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Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Timeless Violence

Since I'm coming from a Christian perspective and try to write about issues of spirituality, I could hardly do that for long without addressing violence among us. I'm convinced we have an obsession with violence. Why else would it be seen so often as a solution?

During the Super Bowl there was a dual Jeep and USO commercial. It was a clever bit of marketing where the whole commercial was full of touching scenes of men & women in the armed services. Visually it was like the film version of Instagram. The language too was soft and poetic and before long you were being whisked away on this vision of American homeland, heroism, and nationalism. Oh, and did I mention the narrator was Oprah? It was so moving that I found my American spirit soaring while my logical self was repulsed by the blatant propaganda and nationalism. What's more, the commercial specifically evoked church and prayer. I actually watched the Super Bowl with a large group of Christians. Not one of us, myself included, seemed to even notice at the time the marriage of Christianity and militarism being displayed before our eyes.

Why do we accept violence? Why are there so many Christians who oppose nonviolence as impractical? Why do so many Christians believe solutions in the Middle East will be brought about by military superiority? Why do Christians, in poll after poll, support our country's wars no matter the justification?

In the gospel when Judas finally leads the soldiers to arrest Jesus, Peter draws a sword and "defends" Jesus by striking another man. Jesus picks up the severed ear and heals the man with his open hand. Isn't that an interesting image: a closed fist that strikes and divides while an open hand heals and makes whole. But you also have to read that passage and wonder What on earth was Peter doing with a sword?

I don't know but I've heard most of the Jews and even the Apostles at the time were likely armed. But where does arming yourself and violence fit into the message of Christ? Jesus certainly didn't carry a sword. What were his followers doing? Why weren't they emulating him? Or did they imagine an importance to themselves as the physical "defenders" of Christ? Did they not see Jesus would never give his followers that role?

And when they met their own end did they nobly fight to the death? Nope. They were martyred as they lived - in their space of naked vulnerability. And that wasn't a weakness. We really need to get away from associating strength with power in a sort of anti-gospel message of our own making.

Christians, and I include myself here, are really failing on violence. I'm not against football or soldiers. I'm not even against justified armed intervention or armed police. But I think on the issue of violence as much as anything else we've given up our power and adopted a cultural ideology that seems more attractive than the gospel. I see it clearly when we support drone strikes and torture and "preemptive" wars and compelling people with laws and imprisoning persons who need help not incarceration. I'm sure there are other areas too. But I'm convinced the answer isn't ideology or military strategy or nationalism. That's not what gives us life. It's the quiet, vulnerable, intentionally defenseless, pacifistic message of the gospel. It's not Peter's sword, it's Jesus' open hand that heals. And if Christians aren't looking for the way of healing, what in the world are we doing?


  1. You have articulated something I have been feeling for some time now. Thank you for giving expression to this; I think it's so important. The last line of the post gave me shivers.

    1. That's so great. I'm finding (perhaps ironically) that publishing a personal blog with my individual thought is bringing me into greater community. People are more affirmative and open even if they disagree than if I had just brought it up in a conversation.
      Thanks for shivering! Means a lot, friend.