A couple of weeks ago, I got to attend a mushroom workshop put on by my friends at Bountiful Backyards, our edible landscapers here in Durham. We were each given a freshly cut oak log. We drilled forty or fifty holes in it and then filled them with the mushroom spores, inoculating the log. We then sealed the holes with beeswax. What will happen over the next several months is the mycelia will grow out of the spores and take over the log, which is their nutrition. When the log is pretty well covered up the mycelia, they will start to fruit and I will get to harvest my home-grown shiitake mushrooms.
I thought about my mushroom logs this morning as more details came in about the shootings in Arizona yesterday. Actually, I should say I thought about the notion of the saturated log bearing fruit because that’s what I feel happened when the unstable young man opened fire. Violence is the primary working metaphor of American society and we are saturated such that we are bearing the fruit of our choices in language, attitude, and action.
In the first notes I wrote this morning, I said war was the working metaphor, and I could hear Edwin Starr singing, “War – what is it good for? Absolutely nothin’.” Yes, we are a nation who thrives on conquest on a number of levels and we’ve declared war on everything from countries to drugs, but what owns us like a cancer is more nuanced and more insidious. We thrive on violence:
- the plethora of reality shows are centered around who can be goaded into fighting with one another;
- the twenty-four news channels have the volume set on “Scream” and their focus on fighting because it brings the ratings;
- the profit-at-all-costs business models of Wall Street and the like feed are predatory;
- our national politicians rely on incendiary language to stay in the news and have reduced governing to a middle school playground fight.
To be an American is to be locked and loaded and consumed with self-interest. Make sure you get your rights. Make sure you get your stuff. Make sure you protect yourself. And make sure you beat down (verbally, at least) anyone you consider to be a threat. Yes, I know those last sentences come across as overstatements, but look around. Listen to the political rhetoric. Listen to how our politicians and pundits lob violent words at one another day after day. Put anything on Facebook that is the least bit politically opinionated and watch the firestorm that erupts. We eat, sleep, and dream violence. Violence and fear.
These folks who incarnate the violence so publicly from Lee Harvey Oswald and James Earl Ray to Timothy McVeigh and down through all of the school shootings to Jared Loughner are us. They are the fruit of what has permeated our culture, our cities, our schools, and even our churches. They are not aberrations. They are a working metaphor for America.
They are us.
We are a week away from the twenty-fifth anniversary of the MLK holiday, honoring yet another who was a victim of the fruit of our violence. Yet, to the end, he chose to practice nonviolence faithfully – as Jesus taught. Faithfully means keeping our promises to God and to one another, being committed to a world that is larger and more profound than our own self-interest and national interest and more imaginative than our fear, and saturating ourselves with the Spirit of grace and forgiveness. Then we can bear different fruit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
I know I’m not saying anything new or original. Still, I don’t want to sit silently, even if the material has already been covered. Even before Jesus came, the prophet boiled it down: do justice, love kindness, walk humbly with our God.
Say it again, y’all . . .