Sharing Christ’s Suffering Today

This weekend a crazy old man drove from the Ozarks to the Jewish Community Center in Overland Park, Kansas and shot three people at random: this anti-Semite killed three Christians to demonstrate his hate.  The story is testament to the God given right for any lunatic in America to have a weapon and only be punished after he or she uses it wrongly. What’s sad about stories like this is the follow up stories frequently detail how people near the shooter always thought something was wrong with the person and wondered when it would blow up. How heart warming it is to live in this kind of minefield, when you could get shot almost at almost any public venue, for the reason you have no connection to other than being in the wrong place at the wrong time, by someone who’s known to have antisocial tendencies. Given handguns aren’t able to deflect bullets from all unexpected directions, anytime, it would have done none of the victims any good to be armed.

It’s part of Christian spirituality to see Christ’s suffering in the suffering of the innocents.  All around the world, particularly the Middle East, innocents suffer for what they believe.  In this country, there are two groups in particular I see sharing in these sufferings during Holy Week this year:

The Mentally Ill. The shift in the past 30 years has given them lists of irrelevant rights which make their lives worse, such as the right to live on the street without care, project hate messages and other incomprehensible ideas as normal public discourse, and legally carry weapons without significant background checks. We can’t pre-emptively scoop them up and take care of them because it would compromise either their freedom to make bad choices, or our freedom to ignore other people’s problems. They are today’s lepers, generally blamed for being sick, having their illness written off as personal choices, and cared for primarily by institutions and situations completely unsuited to help them, such as living on the streets and in prisons. Not only are they unprotected, we are not protected from them when they are violent until after they act. The status quo endures under the rubric of freedom: the reality of the mentally ill without adequate care means there is no real freedom or safety for anyone.

Debtors, both domestic and international. This generation of young people are starting off less well off than their parents, and have almost no way to work their way up. The costs of an education that leaves them unprepared for most careers saddles them with debt they cannot repay in a reasonable time frame and work opportunities that do not pay a living wage to start with, much less help them work down the debt. They’re also raised to be consumers, trained to feed the market before considering what’s best for them, and taught to spend now, pay later as a base mode of living. Thrift and delayed gratification are proclaimed as mortal sins, self control other than comparison shopping is regularly mocked.

We like to blame Generation X and the Millennials for their false standards and lack of discipline, holding up an ideal that was attainable when we were young but practically no longer exists. We say they were cuddled, coddled, and complemented too much growing up, without taking responsibility for being the people who did it to them. We tend to blame the next generation for our faults in parenting. We need to recognize how much our economy today pushes all of us toward poverty, and conspires to keep us there.

Third World Debt, largely incurred by dictators and elites who borrowed, siphoned and vanished, strangle local economies around the world and make them susceptible to a kind of post colonial exploitation. There is no serious exploration of forgiving these debts or holding their fraudulent conspirators responsible instead of their countries. Debt service sucks the life out of many Third World economies: people are abandoned to slow death in poverty in order to pay off debt they didn’t incur personally. If America’s creditors tried to do that to us, I think the most likely result is we would take up arms against it rather than letting it bleed us dry.

In both cases, too much power is invested in the perpetration and maintenance of debt that it becomes an easy excuse to dictate terms in response to the debt without finding solutions that truly remove it. Debtors are condemned for bad choices, then the bad habits are reinforced and taught to a new generation.

Jesus Christ was perceived as a threat to the Power of his day, so much his disappearance wasn’t enough. He had to be set up with a rigged trial and blame for his death carefully assigned so a corrupt society would continue a doomed status quo without question or challenge. The Second Temple culture that conspired to silence Jesus didn’t last: it was destroyed by the Romans it tried to placate 40 years after Jesus’ death. Rigged games and corrupt societies always fall, and as we walk this Holy Week it’s important to name our communal sins of complacency and indifference in all their manifestations.

>We must also embrace those suffering unjustly today, not only the ones I’ve named above, but all endangered for practicing their faith worldwide in places like Syria, and all sacrificed to the Idolatry of Money. Even though some human forces seem beyond our ability to affect, the new life Christ offers us reminds us that Evil never has the last word, and beyond hope is always the promise of New Life. We can only see this if we walk Christ’s journey: both the Way of the Cross of His time, and the suffering of innocents today.

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