Over the past several days, I have been watching Ken Burns’ new documentary, “The Vietnam War.” Some of you lived through it, and perhaps don’t need to go back again, but as someone who grew up in its shadow, a shadow which was present but never talked about, I can’t take my eyes off of it.
We never talked about Vietnam in history classes. We did a little in college, but only through literature or memoir. I’ve learned a lot from this series, particularly as they’re doing an impressive job of including multiple American and Vietnamese points of view.
There have been a number of haunting observations coming from some of those on screen, including one Army officer, a West Point graduate, who talked about how thin “the veneer of civilization” is over human beings; that in our core, there is something disturbingly violent about us, and it’s all too easy to access it. I’ve been thinking a lot about this as I watch the news coverage on the horrific events in Las Vegas. What happened there is terrifying, no doubt, but while imagining that scene, to me, it looked and sounded just like many of the scenes from the documentary—bullets raining down on crowds of people, sometimes armed, but many times, not.
From Cain’s murder of his brother Abel, to ancient wishes for our enemies to be delivered into our hands, or for their children to be dashed against the rocks, we have faced demons of violence within our human psyche. Those demons are present throughout scripture, and they even tried to snuff out the incarnation of our God, in Christ. They are powerful. They are ruthless. They are present not just in “those” people, labeled variously as terrorists, disturbed individuals, enemy, or whatever. The demons are in all cultures and groups of people. They can be awakened by indifference, oppression, violence, poverty, fear, exclusion, or dehumanization. Therefore it is incumbent upon those of us who desire peace to aggressively fight indifference with compassion; to fight oppression by speaking for justice; to wage peace, to dismantle poverty, to banish fear of the “other” and restore faith in humanity, to include and affirm all of God’s beloved.
This is what we must do, today and every day, to follow in the footsteps of Christ who humiliated those ancient demons by refusing to stay dead.
Don’t wait for another tragedy. Start now.