Visible and Invisible Violence

Grunewald’s Crucifixion

One theory of the saving power of the Cross is that the Cross makes the victim visible, thereby exposing– in the hope of ending– the cycle of scapegoating violence. The cycle of scapegoating violence is a cycle in which an innocent person, or an innocent group (generally an outsider or outsiders), is sacrificed in order to maintain group cohesion. Nothing promotes group cohesion better than identifying, pursuing, and killing an enemy. Sometimes so much underlying tension is agitating a group, that the search for an enemy to kill (in order to mask the underlying tension) supercedes rational reflection or moral consideration. This is the ugly side of our human nature, and anyone who thinks we’ve outgrown such primitive impulses is in denial, or not paying attention.

Why is some violence so visible to us, and other violence so invisible? Part of the answer is the mercy that our make-up is essentially partial and limited, saving us from the overwhelming burden of compassionately feeling each particular, individual, broken-hearted grief of losing a loved one to violence. Such a broken-hearted grief is happening inside some person today, somewhere– is happening even now. We keep some violence invisible, in order simply to survive without going mad. Thank God.

If that were the complete answer to why some violence is invisible, we could then excuse ourselves from any uncomfortable moral reckoning with violence outside of our limited sphere by invoking the self-preserving saving grace of denial: it’s too much for me to think about. That’s my defense. And yet…

Even if it is not my or your calling to take any action on this or that issue related to violence, we still do well to expand our visual field and allow previously invisible violence to impinge on our conscience. For example: 532 people were murdered in Chicago in 2012. Maybe you knew that, but I did not. I find the number stunning. That violence– and its accompanying grief– has been invisible to me. Now it is at least within my awareness. The drone war, with its significant number of invisible innocent victims (children), is another example.

We can’t take on every evil and injustice in the world; there are still only 168 hours in a week. We can, however, draw the perimeter of our range of visible violence ever more widely. The becoming-visible of some innocent victims of violence might rouse us to recognize a large gap between our ideals and our practices/policies, and that we need to change in order to be the people we say we are.

crucifixion.jpg (JPEG Image, 988 × 860 pixels) – Scaled (70%).

Boston Marathon– Lost Innocence?

The Boston Marathon

I love the Boston Marathon. The spirit of the event is a resonant harmony of the freshness of the first warm days, the hope of early-season baseball, the perseverance of the runners, the lift of the cheering crowd, the helpfulness of the marathon volunteers, and the silliness of the soused– all of it wrapped into a ball of  joyful camaraderie that is fully lovely because widely shared. People come together on Marathon Monday in a way that calls forth our better nature: we cheer for each other, instead of harboring hidden envy. Your success is my success; my success is yours. Ubuntu.

Is the bombing really an end of innocence for the Marathon? I remember being in Hopkinton for the start of the race in April 2002, and I remember being on the lookout for suspicious bags and suspicious people. I wasn’t overanxious, afraid, or edgy– I was just aware of my surroundings, having had past trauma re-awakened the previous September. And while I am not a reporter and therefore don’t know this to be true, I imagine that Marathon and city officials rehearse for emergencies. In this era, it would be naive– even negligent– not to prepare for scenarios similar to what happened Monday.

I believe innocence is recoverable; I believe that there always exists the possibility of a second innocence rising up as a green shoot from dead earth. A second innocence will never be as pure as original innocence, but it might be richer: richer because a second innocence knows, and has some kind of working agreement with, the darkness and corruption in life. On the far side of injury, we re-open ourselves to love. We can, and do, begin again.

Perhaps Monday’s bombing was the end of a naivete about the Marathon, rather than the end of innocence. Naivete says: it can never happen here. Naivete says: I can guarantee 100% safety, all the time. Naivete says: there is a plane of existence that is exempt from the outrageously unfair. It’s right to grieve the loss of this naivete, even as we grieve for those who died, and for those who were injured in body, mind, and spirit.

On Marathon Monday next year it will be spring again, after a long winter. 25,000 runners will gather in Hopkinton, and half a million will line the route. The spirit of good will and mutual care will come alive again; again my success will be yours, and yours will be mine. What is this, if it is not innocence reborn: the willingness to share again a day that is beautiful and good, despite the memory of fear and grief; the willingness to come together again to celebrate the best of the human spirit, despite having experienced the worst? The spirit of the Marathon will have a shadow, and that shadow will add a dimension of sadness. Still– even with that sadness, and maybe perhaps even because of it– the spirit of the Marathon will be more abundantly filled with all the fullness of life.

Below is an excerpt and link to Boston Globe sportswriter Dan Shaughnessy’s column on the bombing:

More end to more innocence. One of our best days is forever tainted. The 117-year-old Boston Marathon will never be the same. The journey from Hopkinton to Boylston Street is now a 26.2-mile stretch of yellow police tape.

via Dan Shaughnessy: Patriots Day a sacred tradition taken away – Sports – The Boston Globe.

The Eyes of Life


This Rembrandt self-portrait is the masterpiece of all his self-portraits. Past mid-life, he could see the heartache and the mystery of life, and, with a lifetime of accumulated skill at his command, could render that heartache and mystery in a face– his own face– on canvas.

The equivalent in literature is Shakespeare’s Tempest: whole in its vision of both human nobility and human depravity; skilled in its artistic execution; wise in its hard-earned compassion for suffering; and enduring in its ability to move the human heart to a higher level. We don’t measure works like this self-portrait, or Shakespeare’s Tempest— they measure us.

I am drawn to the darkness in Rembrandt’s paintings. The shadows remind us of the vast darkness that surrounds our own little light of consciousness– the richness of our dream life; the creative power of our imaginative life; the destructive power of our all-too-threatening and therefore largely denied impulse to violence; and the terror of nothingness and our inevitable death.

Nothing lasts– not a religion nor a philosophy; not a government nor a civilization; not a society nor a culture– that doesn’t make a home for the shadow and the dark.

Telling Time

Merry Christmas! Um, I mean, Happy Easter!!!

Leaving a school function last Friday (you may recall that it was Good Friday), a well-meaning and thoughtful teacher greeted everyone at the door with a hearty, broadly-smiling “Happy Easter.” I thought: Well, no– not yet. That’s not what time it is. Today is a day we remember an agony, an abandonment, and a death.

That teacher could have been me 20 years ago, so I did not  feel indignant or offended. What I did feel, was an acute sense of incongruity, and the collision of different worlds: the world of the Bunny who has been in stores since Valentines Day, and the world of Jesus, whose followers have been preparing for the Feast of Resurrection since Ash Wednesday.

What is happening to the time preceding Easter– and Easter’s Christmas-ification– are the clearest signs of how Christian practice is being swallowed by the culture of commerce, limitlessness, and frenetic death-denial. That is not said in a spirit of hand-wringing; nor is it a scold. It is merely an observation.

The happiness of a Happy Easter is of a special kind. It’s a happiness– joy is a better word– beyond what words can say; a joy that lives in the same place as our deepest feelings of belonging, and of being loved. This joy comes with a price: the requirement to descend into darkness and abandonment. There is no light without the dark; no dawn without the midnight. Easter might be a lovely spring day without Good Friday, but it is not joyful in the way that followers of Jesus know that particular joy.

This world– beautiful and good as it is– cannot give such joy.

via Easter Bunny History at EasterBunny’s.Net..