When there is violence in our neighbourhoods, we are shocked. We are appalled. We are frightened and perhaps outraged.
When violence comes into our own lives and touches us or someone we love, we recognise it as something enormous and horrible. We have a wrenching visceral response, and we know then all too well what it means for a life too be lost or destroyed.
When I think of something like this happening to someone in my family or even in this congregation, it is almost too horrible to consider. I push it out of my mind's eye. I touch wood and say "kine-ahora" a Yiddish word that my mother and grandmothers said to ward off the evil that can be invited by even entertaining such a thought.
Such evil - such horror - goes on every day in our world. We've been reminded of it once again as frightening news pours in from Ukraine, where thinly disguised Russian forces have all but invaded Ukraine's Crimean peninsula in the wake of mass protests that successfully removed that country's dictatorial pro-Russian ruler.
The headlines are depressingly familiar. We've heard so much of it before. Demonstrations lead to possibility and freedom, leads to repression, leads to killing.
The pronouncements and rationales have frightening echos of the past "We're acting only to protect our own" whether the claim of "our own" refers to ethnic Russians, ethnic Germans, Britons, and on and on.
The fog builds. Words are used to disguise motivations and everything and everyone is mistrusted. All sides but our own, if we have a stake in the conflict, are assumed to be hiding their true intentions, which inevitably relate to power, economics, and territory.
World leaders line up on one side or the other. Threats are made. Weapons of war are readied. Diplomatic and economic weapons are deployed.
Conflict is a game played by the powerful and its victims are the powerless. Howard Zinn, the US historian whose work unsentimentally revealed the ugliness behind the lofty rationalisations behind his country's actions insisted that violence is never the right choice. His words:
"We need to decide that we will not go to war whatever reason is conjured up by the politicians or the media, because war in our time is always indiscriminate, a war against innocents, a war against children"
And as geopolitical chess is played, with the scores tallied in political power, economic might, national prestige, personal wealth, and the all-important votes, the people in the cross-hairs are the ones who suffer - the pawns in the games being played by leaders far from danger.
Violence solves nothing. As economist and physicist David Friedman so accurately put it:
"The direct use of force is such a poor solution to any problem, it is generally employed only by small children and large nations."
The guns are pointed in Ukraine. Violence is mounting in Venezuela. And these are only the newest of the conflicts. Last year's struggles settle into a less visible, less newsworth, pattern of violence. The older ones continue unabated further and further from the interest of the world's media.
The stand-off and suffering continues between Israelis and Palestinian. The river of blood in Syria flows on unabated. The conflict in South Sudan has already taken more than 10,000 lives. In the Central African Republic, some 2,000 people have been killed in the past two years. In Iraq, more than 15,000 have been killed in violence since the US withdrew. Mexico's drug war has killed more than 100 thousand. The conflict in North-West Pakistan has left some 50 thousand dead. Nigeria: 10,000. Somalia: a half million dead. Afghanistan: 2 million.
Lost lives and terrible suffering on this scale becomes numbers. We forget that each single person of those millions killed and many millions more whose lives are destroyed are like us and our loved ones. Their lives are as valuable as ours. Their pain is as real as ours. Their hopes and dreams are as important as ours - and violence rips that all away.
We forget - or force ourselves to forget - these everyday horrors as we go about our lives annoyed that a shop is closed when we need something, that there is a long queue in the Post Office, that a bus is on diversion, or we have to wait for an appointment at our doctor's surgery. We forget the world's great suffering as we deal with the very real employment, health, safety, and economic challenges in our own lives.
And not so far from us, other human beings are losing everything in what seems to us almost unimaginable suffering.
Mother Teresa, amidst appalling poverty and suffering in the slums of Calcutta put her finger on the truth behind all this suffering:
“If we have no peace, it is because we have forgotten that we belong to each other.”
We have and we do.
Today, let us wake up to suffering and to the fact that the powerful continue to use the lives of the powerless to further their own agendas.
Today, let us wake up the the oneness of humanity.
Today, let us wake up to the fact that humankind has not yet ceased to sacrifice the lives of our brothers and sisters around the world.
Today, let us rekindle the dream of peace.