If we can tear ourselves away from the news of our current situation long enough to notice, there are still many other tragedies happening in our world. Every day. This week a dear friend posted a plea for justice. Justice and safety for the lives of African Americans, particularly men, in the United States. Safety for her husband, safety for her sons. Young and old, those who find themselves at the mercy of a system that remains so biased against them, the simplest protections that many of us don’t even think about, are just not reliable or available. It is heartbreaking. And, lest we think we can shake our heads with a sense of moral superiority here in Canada, we should think again. The systemic prejudice towards many, especially our Indigenous neighbours, in this country is appalling. There is plenty of shame to go around, and we should be angry.
As we’ve moved through this pandemic crisis, there has been an incredible amount of compassion, kindness and support offered to all sorts of people, in all sorts of ways. This is a good thing. But it is not the whole story. We need to remain vigilant against the prejudices that lie deep within our cultures. And we need to notice when our lives, our actions and our beliefs cause others to suffer and die for our privilege. We need to be angry and we need to find solutions. Safety for some is very precarious when it rests on the backs of others. And it is wrong.
Anger. It is a complicated thing. It is often a manifestation of profound pain, frustration and sadness. It can be the thing that spurs us to action, that requires us to remedy a wrong. But it can also be a force of evil. Evil against others; evil against ourselves. We all feel it, and we all must come to terms with how it will inform our behaviour.
This past week we heard about another tragedy. Another group of innocents slaughtered for being who they were. Slaughtered in a place that should have been free from this kind of hatred. They join many who have found themselves the targets of hatred and have paid much too high a price. Children in their schools, young women studying at university, worshippers of all faiths, groups that are defined as different – and somehow wrong – from the majority, people simply walking down a street, crowds enjoying a concert or having a night out for some dancing. All these lives taken because we live in a time where ideology trumps safety. Our perceived rights are more valued than our necessary responsibilities – even if it means fostering a culture of hatred and destruction.
It makes me angry.
As I listened to the news this week, I was reminded of this hymn. When I was in high school, a girl a few years younger than I was abducted and murdered. At her funeral, our school choir sang this hymn. We were teenagers; children. We felt confusion, sadness, fear and anger. It was a powerful experience that I have never forgotten. I know it is often sung at funerals, especially those of children. It is not difficult to understand why. The words speak to a God that holds these lost ones with mighty arms; a refuge; protection that cannot be severed, in life or death. For those who adhere to a belief in God this is an enormous comfort.
Children of the heav’nly Father,
safely in His bosom gather;
nestling bird nor star in heaven
such a refuge e’er was given.
God His own doth tend and nourish;
in His holy courts they flourish.
From all evil things He spares them;
in His mighty arms He bears them.
Neither life nor death shall ever
from the Lord His children sever;
unto them His grace He showeth,
and their sorrows all He knoweth.
Though He giveth or He taketh,
God His children ne’er forsaketh;
His the loving purpose solely
to preserve them pure and holy.
As I read these words, they stir up many emotions. Because we are not always safe. And some of us are privileged to be much safer than others. And this disparity feeds my anger. I sometimes wonder at those who are so convinced of their religious superiority that they are unable to see that we have created a God that serves us and our needs, with little concern for those outside our doors. Who are God’s own? Who are her children? When we see our neighbours, near and far, slaughtered, do we ask ourselves what we have done to be God’s mighty arms on this earth? Do we fight to ensure every nestling bird is given refuge? Are we willing to make our purpose solely that of preserving all children, old and young, in the safety of our bosom?
Clearly, the answer is no. We might fight for those like us. We might get angry when we hear of horrific acts of hatred, but we have forsaken many. And their bodies are piling up – here, across borders, across the seas. Our anger is apathetic. Our anger seems to be less about protecting others than it is about justifying our own safety and quality of living. I know there are things in my own life that contribute to the problems of this world. I know I am rarely angry in a way that spurs me to action or makes a real contribution to change. When I am honest about this, my anger feels empty and pointless.
I reread these words and find hope in the possibility of who we can become. A culture focused on sparing all from evil things could be immensely powerful. I relinquish my weapon, just in case it causes you pain. I relinquish my privilege, just in case it steals from yours. I relinquish my religious superiority, just in case it diminishes all you hold dear. It is not that large a price to pay for the safety of all. For the ability of every star in heaven to shine with the splendour it was meant to have. For millions of stars shining together creates a sight of astounding beauty. One that benefits us all. One that lights all of our paths. Shine, children, with an anger that propels us forward into a world of safety and care. Gathered together. Pure and holy.