Like you, I watched in horror, shock, and dismay as the United States Capitol was stormed and besieged on Jan. 6, 2021. As the images poured in of destructive violence, I was scared for our democracy and nation. I was enraged when I saw the Confederate flag, a symbol of hatred, not heritage, paraded around the halls of our Capitol in 2021. I was equally enraged as I saw antisemitic slogans stitched across clothing. I was scared, as I am each time I see police overwhelmed by force. I was offended as I watched Senate offices broken into, House members’ desks pillaged and property looted.
I kept asking, “Is this really happening?” “This is America?” Similar words have been uttered countless times throughout our nation’s history. During these deeply divided days, I am sure you have uttered the same question in response to some late-breaking news.
I did what so many of you did; I began reaching out to friends and family. I spoke with someone who said, “This feels like Kent State.” Another said, “This feels just like 9/11 to me.” I talked to a reticent friend before asking, “Can you imagine had these people been brown or Black?” I called my friends who are the staunchest of conservatives, and they said, “I’m at a total loss for words. I’m just angry.”
Shock, dismay, anger, rage, contempt, sadness, grief — all of those emotions seem reasonable to me.
I’ve settled into a state of grief. Grief for the loss of life. Grief over the loss of civility and honor. Grief over the polarization and those who have helped perpetuate it through incendiary lies and intentional exploitation of people through misinformation. It is dangerous, and it’s not the way of God.
As people of faith, how do we walk these days? How do we hear and listen to God in the midst of our anger, bias, sadness and contempt?
I have found Father Boyle’s words are an excellent place to start: “You know you’ve made God into your own image when God begins to hate the very people you do.”
If we begin there, we will quickly come to recognize what all of our ancient texts ascribe. When we see others as pawns to be moved on a board for personal gain, or, worse political gain, we have ceased to see them as fully human. When we view one another as merely an opponent to be defeated, we have ceased to understand our kinship. When we speak in dehumanizing language, we are devoid of our humanity. When dehumanizing behavior becomes the norm, it leads to escalating violence, and death is not far away.
How do we walk these days? It is the question of our time. I believe there is a path, but it only begins with reclaiming the humanity of one another. May we begin that work today.
With great hope,
Rev. Matthew Ruffner is the Senior Pastor at Preston Hollow Presbyterian Church. He is a husband to Sarah Ruffner and a father of two. You can follow Matthew on Instagram at @thisismatthewruffner and visit PHPC.org to watch the church’s live stream and listen to sermons.