Iron Mountain ski jump

Iron Mountain ski jump

Thursday, September 1, 2016


CHRIST IN WINTER: Reflections on Faith for the Years of Winter

When our granddaughter was in pre-school, about three years old, maybe four, she complained to her mother that a certain boy insisted on calling his tricycle a bicycle. “I explained to him that bi means two and tri means three, so it had to be a tricycle since it has three wheels, but he keeps calling it a bicycle, anyway.” Her amused mother said, “Well, his Latin just isn’t as good as yours.” Our granddaughter replied, “Yes, but he’s quite bellicose about it.”

He’s probably still bellicose, and still calling things, and especially people, by wrong names. I suspect he is cheering at Donald Trump rallies.

Hillary Clinton has been running what to me is a very good TV ad. It shows Donald Trump aggressively calling people names and ridiculing them in typical bellicose, bullying fashion. It shows young children watching him and asks the question of what our children will learn.

As good as the ad is, I don’t think it will be very effective, because many people see nothing wrong with the way Trump treats weaker people. There are some people who are bullies. They see no problem with bullying. And there are those fearful folk who are not bullies themselves, but they are so afraid of the bullies that they try to placate them. They are bully enablers.

Some people just like aggression and force. They like to see the powerful trample on the weak. They applaud when a comedian or politician talks about spanking children. They applaud and cheer when a politician says “Let ‘em die” about people who cannot afford health insurance.

They think that protecting kids from bullies is wussy; you should teach kids to stand up for themselves and fight back. They justify their love of aggression and force by saying that it is the way of the world, that people are going to be violent anyway, and all you can do is protect yourself.

There is some truth in that. There is violence in all of us. St. Augustine was right—there is a God-shaped void in our soul. But there is also a fist-shaped snarl in our brain. I’m not a pacifist. I’m a Niebuhrian realist. [1] Maybe an Amos Wilson realist. Amos is a Presbyterian pastor who served almost his whole career as a prison chaplain. “There are some really bad people in there,” he says, “and they need to be kept there.”

I suspect that 95% of terrorists, as distinct from regular soldiers or people fighting for their homeland against outside invasion, would find a reason to keep on terrorizing even if all their demands were met. That gives credence to those who say, “The only thing they understand is force.” But even terrorists have people who love them and who share their narrative. You can’t eliminate them by force, for every time you do, you create a martyr whose family and friends want to avenge him.

Sharron Angle, former US Senate candidate in Nevada, talked about “Second Amendment remedies,” which has since been echoed by Donald Trump. Since the 2nd Amendment, which to most of its supporters is the whole of the Constitution, is about the right “to bear arms,” there is no question what she was talking about, despite how much she tried to wriggle as the election approached. Lee Harvey Oswald used a 2nd Amendment remedy on John F. Kennedy. John Hinckley tried to use a 2nd Amendment remedy on Ronald Reagan. [2]

Jesus was realistic about this. He understood the world is a dangerous place where people try to control the lives of others through force. But he knew that aggression ultimately does not work. That is the point of “turn the other cheek.” Retribution begets retribution, violence begets violence.

The problem arises when we unthinkingly accept violence and force as the way of the world, and even celebrate it, rather than reluctantly accepting it as an occasional necessary evil.

Many will say, “But Jesus used force, when he drove the money changers out of the temple.” Yes, but that was not bullying. The folks who ran the temple businesses were the ones with the power. Jesus was not bullying them, he was speaking truth to power. He was overturning the accepted financial and religious practices of the day that allowed the powerful to take advantage of the weak. That’s not bullying; that’s doing the work of God.

There are and will always be bullies. They will find various political and theological theories to justify their aggression, but the truth is, they just like to be among the strong who take advantage of the weak. The only real solution is to keep power away from them so they cannot misuse it.


BTW, Happy September!

I tweet as yooper1721

1] Reinhold Niebuhr was one of the leading theologians through the first two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Cold War. See Moral Man and Immoral Society and/or The Nature and Destiny of Man. He also composed “The Serenity Prayer.”

2] I’d like to give Trump the benefit of the doubt and accept his explanation that his statement meant that 2nd Amendment people would vote for him and that was how they would defeat Hillary Clinton, rather than calling for them to assassinate her. Angle never tried to explain “2nd amendment remedies” that way.

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