After posting about the school shooting in Kentucky a couple of days ago, the eleventh such shooting in the country since January 1, 2018, I had a friend ask me a question that stuck with me.
(By the way, every time I think it’s time to walk away from social media altogether, someone posts some question or some expression of kindness that draws me back in. I suppose that’s the beauty of relationships and being willing to talk to each other.)
The question that my friend asked was as follows:
Russell, as an educator, what are you seeing from young people in regards to the sanctity of life? Have they become desensitized, or is this more of a mental health crisis?
I’m not sure that my response was really worth saving and reposting here. I’m not sure that I’ve captured what I’m really thinking, but I think it is a start.
And sometimes a start is enough.
I do not believe that young people are desensitized to violence at all.
Nor do I think this can be blamed on a mental heath crisis (although, the stress of this life and our complete refusal to fund mental healthcare certainly exacerbates that.)
In my experience, they’re all too aware of the unpredictable nature of the dangers surrounding them.
What has happened is that they are losing their sense of safety and security. There are few places in their world that are untouched by violence.
This doesn’t desensitize them. I would argue that it has the exact opposite effect of making them hypersensitive to violence and death.
And it’s this sense of an absence of safety that harms them and causes a lost sense of the sanctity of life.
If even school and church are places of death and destruction, life doesn’t seem sacred at all, does it?
America’s love affair with violence as a cure for what ails us, our insistence that violence is the only appropriate response to anything less than adoration, our love affair with instruments of violence as our only recourse, is what I see as the central problem.
The mere possibility of infringement buries the art of peaceable assembly, of petition in seeking redress of grievances.
We’ve denigrated the outstretched hand and replaced it with the fist.
And we’re passing it on, everyday, to our children.
When I take a step back
away from the mess of my desk with the precarious pile of bills
away from the house with the leaky tub
away from the bosses who seem determined to make education meaningless
away from the fears of what this country is becoming
When I take a step back
and watch them together
walking together, arm in arm—
I’m reminded of asking dad one day, when I was old enough to have learned of the complete nightmare that was the year of 1968,
“What were you thinking bringing me into that world?” and his reply,
“Well, your mom worried about it, but I thought you’d be okay.”
When I take a step back,
I remember, and
I believe he was right.
I am okay.
In fact, I’m far better than that.
So, thanks for your calm self-assurance, dad.
And your belief in the future.
We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.
There is far more than holds us together than separates us.
We love our children.
We love our families.
We love our communities.
We care for strangers.
We care for the hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, and those in need.
We believe that Freedom and Justice and Equality are far more than dead words of a past age. We believe these ideals are crucial to humans living and working together.
We believe that people matter, and that the ideas that people have matter.
We are not perfect, and frankly we never will be, but we believe that we are striving to form a more perfect Union than we had together yesterday. It’s the striving that matters.
We have to keep striving together.
The Blessings of Liberty are not dead. We will secure them for all of ourselves and our Posterity.
It is so ordained. It is so established.
We are the people of the United States of America.
Matthew wanted to go to the store. So we went to the store. It was getting late, but we went. It was the beginning of the routine, but it was happening out of order. We should have gone out to jump first. But we didn’t. It was going to be bad.
When we got home, Matthew wanted to jump outside. The routine was happening backwards, but I couldn’t stop it. Every attempt to redirect him toward something else just wasn’t happening. It was no use. He wanted to jump and no amount of iPad screen time would redirect.
(And yeah, I know. Let the boy jump, right? Exercise is FAR better than an iPad. Except, I knew what was coming next.)
So we jumped; even though it was after 8:00pm, we jumped.
And as I was helping him off, he asked for what I had feared in letting him jump: “Wanna go to the library?”
I hate being right.
“The library is closed, buddy.”
“THE LIBRARY IS CLOSED! NOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!”
“Yep, I’m sorry man.”
And so again, I tried to redirect. It didn’t work.
It was going to be bad.
Eventually, we drove to the library. So he could see.
It was going to be bad. The routine was FUBAR.
So we went to the library, and the library was closed.
“THE LIBRARY IS CLOSED! NOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!”
We got out of the car, so he could see. But it didn’t help.
And it became bad.
After twice carrying him back to the car and eventually getting him buckled in, we drove home, screaming all the way.
It was bad.
You see, we struggle with self-injurous behavior. Without the words to express frustration, other outlets replace it. And slapping his head is his go to move for letting us know just how frustrated and hurt he is.
The slapping had started; I could hear it.
So I pulled over despite being less than a half a mile from home to restrain him.
Except when I looked in the mirror, I noticed that the slapping sound interspersed with the screams of protest over the library being closed, was NOT coming from him hitting himself on the head.
This time, despite being a truly bad one, this time, Matthew was slapping his hands together.
Rather than express his pent up frustration at the radical departure from his routine that the closed library was causing him, my son had redirected his anger, on his own, by slapping his hands together.
I was wrong.
It wasn’t bad at all.
It was one of the more amazing moments of growth my son, or anyone I’ve ever known, has ever shown.
Sometimes a busted routine opens a whole new world of awe and wonder. Thanks, little man, for the reminder that terrifying change is often an amazing thing.
You know, there’s been a lot said of late by people who disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage yesterday that people who support the decision are condemning those who don’t and claiming that they don’t love others.
It is not my intention in celebrating the decision to condemn anyone. There is, in my opinion, too much condemnation in this world as there is.
(For the record, I do not believe that being a homosexual is a sin, but we’ll save that discussion for another day.)
The response, from those who oppose the decision, goes something like this:
I have many friends who are gay and I love and respect them, they know I love them but don’t agree with their lifestyle. I am offended when it is implied that I do not love because I oppose gay marriage.
Usually after a claim of this nature, someone will response:
That’s right! We’re commanded to love the sinner but not the sin. That’s what Jesus did!
And with a single cliché, everyone goes away happy that they have done their duty towards others by letting them know that they’re wrong.
But here’s the thing, the phrase, “love the sinner but hate the sin” is not actually a commandment. It isn’t actually even Biblical.
The source of that cliché is probably St. Augustine who wrote in 424ce, “Cum dilectione hominum et audio vitiorum” which is typically translated as, “With love for humanity and hatred of sins.” In 1929, Gandhi restated this idea as “hate the sin and not the sinner.”
The phrase does not actually appear in the Bible.
But surely the idea shows up in the Bible even if it isn’t said that way, right?
Let’s take a look at that. Would Jesus have actually hated the sin but not the sinner?
There are, in the Gospels, basically three incidents where Jesus directly interacts with “sinners.”
The first shows Jesus healing the paralytic, and when doing so, he said to him “Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.” (This story is found in Matthew 9:2-8, Mark 2:5-17, and Luke 5:17-26.) In each passage, Jesus sees the injured man, approaches him, says, “your sins are forgiven,” and then heals the man.
In none of the versions of these stories is the paralytic man asked to confess his sins. Jesus simply forgave, and then immediately when the Pharisees began to condemn Jesus for blasphemy, he healed the man.
There is no discussion of how horrible the sin was. There was no discussion of not approving of the person’s lifestyle. Jesus seemed to go out of his way to avoid drawing attention to the man’s lifestyle in any way.
In a second incident that appears in Luke 7:36-50, Jesus is invited to dinner at with a Pharisee when a woman enters caring an alabaster jar of ointment which she then broke and anointed his feet and dried them with her hair. This is a similar story to Jesus’ anointment for burial by Mary in John 12.
When this woman did this, the Pharisee asked why Jesus would let this sinner touch him? Jesus responded, “I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.”
Jesus then, again, turned to her and said without preamble or requirement, “your sins are forgiven.” They were forgiven by an act of love, nothing else.
The final incident is the woman caught in adultery who was being brought out to be stoned in John 8:1-11.
After writing in the dirt and telling the mob, “Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”
After they had left, he approaches the woman and asks, “Has no one condemned you?” When she said, “no one, sir,” he responded, “then neither do I condemn you. Go your way and sin no more.”
Thus, at no point did Jesus discuss or express his “hatred for the sin.” The sin was not relevant. At all.
His entire focus was on loving the person who was in front of him. The person was all that mattered. What the person did or did not do was irrelevant.
So, no, Jesus did not hate the sin, not the sinner. He loved the sinner, and that love changed everything for the sinner. There was no condemnation. There wasn’t even a discussion like we might, unadvisedly have with a child where we ask, “do you know what you did wrong?”
There was just love. Nothing else.
And that’s what we’re actually commanded to do. No where does scripture tell us to hate the sin of others.
If I really want to hate sin, the sin I should hate is just my own. Not others (Matthew 7:1-5). If I do that, then I will truly understand how to love others because I’ll realize that I too am a sinner. There’s no difference between me and anyone else. God sees us all as the object of God’s love; God forgives us all (Romans 5:6-8).
The cliché “hate the sin not the sinner” needs to be retired from our lexicon. It’s a meaningless phrase used to absolve myself when I, sinfully, condemn others’ sin rather than seek forgiveness for my own.
The only commandments that Jesus gave us were, “Love God, and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:28-34).
We’re not commanded to hate anything not even sin.