The last time I went to a midnight showing of a movie I was in college. The movie was “Monty Python and the Holy Grail,” not exactly classy stuff, but a communal experience and part of the innocuous seeking to fit in of late adolescence.
My friends and I went simply to be together and to see if watching this particular movie in a semi-sleepy state would improve its viewing.
As a nation, we had just passed out of Vietnam and Watergate and entered a time of national “dis-ease,” not all that unlike our current circumstance, in some respects.
We were at odds over massive letdowns of trust from within institutions and by those in leadership who, in theory, were entrusted with the national soul.
If the 1940s had been times of unity, service and perseverance for the greater good, the 1960s and ’70s had turned all that tumbling upside down.
The calming leadership of FDR for many poor and suffering; the postings for peace and a post-military world by Dwight Eisenhower; the push for equality and justice by Martin Luther King; and the can-do spirit of a nation whose land had been spared the scarring of the world at war gave way to the killings of a president, his brother and Dr. King, and the realization on the part of many of the inbred violence of selfishness, inequality and fear, not only from the fringes of our society but from deep within the darkness of our own redeemed souls.
Men robed in white, wearing masks and burning crosses, can never be the reflections of Christ, as they claimed to be.
Neither can the businessperson who behaves ruthlessly for her or his own gain alone, claiming it’s “just business.” Or the politician, preacher, priest, coach or any other person who lives to fill the empty black hole of ego.
The violence of our various eras and times has shocked us and shocks us still – that the nation can still be shocked may be a strangely hopeful sign.
What each generation does in response to violence – whether it is of institutional powers and principalities, governments at war with their peoples, the quiet terrors of highly dysfunctional families or perpetrated by criminals and maniacs – reveals its true core convictions and character.
In Colorado on Friday, the core and character of a mostly young audience seeking entertainment and a communal experience was on display, motivated by the horrendous act of what is sure to be a highly disturbed person.
In the grossly unexpected moment, parents covered children and friends covered friends with the shield of their own bodies.
Police officers rushed rapidly into the killing zone with no thought of their own safety, faithfully doing their duty and maintaining fidelity to their oaths to preserve and protect.
Medical professionals proved their callings to be healers, and a community was rallied by an outpouring of caring from those who understand what it means to “weep with those who weep.”
After the triage and treatment of this latest local horror, it will be a sign of the core of the character of our society to see whether we are finally ready to face the violence latent in most every human heart, praying and working for peace and the rebuilding of a communal neighborhood and world where we know more intimately one another and live every day thinking of others while living into the things that make for peace.
No, we cannot stop all deranged and disturbed persons from inflicting pain, or stop all who are evil from waging war, but becoming a society that glorifies peace, kindness, humility, love, mercy, health and justice can reduce their frequency and effect.
Such a society will be a lot closer to the biblically promised kingdom of God than our current version of reality and infinitely nearer the core conviction and character resident in the heart of God.
Pastor of Freemason Street Baptist Church in Norfolk, Virginia.