Last Wednesday night, twenty Episcopalians from our diocese gathered in the music room to learn about community organizing. Our guest speaker/community organizer asked us what societal problem keeps us up at night. One major theme was violence. The general feeling was America is becoming more and more violent. Some folks talked about what we see on the news, television programming and, of course, movies has resulted in violence becoming tolerable and maybe even acceptable.
This morning, on the treadmill at the YMCA, I went through the channels and was saddened and stunned to see how much violent programming there was. USA showed a surprisingly gruesome movie with Nicolas Cage, there were crime dramas that showed more guns and shooting than actual crime solving, and to top it off, one network was airing a “talk show” where the interviewees had to be physically separated. It’s like there is an evangelist of violence that has taken over mainstream broadcasting.
Unfortunately, this evangelist seems to be taking over children’s programming. One of my favorite movies is Cars. Released in 2006, it’s a computer generated and touching cartoon about a race car, Lightning McQueen, who gets lost on his way to the big race. He finds himself in a small town and ends up befriending everyone and improving their morale. The main supporting character is a rusty tow truck named Mater. Voiced by Larry the Cable Guy, Mater wants a best friend and finds one in Lightning. Mater is kind, friendly and innocent – the epitome of a best buddy.
In 2011, the much anticipated Cars 2 came out. Typical with many releases nowadays, the toys hit the stores before the movie. Imagine my delight when walking through Costco I saw a large box with the Cars 2 Mater inside. My boys grabbed the box and showed it to me. I was disgusted. Mater had a lowered rooftop that made his eyes look sinister, he had an aggressive sneer on his face and he was “upgraded” with two oversized machine guns on his door panels. Disney/Pixar had taken a loveable, friendly character, and turned him into an aggressive war machine.
This is Sunday is Ascension Day. After Jesus ascended (literally taken up into a cloud) two angels told the disciples that he will come back in the “Same way that you have seen him go.” (Acts 1) But what if Jesus returned, not on a cloud saying, “Shalom,” but instead with a machine gun under each arm and a sneer on his face, as if to say, “Go ahead, make my day.” Would we recognize him? Would we prefer that image?
I feel unable to do anything about more and more violent images and perhaps a more violent country. I feel powerless to stop the slide.
At the end of June, at our three-year General Convention of the Episcopal Church, the House of Bishops is planning a march against gun violence. I’d like to think it will do something but my cynical side believes that up against a gigantic propaganda machine from Hollywood and other areas, this march won’t move the needle. So what will?
Historically, the witness of the Christian Church has been against violence. We don’t combat violence with violence. The early Church could not physically stand up to the Roman Empire. Yet, through peace and unity, it subdued the empire. The Church developed relationships and through constant resistance and witness of love, the world changed.
The House of Bishops cannot measure up to 24-hour cable programming and Mad Max-style movies and propaganda machines. But, their march is a witness to true peace and unity that comes down to relationships, witness and friendship. Can it work again? I believe it will, with God’s help.