Old Devil Hate

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Wednesday December 2nd had been busy grinding through how to turn decimals into fractions with my class. When I said goodbye to my last tutoring student at 5pm, I exhaustedly plopped down at my desk, work for the day finished, and heaved a sigh that signaled the passing of another happy day in teacherdom. I clicked on Facebook to see what the rest of the world was up to.

14 people were killed and 21 people were injured in San Bernardino.

The computer faded out of focus. There it was again – that September 11th sick feeling in my stomach. I sat staring across my classroom. The ticking of the clock came into focus. More people dead. This time, 32 miles from the chair where I sat. My eyes fell into a distant stare as tears welled in my eyes. After a long minute, my sharp, shaky inhale broke the silence. I gathered up my belongings and drove home, red lights blurred through tears, feeling the weight of a world that sees so much darkness. Victims’ faces flashing across the screen: People who will never have another cup of coffee or hear another song, or laugh with their families ever again. I felt overwhelming grief for the brokenness of humanity. Fear for the safety of those I love. The world screeches to a halt again.

I’m not sure how you remember 9/11, but I remember a nation’s collective tears. How no one took their eyes off their screens. We all did what I did after hearing about San Bernardino: just sat still and cried. We put our arms around our family and just lowered our heads, allowing the gravity to wash over us. We stared in silence as firefighters dug through an Everest of rubble, praying for even one to emerge alive – to give the slightest flicker of hope in the blackness.

Then, something remarkable happened. Almost at once it seemed, everyone got up. They lit candles and raised flags. They took hands with strangers and walked to street corners, and bought markers to make big giant signs that said “United We Stand”. They bought flags that clipped them to car windows, and honked in support through intersections and demonstrated that we stand for something greater than fear – that we were unwilling to bend to the devastation. That we would not disrespect the dead by giving up our efforts and our lives to those who want to destroy. That we would allow good to prevail. Together, in our own myriad of tiny ways, we sent a message to evil: You will not beat us. You may beat us up, but you will not beat us. Our spirit is too strong; the good of the many is greater than the hate of the few, and we WILL WIN.

The news stories began to shift. In between ongoing footage of that pile of rubble, we began to rebuild our hope. I recall the flame in my heart watching on the news people standing together on street corners in Tallahassee and Buffalo and Portland, just like we were in Chino Hills. Togetherness was the first step toward our collective healing.

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The Facebook news feed world in which we now live has provided a very different response to these smaller versions of 9/11 tragedies which keep occurring in the form of mass shootings, dead black teenagers and hostage-held Planned Parenthoods. The street corners on which we meet are no longer physical, but virtual, and it is clear something has been lost. Instead of looking into the eyes of another human being and seeing his pain, our friends have been reduced to their ideals, logged away in the filing cabinets of our minds as conservative, liberal, pro-gun, anti-gun, pro-Muslim, anti-Muslim. We’ve stopped allowing the grief to unite us, because the humanness – the sameness- of others is too far away – beyond the networks and wires and screens – in a place that is not real. And it’s tearing us all apart.

We hurl articles like grenades, monger with ideology , bully prayer and spew gun statistics. We are all the man who has lost his job, comes home, and takes it all out on the dog. Anger and sadness are fine – they are the CORRECT reaction – but they have been placed in error upon our brothers and sisters, when they should be directed at the true enemy: hate.

In his book The Screwtape Letters, C.S. Lewis, writes as a demon named Screwtape instructing his nephew, Wormwood – also a demon – how to best corrupt his “patient” – a young man trying to make his way through life. When the “delightful” news of world war has been discovered, Screwtape explains to his nephew the bad news that in war, Europeans wielded only a “mythical hatred directed against imaginary scapegoats”. In other words, though they proclaimed an intense hatred for their enemies, their kind hearts would offer aid to the first German pilot who landed in their fields. In an attempt to help Wormwood foster the hatred in his “patient’s” heart, he offers the following advice:

“Do what you will, there is going to be some benevolence, as well as some malice, in your patient’s soul. The great thing is to direct the malice to his immediate neighbors whom he meets every day, and to thrust his benevolence out to the remote circumference, to people he does not know. The malice thus becomes wholly real and the benevolence largely imaginary.”

By all means, maintain your views about whether guns are the hero or the villain. Feel how you wish about cops, or Muslims, or Trump, but friends, those ideas and the people who tout them are not the enemy. Hate is. And the antidote is love. It is literally ALL that matters. It is the rope reaching down into the pit that we must grab hold of to perpetuate the good left in this world. Now is the time to love, not in the remote circumference, but in the real, immediate world around us, and we must let it flow out of us without faltering and without discrimination. Let it become habit, for Screwtape says, “It is only in so far as they reach the will and are there embodied in habits that the virtues are really fatal to us.” They are fatal to hatred because the active beneficence we show will mean the difference between the broken state of our world today and a better world tomorrow.

Hug your kids. Call your mom and tell her you love her. Send a letter to your childhood best friend. Look at the eyes of the person checking your groceries and comment on what a beautiful day it is. Invite a stranger to your Christmas dinner table. Watch Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. Find the children in your life and teach them to love, too. Sit down next to a homeless person, look in his eyes, and ask how he’s doing, then listen. Put your grocery cart back in the cart corral. Tape change to a vending machine. Let that buffoon who has no idea how to merge into one lane go ahead of you, and then SMILE at him as he passes. (Not that I have any experience with this…) Send a private message to that person who’s driving you crazy with their gun posts. Ask her how she’s doing and if she’d like to get together for coffee like old times. Then go and TALK with her, and LISTEN to her. Say you’re sorry to whom you need to, and mean it. Love the refugee and the Muslim, yes, but love the Trump supporter and the outspoken Bernie supporter just as fiercely. Love the “Coexist” bumper sticker owner, and the Gospel Coalition member. Don’t cheapen your benevolence by offering it only to those you feel have earned it.

Hey Miriam, your incurable optimism is showing.

Yeah. I’m not sorry about it.

Somewhere along the way, between political memes and righteous reputation smearing, we’ve stopped looking at people’s eyes and have lost a level of human connection. We need to find our way out of blog warfare and back to the candlelit street corners of late September 2001. Those of us with love in our hearts have nothing short of a RESPONSIBILITY to demonstrate that love as emphatically, strategically and zealously as those so effectively demonstrating their hate.

Old devil fear, you with your icy hands
Old devil fear, you’d like to freeze me cold
But when I’m sore afraid, my lovers gather round
And help me rise to fight you one more time

Old devil hate, I knew you long ago
Before I learned the poison in your breath
Now when I hear your lies, my lovers gather round
And help me rise to fight you one more time

From “Old Devil Time” by Pete Seeger

Hear the song here.

 

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