poor, or inner city communities in America, we know that the violent nature of American culture is not inspired by hyperbolic rhetoric, but rather the rhetoric is inspired by our culture that accepts and promotes violence.

“…thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.”

Mr. Olbermann ended his broadcast tonight with suggesting a pledge that we all can take up to shun and ignore all those who would talk of violence.  I would argue that we have done exactly that for at least as long as I’ve been alive.  We have turned a blind eye and a deaf ear to the random acts of violence that occur every day.  I don’t just mean physical violence, but also spiritual, psychic, economic, environmental, and all other manner of violence that stems from a culture without the ability to reflect on its actions and intentions.  We wage war against everything we don’t like.  We have military action in at least 6 or 7 foreign nations (at this very moment), and we have political wars against everything from drugs to poverty.  If we don’t like something, we go to war with it.  If we don’t care about something, we shun it from society, assuring that the shunned party or parties will go to war on their own.  Tiny, subtle, perfectly acceptable attitudes and inaction towards violence in our culture….until it culminates in major, terrible, “news worthy” events.

“…thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.”

I’ve been in Germany for a matter of months, and I can’t think of a public place I have gone where the violence and crimes perpetrated by the Nazi regime are not publicly identified, talked about, and rejected.  I have lived in America my entire life and I can think of only a few places that honestly mention even parts of the violence and sin that accompanied institutional slavery, segregation, the annihilation of Native American People, the violence carried out on “other” religions in the original 13 colonies, or a myriad other crimes and violent acts upon which our society was founded.

Today should make it clear:  The failure to understand who we are as a people prohibits us from speaking truth or living truthfully.  The failure to speak and live truthfully means that we are doomed to live within destructive illusions that feed our egos at the expense of the outcast and oppressed.  Thus, a people without understanding comes to ruin.

In the days and weeks to come, we must, ALL of us, confront the lies of the world and illusions of our own egos, and resolve that truth and honesty and justice and love will win the day over the blind, apathetic violence that we all know has a strangle-hold on our culture and country.  Confronting illusions, and overpowering them, is not easy, and it comes at a price.  It means shedding our idealized perceptions of who we are, and throwing away our preconceived notions of “the enemy.”

For Arizona, this is particularly difficult, because it means that we have to completely reverse our understanding of some intensely politicized issues:

*Illegal immigrants have absolutely no measurable negative effect on our economy or culture (if anything, they are a plus, in that a lot of undocumented workers pay in to social security without being able to collect benefits).

*Meanwhile, America’s trade policies, anti-drug stance, and drug-addicted culture have created the most violent armed conflict on the planet within Mexico’s borders (as noted by England’s newspaper, The Times….when you look at the death rates and violent statistics, Mexico’s current unrest due to drug cartels far, far, OH LORD HOW DRASTICALLY far outweighs the threat of “terrorism”).

*The literal OUTLAWING of “ethnocentric” studies in Arizona…not only do such laws NOT stem the tide of forces that would seek to “overthrow the government of the United States,” but such policies and opinions are GUARANTEEING that such an overthrow will, someday, occur.  If for no other reason than the fact that forcing an oppressed minority to feel ashamed and afraid of their own cultural identity is a crime committed by an unstable and unsustainable society.

Why mention these things here?  What do these things have to do with the horrific violence seen in Tucson, Arizona yesterday?  Because a society that perpetrates such violence and crime is not allowed to be SHOCKED by violent crime committed within its borders.

There’s a reason to bring the Biblical Prophetic Voice into this conversation: Because the prophets understood the violence endured by Ancient Israel to be the direct consequence of Israel’s failure to uphold God’s Covenant.  That is to say, they failed as a culture to care for the poor, the outcast, “The Other,” their neighbors as THEMSELVES; so the violent occupation of Israel and exile of the people of Israel was seen as God’s judgment upon the failures of society.  Anyone who lives in Arizona, or America, and claims to be a person of faith whose holy texts come from The Bible, would do well to listen to the Prophetic word in the coming weeks.

“…thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.”

Dr. Cornell West referred to Arizona as “the center of the civil rights movement.”  That was last year, when the biggest civil rights abuse in Arizona seemed like it was going to be a new law that infringed the rights of minorities (which, don’t get me wrong, is certainly a crime in itself), but now we see that violent execution of elected officials is a plausible reality as well.  Dr. West had it right.  Maybe America’s future hinges on the action/inaction of one of its youngest states.  If Arizona is not able to confront its illusions; if Arizona is not able to love and serve her neighbor as herself, if Arizona is not able to collectively confront and reject the violence and apathy that has such a choke-hold on its society…thus a people without understanding comes to ruin.  But if Arizona can organize, if Arizona can get walking towards truth and love; if Arizona can speak against the forces of violence and ignorance and isolation and inequality  in the name of peace, love, hope, and joy, then there is reason to believe that the rest of America can too.

And there is reason to hope.  There is reason to believe that we are not only capable of such action, but that it is our calling to be people of such action.  That reason is articulated by another prophet, Jeremiah, who sang, “… after those days, says the LORD:I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; And I will be their God, and they shall be my people.  No longer shall they teach one another, or say to each other, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, says the LORD; for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more” (31: 33-34).

If ruin awaits a people without understanding; forgiveness, hope, peace, The Kingdom all await the people who KNOW the LORD.

Dear God, Creator of all that is, was, and shall be; God who wrestled creation out of the jaws of Leviathan; LORD of cleansing rain, healing Sun, freeing wind, and sustaining earth….we seek your presence, we seek your Word…in tears of grief and anger we ask, “Why?” and hope to hear your answer.  For victims of violence we plead for comfort and healing.  As we mourn those who have been torn away from us, we ask that you receive them, that they find peace and rest and wholeness within You, Dear God.  We pray for our Public Servants.  Bless them, God.  Bless them with the courage and wisdom to love and serve our citizens, even in the face of threats, violence, coercion, and indifference.  Holy Giver of Life, we plead with you to find those with hardened hearts, those with festering anger, those who suffer in isolation, find these, Dear Shepherd, your lost sheep, and enter into their hearts and their lives.  And we ask that for all of us, LORD:  Our hearts have been broken.  Wounds inflicted by ignorance, anger, mistrust, deceit, isolation, inequality, and apathy have broken them.  God, Giver of Life, Deliverer of Peace…help us pick up the pieces.  Help us reassemble our hearts, and plant them within us, as a Farmer plants a seed…nurture our fragile hearts, that they not grow hard…water them that they not shrivel and die…feed them with your Grace, that they give and receive LOVE with every beat.  Put your covenant on our hearts, Dear God, mark us as your own.  It is these hearts we seek, LORD, that we may KNOW you…that we may see past the lies of the world, that we may reject the illusions of our own egos, that we UNDERSTAND the cumulative effect of our inaction, our apathy, our unexamined lives is utter RUIN.  Give us strength and courage, Dear Creator, to walk with new hearts, with knowledge, with understanding, with love and justice and compassion toward a brighter future–a future fully illuminated in your light, your love, your grace, your peace…leaving no room for the dark illusions that have governed our world for so long.  Lead us to this place, Deliverer of Justice, and may we know enough to follow.  Grant us strength and courage to walk with you, and patience to go the distance…all the way to Your Kingdom.                  Amen.

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