Reclaiming Our Humanity

Posted on December 6, 2015

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I have been struggling this week with writing this post largely because I wasn’t quite sure what I wanted to say in the wake of this most recent massacre.  Like so many others, I am deeply grieved over the shootings in San Bernardino this week.  I feel like there is much that I would say, but it may not flow into a coherent narrative.  Please bear with me if this is not my most succinct writing.

I was reading an article in the San Diego Union Tribune that pointed out that mass shootings (where four or more people are shot) are occurring more than once per day in the United States.  That seemed unfathomable to me so I went and checked their sources on shootingtracker.com.  There have been 353 such incidents listed year to date.  In most cases, the alleged shooter was listed as “unknown.”

Putting one’s finger on the exact nature of the problem (much less the solution) seems something like Saxe’s six blind men and the elephant.  There is little in common about the motives.   Some appear to be acts of terrorism.  Some were gang related.  Some were by family members.  Some were socially isolated individuals making their final statement.  In many cases, the shooters could no longer tell us about their motivation because they had either killed themselves or committed “suicide by cop” (killed in a shootout with police).

This is not a political blog, and I have no intention of making it so.  I have no plans to discuss national security, immigration, gun control, ISIS, military action, or foreign policy.  My line of work is about helping people in emotional or relational pain.  So what do I know that applies here?

Losing Touch with Our Shared Humanity.  It occurs to me that one of the common threads here is a loss of the sense of humanity in oneself and others.  Whether it was one person or many involved in the incident, each of the victims of these shootings was a human being, imperfect, with strengths and weaknesses, triumphs and struggles, loves and broken relationships, things for which they were proud and others of which they were ashamed.  Each has people who have grieved their loss.  Each had hopes and dreams that will not be realized.

The Value of Human Beings.  I will sometime pose the question to clients (particularly when they are struggling with shame or self-worth issues) of whether human beings have inherent value or do we need to do something to be of worth.  My view as a Christian is that our worth is imputed.  We are fearfully and wonderfully made.  Even after the fall there is something sacred about us, something of God’s self (image) that he put into us.  That is the reason he gives that we are not supposed to kill each other (Gen. 9:6).  People have worth.  The person in the next car or scanning your groceries is absolutely precious.  All of our rules of civility (many of which we seem to be losing) make much more sense if we think of them as honoring the preciousness of the other person.

Isolation.  We have become increasingly disconnected as a society.  Human beings do miserably in isolation.  Babies will die without human contact.  Illnesses in adults are inversely correlated to the quality of our close relationships.  When we feel invisible, human beings will go to any extreme to feel seen and heard.  When we spend too much time with only our own counsel, our thinking gets badly distorted.  We must have connection.

Throwing Back the Starfish.  There is an old story (that I am confident is only allegorical) about an older man walking on the beach and seeing in the distance a younger man repeatedly picking something up and throwing it back into the sea.  As the older man approaches he sees that there are thousands of starfish lying on the sand and the younger man is picking them up one at a time and throwing them into the sea.  The older man asks that younger what he is doing and why.  The younger man explains that the tide is going out and the starfish will die without water.  The older man points out that with so many covering the beach, he can’t possibly make a difference.  The younger man pauses, bends down, picks up another starfish, throws it into the water, and replies, “It made a difference to that one.”

Most of us cannot (and are not called to) make a difference on a grand scale.  This does not mean that we cannot do anything (pardon the double negative).  “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18).  Within your influence, what do you want your life to have been about?  What did you want to have stood for?  Most of us are not going to be remembered 100 years after we are gone, but the ripple effect for good or evil can outlive us.

Like I’m Gonna Lose You.[1]  About 20 years ago, a coworker had shared with me that she finished every phone conversation with a family member with “I love you.”  Her reasoning was that with the uncertainty of life, that if something should ever happen to her, she would want that to have been the last thing she said to each of them.  I think there is wisdom in that.  There is evil in this world.  There are no guarantees of how long each of us has.  If something should happen to you today, what unfinished business do you have in your close relationships?  In the big picture, how important are the issues that cause the conflict?  If today might be your last, this could be a good time to heal relationships.

Do Not Be Afraid.  This was the first week in Advent.  Consequently, I was spending some time in Luke 1-2.  The first four messages from God in the New Testament all start with the same four words, “Do not be afraid.”  An angel talks to Zechariah.  “Do not be afraid.”  An angel talks to Mary.  “Do not be afraid.”  God speaks to Joseph in a dream.  “Do not be afraid.”  An angel talks to a group of shepherds.  “Do not be afraid.”  It is prudent to be alert to danger and threats.  But we are not meant to live in fear.

Shalom.  “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid” (John 14:27).  “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).

[1] Yes, it is a reference to the Meghan Trainor song of the same name.

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