We are currently in a time when verbal attacks are pretty common. We see it in politics, race issues, and most recently over guns. People are pretty good at cutting down and dehumanizing each other. They think nothing of belittling people who they disagree with. I’m not sure why people think this is acceptable. Maybe it’s because the idea that being right is the most important value there is. So I guess that means we can verbally murder someone else in order to ensure the “rightness” and truth are saved. We’ve become a bunch of Pharisees.
This also happens in religion of course. I’m reminded of one example in particular. In my denomination, there’s this guy – we’ll call him Dan. I don’t know Dan’s whole story. I’ve just gotten snipits here and there. He either dropped out of seminary or was kicked out and he’s pretty upset about it. So it seems like he’s made it his mission in life to destroy the denomination. He gets a fair amount of attention, mostly because pastors who get upset at his antics and his efforts to pull congregations away from the denomination.
Two thoughts on this. First to Dan. What’s the deal? Do you really want to spend your whole life being known for trying to destroy something? If the denomination is so awful, why not just be done with it, move on with life and contribute something positive to another denomination – you know, actually build up a church, instead of try to tear one down. Or is being right so important that it’s ok to destroy people’s lives in the process? I sure hope you didn’t this method at seminary. What’s your story?
Second, for everyone else. We talk about how to deal with enemies. I often hear people say things like attacking the attackers only fuels the fire. We hear these things when it comes to organizations and countries and people like ISIS, Iran, Al Qaeda, Osama Bin Laden, Vladimir Putin, North Korea (our current crop and most recent crop of “bad guys” to the US).
Here’s a thought experiment – replace ISIS with Dan. Or replace Putin with Dan. Should they be treated differently? If attacking these groups and people will only produce more of them, does that apply to Dan as well?
How about someone else in your life? Put in the name of someone you personally know but don’t like, someone who may even be wrecking people’s lives. Have the words – “He has to be stopped” come out? Or “we need to stop him before he does more damage?”
When it’s a vague and faceless organization it seems easy to say – bomb them or send in the military or kill them, doesn’t it? It’s also easy to sit back and say bombing them will only produce more hatred and enemies. When a face is attached, but we really don’t know them, then it gets a little harder, but not for many – that face just gets the name “evil.”
But what about when the person is someone we personally know, or who has personally done damage to us? Do we say the same things? What do we do?
Do we take revenge? Do we fight back? Do we try to do damage to the person? Do we try to claim that justice must be served?
If we are preachers, I have to ask, what are we preaching in the pulpit regarding our enemies? Do our own actions in our own lives match up with what we are preaching, or is preaching just the ideal. And if we aren’t congruent, then why should we wonder when our congregations don’t follow what is preached?
What do you do with someone like Dan? What do you do with the enemy that is in your own life?
Attacking is an option. It feels good. It feels justified doesn’t it? When we are attacked, we are a victim and have every right to respond in kind. We are justified. We can seek justice for the wrong done to us. They deserve it.
Explore how you feel right now having just heard that. Doesn’t feel all that great does it?
The problem with attacking someone is that these attacks are actually counter productive. Attacking can hurt the person, sure. But it won’t make them go away. When attacked, most people will respond with a counter attack and it is usually worse than the initial attack.
Attacking gives power and legitimacy to the other party. It sends a message to them and to any observer that the person or target being attacked is a real threat to you. In the end, attacking causes more problems and creates more enemies. People will come to the aid of someone attacked.
We can’t stop someone from attacking us. But we can decide how we respond. Brian Zahnd had a great quote recently – “Peace is a process, not a destination.” That is profound on so many levels. So often we seek peace as if it is some kind of far off place that is out of reach. And we have to fight for peace. We have to kill for peace. We’ll never arrive if peace is a destination.
But if peace is a process – something that we choose every moment, then things start to change. Choosing the path of peace means being vulnerable. It means taking attacks, but not responding in kind. It means setting out on a different path. It means engagement. It means listening. It means conversation. It means asking questions. It means being mature. It means letting go of the emotional response. It means trusting. It means turning the other cheek. It means looking past the attacks.
Peace is not a popular path. It is often ridiculed as a weak response. It’s often attacked. Yet, peace shows us time and time again it’s power. It persists and continues to engage with those willing to listen and talk. We mark years through the wars and leaders of history. Yet, it is a person who lived out peace fully that all of our time is centered and built on – Jesus.
How do we respond when we are attacked? We don’t respond. We change the situation. We live by peace. It’s not easy. It’s not enjoyable. Often, it feels like a burden. But then again, for those us who claim the label of Christian, we were told to take up our cross and follow. When we are attacked, we offer peace.