The following reflection was my article on the front page of my church’s newsletter this week.  There is so much more that can and needs to be said, so even if you read this reflection and agree with a lot of it, but think that it just scratches the surface and is woefully incomplete, know that I agree with you.  However, I think we have to start somewhere.  This reflection, which is a long one for a newsletter, is an opening attempt.

We live in tense times.  Like many of you, I have struggled to put my finger on exactly why and now it seems as if our country is having such fits of violence.  Those who are willing to place blame are many, and the supposed causes of the violence are also many.  Some blame protest movements, and to be sure, there have been protests which started out peacefully but erupted into violence.  However, we are a country in which peaceful protest has been a part of our sacred values since the beginnings of our country.  There were peaceful and violent protests leading up to the American Revolution, Civil War, World Wars I and II, the Great Depression, Civil Rights Movement, and many other causes of a smaller scale, and positive change has often come from peaceful protests which highlight injustice.

Others blame a culture of guns and a culture of overzealous law enforcement.  However, we also have to acknowledge that the vast majority of gun owners are responsible citizens, and the vast majority of law enforcement officers perform heroic work as they put their lives on the line for our safety and protection.  There is never any justification for violence against law enforcement officers regardless of whether or not there may be bad cops out there. In fact, it is so self-evident a statement that I feel a bit foolish having to write it, but sadly, there are those who are taking out their anger against bad cops or perceived bad actions by police officers by randomly shooting those in law enforcement.  Families are being orphaned and widowed because of the misplaced rage of a handful of deranged people, and it is beyond tragic.

Others blame media, and especially social media.  I think there is no doubt that the advent of social media and internet technology in general has made it possible for passions to be inflamed more quickly than before.  And yet, it seems that many who blame the news media and social media aren’t willing to take responsibility for their own actions and responses in such settings instead of taking responsibility for the fact that each of us is responsible for what we post, transmit, forward, “like,” and otherwise endorse vial social media and other means of technology.  I am often disheartened when I get on Facebook, Twitter, etc., at the absolute junk which good people post.  The amount of vitriol, falsehood, and outright bile frankly astounds me.  I have someone whom I love very much with whom I had a strong disagreement recently because of the false e-mails this person was sending to me.  This person thought I was offended by the e-mails because we have differing political views.  However, I was clear that while I was not offended by the opinions expressed, what did offend me was the bearing of false witness by someone whom I know to otherwise be a person of great integrity and honesty.  And yet, this person was willing to send out stories of an inflammatory nature which were easily proved to be a lie, and was unwilling to send out a retraction once the lie was demonstrated.  I think this person sent things out believing them to be true, but my disappointment was the refusal to then acknowledge the error when the e-mail was shown to be a lie.

I think in this area many of us who call ourselves Christian have to repent of what we have said and done, and we can no longer hide under the guise of being clever, cute, or trying to be funny.  I implore you that if you use such media, please fact-check everything you send instead of thinking it must be true simply because what you post agrees with your particular point of view.  A lie is a lie no matter whether you agree with the opinion behind it, and we damage our witness as Christians when we advance falsehoods.  It is not a matter of politics.  It is a matter of honesty and integrity in all we do.  With regards to news media, there are niche news networks we can tune to which will re-enforce what we already believe, and the news networks are often more than willing to slant accepted facts to the interpretation which they believe will get them the highest ratings.  It is our duty to inform ourselves, to use our own minds to think and reason, and to then apply what we learn and believe in a productive manner.  News networks thrive by keeping us upset and on edge because we will then keep watching.  It is up to us to have a diet of the mind and heart in what we put into our minds and hearts, and how we choose to respond.

There are other sources of blame, the other large group being politicians, but I will simply say that we are the ones who elect them, so we have to take responsibility there as well, and also we have to remember that we have had great and lousy politicians throughout our entire national history, and we have survived as a country.  We have to be careful to not overreact to any one person or group, and place the blame for our ills on that one person or group.  If the country was going to be ruined by one person or one political party, we would have ceased to exist and thrive as a nation a long time ago!

So, what are we to do?  In my own prayer, reflection, and discernment, I have had to resolve to be careful in who and what I choose to listen to; re-commit myself to responding to hatred and lies with kindness, forgiveness, and speaking the truth in love; and resolve that I will seek to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  The Christian life calls us to stand up for what we believe, but to stand up not with violence of words or actions but rather with love, mercy, and justice.

A few years ago, I saw a suggestion that before you write or say something, THINK.  THINK is an acronym for us to ask these questions:  is it True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary, and Kind?  If not, then let it be!  Don’t let the emotions of a moment hinder your Christian witness or hinder your relationship with someone else.

Let us resolve in these days to model the example of Jesus.

Peace in Christ,