We just don’t get it


“Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come.’ I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”

Judas had left the room at the Last Supper. Jesus knew what would happen next. He knew his disciples would be blind in his wake. What would they do without Jesus telling them what to do? It was the beginning of a new time, Christians believe. The Old Testament of retribution gave way to a new covenant, a new standard for action. Jesus could see the painful divisions of this world, and urged Gentile and Jew to come together in love.

As we fumble around trying to respond to the latest slaughter, of 50 people in a Florida gay bar by a mad Afghani American Muslim, we return to the only commandment Jesus offered.

To love one another.

To put aside the division, to take the board out of your own eye.

To embrace the outcast.

That is almost impossible when hate beams at us from every angle in the bubble we call public discourse.

We hate on the Mexicans. We hate on the Muslims. We hate on blacks. We hate on cops. We hate on Hillary. We hate on Trump. We hate on gays. We hate on rednecks. We check our friends to affirm and justify our hate.

Hate killed gays in Orlando. Hate killed the handicapped in San Bernadino. Hate killed the children at Columbine, the theatre goers in Aurora, the school children in Connecticut. Hate kills police officers every week.

Hate and fear and military assault rifles.

Madmen pulled the triggers, no doubt. But at least it would be more difficult without assault rifles. Hillary Clinton called for a renewal of the federal ban. Fat chance.

It would help. But the gun lovers are right. A dark heart will find its way to work its will, whether with a truck packed with fertilizer or a suicide vest.

Jesus knew the human condition. He knew even Peter would sell him out over fear. After all, he had just told them to love everyone, and Peter goes and cuts off a Roman guard’s ear within hours.

It is the human condition. We just don’t get it.

We respond positively when Steve King slanders Mexican boys. Hate helps. When Donald Trump calls for a ban on Muslims, his poll numbers pick up. Islamic radicals draw their hatred from the very existence of Israel, whose residents operate on Old Testament retribution with the Palestinians, which justifies the Grand Ayatollah in Iran. We place zealots in charge of armies and take up behind them.

Love isn’t exactly the first thing we’re turning to when the path forward gives way to thickets.

We build a bigger wall to find the way forward.

Or we buy bigger guns and so many bullets that you can’t buy more bullets until next Christmas.

That’s why the courthouse allows anyone to carry in guns to a Board of Supervisors meeting. And why it is really pointless to try banning assault rifles. Nothing can happen in that regard, because we are operating on our own New American Commandment: Stand your ground.

When a small man gets riled at a party, he pulls out a pellet gun hoping you will think it is a real gun. This is how so many of us think in even Storm Lake these days. We would rather lock up our problems, as Iowa cannot build prison space fast enough, or just ignore them (Iowa has the fewest number of in-patient beds available for the mentally ill of any state). Or we can always grab a gun. In the capital of the Midwest, Chicago, 254 people have been shot and killed since Jan. 1. Just last week, 71 people in Chicago were shot and wounded, and 10 more were killed.

Love hasn’t been the answer. Hate has, or at least cruel indifference.

We go to church, we Iowans. We hear the Gospel according to John. Ghandi gave Buddhists the same message. And so did Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy. And Lincoln. And so many Muslims have given their lives in Iraq, Iran, Syria and Saudi Arabia for love, or they rotted to death in jail over it.

We may listen to the words of peace from the Koran or the King James Bible but it does not appear we hear them. We prefer that Old Testament passage about an eye for an eye.

And so a weary President Obama took to the lectern on Sunday to reflect on the Gospel.

He did not talk about guns or Islamic radicals. What could he say?

“In the face of hate and violence, we will love one another.”

It remains a radical statement as we wander the desert of our own indifference.