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What we haven’t tried

As I write this, two rather fine specimens of manhood are working away taking down a couple of trees on our property. One, a mulberry tree, has become a hazard to our neighbours, and the other, a venerable maple, here long before I moved in, has been dying by inches for several years now. They had to be taken down, but it hurts me. The fruit from the mulberry tree fed the birds (and us!) for many seasons, and the maple gave shade and privacy to our front room window. It will be so strange to have them gone.

It’s started to rain and we thought the guys would fold up shop, but no. The rain has made it too dangerous for the crews to continue working to clear the power lines in town, so our guys got on the phone and called two more to come help with our job. Twice the work in half the time. Nice. Even the rain can work to one’s advantage.

I’ve been meaning to write about Paris for a while, but I didn’t know what I could say that hadn’t been said, what words of consolation I could offer. Another massacre. Another. Massacre. The world in mourning once again. The fatigue and burnout added to the guilt that catastrophes and atrocities in other parts of the world have not been given as much attention or compassion, and I think who could be blamed for wanting to pull the covers over their head and never leave their bed.

How is this ever going to end? What can we possibly do?

A dear FaceBook friend, Valerie Hess, posted a suggestion for an alternative to bombing the Middle East on her page – “Right now,” she said, “I am willing to give Jesus’s message of turning the other cheek, loving your enemies, praying for those who persecute you a fair chance.”

And a shudder passed through me.

In my opinion, these are the most frightening words in the Bible, Christ’s clear and unambiguous command to not resist the evildoer (Matthew 5:39) – do not repay evil for evil, give freely what would be taken from you, serve your enemy with generosity. If I am correct in my interpretation, when a Christian sees the enemy coming, their response should be immediate and open disarmament, standing in total vulnerability, hands wide open.

The idea terrifies me.

A victim of violence myself, I detest the weakness, the passivity of this image. I’ve stood defenceless and let the blows rain down and suffered humiliation without a word, and at age 60 I’m only now coming to grips with it. How could I let myself endure it all over again?

But if by some supernatural infusion of grace, I could fulfill Christ’s command for myself, how could I live with myself if my loved ones were attacked and I stood by and did nothing to stop it? No. Every instinct would impel me to make a weapon of whatever came to hand and stop the attacker, stop them, stop them, even if it meant their death. I don’t know if I could keep myself from doing this.

I don’t know if I’d even want to.

So. What kind of Christian does that make me? A Christian with anger issues, I guess.

And a little confused. Because deep down in my heart I know Valerie is right. If the world is ever to come to peace, it will be through the Christian way, a way found in other religions and humanist ideologies too. Hilaire Belloc said the problem isn’t that Christianity has failed. It’s that we haven’t tried it yet.

Friends, especially those of you involved in peacemaking and justice seeking, I am deeply interested in your views on this. If anyone has any suggestions to help clear a frightened and angry mind, please feel free to comment.

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  1. Valerie Hess
    Posted November 18, 2015 at 9:27 pm | Permalink

    You are so right, Penny-Anne. It is a very frightening thought. I am not sure self-defense isn’t OK; I think it is more my being the attacker that is spoken against. But I am not totally sure. I do agree with Belloc: we really have not given Christ’s ideas a fair chance.

    • Penny-Anne
      Posted November 19, 2015 at 1:16 am | Permalink

      An interesting thought, Valerie. But the words and especially the example of Christ seem to me to preclude the idea of self-defense. When he could have called for twelve legions of angels, he chose not to protect himself in any way. He was known to disappear from crowds when the mood turned ugly, but in the end he stood utterly passive and let them do to him as they wished. It’s a tricky question and I have a lot more thinking to do about it. Thanks for weighing in.

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