Tuesday, June 2, 2009

4-22-2007: 3rd Easter (C)

Acts of the Apostles 5:27-32,40-41/Psalm 30/Revelation 5:11-14/John 21:1-19
Our identity is defined by intersecting and overlapping communities – where we choose to belong says a lot about whom we perceive ourselves to be. The early followers of Jesus defined themselves as a group by their invocation of Jesus’ name in express disobedience to the demands of the established community. In St. John’s mystic vision of heaven from the Book of Revelation, all the saved find themselves a part of one enormous community singing their praise for the slain Lamb of God.

The call to community seems to have been the theme of the convocation at Virginia Tech this week as students and faculty, clergy and politicians tried to garner a semblance of sense from senseless slaughter. The thousands who attended were encouraged to find solace in the embrace of community. Solidarity in suffering was held up as a source of strength and character. Now they could add their names to the list of victims of violence on planet earth (including orphaned elephants). The convocation ended more like a pep rally for a football game than a wake for the slaughtered as all in the audience stood to chant the school theme: We are the Hokies.

I suppose ending such mass meetings on a positive emotive note makes some (especially those running the event) feel better for the moment – though I don’t think I’d want to bank my suffering on my identification as a member of the Hokie community. The irony of it all, it seems to me, is that the very community into which the bereaved were being encouraged to lose themselves is the very community from which the murderer had also emerged. The deeper irony still is that the deranged and lonely young killer was probably more acutely aware of the need for community than most others, since he perceived himself excluded from it -- whether justified in that perception or not.

While religion in general, and Christianity in particular, seek to incorporate individuals into communities of the like-minded, I’m grateful that the drama of the individual is persevered as well. In today’s gospel Peter is called as an individual, apart from the group, to accept the Lord’s invitation to follow him down a rather lonely road. The community mentality, propounded by religion or the Virginia Tech convocation, for all the good it does, despises loneliness and inadvertently encourages the one who experiences it to denigrate himself for possessing those very feelings. It is the rare community which can face the truth that, as much as each of us wants to be accepted by the group, there are places in each soul were we remain alone and, yes, lonely -- and that that truth doesn’t have to be so bad: loneliness is as much a part of life as everything else, even joy. If only Cho Seung-hui had learned that important lesson, perhaps he wouldn’t have given vent to the fury born of his mistaken conviction that those whom he killed weren’t, deep down, feeling just the same as he.

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