give me the courage to not look away

I’m reeling, still, from the attack in Orlando this past weekend. I’m watching my friends try to process and somehow respond what happened on my Facebook feed, freshly heart-broken at so many posts. It has been especially hard to see the responses from my LGBTQ friends, for whom this attack is so deeply personal. I mourn with them from the outside, and I wish I could do something to make it better, something to help. I wish that I could write something powerful enough to shift the tide of discourse here and around the world so that we–as a global, inter-religious community–no longer say the words that breed the hate and violence. But all I can do is grieve and cast out my small voice and hope that it means something to someone, somewhere.

This is how I always feel in these moments when the ongoing crises of our time reach a fever pitch and burst out in violence. I struggle to process. I don’t know what to do. Everything seems so hopeless, and no one has any answers–no answers for why, no answers for what to change to make things better. I don’t have any answers. These days, it seems like massive outbreaks of violence happen so frequently that we have become inured to it. We shake our heads, we whisper a prayer, and then we turn away. It is at once too horrible to watch and too common to keep our attention.

In these moments, I have found myself uttering a simple prayer: Lord, make me brave enough not to look away. I whisper it to myself when my newsfeed fills up with images of violence, devastation, and death, when the pain of others threatens to upend my own comfort. I don’t want to read the stories of Syrian refugees around the world. I don’t want to see the faces of victims of police brutality. I don’t want to see the weeping families and friends of the Pulse victims. I want to turn it off, to look away because it is uncomfortable and disquieting.

But I have come to believe that we need to be uncomfortable in these moments. There is, I think, something both deeply human and intensely sacred about allowing someone else’s suffering to enter in. To carry another person’s (or people’s) pain in your heart, to grasp onto whatever small corner of that burden you can hold and share in carrying it, to allow yourself to be changed by it, to remember–I’m not sure that there is anything we do that is more holy than this.

In a country that is obsessed with individualism and in a political atmosphere in which we eagerly lob the rhetoric of “us versus them” like hand grenades at an enemy camp, this is what radical love looks like. This is what peacemaking looks like. We bear witness to one another’s pain. We listen. We share in the burden of suffering. We don’t look away.

Because when we turn away from others’ suffering, we delegitimize it. We say that their pain doesn’t matter because it’s not my pain. We stay comfortable, and that’s a problem because comfort doesn’t prompt us to action. Comfort makes it easy for us to stay out of the fray and let others worry about questions of justice and what should be done to change things.

As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been thinking about the so-called “great commandment,” in which Jesus says to love God and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22: 36-40). I think we sometimes interpret that second part along the lines of the “golden rule”: Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Think about what you want, in other words, and do that for others. That’s a fine rule, but I think when Jesus says to love our neighbors as ourselves, it’s deeper than that. I think it means, at least in part, for us to make space within ourselves to allow the other person in. I think it means to allow another’s pain and suffering to enter in. It means knowing that I am not exempted from shouldering my share of the burden of life and humanity and sorrow and horror, even when it’s not mine. It means not looking away.

Lord, make me brave enough not to look away. Lord make me bold enough to act justly and act for justice in a broken world.

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