"Danger and Opportunity"
Once again we face another crisis with yet another violent mass shooting. This time the crisis strikes a lot closer to home for me because those shootings took place in San Bernardino, California, just about an hour away from where we live; and so there has been a lot of local conversation about those tragic events that unfolded yesterday. In fact, I was at the Starbuck’s yesterday and from what I could tell everyone in the place was talking about the shootings - offering their opinions, expressing their sorrow, anger and dismay.
I was particularly struck by a conversation that two men sitting near me at the coffee shop were having. The more they talked about the mass shootings, the more agitated they became. One guy said: “We have to do something about all this violence, we can’t just sit back and take it.” The other man responded, “Well, I know what I’m gonna do, I’m going out to buy a gun and make sure my house is secured - I wouldn’t think twice about ‘smoking’ anyone who trespassed onto my property.”
Many years ago President Kennedy gave a speech in which he famously observed:
The Chinese use two brush strokes to write the word ‘crisis’
One brush stroke stands for ‘danger,’ the other for ‘opportunity.’
In a crisis be aware of danger but recognize opportunity.
As I sat in Starbuck’s yesterday I realized that the crisis now facing us was indeed a time of danger but it was also a time of opportunity for every single one of us. As I looked at my fellow patrons at the tables around me I became acutely aware that everyone was making some decision about how to respond to the horrible shootings that happened just over the mountain from us. Many just shrugged their shoulders in dismay and lamented that there was probably nothing we could do to stop this kind of terror from happening nowadays. Some others seemed to be making a more compassionate response – sympathy for the victims and solidarity with those who were grieving, and still others talked about buying guns and meeting violence with more violence.
I remember reading something in a fairly recent New York Times article:
Spiritual and emotional growth happens in microscopic increments.
The big decisions we make often turn out to have much less impact on life as a whole
than the myriad of small, seemingly insignificant ones.
I find great wisdom in this observation.
All of us who sat in that Starbuck’s yesterday were, in fact, making decisions about how to respond to a crisis and our seemingly insignificant decisions were actually having an impact on what will happen with the growing threat of terror in this country. If the decision is to shrug our shoulders in frustration or apathy, then the seeds of apathy are sown. If the decision is to buy more guns and stir up hate, then the seeds of violence are planted, and if the decision is to respond with compassion, try to live a life of greater kindness and deeper respect for others as a result of what happened yesterday, then the seeds of compassion are sown.
Jesus compared the Kingdom of God to a tiny little “mustard seed.” A mustard seed is so small that is practically invisible, just a little speck; and yet when it is planted this tiny seed grows into a large and vibrant bush with deep roots that spreads quickly. Any small act of love, mercy, justice and compassion is like a little mustard seed- it has a way of taking root and spreading, growing into the Kingdom of God. Our seemingly insignificant decisions make a difference.
When I left Starbuck’s yesterday, in response to the San Bernardino crisis, I decided that I would plant some mustard seeds of love. All day long I was especially aware of sowing acts of kindness whenever I could – a word of thanks to the cashier at the supermarket, a few extra dollars to the salvation army folks ringing bells next to their kettles outside the store. I guess it wasn’t much, but I’d rather be planting these seeds as a response to the crisis rather than going out and buying a gun.
The Buddha taught:
Do not underestimate good.
Drop by drop the water pot is filled.
Likewise the one who is wise is filled with good gathering it little by little.