The title of today’s post is inspired by my friend Jamie, the Very Worst Missionary, who I’m pretty sure is not actually the very worst missionary since that title should belong to the friar who threw a Bible at King Atahaullpa back in 1532 and then gave the conquistadors permission to slaughter the Incan people because their king didn’t know how to read it.
I’m against that sort of thing because I’m a pacifist…or at least I’m trying to be.
I realized just how miserably I was failing at my newfound commitment to nonviolence the other day when I found myself asking the television set, “Can’t we just take this Gadhafi clown out?” (And I didn’t mean take him out to dinner to share with him the good news Jesus.)
This most recent slip is one in a long line of utter failures that typically begin after I suggest to friends that perhaps Jesus wasn’t simply referring to annoying coworkers when he said “love your enemies,” that maybe he had a radical way of life in mind, and am then pelted with questions to which I don’t have good answers.
What about the Holocaust? Should we have stood by and let that happen?
If someone attacks you in the parking lot at Wal Mart, are you seriously not going to fight back?
Don’t you support our troops?
I never know what to say because honest answers to these questions would reveal what a terrible pacifist I am.
That’s because my commitment to nonviolence, ironically enough, is a perfectly safe one. It’s something I can mention at parties in order to sound interesting, something I can intellectually espouse in order to feel morally superior, something I can claim with confidence because it will likely never be tested.
I have no direct influence over the intricate workings of foreign policy or world affairs, so it’s easy for me to support peace. I don’t live in a violent part of town, so safety is not a real concern. I’ve never been so profoundly wronged by someone that violent retribution seems like a good idea. I can’t shoot a gun to save my life, and I’ll probably never have to.
And secretly, I’m glad.
Because non-violence is perhaps the hardest and most important part of Christ’s teachings, and the truth is, I’m just not sure I can follow Him all the way to the cross.
So what do I do?
In Jesus for President, Shane Claiborne writes:
When we talk about peacemaking and the ‘third way of Jesus,’ people inevitably ask bizarre situational questions like, ‘If someone broke into your house and was raping your grandmother, what would you do?’ We can’t exhaustively troubleshoot every situation with a nonviolent ‘strategy,’ but what we can do is internalize the character and spirit of Jesus. We can meditate daily on the fruit of the Spirit and pray that they take root in us. Then we can trust when we encounter a bad situation, we will act like Jesus…
‘Leaving things in God’s hands’ should rather be used to mean ‘do what Jesus did.’ Follow Jesus’ example without regard for whether you are effectively ‘changing the world.’ Jesus demonstrated what it means to leave things in God’s hands. So if we want to know what it means for us to trust in Jesus, we should ask what it meant for Jesus to trust in God.
So I guess there are a few things I can do while I’m waiting to become a better pacifist.
- I can meditate on the teachings of Jesus.
- I can refuse to be violent with my words.
- I can study the imaginative work of peaceful activists like Mother Teresa and Martin Luther King Jr.
- I can strive to internalize and exhibit the fruit of the spirit.
- I can pray for our nation’s enemies.
- I can educate myself on foreign policy.
- I can practice being a peacemaker in small conflicts in order to prepare for larger ones.
- I can control my temper.
- I can love the people in my life that it is hardest for me to love, so that maybe one day I will be prepared to love actual enemies.
- (And I can be grateful that, for now, I don’t really have any. )
I can be faithful in the small things in case one day I am trusted with something bigger.
I may be the very worst pacifist, but perhaps with time I’ll become a better one…or at least one who doesn’t shout at the TV.
What are your thoughts on this whole Libya thing? Has it tested some of your ideals? What are your thoughts on non-violence?