A marred Christmas and a marred New Year. Merry has been stolen from Christmas, Happy from New Year’s.
As much as we might desire or long to celebrate the birth of God among us, the violence in Newtown, Conn., does not proclaim birth to us, but miscarriage, death, loss and grief.
As I come to the end of 2012, I’d like to proclaim the kingdom of God is at hand, among us, but it just doesn’t feel that way.
It feels like the kingdom of God is like sand that we grasp and cling to, only to see it trickle away from our hands.
In the weeks ahead, there will be a great deal of blaming and finger-pointing in our culture.
Some will be quick to point fingers at the NRA. Others will blame the entertainment industry, which has marketed and prospered by peddling violence to a younger generation.
The common thread that runs through the worst tragedies in our land is what the gospel writer of Luke calls the demonic. We commonly call it mental illness.
But whatever we label it, it is the lost and displaced “Imago Dei” from within us (the image of God) occupied by anger, alienation, fear and lostness.
Our world, unlike the first beatitude, is not a place where poor in spirit, broken and weak are being swept up into the kingdom of heaven.
The reality is the church, the nation and local communities are not clothing those who are weak and broken in spirit among us in wholeness and healing. They are labeled defective and pushed to the fringe.
Then suddenly they reappear among us as walking landmines, searching for a site in which to detonate. They explode in Tucson, Aurora, Portland and Newtown.
I have a deep sadness that perhaps the accompanying consequence of our war on terror is that those who senselessly attacked and have taken lives in the name of a militant and misguided Islamic fundamentalism are achieving their goal.
Our national and spiritual enemies the past 12 years have never been about battlefields conquered and territory occupied. Nor have they set goals about capitals or houses of government occupied. Their goal is more sinister.
They are about planting and fertilizing the seeds of destruction from within. In our fighting against them, we have become insulated and too comfortable with the loss of the unnamed civilian killed in the violent attack or the child who becomes nameless human collateral in the fight between us and those who threaten us.
So within our culture there is a darkness that skews the demonic and the civil, and blurs any grasp or distinction between emotionally detached spilling of human blood and what we do after breakfast.
The weakest people and the broken in mind and soul among us are the most vulnerable to this madness.
The result is we see behaviors and actions mirroring the actions of the terrorists we have fought the past dozen years.
Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in the struggle against apartheid in South Africa, said, “We must not become like those (the system) we oppose.”
Yet, emerging among us too frequently are the very actions and attitudes of those we have vigilantly opposed. In these days, the darkness seems to spread among us at an exponential rate. Darkness is often faster than light.
Seventy years ago, Tom Brokaw’s greatest generation contested with the demonic forces of genocide and ruthless violence. They faced the evil and conquered with the sword.
Then those brave warriors set their swords down and purged their memories of the wounds and violence of conflict. They rarely talked about it. Most disowned the memories, and few ever cherished telling the stories.
When I look to this season and the near future, what I’m reading and hearing is that healing comes in thoughtful letting-go of the violence around me, rather than in cherishing rights or freedoms to embellish it.
The future cannot be about my rights to produce, advertise, consume or be energized from images of violence.
As Americans, we can all claim the rights of free speech. But I must realize our future together will be about relinquishing those free speech rights (if a movie or video game is that) and embracing the healing of the world around us as a higher responsibility.
Producers of games and movies have their right to speak, but I have the right to ignore them. I have the responsibility to encourage others not to listen to them and to put better sounds into the world around me.
Likewise, my future will not be about my right to carry the sword (the ancient equivalent of the gun).
Jesus was telling the truth when he said if you live by the sword, you will die by the sword.
I’ll favor energetically a world with fewer swords, and pray and desire much less aggrandizement of them.
I will reject the myth that security comes by my grip upon a sword and embrace the teaching and model of Christ, the giver of peace and security that shall endure.
And in the new year, I shall be more aware of whom I choose for company and whom I might consequently shun.
Going against my human nature, I will relinquish the right to be with the people who are Darwin’s “fittest,” the secure, the powerful and the strong, the rich and famous, and instead choose to be more observant and present with the weak and the broken.
I’ll engage the disenfranchised and downtrodden people around me, struggling to lift them out of the box labeled defective.
I’ll seek to put upon them a label that says loved and valued, child of God.
Suppose many of us look at the future this way. Maybe, just maybe, light will come into the world through us, in us and around us.
Light came upon a manger in a dark cave centuries ago. Maybe, just maybe, the light will shine upon us, through us and in us, and the darkness will not overcome it.
Larry Coleman is pastor of Churchland Baptist Church in Chesapeake, Va.