By Patrick Carolan, Executive Director of the Franciscan Action Network
Every day, we get up in the morning and make decisions. Some are easy, like what to wear to work, what to eat for breakfast. Some are harder, like deciding each and every day to love.
It starts in the family. I’ve been married for 27 years. Every morning I wake up and fall in love with Stella all over again. It is a conscious decision. I am an early riser so I get up, feed our dog Howard and make a pot of coffee. I bring a cup of coffee and set it down by the side of our bed so when Stella wakes up she has her coffee. I take a few moments and thank God for such an awesome blessing. No matter what happened yesterday, whether we had the most wonderful day or we spent the day arguing, this day was a new day and I began it by consciously deciding to be in love with Stella. I have four children. They each offer a unique perspective and different experiences. Together we make a family. Falling in love with each one was also a unique but conscious experience. Reflecting back on their teenage years if we hadn’t been in love with them who knows what might have happened.
Jenna was easy to fall in love with. I was there when she was born. I caught her when she fell and held her in her first moment of life outside of the womb. I looked in her eyes and imagined how God must have felt when she put in motion the process of creation. She grew into an awesome young woman who didn’t hesitate to challenge me at every turn. Dina offered a different experience. She was a precarious 7 year old when I first met her. She was Stella’s daughter from a previous relationship. It must have been confusing for her. She had a father whom she loved and now there was this other person whom her mother loved. But she opened her heart and let me in none the less. Briana and Delvon presented a different unique challenge. They came to live with us as foster children. They were older and had been moved from relative to foster home to relative several times. When I picked them up from the agency almost all of their possessions were in a black garbage bag. And they were African American. They had to learn to adapt to a different culture. To try and fit in with a large extended family that was both Irish and Italian. We had to learn a whole different set of skills needed to raise black children. Things like what does it mean to have ashy skin and what are the best skin products and how do you possibly take care of a 12 year old black girl’s hair. I also had to re-learn about racism. It was one thing to be a white liberal talking about the evil of racism. But it is an entirely different thing to be the father of two black children experiencing racism through their daily encounters. If you haven’t lived through it you cannot imagine what it is like to wake up each morning and wonder if today is the day that your son is going to be pulled over for DWB and end up dead. Again we had to consciously decide to love these children not just be their caregivers.
Though not all of my kids are directly connected to me through birth, they are connected to me through God. We often hear the expression “when you look at another person you should see God” I think that is kind of a trite expression. I believe we should not see God in each other but experience God. Stella and I made a conscious decision to love each of our children. It wasn’t always easy but because we did, we got to experience God in each of them and hopefully they got to experience God in us. Together we built a common home.
Across God’s wondrous and beautiful creation we have made a conscious decision to move away from love and towards hate and fear. In the US over the past few months we have experienced a wave of violence that some say is shocking. Whether it is violence against the LGBT community in Orlando or the shooting of black men by police officers as we have seen most recently in Baton Rouge and Falcon Heights or the shooting of police officers in Dallas it appears that the violence and the rhetoric that goes along with it is escalating. If you turn on the TV you will hear politicians and various experts debating and analyzing each of these events. They will be talking about why and what needs to change so it doesn’t happen again. If we just passed this law or stopped these people from coming into the country everything would be all right. Mostly they will be assigning blame. It is the fault of the NRA or Black Lives Matter or racist cops or Muslim terrorists or our mental health system and on and on. This will go on for a week or so and then something else will happen and the process will start all over again.
We are not interested in doing the difficult work of looking at ourselves and asking “what did I do to contribute to this culture of violence?” In her book Beyond Apathy: A Theology for Bystanders Dr. Elisabeth Vasko says: “We live in a society that is all too willing to tolerate violence. Violence, a communal problem, impacts the flourishing of all involved: victims, perpetrators, and bystanders. Violence desecrates the image of God as it dehumanizes and fractures communion among all God’s people.” There could be many reasons and justifications, depending on how you view the incident, why when Philando Castile was stopped by a police officer he was shot. When Castile was pulled over the police officer did not see him as a child of God, the officer did not experience God in Castile. Christians often say that we are part of the Body of Christ. The police officer who shot Castile certainly did not believe that Castile was part of the “Body of Christ.” Nor did he believe that he, himself was. He acted not out of love but out of fear. Fear always leads to hate and hate leads to violence. The same is true of the man who shot the police officers in Dallas and the man who massacred folks in Orlando. This is not to justify or rationalize these horrific acts of violence. Rather to suggest that by our choices both individual and societal we are all guilty.
St. Bonaventure, a 13th century Franciscan theologian tells us that how we choose and what we choose makes a difference – first in what we become by our choices and second what the world becomes by our choices. As I started out sharing, every day I make a conscious decision to love. To love my wife, my children and all of creation. Bonaventure tells us that our choices come with consequences. He also said: “The created universe as the fountain fullness of God’s expressed being. As God is expressed in creation, creation in turn expresses the creator.” What exactly are we expressing when we stand on the sidelines and allow violence, whether through actions or words, to happen to people because the color of their skin, their sexuality, their religious beliefs or countless other criteria? What difference are we making by our choices when we choose fear, hate and violence over love? I choose love, how about you?