Posts Tagged ‘violence’

I have two sweet, passive, house casts. The cats recently got to licking each other, which resulted in some biting, then some hissing and scratching, finally we had to separate them.

We did this by moving between them. It’s called splitting behavior.

We live in a violent world — cat fights, family fights, the San Bernardino shootings, the Paris bombing, the civil war in Syria.

An unholy violence touches all our lives. A friend of mine was murdered by her husband.

The Bible is no strangers to this.

Listen to Jesus.

From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. (Matthew 11:12)

The Bible is not all happy sheep, gentle doves and precious rainbows. It includes terrors, violence, mayhem — lots of death.

Cain murders Able, the world drowns in a flood, Abraham travels to sacrifice his son Isaac, the Egyptian’s are devastated by the plagues. Paul murders Christians, Jesus dies like a criminal nailed on a cross of wood.

The Bible verifies that life is rough and tough, dangerous, and we are vulnerable and the violent bear us away.

But the Bible also helps us know how to live in such a world, wisely.

What did Jesus say?

Matthew 15:17-19

Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18 But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.

Jesus said what?

Jesus said that violence — physical, sexual, verbal violence — does not begin with standing armies, tanks, guns and bombs.

It rises out of the pathology of our own souls.

Violence begins my heart and yours. It is not far off.

It is as close to us as our own hearts. Because of this, we must be careful to no let anger and hate rule us or we too might say or do terrible things.

Jesus warned us saying, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment.” (Matt. 5.21-22).

Yesterday out driving, a slow car in front of me so irritated me, was taking so much time, so timid, so slow that I grew very impatient. It’s in me too.

When I went around them, in my fast sports car, I didn’t make a hand jester. I was so glad. I think it was one of the elders of my church.

Violence lurks in us all. Perhaps we are too strong with our family. Perhaps we are raging about someone at our work. Perhaps we are verbally abusive at home.

We must pray: “God remove hate and anger and violence from my heart.”

Let’s now get clear on this.

Jesus instructs us not to use violence to attempt to bring about his kingdom.

When Jesus was arrested, one of his companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

But Jesus said, “Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. (Matthew 26:51-52)

We must beware of reaching into our hearts and dredging up violence against non-Christians or anyone. It will come back to bite us.

At his trial Jesus said to Pontius Pilate: John 18:36, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place”

This ” my servants won’t fight” was and is a statement of Christian principle.

It is a principle Jesus is very clear on. He says it unambiguously.

Luke 5:29. “If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.”

This teaching is very powerful. We all must grapple with it.

No cheek slapping. Restraint can save us — save Christians and the church — from abuse, from harming others, from crusades, from taking up arms to bring about faith.

Is someone slapping you? Are you slapping back?

“What, ” you are thinking, “do I just stand by, and let harm happen to my self, my family, my people?”

No, we apply the violence cure.

The Bible and Jesus teaches us to bravely stand up against violence.

Just because Jesus doesn’t employ violence, he does not model or encourage us to act like helpless sheep, to give in, to give up.

One way the Bible teaches us to stand against violence is to respect and work with the police and military in their efforts to protect us.

Romans 13:4 says, “For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer.”

Police officers, government leaders, military, then it their duty to defend, to sometimes use force to stop violence. They must be brave, do their jobs, but they should never use force — unless necessary.

We stand with them in their role.

In my career as a pastor I have worked along side of the police, Child Protective Services and the courts. I have reported sexual abuse and physical abuse to helpful authorities. I have comforted and counseled women who have been abused and I have worked with soldiers suffering from PTSD.

I have cried with victims and stood in court with them. I have walked out afraid of being beat up on the street.

As a church, my church holds Church Has Left the Building Sundays,. On these we have fixed up a local domestic violence shelter, our staff has reported abuse, we have set up a counseling center, we have paid for professional counseling for victims.

In the last few years, our church has the become the REFINERY, a place where people get better, are protected, can recover.

We are all about, healing hearts, wounded by violence.

Our staff MFT’s increasingly busy. We will report the bully at the school or in the office or on the ship, call the police on the law breaker, report the threat.

We are not helpless sheep!

When one of my daughters was in middle school, she was harassed, inappropriately touched by another student. I went straight to the principal and advocated for my daughter. I stood up and protected her.

I yelled at the principal. I shouldn’t have. But I would not be put off, until something was done. We must protect our kids and stand with them in trouble.

Secondly, Jesus instructs us to stand up to violence with words.

When a woman, caught in adultery, was brought to Jesus, Jesus verbally defended her and stopped her accusers from stoning her.

Jesus did this with intelligent thinking. He used words.

It is recorded in John 8:7 that he confronted her accusers by saying,” “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”

Her accusers snuck away. This was so powerful that the phrase “throw the first stone” is now a conventional, protective part of our everyday speech.

Go create words; defend women from double standards, defend children from abuse, defend us all, from violence, from a culture of violence.

For as long as we have strength to stand up to bullies, it is both our nature and our privilege to do so.

Following Jesus we should stand against verbal abuse, sexual abuse, sex trafficking, rape, domestic violence, spousal abuse, child abuse, abortion, bullying and racially motivated violence.

My church is the home of the Grossmont College’s Southbay classes to train adoptive and foster parents. We give away space for free for this to happen.

We are The REFINERY that empowers.

We are mending the ravages of family violence right here, right now.

Thirdly, we stop violence by becoming peacemakers.

We Christians should always be growing in learning peacemaking, in learning to conflict negotiation, in finding non-violent ways to stop violence.

Matthew 5:9 says, “Blessed are the peacemakers, [taught Jesus] for they will be called children of God.”

Peacemaking uses the leverage of language, the force of negotiations to find solutions.

Jesus called each one of us to peacemaking.

When I was in South Africa a few years ago the Christians there totally inspired me as to what Christians can do.

When we were in Johannesburg, some of the pastors told us that during the Soweto riots of 1976, the church gathered and prayed.

South Africa was at the brink of civil war, racial war, but the church prayed and white President F.W. DeKlerk unbanned the ANC and unbanned the South African Communist party and of all affiliated organizations, and released Nelson Mandela from 26 years in prison then sat down at the table and negotiated the country away from Apartheid and war and hate.

It worked. God worked a miracle. It was and is still messy, but it worked.

We can take a lesson from this. God hates it when the strong prey on the weak, when innocent ones are harmed, and God helps those who resist this.

We can oppose even our own government when we see that it unjustly uses violence against it’s own citizens or when it uses violence to wrongly dominate people’s of the world.

Christians can stop violence by not voting for haters and war mongers.

It is not unpatriotic to vote for laws and leaders that protect, those who will protect all races and religions and peoples.

We are the people of the first amendment. We stand for protection of speech and religion and safety for all.

Black lives matter. Brown lives matter. And red lives matter. And white lives too.

The lives of our young people matter, the lives of police officers matter too. Christian lives matter; Muslim lives matter too.

All lives matter — the unborn, the sick, the disabled, the old, and the church should work for the protection all precious, God loved lives. We are to protect the lives of those Christ died for.

If we have ever been bullied or beaten or raped or verbally abused, God hates that and he suffers with us and want to protect and help us.

What to do? Report abuse. Get help. Pray. Move away from it. Protect ourselves, protect our friend, protect our children.

Christians need to shelter victims. When it comes to sexual abuse or sexual harm, we need to engage in splitting behaviors.

When I was in South Africa, on church we visited had renovated a whole housing complex that was formerly a Dutch, Afrikaner compound, and the homes were given to people in the congregation if they would take in a baby or child who had lost their parents to AIDS. We saw those homes, we held those babies.

The church can redeem a broken culture.

If a woman tells you she has been raped, believe her, get her to safety, help prosecute the rapist, take her in, keep her away from the abuser.

We need to work with law enforcement, criminal justice, educators, mental health professionals, and many others to stop sex trafficking, to stop sexual abuse.

Too often the church has been too silent and too soft on sexual abuse. No more.

Lastly, Jesus taught and modeled an internal response to violence, “Be not afraid!”

Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body [said Jesus] but cannot kill the soul”

And Jesus said: “I have told you all this so that you may find peace in me. In the world you will have trouble, but be brave: I have conquered the world” (John 16.33).

We Christians are on the side of the winner.

In the end God wins. His peacemaking wins.

God will redeem our evil, violent hearts, and in the end, peace and peace making will rule the day.

This is our certainty.

The Lion will one day lie down with the lamb and yet the peacemaking Lion will yet remain the conquering Lion.


Posted: December 29, 2010 in friends
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Mostly we shot each other, with every kind of gun we could get our dirty little violent hands on. We often shot each other on Christmas day, after we had gotten a new kind of firearm. The best weapon I remember for blowing away family was a small hand gun that you filled with round silver bullets about three times as big as bb’s. Endless killing! You just kept pulling the trigger and watching your brothers fall. At a recent Christmas party in Los Angeles where everyone came and some were nasty, I thought of the old days and longed to fire away again, with perhaps a tranquilizing dart gun. But it wouldn’t work; I’ve lost my passion for sustained violence.

We also  found fellowship in riding things, like the day my brother herded a small steer into the corral, his friend Lonnie working the critter with him. Inside the fence they trapped the beastly transport system in a corner; Steve edged close and jumped — onto its back. The response was immediate. The steer, as if fired from a rifle, charged out of the small enclosure, into the woods, and toad’s wild ride was on.

Steve bounced on along the bucking steer’s spinal column, into the wild, green woods, past one then another then another and then they were scraping his legs on both sides, and the steer went scooching through and “bam” Steve was on the ground, downed by trees too tight on both sides, and Lonnie was yelling, “Yahoo!” It was a ride to be repeated, and repeat it we did.

Some of the best rides were on our pet steer, Moosehead. The difficulty with Moosehead was that he was broad, and so the rides were spread-legged, rodeo wild and short. He was a fun guy, a hairy  brother who we had nursed with a bottle, so he loved us, and getting on him was easy. He was friend. I now think, after years of studying the science of friendship that perhaps steers and dogs and cats make the best friends. Looking back, I’ve had more fun with of my cats, in the shower, my pet fish in the pond filter, my dogs and their puppies than some of my friends, but who is really to say for sure. Eventually we all come to realize that no friends last forever. The Moosester didn’t. One day he was present, the next  gone! It’s like that with friends, especially on a farm, here and then gone, and we never knew why or where.

Growing up my two brothers were my best friends. Think brother steer.  This is because they were my only friends, and my only options for friends, most of the time. In rural Missouri, the nearest house was a half-mile away, and the nearest house with children who went to our school, was miles and miles away. There was no neighborhood, just  brothers. Someone once said that friends are family you choose for yourself. They were, literally, for me; I chose my family when there was no other choice. And we chose to have fun. C. S. Lewis speaks of friends as being people not focused on each other, but on a thing between them that they both find fascinating. That was us.

We focused on rideable things, things mobile, each other, the Shetland ponies kept at the farm for camp children to ride in the summer, the  rideable cows, goats, dogs, skateboards with metal wheels, bikes,  coasters we constructed, sleds, a toboggan dad pulled behind the boat, water skis and eventually the ultimate ride — cars. The ponies were an obvious choice to ride, but they weren’t that much fun; they had to be led away from the barn, threatened, goaded and yanked. You’d think that unlike Moosehead, they knew they were being led to the end, but they weren’t. It got better when you headed them back home. Suddenly they were all animated and joyful; they began to trot and then grow younger and  sprint when they saw the barn, and then at the end they would become deadly serious and risk their lives in the home stretch as they flattened out in a dead run for the goal of life —  no saddle and rest.

We also drove cars and trucks before we had driver’s licences. We drove the Timber Wolf, a big old truck used to haul logs for firewood.  Especially crazy and fun was the old car my dad cut the body from. When he was done, the thing was just a hood, front fenders, a motor, and an open frame from the dash back, no roof, no doors, no trunk, no rear fenders and no floorboard.  My dad welded a folding chair onto the frame behind the steering wheel, and we drove it around the campgrounds for errands and fun. Crazy! If we had fallen off the chair, we would run over ourselves with the back tires.

Friends are people who have wrecks together or know each other’s wreck stories. We brothers crashed. One evening, on our way home, on our bikes, flying down the dirt drive, dodging the rocks, I hit a big one, straight on with my front tire. One moment I was pedaling hard, the next moment I ascended through the evening air, up over the handle bars and down again,  into the dust, hit hard and rolled.  I remember sitting up, feeling sick, looking at my bloodied arms in surprise and then grabbing my bike and heading on home with the brothers, but not fast. It was no big deal, it happened, to all of us, the battering, the bloodied skin —  it changed nothing, our speed, our wild abandon, nothing. I remember later, when my brother’s moved on to cars, and smashed up several in a row, we took it all in stride too, except my dad, who didn’t like it. But he was in on it, destroying stuff. It’s friend and family glue.

One day dad decided to haul a steer to town, so we could have steaks again, and not having a truck, he ran the steer up a dirt ramp and into the back of a jeep station wagon. Not so good. Half-way to town the steer decided that he was tired of looking at the radio, six inches from his nose, and he turned around. That didn’t quite work out as  he had planned, and he broke out all the side windows of the jeep. Fearing for his own life, dad stopped at a little country store where a real farmer was consulted, and he explained that a truck with side rails was best for this kind of job, so they completed the trip thus. I think at that point they should have let the steer go. He’d made a point. I’m sure, he would have beaten the horses back to the barn. The other day, when my family was together for breakfast, my dad told this story again. We laughed and hooted and spoke of his decision-making during that era, how he had almost burned down the town we lived near during a brush clearing project and how he had put buckets of coals in the back of the jeep, on the floor board, to keep us warm on cold night when we were driving to church. This is how family and friendship are defined —  people with crazy stories that they have in common.

The other day, my dad told  us again the story of  how he’d gotten the job on the campground in Missouri. Dad and mom had both grown up in California, and early in their marriage they bought a little track house in Torrance. There they attended a small church where Maurice Vanderberg, back from the war and recently married, was their pastor. After a time, Maurice moved back to Kansas City to run the Union Rescue Mission that his wife’s mom  had founded, but then needing help, he called  and invited my dad to join him in the work. So my parents moved. Moves change things, for families, for kids, but they are never consulted in such matters. Old friends lost,  new ones gained — no choice. The  move to the midwest eventually put us on the campground, which was owned by the rescue mission, and put my mom and us boys in a  isolated place that profoundly shaped our family, our friendships and more. My mom suffered badly, a California city girl transported to a small rural cabin without a bathroom, kitchen, or heat or neighbors to raise three little children. She lost some years there. No friends were present for her, except the boys and we were way too male.  Significant stuff — my brother Steve married a Missouri girl, Joyce, who turned out to be a good deal.  When we did leave Missouri, and returned to California, it was because another pastor, who my dad knew from the old Torrance church, invited my dad to move to El Cajon to work him. Friendships form the web on which we move, and catch food and are ourselves caught and eaten.

Part of the reason why the family didn’t always work for my mom was that destruction and violence provided most of the fun with my father and my brothers. I think that violence brought us closer to each other but  not to mom.  We blew up our little green toy soldiers with fire crackers, we killed the little clay spacemen by throwing their clay space ships onto the floor hard, we hit each other in the arms daily, we wrestled on the big, round braded rug in the living room until we either knocked over a lamp or somebody cried, and we eventually shot every kind of creature living in the woods nearby and caught, killed and ate every species of fish.

As I child, my favorite killing posture was not western style, the standing back-to-back, taking three steps, turning, quick drawing and firing. That cut the violence too short. I liked hunt-down-and-kill approach. It began with one of brother in one end of the house, another in the furthest extreme, the call, “Ready?” and both of us moving silently toward each other. Then the shooting commenced and proceeded until death. Shot in the arm, you had to switch your weapon to the other hand, shot in the leg, you were left with one hopper, shot in the torso or head, dead. I loved the final, trapped stand, both of us wounded, immobilized, having it at at close range, one behind the bed and the other shielded by the dresser. I loved it when a brother’s head peeked over the top of a bed and caught a round perfectly between the eyes. Then I would see him fall back, to the floor, man down and out with a final death rattle. You had to make a sound. “Cool, I just killed my brother.” True friends and loyal family are the people you can kill and then shortly after sit down to dinner with as if nothing happened. Your average American family does this regularly, the verbal assassinations followed by the evening meal.

When I got married and had my daughters, I continued in the same vein; I made my wife and daughters my best friends, built around our shared narratives,  games, interests and arguments. The thing missing was the violence, mostly. My girls and I did play shoot ’em up a few times. But mostly, in my own family, we gentilized. My wife and daughters and I have always shared a love for “getting out,” for water in all its playful forms,  for print and food and coffee and conversation in all their various addictive and nonadictive forms and we really like God, a lot.  There are other things, but fun has tended to glue us together. I see families where the members aren’t friends and it doesn’t look much fun to me. Some parents say you can’t be friends with your kids. I know what they mean, that you have to be a parent, which means sometimes being mean and saying “no” and doing things friends just don’t do. I know all that, and I’ve done it, and still do at times, but here is the deal. You can go back and forth, be parent, then friend; you don’t have to always play the same role with your children. I really like the times my girls and I are friends.

I took my daughter Rosalind to see the Little Mermaid for our first movie together when she was three years old. Outstanding fun, great Disney film, superb enduring memory for us. We still love the song “Kiss The Girl” and we love “Down by the Sea” and Sebastian the crab these many years later. Magical, the movie, our first father-daughter date, the many times since that we’ve reprised that kind of thing, gone out to eat, watched a football game together, played Yahtzee, taken a walk, talked long, wrestled on the floor and knocked over a lamp. The thing with friendship is not to define it too narrowly, within family or outside of family. We need it, we want it, in all its forms odd and familiar and normal and not.

I have a lot of different kinds of friends now, besides family.  I have friends from school. I have friends from work. I have friends from church.  I have friends in other countries. I have friends who are dead. I have friends who are not but pretend to be. I have friends who I meet for a tête-à-tête at Starbucks, and I have friends who add me on Facebook.

By friends we mean a lot of different things — people we got drunk with in high school but now have nothing in common with, a checker at Costco whose line we often choose, people who dabble in what we also waste time on, people who “get us” and leggo-people who used to get us but have now snapped off and don’t, furry friends, literary friends, our favorite dead poets, painters, novelists or philosophers, and lastly and most importantly, our real friends, the cherished soul-mates who hang on through it all and just won’t let go, like Taylor in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel, Pigs in Heaven, who won’t let go of little Turtle —  the mythic, profoundly archetypal lost child, “six pigs in heaven and the mother who wouldn’t let go.”  We all need a bit of this,  the will-not-let-go friend.

I’ve told my girls. There are all kinds of friends, from casual, even momentary, to life-long. There are all kinds of levels, and they change over time even with the same person. You can be close, then not close, then close again. And just because you are close, doesn’t mean you have to stay that way. It’s okay to let friendships change, even to let them go. Sometimes you have to.

Recently, my brother and I drove to a Idllywild, a mountain town half-way between our homes, about two hours away for each of us. We rented a room in a bed and breakfast and stayed overnight together. We talked shop, both of us being pastors, and we talked family and we ate good food. He had just bought a new sports car, a Mazda RX-8 with a 240 horse power rotary engine and so we took it out on the mountain roads to test its potential. It was the good old high-school days all over again, except we were driving fast Japanese rather than fast American, and  we weren’t drunk and there were no girls with us. What a shame, but maybe not. I’ve owned several sports cars and my wife claims that she doesn’t like being thrown against the doors in the sharp turns. So I slammed by brother against the door and went a bit too fast into a corner and missed a shift. It was all the same game again, flirting with danger, riding the steers, driving the cars.

In the morning, we broke out a plastic bat and whiffle ball and played a few innings of baseball.  It was fun. Depending on how you held the ball and because off the holes in one side of it, you could throw a slider, a curve a sinker and a rising fast ball. But we weren’t practiced up, and so after I hammered a few of his hanging curve balls up over the limb of the nearest pine tree for home runs, he started pouting and didn’t try as hard. It seemed like we had returned to our childhood again, two brothers killing and being killed in mock battle. But then in a short while he regained his form and struck me out and slammed a few of  my sliders that didn’t slide out of the park, and we both cheered up again. Brothers, friends, in combat and not — still.

Other friends in life, interesting.  Why did I make the friends I did?  What does it say about me? Having left our families, most of us find people who function as family. We meet them anywhere, somewhere, and talk, and touch, in time, on the same web, the same thread of the web, and then we climb along together for a bit. In high school it was John, Lonnie and Jim. We fished, hunted, drove fast, avoided girls, and engaged in boy-brother wildness-mayhem. Upon my move back to California, those relationships ended. In California I met a college student named Steve, and we surfed together and philosophized. I also met Jim, and we shared an apartment together with two other guys. It was cheap rent. He was an artist, using clay, me an artist, using words. I still have some of his art pieces, but not him. After college I met Tim, a won’t-let-go friend. We bonded over insight, books, faith. He became family, so to speak, and was the best man at my wedding.  We are still close. We go to the same church and we share a common passion for truth and radical love and justice for our community.

Fishing, wilding, cars, surfing, art, books, faith — my friends have often been my playmates, but more and more they have become my thought-mates. Time makes philosophers of most all of  us, clowns and killers alike. My friendships are now conversations. We  meet over coffee, books and food, and we talk, and talk and talk, but not always. A few years ago, my friend Tim and I fired off some loud, flashing fireworks near the house, and then ran when the police came. We hid in a fast food restaurant, bought cokes for camouflage, laughed like boys and  then headed for home to brag to our wives and children over what we  had done.

Friendship is and always will be a bit of safe violence together, a fast ride,  fast run, or fast pitch together, a laugh, a movie shared, a book discussed, a trip together,  a home run, a crash and a fire and a story to tell again and again until it gets good.

As I grow older, and fascinate more and more over  life, its people and problems and beauty, I find myself making more and more and more friends, of all kinds, in all  places. I am shamefully indiscriminate. Most anyone can be my friend, execpt a few former assaasins. Want to talk? You are my friend. Have something fun you like to do?  Tell me about it; you are my friend. Have a problem? Let’s explore it! I love a problem and the typical nearby solution.

What am I doing?  I don’t like living alone. The friend thing is now under my control, mostly; no one is moving me.

And so Iam adding friends. They are the family I am choosing for myself.