Two days after it happened, I found out about the massacre in New Zealand, felt awful about it, then told myself there was nothing that I could do about it. I told myself, this is something that’s out of your wheel house so just carry on.
Today I turned the news on as I was eating breakfast and heard about the shooting that took place in the Netherlands. This shooting takes place near the birthplace of Independent Catholicism, Utrecht. I’m once again shaken, but also once again tell myself there’s not much that I can do about it because it’s happened so far away, it’s too distant to be able to do anything.
But is that true?
I placed a political cartoon about gun control as the header for this blog post today. When I began, thinking in terms of what vigilance means to me, I wanted to take the direction of recognizing when we have attitudes that buy into the world view, supports the world view. Thing is, I’m not sure people will actually do anything about it once they hear it.
A couple of years ago, I shared a political cartoon on my facebook feed that insinuated Mike Pence was giving Donald Trump oral sex. The cartoon was published in the context of Trump’s response to football players in the NFL taking a knee during the singing of the national anthem state-side. The majority of people who responded to that cartoon in my feed found it disgusting. They drew conclusions based on the immediate image in front of their faces and responded. I’m not sure they took the time to think about the deeper significance of what was being portrayed in that cartoon, namely that we make assumptions and judgments based on our immediate reactions, and the reactions of those around us, often times without applying deeper thought or common sense. We just react.
In the context of violence, what do we do in the west? We react. We click. We think, and we pray. But what do we do? If what occurs doesn’t effect us personally, if it doesn’t effect how we consume, if it doesn’t force us to change how we think, if it doesn’t make us uncomfortable, what do we do? We click, we think we’ve done all we need to, and we move on not really changing anything about ourselves at all.
One of the first lines of Compline goes:
Sobrii estote, et vigilate; quia adversarius vester diabolus tamquam leo rugiens circuit, quærens quem devoret cui resistite fortes in fide.
Brothers, be sober and watch, for your adversary the devil is roaring like a lion, waiting for someone to consume. Being vigilant is watching not only others, not only being aware of the surroundings and speaking when something is wrong, but being aware enough to recognize when that vigilance is rooted in wanting to protect ourselves from being seen as doing something wrong.
Being vigilant means standing in a place of moral and ethical strength, but it also means recognizing that in order to stand in a place of moral and ethical strength we need to conform to the standards we ourselves wish to impose. And the truth is, there never was, is not, nor will be a human being who can.
Vigilance requires of us our eyes turned constantly inward, asking ourselves if we’ve done enough, if our motives are seated in the right place, if our actions are in line with what our moral compass points. As Christians, it demands that we act out of love that encompasses the truth that every person we encounter, every human being, is a reflection of ourselves in some way, and is a reflection of Christ in every way. Hard to do, especially when they come across as an asshole!
Yes, I used that word, and I’m smiling a little bit as well. Because the words we use have precise meaning in precise contexts whether we are aware of that precision or not. Vigilance is recognizing that when you support a cause, that cause is reflective of your needs and wants. It’s recognizing that a position can be sane, can be rational, can be completely in line with how you think and what you believe, provided that you ignore that one of the founding premises of that belief is false. (If the foundation is faulty, then everything built on it is faulty as well.)
Vigilance is being able to look at your world view openly when challenged and accept that it might be wrong. It’s being able to accept that change might in fact make your life better provided you can be a big enough person to consider, just consider, that you might be wrong.