Thursday, February 19, 2004

Breaking the Chains of Violence

(This rant will be a repeat of a previous one, to some degree. I don't apologize for that. I think this is an important discussion, and is worth repeating. To read more about this perspective, I recommend a little book that I stumbled across 15 years ago; Resurrection, by Rowan Williams.)

Everywhere we turn today, we encounter violence. In school yards, neighborhoods, Afghanistan, and Iraq we hear the deadly sound of exploding hate. What should we do? Hide behind barbed wire? Lock up all the juvenile delinquents? Bomb to oblivion every nation ruled by a tyrant? Is there any other answer to the hate that threatens to destroy us all?

Our world is bound by a circular chain of violence. We are taught very early in life never to allow ourselves to become a victim. What happens when some bully picks on us at school? We go home with that awful feeling of being vulnerable and powerless. We need to be free of this feeling of dread. As we walk into our yard, we tease our little sister, and suddenly feel much better. Our boss at work is demanding and demeaning. We go home feeling that we have been treated unfairly. We raise our voice when disciplining the children, and walk away feeling more confident, more in control. We have learned our lessons well. The way to escape the role of victim is to become an oppressor. Our children are learning the same lessons from us. The violence continues.

An oppressor makes a victim, who then becomes an oppressor to escape the role of victim, and so makes new victims who become oppressors, and on and on until the entire planet finds itself bound by chains of violence. How can we break these chains?

People of faith believe that there is a way. It involves believing that humanity has been called to a higher purpose than getting and spending. It involves believing in a God of mercy and grace who desires that we become more than a violent mob seeking personal gain. My faith tradition teaches that the way to break these chains of violence is to become reconciled with our own victims. We believe that when we make peace with the victims we have made, we encounter the pure victim, Jesus Christ. Instead of responding with violence, we seek to heal the wounds we have made. Our link in the chain of violence has been broken, and the circle that binds us becomes weaker.

Criminal acts must be controlled in a civilized society. There is a place for force when faced with human evil. Today, the oppressive use of force seems to be often the first response instead of a last resort. Is violence the only response to becoming a victim? Jesus taught another way, as did Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr.

We can no longer think of the people of the world in categories of "us" and "them." Technology has connected us as never before. We are all in the same boat. Let us break this chain of violence by refusing to respond to oppression with oppression. Let us choose to become instruments of peace and reconciliation to the wounded victims of this world.

May the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, be with you now and always.