There was a time when I was a pacifist. I took the passages that one should turn the other cheek as an ethical norm for all society. Mostly I held to it because I was a biblical literalist. This meant that I took the passage of turning the other check literally and thought that it informed how followers of Christ should look at words like love, mercy and peace. Now I don’t want to put down those who hold to this type of belief system, but I could hold to it no more.
What happened? My worldview shifted, my theology became much more realistic and much less idealistic and I realized that there were other passages where Jesus violently overturns tables, brandishing a whip that challenged my docile view of my teacher. Most of all I realized that non-engagement is not practical.
I will take you through an ethical test that had a deep impact upon me. Say you are part of the Cherokee tribe in the Old West during the period that used to be cavalierly called the indian wars. You were part of a peaceful tribe that has decided to return to your reservation after your council and chiefs have negotiated a treaty with the local fort. It is hunting time so many of the warriors are out hunting and you are a band of about 800 that are mostly women, children and the elderly. So confident is the tribe in their relationship with the fort that the Chief flies the American flag as well as a white flag over his lodge.
When 300 well armed soldiers come onto the reservation fully armed your leader is leaves his lodge to meet them. Leading them is the same man that the chief has just worked out a treaty. Yet, chaos ensues when the village finds itself in a full out attack. The chief tells his people not to worry as these drunken troops shoot indiscriminately into the the houses and people. He takes his white flag and says to his people, “Don’t shoot we are friends.”
Some of the people flee, hiding where ever they can find shelter from the hail of bullets. A very few defy their leader’s orders and run to their lodging for their guns to defend themselves from this unprovoked attack.
The question is: whose decision was much more moral? Was it the chief and leadership who refused to fight back because they had a treaty with the soldiers who were killing them? Was it the people who fled and sought whatever shelter they could find? Was it the people who during a hail of bullets ran to their lodges and grabbed a gun to fire back? Are any of them wrong?
When I first read the history of the Sand Creek massacre in Colorado these were the questions that confronted me and my safe and passive ideology. My conclusion was that it was too convenient for me to have a theory of pacifism which was separated from the chaos of imminent violence and confrontation with overwhelming force. My theories and biblical interpretations seem safe and hermetically sealed. I just do not have the perspective of someone peacefully protesting in Iran and finding themselves fired upon by soldiers, a family of six that lives in a war zone or a single mother that lives in the projects.
Just so we are clear this does not mean that I support every type of adventurism that our country’s most powerful military in the world takes against 4th tier armies. Nor do I believe in collateral damage, the expediency of torture and I have a tendency to believe that there is no such thing as a just war when your firepower could wipe out the entire population of the planet a 1,000 times over. I just can not make a value judgement in the situation when innocents face violent chaos and confusion.
This is why I take such great comfort in the Jesus that emerges from the cabin of a boat in the book of Mark. The story is simple, but its application is difficult. Jesus and his disciples take a boat to get to the other side of the lake and away from the throngs that Jesus has been teaching and showing miracles. So, exhausted he decides to sleep. While he is in a deep sleep a storm arises and batters the boat, filling it with water.
In desperation his disciples shake him and say, “Master, don’t you care about our well being?”
In a groggy, grouchy mood Jesus rebukes the wind and sea saying, “Peace! Be still!” Winds stop and the sea immediately quits pounding the boat.
Turning to his disciples he says, “Why do you have fear, have you lost all of your faith?”
In the midst of chaos, swirling waves, black clouds, water lapping his face, the boat’s violent heaves, the powerful cracking of thunder Jesus chose faith instead of being overwhelmed by fear. Could it be that being consumed by fear is the opposite of faith?
With the help of Jesus’ example in Mark I have come to a new definition of peace. Peace is not the absence of violence or conflict, but the active engagement of chaos and fear in our own personal lives, in our families, in our friends, in our enemies, our neighborhoods, our country and our world to bring about wholeness. It is not retreating from every thing that seems like a conflict or has the potential for pain, but to realize the location of faith in each and every situation. This will require a living faith. One that does not think of ethics in categories, but in a lived and expanding wisdom that ends with God’s love for creation. It will mean understanding my fears and letting them go for a life filled with faith.
Leave a Comment so far
Leave a comment