Hidden inside the epistle reading for this Sunday is this sentence: Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. [I Corinthians 1:3] It’s a pretty standard greeting in these New Testament letters, and therefore the meaning gets lost in the familiarity of the phrase. Kind of the way we say “Hey. How’s it going?”
“Grace and peace” as a standard greeting though, takes on a little more meaning when Paul addresses it to the church in Corinth—a church that was plagued with factions, arguing, people who thought they were spiritually superior to others. All this took place in the very pluralistic setting of the ancient city of Corinth, where many religions found a home. The whole city was at odds over religion and all sorts of social issues. The members of the church and the people of that city needed grace, and they needed peace.
I’ve been thinking about grace and peace a great deal since Saturday’s fatal violence in Arizona. First and foremost, our hearts go out to the shooting victims and those who love them, and we also remember the victims of all violence, from domestic to international. It seems as though everyone this week has expressed deep sorrow over this horrific event, as indeed we should.
Then the arguing began. This event is being used as political fodder for the voices that traditionally fight about everything. I doubt if we will ever know all the things that influenced a troubled young man and caused him to pick up a gun and start firing. At this point, he doesn’t seem to be aligned with a strong political view of any kind, though there are people who are trying to plug him in with conservatives or liberals, whatever is the opposite side from their own agenda.
So, could everyone just step back, take a breath, and calm down for a minute, please? Let’s assume no political voice is responsible for this event. But let’s use it as a wake-up call. Let’s see if we might take a look at our political process and our methods of public discourse and inject a little civility and calm, a little listening and understanding, a little grace and peace.
Because whether or not any politician or pundit had an effect on this shooting, our public dialog needs help. All sides turn to the language of anger, hatred and violence when what we need is real conversation. It’s easy to see why. First, especially on television and radio, angry dialog or monolog is what draws viewers and listeners, and that drives up advertising revenue. And second, loud complaining about the other side is so much easier than dealing with the issues in any substantive way. If we were really discussing issues, we would all have to admit that the other side makes some good points: that conservatives are right to be worried about overspending; that liberals are right to be concerned about the poor; that overtaxing the wealthy can hurt the economy; that undertaxing the wealthy can hurt the economy; that healthcare costs are rising no matter what bills pass or fail; that we have to pay attention to the interests of business if we want workers to have jobs; that we have to pay attention to the interests of workers if business wants to succeed; that no one can say with any certainty what caused this recession or what will bring us out of it.
All these issues are complicated, boring to listen to, difficult to grasp. None of them has an easy answer; some of them may have no answer at all.
On any given day, if you turn on a partisan television or radio program, though, you will hear people who say they know the answers, and they can prove it by shouting down (literally) anyone who disagrees. Or, they just don’t have anyone on the show who disagrees with their statements, which is even easier.
A moment of grace might mean that we actually pay attention to those who disagree with us. Consideration of peace could involve the moderation of our tone, and a vacation from labeling and name-calling, from words intended to elevate blood pressure without addressing problems. Whether or not such words led to the violence last Saturday, they lead us to believe that public discourse in a real sense is not possible. We cannot be surprised when children speak unkindly to others, or when teens believe it is acceptable to use violent behavior to settle differences.
So, please. By all means, have your discussions. But could you keep your voices down? The children are listening.
Yesterday I heard a liberal pundit say (in a loud voice and without evidence) that the shooting in Arizona is directly related to conservative politics. And I heard a conservative pundit say that no one should use this terrible type of tragedy to make a political statement (he has, in my judgment, used other tragedies for that very purpose).
Can we just stop? Can we just give each other some grace and peace?
Like those arguing Corinthians, we need to realize that we are all on the same side.
We want security, healthcare, a sound economic system. Shouting and the language of hatred and violence bring none of those things. Real politics is the hard work of sitting down with those who disagree to compromise, negotiate, and come up with creative solutions to highly complex problems.
Perhaps this is all too much to ask. I don’t know. But I’d like to see us try.
Let’s give each other a break, a little grace and peace.