Bearing light in the dark places - East Valley Tribune: Ahwatukee Foothills

Bearing light in the dark places

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Steve Hammer

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Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2011 2:00 pm | Updated: 1:27 pm, Wed Oct 10, 2012.

Far be it from me to evaluate the authenticity of your revelation, but here is a pretty good place to start: If the divine, by whatever name you call it, tells you to kill someone, chances are good that it is more likely to be a psychotic episode. I am not being flippant. In light of last month's horrifying shootings near Oslo, it is time for people of faith, all faiths, to agree on one very simple principle: Attaching something "sacred" to your violence does not elevate it to a noble mission. If you hear your deity calling you to murder, you need help.

I write this fully aware of the role sacred violence has played in human history. From tribal times when we ascribed divine intention in our attack of the tribe on the other side of the mountain to the present time when both cultural and religious differences color our multinational warfare, we have found ways to justify our violence as sacred crusade.

What we have seen in the last few weeks is that sacred violence is by no means the exclusive property of any one religion. Anders Behring Breivik was apparently a fundamentalist Christian, upset at the growing diversity within his country. He called his actions "atrocious but necessary" to prevent the "colonization" of his country by Muslims. Necessary? No.

It is time to stop it. It is time to stop demonizing those who differ from us whether those differences are cultural, religious, political or national. And every one of us who has wondered silently or out loud why moderate Muslims do not speak out against the extremists preaching sacred violence, must question our own silence when the extremist is a Christian. It is time to stop it. It is time to stop claiming exclusive rights to divine truth.

In the first letter of John 1:5 we read, "This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all." When we claim divine purpose in our violent intentions and acts, we are projecting our own darkness onto our gods. It is an act of idolatry and it is time to stop it.

I imagine it is very unlikely that mass murder is on the mind of anyone reading this. But consider for a moment the ethical and spiritual dimensions involved in things like state and federal budgets and the public policies they fund. Will we allow the least among us to suffer because it is in our own long-term best interest? Or will we diligently search for ways to bring light into the world?

When the Oslo massacre was taking place I was on a retreat with more than 50 youth and adult leaders. I began thinking of all the families who have entrusted their children to me in over 30 years of ministry. I always took their trust for granted, and I imagine they always assumed their children were safe with me. And I thought of all the families who similarly sent their kids to camp in Norway last week and I cannot even begin to imagine their grief.

So it is time for us to stop it. It is time for us to examine ourselves and ask if in our intentions, words and actions we are bearers of light.

• Steve Hammer is the pastor at Esperanza Lutheran Church in Ahwatukee Foothills.

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