A Facebook friend posted his thoughts about the Paris attacks yesterday, lamenting that he felt torn between nuke all the bastards and peace is the only way. I wrote most of this last night, and amended it just a bit—he’s a pastor, so it’s decidedly Christian, even though Christians are really pissing me off right now. Or maybe BECAUSE they’re pissing me off right now.
Anyway, his words really helped me frame an issue I’ve been thinking a lot about lately, about how we should respond to violence in Paris and Beirut. On one hand, it seems like our country’s original mucking around in the Middle East contributed to conditions that allowed terror groups to flourish there. On the other, how could we let violence persist by just leaving it alone to grow?
So what do we choose? Which side are we on? Pacificism or war?
The more I think about this, though, the more I think it’s a false choice. We believe the choice is between military action and the safety it will bring or pacifism/”no action” and the danger or risk that it will bring.
But I don’t think this is the case. In fact, I think this is really what the gospels are about. Jesus seems to be repeatedly reminding us that safety does not come from position or power or money or possessions. It also does not come from following the rules perfectly, which the Pharisees seemed pretty attached to.
But there is no such thing as safety. Your son could be immaculately conceived and still wander off when you’re not looking, scaring the crap out of you, and then be kind of a jerk about it. You could be the son of God and still get slaughtered and tortured and mocked. You could pledge your unending allegiance to Jesus and then take it back repeatedly while a lot of people are watching.
Your five-year-old nephew could get diagnosed with leukemia and die a few days after his seventh birthday, even if his parents fed him a mostly organic diet and ensured he didn’t do anything really risky or stupid. You could save for retirement and do all the right and safe things, only to watch it all go away in a stock market crash.
Nope. Safety can’t be earned or achieved or even promised. You can’t create it by following enough of the rules. This is why the Buddhists teach non-attachment, because attachment to things or outcomes or even safety brings suffering.
Instead, safety comes from realizing that every day, almost every moment, brings the opportunity to choose between love and grace or the rules we think keep us safe. It comes from understanding that this love and grace starts with accepting ourselves, and then flows out to loving and graceful actions to others. Because unless you understand that you are fundamentally okay, you can’t extend that grace to others. You can’t sustainably flirt with old people at the grocery store, or to donate to organizations that support refugees or effectively raise foster children or forgive your enemies. You have to understand that you’re okay today and you’ll be just as okay tomorrow whether you get what you want or not. You’ll be held and supported and loved then just as you are now, in this moment.
That’s safety—the freedom that comes from understanding that nothing is permanent and therefore, nothing is really safe.
And since nothing is really safe, then everything is safe.
I’m not advocating for frolicking down dark alleys—safety and stupidity are two different things. But I am saying that since you can’t earn safety, you can, finally, be safe just as you are.