A Violent Summer

In the fading light of evening my son is speaking of butterflies. 

We had just read the old favorite, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and I am admiring the outline of light as it touches his face.

He is summarizing in his soft voice: “First, there’s an egg, then a caterpillar comes. Then it eats and eats and eats, then it goes into a cocoon,” his brow furrows in concentration, “and then it comes out as a biiiig butterfly,” his eyes widen in wonder.

He’s astonished, overjoyed. Delighted.

I think of how he’s grown, how he’s a little butterfly too. How I watched his tiny body jumping on the sonogram screen, how it took my breath away (and still does), to watch him grow, to learn, to blossom. To see what was once just an 8-bit blip on a sonogram screen describe the life cycle of the butterfly.

The next day I’m back at work.

“It’s been a violent summer,” my coworker says as we stare at the TV screen. A man armed with an AR-15 has entered a local shopping area and is shot dead by police. His body is still lying in the road as the TV helicopters circle.

I have trouble making sense of all the bullets. Of all the violence. And the butterflies.

I’m reminded that in the time of Jesus, he and the early Christians were surrounded by state-sponsored brutality, by oppressive governments designed to sate a relentless imperial appetite for war. I’m reminded that when Jesus walked the earth most people were poor, illiterate, and powerless under the rule of a revolving door of megalomaniacs.

Jesus’s witness was a quiet resistance, a hidden wholeness that seemed, and was, otherworldly. He spoke of love and the transformational power of truth, of mercy, of compassion and service.

How would Jesus walk through the hot, animal fear of America? Who would he reach out to, who would he heal, how would he be present to all the suffering and scared people around him?

When he heard that John the Baptist had been killed by Herod, he tried to withdraw, to retreat with this friends. But the crowds followed him, they needed him, and his heart was moved with pity.

I watch the news and see the faces of the dead. Children, mothers, fathers, sisters. I see Jesus’ face there too.

I believe his Spirit is still moving through us, rousing our compromised consciences. I believe he can bind us up again. But for now, I think he weeps, over the hardness of our hearts, over our lack of compassion, over the bitter road of blood we have chosen to travel.

Jesus was no stranger to violence. He was broken by it. Ultimately, he was a victim of it.

He still is.

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