Monday, December 7, 2015

Want to Confront Terrorism and Violence? Start in Your Own Backyard.

“In the end, poverty, putridity and pestilence; work, wealth and worry; health, happiness and hell, all simmer down into village problems.”             
--Martin H. Fischer

Former Speaker of the House of Representatives and Cambridge favorite son Tip O’Neil once observed that all politics is local. He named one basic human truth. Although we are citizens of our nation and world, finally life really happens every single day in the neighborhoods we call home. With our neighbors: the ones we share daily encounters and intimate exchanges with: standing in line next to each other at Dunkin Donuts, sharing the latest gossip at our kids’ bus stop in the early morning light. 

All life, finally, is local. Local.  Life always unfolds at the street level. 

So when I hear about the trauma of violence and terror in Paris (3,440 miles away) or San Bernardino (a 2,543 miles trip) and wonder just what I can do as one person, it brings me back to my neighborhood.  The one place in this sometimes broken and challenged world where I can absolutely make a difference for the better and the good and do so immediately. Yet it is so easy to forget or neglect this truth, to instead feel as if the world is spinning out of control and that we are powerless to do anything. 

We think thus because of life in our digitally interconnected world in 2015.  Now more than ever, we can learn in real time what is happening immediately: anywhere, anytime, anyplace. No waiting for tomorrow’s newspaper. No lag time for updates.  As events unfolded in California and France, we could follow it all live, almost in person.  Stare at our screens. Watch in horror and then in fear and despair, lament that we are impotent to confront such human cruelty.

Or even worse, some respond by flooding social media with often uninformed, knee jerk, self righteous opinions and accusations. Facebook and Twitter overflow with so, so many arguments, debates, finger pointing, and holier than thou pontificating. I've been guilty of this. So gun owners attack “soft hearted liberals”. Angry progressives malign “gun toting crazies”.  People of faith smear one another with stereotypes and rumors. It’s a free speech free for all: so many words, so many ideas flying about, yet ultimately so little being accomplished for the common good or for the peace.

So here’s a radical idea. Let’s get local.

Do you really want to do something in response to terrorism and violence?  Do you want to be a part of the solution and not the problem?  Do you want to make a difference for the better? First: turn off your TV, computer and phone and get out into your local neighborhood or town or city and do the real work of community.

Introduce yourself to the neighbors in your neighborhood that you’ve yet to meet. The ones who worship God in a different way than you do.  The folks whose family does not look like your family.  The person you wave a quick “hello” to, whose politics differ from your own.  Then make a plate of fresh baked cookies, walk down the street, knock on their front door and welcome them to the neighborhood. Get to know them as people, as friends, and as fellow children of God.

Get involved or reengaged with your faith tradition. Pray and sing and worship and then go into Boston with your fellow believers and do something: serve a meal at the Pine Street Inn or Rosie’s Place. Write a check to support a young person at a city charter school.  Attend a performance of “The Black Nativity” at the Paramount Theater in the Hub and hear the old, old story told in a new, new way.  Instead of being tempted to close down your heart and mind in fear of the world, open up to the world, and do so with holy curiosity and wonder. 

You know that relative at the holidays who always rankles you with her strong opinions about the President, or guns, or immigration?  Dare to sit down right next to her at your celebration and ask her to talk about why she believes what she believes and then…listen.  Really listen. Try your best to understand what moves and motivates her.  Share your story and ideas too.  Have a dialogue, not a monologue.

All life is local.  We are shaped and formed in our daily relationships. If the world is to change, transformation has to begin on the street. Over the fence.  At the sidelines of a youth soccer game.  In a local tavern, over a beer.  Across the pews at church.

I’m willing to give it a try. I must try, and do so, not way out there, but instead right here. Right now.  Local. 




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