Reflections of an Evolving Elder: Stupid Reveals Itself in Cruelty

Shaun A. Pennington
Shaun A. Pennington (Source photo)

A few weeks ago while reading my morning transmission from the Rev. Richard Rohr I was tempted by a hyperlink to one of his short sermons. It was a sermon on evil. He said, “Yes, there are truly evil people, but usually it’s not really evil, it’s just stupidity.”

I was shocked and elated to hear this man who is followed and revered by hundreds of thousands of people across the globe use the word, “stupid.” But I also agreed with him wholeheartedly – thus my elation.

That is not coming from a sense of superiority, but rather from a lifetime of feeling baffled by the cruelty and banal meanness in the world. But more than the perpetrators of such cruelties, I have been truly confused about those people who look the other way and do nothing, say nothing, challenge nothing, especially “conventional wisdom” which is not wisdom at all.

So, when I saw the comment below on a revived 2014, expertly researched and written piece on homicides in the Virgin Islands Homicide in the Virgin Islands – Young Men Dead On the Street, I thought “stupid.”

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As much as I am repulsed by it, I must reprint it here to make my point.

None None January 2, 2020 at 6:40 am
“Well its apparently not a big deal to most people here. The way I look at it there cleaning up there own low life slugs. I think more of you should shoot eachother and clean up this island once and for all!!!! What the hurricane did not destroy you low life do. It’s a shame this potentially beautiful island is a drug and thug infested shithole. Keep up that wonderful island pride your so proud of it’s really working out great for you!!!! Keep the shooting up and clean it up!!!!!!”

I submit this person isn’t evil. He’s stupid by definition right from Merriam Webster: given to unintelligent decisions or acts : acting in an unintelligent or careless manner …
c : lacking intelligence or reason : brutish

I have spent some time in Rwanda – a place that knows cruelty. Also, a place that the entire world turned its back upon in 1994 while a million people were slaughtered by their neighbors in a short 90 days.

At the Genocide museum in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital city, I saw all type of gruesome reminders of how and why this atrocity took place – the river ran red with blood. Body parts severed by machetes were strewn across the verdant countryside. But it wasn’t until the small display showing those people who could have turned the other way, but didn’t, instead risking their own lives to save others, that I lost it.

I had the same reaction at the Holocaust Museum in Washington, D.C. and in the recent movie, “Harriet.”

Touched in the deepest place in my heart by the courage and determination of those who stood by the oppressed, I am learning in my old age that’s who Jesus was.

My first introduction several years ago was from the Rev. Gregory Boyle, founder of Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles. (Coincidentally Boyle mentioned Richard Rohr in his book, “Tattoos on the Heart” but I didn’t take note at the time) Homeboy Industries is the largest gang rehabilitation center in the world.

It was this passage in “Tattoos on the Heart” that introduced me to the Jesus I never met in my white, middle class Episcopalian church as a child. I might not have walked away at 13 years old, if someone had shown me this man.

“If you read Scripture scholar Marcus Borg and go to the index in search of “sinner,” it’ll say, “see outcast.” This was a social grouping of people who felt wholly unacceptable. The world had deemed them disgraceful and shameful, and this toxic shame, as I have mentioned before, was brought inside and given a home in the outcast. Jesus’ strategy is a simple one: He eats with them. Precisely to those paralyzed in this toxic shame, Jesus says, “I will eat with you.” He goes where love has not yet arrived, and he ‘gets his grub on.’ Eating with outcasts rendered them acceptable.”

A page later, Boyle writes, “Pema Chodron, an ordained Buddhist nun, writes of compassion and suggests that its truest measure lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them.”

I don’t know who the stupid, unintelligent brute is who wrote the above comment – anonymously, of course, but I guarantee he never met one of the hundreds of outcasts who died on our streets, while we have looked the other way over the last 20 years.

He doesn’t know that those young men and women are his brothers and sisters. He is too stupid to understand how we have repeatedly failed them and then blamed them for it.

They were babies once, and then little kids making their way to inferior schools, taught in some cases by teachers who called them “stupid” and shamed them in a myriad of ways just like the people at home. Then, as they made their way through the school system, people looked the other way when those babies couldn’t read, or were suffering from deep emotional trauma, or learning disabilities. Then, pushed out onto the streets, no one made eye contact with them except those who would exploit them for their own nefarious purpose. Soon, they are dead and then someone writes about them as though they were not once living, breathing babies with the same needs and desires as anyone else, just by happenstance born without the means to meet their needs.

Another hero of mine, Marshall Rosenberg, author and teacher of “Nonviolent Communications” said, “Violence is the tragic results of unmet needs.”

It is long past time for this community to rise up in rage over the inequities and lack of compassion for our “outcasts.” It is time for us to look them in the eye, say “I am sorry” and do something to help them meet their needs in the same way we have no problem finding a way to meet our own.

Editor’s note: Shaun A. Pennington has spent that last nearly two years enrolled and studying in the Living School as designed and implemented by Fr. Richard Rohr, Franciscan priest and founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, N.M.

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