By MATT SEDDON
Like everyone else, I watched the terrible and tragic killings in El Paso and Dayton on Saturday, Aug. 3, and Sunday, Aug. 4, with horror and deep sadness. As an U.S. citizen, I felt profound loss and empathy for the victims and their families, as well as frustration, helplessness and despair as mass shootings, which we Americans seem particularly prone to and socially and politically unable to stop, took even more innocent lives. As an Anglican priest, I was unable to preach on the tragedies during our Sunday services, confessing to my congregation that I needed more time to hear the facts and to reflect before I could produce a coherent response from the pulpit.
Then, over the next few days I followed the news here in Mexico, and talked to my Mexican friends. I watched as the bodies of the eight Mexican citizens were returned to their devastated and mourning families. I listened to Mexican commentators decry the racism of my fellow citizens and the feeling that incendiary comments of my president empowered and enabled the attackers. It is certain that Patrick Crusius attacked in El Paso with the intent of killing Mexicans and those of Mexican descent, he has confessed as much. The attacker in Dayton seemed to be more complexly motivated, but certainly had been known to have violent urges.
I realized that under my sadness and anger and frustration was also shame. I was ashamed of our uniquely American problem. I was ashamed that it spilled over into the deaths of innocent souls from this country, which has been so good to me. I have been expressing my shame and sorrow and apologizing to my Mexican parishioners, those who work with me at my church, and those I know and love.
When I was living in the United States, watching these shootings, which occur at a depressingly increased frequency, my feelings felt at least confined to my own country. At least it was an internal problem, I felt. But now, I know that we Americans have the capacity and willingness to spread our violence to the rest of the world, and I have to face that ugly truth as well.
I know we Americans are not alone in our capacity for mass violence. Nineteen people — nineteen more souls — were brutally killed and hung from overpasses in Uruapan, Michoacán, just a few days after the killings in the United States. A Mexican friend told me I could console myself by knowing the problem of mass violence is not restricted to the United States. And we can be tempted here to blame the victims. They were probably involved in some way with drug trafficking and violence. However, I wondered why they felt they had to take part in that trade. What led them to feel they had no other options but to participate in a dangerous and destructive trade? And I know their mothers are crying. They were human beings too, and we have to mourn the premature and violent loss of every human being.
As a faith leader, I have struggled to find words, especially since I feel I’ve been trying to find words for these events for so long. I know my limitations. I’m not an expert on mass violence; I’m a priest. I know that my words will never be enough, I have no simple solution. If there were one, smarter and more knowledgeable people than me would have found it.
In my reflection and prayer, two ideas kept surfacing. One is that we have to quit fighting amongst ourselves, on social media and during our sobremesa discussions, about who has the best single solution — more gun control, more effective police and military, fighting anti-racism, fighting white supremacy, fighting poverty, helping our lost and wounded and disassociated young white men, fighting anti-semitism, fighting sexism and all the -isms that plague the United States, or simply becoming better people and building better communities from the ground up. We all become convinced that there is a simple solution for a complex problem, and we angrily defend that solution and slip quickly into condemning others for not agreeing with us. That is not getting us anywhere. It is not working. That much seems obvious.
Instead, we need to work where our passions lie, without condemning, speaking with rancor or attacking those who have other passions and ideas as if they were ignorant, stupid or evil. All of the ideas I have heard are good. Let us work on our passions, but also listen to each other with love and openness, and work with love and hope together. Let us not allow those who respond to anger with violence make us angry and violent, even if only our speech is violent.
Probably, we need all of these solutions. We need the political will in the UNited States to address the ease with which highly destructive armaments are available to those who wish to use them to kill innocents and the easy flow of these weapons into Mexico and other countries. We need better policing. And we need to resist all forms of hatred and destruction in the world — racism, sexism, anti-Semitism, homophobia and transphobia, hatred of immigrants, religious hatred, lo que sea. But to resist and end these complex factors, we have to quit deciding we have a simple solution and arguing endlessly against those who have alternative solutions.
And we need a spiritual solution. In the Anglican Church in Mexico and in the Episcopal Church in the United States (which is a branch of the Anglican Communion), every time a person is baptized, everyone present vows to “respect the dignity of every human being.” We all have to identify and resist the violence in our culture and the violence in our own hearts, whatever form that violence takes. We live in a culture that is addicted to violence, and whether we want to or not, we all internalize that violence in some way. But violence does not respect the dignity of every human being, whether it is emotional violence, verbal violence or armed violence.
The mass murders of Aug. 3 and 4, and later, murders of a type that will not end anytime soon if we do nothing but argue, made me, a Norteamericano, a gringo in Mexico, realize that I can’t compartmentalize this violence anymore. I can’t decide it is only a U.S. problem, one that I can hide from my Mexican friends. Violence is our common problem. We all have to start with ourselves and do the hard and emotionally painful work of confronting the shameful violence in our hearts first, and then have the hope and faith that we can work together, with love and openness toward others, each of us following our passions and using our gifts to become a people not ruled by violence, but yearning for peace throughout all our communities.
Matt Seddon is an Anglican priest and rector of Christ Church Parish in Mexico City. He offers services in English every Sunday at 10:30 a.m. at Montes Escandinavos 405 in Mexico City’s Colonia Lomas de Chapultepec.