by The Rev. Dr. Kendall Harmon email@example.com
The tragedy at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, has gripped the nation in recent days. Time magazine's recent cover story, focused on the two perpetrators, is entitled "the monsters next door." Saturday's CNN broadcast in prime time was a Judy Woodruff-led panel discussion from a firelit living room in Littleton, asking members of this affluent Denver suburb for explanations. Sunday's New York Times featured a front-page story on the "divisive" cliques at an Arizona High School similar to Columbine as a way of seeking to understand what took place.
Real answers have so far proved elusive. Youth culture is the problem, Hollywood is to blame, where were the parents, what about the school officials who could have, should have, known sooner. Maybe gun availability is the culprit, others point the finger at the devastating impact of peer pressure, and on and on it goes.
But amidst this din of stories, analysis, and commentary, there is one thing which is NOT being said. Its silence has become deafening, yet it begs to be heard because it points the way to a more painful, yet more hopeful answer.
Can you think of what is not being said? What is nearly always blurted out in other situations but has not been articulated in this one?
Judge not. You remember this one, don't you? Jesus said it, right? What is fine for you is fine for you, but I have a different take on it. You say po-tay-to, I say po-tah-to, you say to-may-to, I say to-mah-to.
But suddenly the cat is out of the bag, because the one thing EVERYONE is doing is judging. To say Hollywood is showing too much violence implies there is a standard of decency which Hollywood has violated. If people are upset that the parents did not know, that implies an idea of an effective parent (involved) and a bad parent (uninvolved).
Strange word, that, BAD. Opposite of GOOD (not effective, as misused above-did you notice?)
We do not hear these words very much anymore, do we? What happened to the so-called "post-modern" world? I thought we were to speak of values and preferences. I thought we were not supposed to judge.
Our reaction to Littleton says volumes more than even the tragedy of Littleton itself, because it exposes our hypocrisy about judgment. We claim to live in a world of taste and preference, but the moment anything of real import occurs the game shifts to be played on another field. On this field, words like God and goodness, the satanic and evil, beg to be used, because they are the only way in which to begin to wrestle with the magnitude of it all. "Anger management" classes just are not enough.
Alas, we cannot have it both ways. If the game is played on the "post-modern" field, boys play games like DOOM and, oh, well, that is their "thing." They have guns in their bedroom, but that is their private business. Their internet site is different than others, but so what? If Eric Harris says "I am God" in his diary what is that to me?
But then the guns went off, and not only our judgments poured forth, but God's did as well. If Littleton means anything, it means God's judgment upon an America which is losing its moral and spiritual vocabulary and imagination. When Jesus said "judge not" in Matthew 7:1, he did not mean what he is often alleged to have meant, that we are not to judge. He calls for his followers to judge "with right judgment" (John 7:24) which is how we, like him, are able to distinguish between true and false prophets (Matthew 7:15-20).
What is at issue is WHAT is being judged and how. The human heart and a person's ultimate spiritual condition is something only God alone can judge, but we can judge people's behavior and words--"you will know them by their fruits"--and render partial verdicts when appropriate.
The full verse, the second half of which is frequently left off, is, "judge not, that you be not judged," by which Jesus means we are to judge with the awareness that the standard we use on others is one which we will also be judged by.
So we are called by the judgements about Littleton to hear the judgement we are bringing on ourselves, and the far more important judgement God is making and will render upon us. For we are indeed one nation under God.
Dr. Kendall S. Harmon
Theologian in Residence
111 Waring Street
St. Paul's Church
Summerville, SC 29483-4399
Ph: 803-873-1991; fax 873-7787
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