Like a lot of people, today has been an odd day with lots of thoughts floating my skull. It started last night though I knew nothing of the Las Vegas tragedy until this morning.
For me, my thoughts started with Thomas Cahill’s book Sailing The Wine-Dark Seas: Why the Greeks Matter which I was reading. In this book, Cahill notes that one of the most cherished philosophical foundation of Western culture is that war is a natural part of life. As Heraclitus (535-475 BC) once said, “War is the father of all, the king of all.” Plato (427-347 BC) would echo this saying years later with his statement that war is a necessity “always existing by nature.”
Armed with this philosophical foundation, the Greeks developed a fighting style that could help them conquer the known world under the leadership of Alexander the Great. The Romans would later build on this foundation of war, gifting the Western world with the knowledge on how to kill people with great efficiency – as WW1, WW2, the Cold War, nuclear arms, and the like attest.
This morning on the way to work I found myself at a stop light staring at a “peace” sign made up of rifles with the phrase “There’s no peace without guns” next to it. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but think about the sadness of this saying… though it may make perfect sense to some, it seems counter to the way of Jesus of Nazareth who told his followers to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:38-40), love and bless those who hate them (Mt 5:43-48, Lk 6:27-36), and forgive those who harm them (Lk 23:34, Acts 7:60).
A few minutes after I saw this sticker, a NPR story came on about the Las Vegas shooting – which was the first I had heard about the tragedy….
Growing up I had a temper that went extremely well with my red hair. I would purposely pick fights with my older brother (who would then proceed to beat the snot out of me), friends, and various cousins. Though this temper dampened a bit as I grew older, it was an encounter with Jesus during my teen years that started me on a journey of learning how to control my emotions.
Years later I read Colin Woodard’s book American Nations which brought to light some of my feelings growing up. In this book, Woodard highlights the eleven different cultural nations within the United States. The area I grew up in was called the Greater Appalachia and was settled by folks from the “war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands” (a description that matches my family history perfectly). Immigrants from there areas brought with them a culture of personal sovereignty and individual liberty shaped by a “state of constant danger” and a need to protect their livestock (something cultural anthropologist have noted, especially in comparison with more farm based cultures which thrive in more peaceful areas).
I mention this background as I want you all to know that I understand some of the warrior culture that is rampant in the USA today. It is normal to want to fight back – to be on the winning side. It is also normal to want to hold on to the weapons allowed our forefathers to create this nation of ours. And, if I’m perfectly honest, there is part of me who wants to continue living this way. Only I met Someone who wouldn’t let me continue along that path…
The more I get to know Jesus, the more I realize that what I think is “normal” is really “abnormal.” Reading the four gospel accounts of the life of Jesus changed the way I viewed the world around me as well as how I read the rest of the Bible.
Then there are people like Rick Love, Micael Grenholm, and Brad Jersak who challenge me to think though the way of peace and non-violence. And, not to be forgotten, authors like Brian Zahnd, Greg Boyd, Desmond Tutu, and Alexander Venter provided me with additional puzzle pieces to hold and ponder.
Though I haven’t quite figured out how everything fits together; I do know is that I firmly believe that violence begets violence and revenge is something best left for the Creator. I don’t know what that means for public policy nor what I would do if personally attacked. I just know that I must continue my walk towards pacifism as it seems to be the direction Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is walking.
One day, the Creator promised, there will be no more war, no more death, and no more crying. Until that that day, I will cry with my brothers and sisters who suffer at the hands of mad men and women who think that violence is the way forward.
May the One Who Cries hold all those affect by Las Vegas close by,
May He shed tears of sorrow with them,
May He embrace their pain and give them peace,
May He bring comfort in the midst of unanswerable questions.