Listen to the podcast
Read the transcript
I’m Rev. Jess Chancey, back again to fill in for John.
And this is such a tough time to be asked to take the helm again. All these news stories that are really just the same story in a different place and with new victims. I’m tired of hearing about it, and I’m tired of talking about it. But really, I’m tired of living it, and it’s been all my adult life. My senior year of high school, just a couple of months before graduation, two high school students murdered twelve of their fellow students and a teacher in Columbine. I remember the realization of my classmates and myself that we were the last of the students who could just go to school, without metal detectors and bag searches. The next class of students became the start of the active shooter generation, when students were no longer potential professionals, craftspeople, tradespeople, laborers, farmers, etc., but potential criminals, potential murderers. That’s how our students are seen now. Right away, it wasn’t a matter of taking away the weapons, but a matter of policing the innocent.
I’m tired of it. For those listeners who may have hoped for a different voice to bring a different perspective, on this specific issue, I’m quite happy to disappoint you. Like John, I do not believe that it is enough to regulate guns. I want them gone. I’m thirsty for that day when we beat our swords into plowshares, when we take all the guns, turn them into scrap, and use the pieces to make medical equipment. I’m not naïve enough to think that this country will ever go that far. There are too many lobbyists and politicians whose pockets are lined with the perpetuation of violence, too many gun manufacturers whose mouthpieces use all manner of perfidy to convince folks of the lie that guns don’t kill people.
It feels like we’re stuck. The powers that be would rather demonize those with mental health conditions, you know, people like me, than stopping the creation and distribution of death machines. And we just keep hearing the news of another Parkland, another Sandy Hook, another Uvalde, and not just the schools but also grocery stores and movie theaters and medical clinics and houses of worship. We get riled up, we start fighting amongst ourselves, we demand action but don’t you dare ask me to change, laws are proposed, don’t pass, and then on to the next shooting.
How do we bear this? How do we not give in to hopelessness? How do we find God in a time when churches have blessings of guns instead of backpacks?
For me, I find God through nurturing relationship, watering the seeds of compassion, as Thich Nhat Hanh would say. We often learn about the Golden Rule, doing to others what we would have done to ourselves, but I don’t find that to be the most truly compassionate thing. Take hugs for example. When I’m feeling down, what I want most is to just be held while I cry. So am I supposed to automatically hug the next sad person I see? Some people wouldn’t appreciate that. I appreciated learning a different version of truly compassionate love based in empathy. Do to others what they want done to them, and we strive to do this knowing full well that we cannot guess what someone else would want. It requires communication, a certain amount of trust and understanding, before we can truly know what someone else wants, and even more important, what they want from us!
On Star Trek: The Next Generation, the character of Deanna Troi serves as the ship’s counsellor, and she’s particularly good at her job because she is half-Betazoid. Betazoids are an alien race who are telepathic, and being half-Betazoid, she inherited enough of that talent to be empathetic. She can sense the emotions of others. I always loved her and still do because that’s a gift for chaplains to be able to do. To pick up on, maybe not in the quasi-telepathic way, but certainly in the keenly observant way, to pick up on the emotions of others. It’s not something you can teach, like this furrow of the brow means this emotion, this degree angle of lip twitch means this, etc. No, it’s a skill that develops with time, and, more importantly, with the willingness to be vulnerable, to say, “Your facial expression seems to say you’re upset. Am I reading that right?” Saying that, knowing that we might be wrong, but if the person does correct us, we’re still learning more about how they are really feeling, and we can go from there to learn what they need, and what they want from us specifically.
I hope we can all, not just chaplains, but all off us as human beings, can get to a place where we pay enough attention to one another that we can read those feelings, ask about them, invite each other to share our wants, needs, hopes, desires, and struggles, so that we can be a true human community. Burt Bacharach had it right, “What the world needs now is love, sweet love.” And to me, that shows up in compassionate caring. I hope and pray that one day there will be enough of it that we can finally set aside all our weapons. All of them. In the meantime, let’s water the seeds of compassion wherever we find them, so that those seeds can grow and blossom into flowers of empathy and interbeing on this our journey into the mystic.