I was enjoying a rather warm East Tennessee day while driving for a meeting with my priest. The radio was playing on NPR, mainly for background noise. The news report about arrests made in a bombing of a Minnesota mosque almost escaped my attention. I was repulsed by the idea that someone could be so full of hate, full of evil. The names of the suspects were read and I immediately pulled over and began to tremble.
I first heard of Michael Hari through an essay he had written about a proposed community. Michael was a member of the Old German Baptist Brethren Church. German Baptists are included as one of the historical peace churches. At the time we were Mennonites who were looking for a sustainable vision for Christian Community. Early in 2013, I arranged to meet Michael at an auction held by Old Order Mennonites in Western Kentucky. We hit it off. Later that year we would attempt a move to Mexico to help with the community. We would not stay at that point but returned in 2014 for a second trial. After 12 days we once again left and our contact with Michael would taper off . My family and I would soon leave Anabaptism and ultimately join the Orthodox Church. Michael’s arrest for domestic terrorism has brought up many questions and has challenged my own developing view of the world.
2016 seems to have been a turning point for many individuals. It was in that year that my own position of non-resistance faded in the echoes of the fear and frustration of the election. I remember the panic of thinking that we were somehow going to lose America completely to the forces of evil. The religious right painted this election as the climax of human history. We were told that we should act through the ballot box. Those of us who had previously rejected voting and political involvement entered the discussion. Even the Amish, which forbids political involvement, voted. It has been suggested that the Amish vote helped sway Pennsylvania for Trump. We were all afraid of something. Looking back we were afraid of the idea of a different America. Looking back brings perspective and regret.
Although many of us have started the long road back from fear, some have been lost to its grip. Two men that had broken bread in my home seem to go farther than the rest in the act of this evil crime. The panic of fear caused them to abandon their convictions and to take up arms against an undefined enemy. Make no mistake, fear will identify any residue of internal evil and expand itself in order to destroy. It doesn’t take long before we are not ourselves.
Lately I have been reminded of my non-resistant convictions. First, the shooting at Parkland gave me over to questions about self defense, the need for weapons, and my faith in the provisions of God. From there I started asking questions about loving my enemies and Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount. In the middle of it all I saw the end result of fear: violence.
That word had been lost to me in the middle of the rhetoric. Although my mind had been given to preparing for violence through any number of self-defense scenarios, I didn’t want to label it as such. Soon, there was the realization that I was angry that I was afraid which led to unGodly attitudes with others. I was making enemies where they didn’t exist. It was very much unlike Christ. I remember sitting in a courtyard in Mexico with Michael Hari in 2014, visiting with Mexican factory workers as they got off work. We were there as humans, brothers. It seemed very right. There wasn’t a worry of safety. There wasn’t worry about the religion or the ideology of these men. There were laughs, stories, and love for one another. Somewhere along the way this was lost to Michael as he descended into the darkness of hate. None of us seem to be able to define exactly what happened, but we all recognize the voice. It says, “be afraid.”
If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen, how can he love God whom he has not seen?
“We cannot change the world.” I’m not sure if this is true or not, but it is the reality for at least most of us. Most of us will not have the platform to make an impact that changes everything. Jesus said that we will always have the poor. We know that evil is a perpetual movement in the world. No matter how hard we try, we cannot fix everything. However, we can be changed. We can give ourselves over to love and peace. We can give ourselves over to community. We can give ourselves to prayer. Changing our own hearts is no small task. Neither is it a small accomplishment. To give up our own so called rights in order to love without hindrance is a goal that I want to embrace. My heart trembles with fear of all the implications. Yet, my heart is also hopeful that I can become truly Christlike in the face of a world that is full of fear, full of hate.
Lord Have Mercy