Violence

On Scripture: Repairing Our Grief

U.S. soldier mourning, BPTU / Shutterstock.com
U.S. soldier mourning, BPTU / Shutterstock.com

My Uncle Norman fought in Europe during World War II. An artillery observer, he didn’t return with many “heroic” stories to tell. When I was little, he would roll out some souvenirs from the war, and I’d be impressed: German military dress knives and lovely table linens. I don’t recall all of the stories or how these things became his, but I’m pleased to report the table linens were a gift. His war experience was hardly glamorous.

Uncle Norman did tell of one harrowing experience. He and his partner were identified by German artillery, and they experienced exactly the treatment they dished out. Out in front of their own unit, as they always were, they heard a shot go just overhead and explode behind them. Then one fell just short. Placing a shell a bit to the left and one to the right, the Germans had them zeroed in. Uncle Norman’s friend panicked, frozen, stuck to the ground. And in the last minute – as he remembered it – my uncle tackled his partner and carried him to safety. Pretty dramatic stuff for a kid to hear.

When Uncle Norman was much older, he came close to death after gall bladder surgery. That night he experienced profound nightmares, the Lady Macbeth experience of bloody hands he could not cleanse. The next day, he told me a very different story than the ones I’d heard before. I believe I was the first to hear of the time when he called in the coordinates for an intersection across which a significant body of Germans was crossing. For 30 minutes, he said, he watched the effects of the barrage he had targeted. And now, 40 years later, his hands wouldn’t come clean.

Violence Rules: North Korea, Syria, U.S.

Military plane, Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock.com
Military plane, Andrey Yurlov/ Shutterstock.com

Does violence rule our species? The barrage of international conflicts now in the headlines seems to suggest that violence may be the one language we have in common. 

Though we all speak it fluently, very few of us learned it in school. We didn’t have to study its “vocabulary” and “grammar rules” – no, it was much easier than that. Humans pick violence up by immersion and so we are all native speakers. From Syria to Korea to Pakistan to Iraq to the U.S., the language of violence is so natural to us that we couldn’t recite one of its “grammar rules."

Sadly, ignorance of language rules does not diminish fluency. The odd thing is that if we stopped to learn the rules governing our fluency in violence, it would actually make us less fluent. Why? Because the rules of violence reveal an unpleasant reality: We don’t use violence; violence uses us.

Shooting Down Easter

Angel statue, Malgorzata Kistryn / Shutterstock.com
Angel statue, Malgorzata Kistryn / Shutterstock.com

The conversation yelling match around gun control is exhausting — both in terms of the ethical boundaries each side will breach to advance its cause, and the way our rhetoric has turned into an exercise in “crash-testing:” we always hit a wall in talking our good sense to the Dissenters, but are content to back up, add force, and try again. Because “One day, THEY will see the light. One day, THEY will become US”…

… crash!

The more gun violence we experience as a nation correlates to our panic in pursuit of the common good, however we define it. And get too many panicky people in a room – people who are certain they are right – and watch how skillfully they evade progress. I am a pastor in Chicago and I speak on behalf of all who serve in neighborhoods where violence has become the rule and not the exception: I am tired of you hitting the wall.

This course of action and righteous disrespect of Those-With-Their-Heads-You-Know-Where will not make us masters or better neighbors. It has made us dummies. And while we are arguing, our children are losing. In Chicago, and Baltimore, and Detroit, and Newtown, and in Washington. They are losing because we are competing to see who can make the wall topple over the other first. Because we are arguing over rights from the wrong perspective.

Faith and Doubt Dancing on Good Friday (Rob Bell Blogalogue Part 4)

Faith and doubt,  iQoncept / Shutterstock.com
Faith and doubt, iQoncept / Shutterstock.com

(The Controversial figure Rob Bell has created another firestorm with his latest provocative book What We Talk About When We Talk About GodRaven Foundation Education Director, Adam Ericksen and Tripp Hudgins will share our thoughts on the book in this blogalogue. We invite you to join the discussion by leaving a comment below.)

Tripp Hudgins always gets me thinking. He is right that Rob’s chapter “Open” in What We Talk About When We Talk About God is about science and religion but that it’s also not about science and religion. This is the longest chapter of the book, and it’s full of scientific information that points to the mystery of the material world. What’s the point? As Tripp states, Rob is “asking for a little humility. He’s asking for a little poetic imagination. He’s asking for curiosity.”

That’s the point of the next chapter, too. Titled “Both,” in this chapter Rob points out a major problem we have with “God-talk.” That problem is language. Tripp set me up for this at the end of his post by asking, “Are words actually enough? Ha! Write about that. Words. Words. Words.”

When I was in seminary I learned about apophatic theology, or negative theology. It tries to define God by what God is not. A 9th century apophatic theologian named John Scottus Eriugena asserted, “We do not know what God is. God Himself does not know what He is because He is not anything. Literally, God is not because He transcends being.”

Time to Start Talking

A scene from the video game Call of Duty.

THE CEO OF one of the world's most popular video-game manufacturers recently denied any relationship between his products (some of which have their users re-enact mass slaughter) and real killing. The substance of such denial appeared to some to be no more complex than "because I said so, and some other people agree with me." Meanwhile, in the immediate aftermath of the Aurora movie theater shootings last year, Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein called for a summit of directors to discuss their imaginary guns. He later acknowledged that "I don't have the answers to these questions. ... They're so complicated; you need people with better facts and intelligence. In this situation I have to be a follower, not a leader." Refreshing humility from someone better known for bluster and self-assurance, now opening a door to a conversation on which lives may depend.

Film critics, too, have a responsibility to contribute to this conversation, so let me propose some ideas:

1. Portrayal and advocacy are not the same thing. The violence of Reservoir Dogs and Looper may be visceral, but it tells the truth about the suffering that guns and knives can inflict and may help people think twice about enacting real violence. The violence ofHome Alone andTransformers may be cartoonish, but it lies to the audience and may fuel appetites for further destruction.

2. The shape of the narrative arc may be more influential than any particular acts of violence. Our culture seems to be addicted to the idea that order can be brought out of chaos by ultimate force, that violence can literally "cleanse the world." This myth—this religion—shows up everywhere, not just in the movies. Indeed, it is a keystone of our politics. The best thing movies can do about it is to tell a different story.

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Guns, Culture, and Sanity

I DON'T OWN any guns, and I've only fired them at inanimate objects, but I live in the country, so guns are a part of my life.

During deer season, the woods around our place sometimes sound like Baghdad circa 2006. We used to have a close neighbor who regularly fired a gun in his backyard, usually on Sunday afternoons—at what, we're not entirely sure. Our family has a three-legged dog that lost his right rear appendage to a gunshot wound. Our kids in Boy Scouts get gun safety training and rifle and shotgun shooting lessons in a program certified by the National Rifle Association.

So when the gun control debate heats up, as it has since the Sandy Hook School massacre, I come down with a serious case of mixed feelings. I think rural gun lovers are at least partly right when they say that urban gun control advocates look down on them as ignorant primitives. Many city people, and I'd dare say most urban liberals, don't understand the rural culture of hunting and shooting and can't be bothered to expend the moral energy that act of empathy would require. For me, that part of the gun control discussion pushes the same outrage buttons that go off when an economist says people in dying rural communities just need to move, or when someone else suggests eliminating all farm subsidies from the federal budget. Such comments betray the fact that the speakers neither know, nor care, about rural communities and rural culture.

On the other hand, fear of outsiders is also a part of rural culture. Groups like the NRA, and gun manufacturers themselves, have done a pretty good job of exploiting that flaw, to the point that some of my neighbors are convinced that they need assault weapons to defend themselves against some vague, unnamable "them." And my experience of rural life, which has all been in the South, confirms that this can apply doubly or triply to "outsiders" with a different skin color.

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The Cost of 'Perverted' Preaching

Congolese surgeon and activist Monique Kapamba Yangoy (courtesy of Christine Anderson)

THE DEATH OF a college student who had been gang-raped in Delhi provoked outrage and anger. More than 2 million Indian students joined a movement to protest the rising violence against women in India. According to official data, reported cases of rape have more than doubled in the past 20 years, and women are the victims of a high proportion of other violent crimes.

But there's another side to this story. "Almost as shocking as the Delhi gang rape has been the range of voices that have sounded after it," wrote Sagarika Ghose, a TV journalist and commentator. "Patriarchy is chillingly omnipresent." Rather than blaming those who attack women, leaders in some Indian villages blame Westernization, liberal consumerism, growing individualism, or even the women themselves—because they wear "skimpy clothes," talk on mobile phones, and work outside the home, according to South Africa's Mail & Guardian newspaper.

For 19-year-old Kanika Sharma, these leaders miss the point. "It is all about the mentality of the boys," Sharma told the Mail & Guardian. "They think because they are men, they can do anything. But girls should get equal rights and opportunities."

Sharma speaks while standing under a sign that says: Being a woman should not make you feel vulnerable. But sadly, throughout the world women do feel vulnerable.

Before I traveled to the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC)—described as the "rape capital" of the world—I studied reports on rape as a weapon of war. In the DRC rebel soldiers have brutally raped thousands of women. They know that if they rape enough women and girls, they can destroy the social fabric of an entire community.

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Nearly 50 People Murdered in Chicago and No One Gives a *&%^$

Chicago skyline, nialat / Shutterstock.com
Chicago skyline, nialat / Shutterstock.com

My city of Chicago, known as the City with Big Shoulders, is now on its knees. But it’s not prostrate in some humble submission to God. No. Instead Chicago is weeping from the emotional exhaustion of having to bury too many youth who have been murdered.

Last year Chicago recorded 2,400 shootings and more than 505 murders, of which more than 108 were teenagers of color from seven violent communities. Already 2013, with less than two months into its birth, has seen 49 murders. Those of us on the ground seeking to bring change to this pandemic of violence know that if the Chicago cold winters are this violent, then the hot summers will not cool off. On top of the hard and constant news about those who are killing and being killed, Chicago Police stats show that only 34 percent of the murders get solved within one year. If the detectives have two years on a case, then the rate barely reaches 50 percent. The national average of murders solved is 64 percent. New York’s rate is only 60 percent. In Chicago, though, one has a 50-50 chance of getting away with a murder.

Gun Violence: How Valuable is a Life?

Gun shot in window, Iurii Konoval / Shutterstock.com
Gun shot in window, Iurii Konoval / Shutterstock.com

Death doesn’t make sense — especially when it interrupts the life of one so young. Richard Twiss was only 58 years old.

It makes me think: Richard was one life, cut short by a heart attack. What about all the images of God erased from our lives and families every year through gun violence in the U.S.? What about their families and pastors and youth groups who held vigils in waiting rooms across the country? What about the estimated 1,793 gun deaths since the Newtown massacre? How valuable are their lives?

Christians: Gun Violence is Our Issue

Gun image, val lawless / Shutterstock.com
Gun image, val lawless / Shutterstock.com

A well-known restorative justice film, "A Justice That Heals" recounts the role of faith and the church in caring for the families of both a murderer and his victim. The film climaxes in the mother’s act of forgiveness and counsel to the young man who killed her son. The power of that image of repentance, reconciliation, and restoration almost obscures another dimension of the grieving family's response to the death of their son. The victim's father resigns his job and becomes the director of an advocacy group for gun control.

The late Carl Dudley demonstrated in his research on mobilizing congregations that communities of faith rally to advocacy only after they have generated sufficient energy about and engagement with those affected by the policy. Congregations care about people not policy, stories over statistics, and narratives before numbers. Even the civil rights movement found its genesis in the story of Rosa Parks, and others like her, rather than in the "ethics" of segregation and discrimination. So, like the family in "A Justice That Heals," our work to mobilize around gun control requires creating a climate where people's experience with those who are victimized by bad policy.

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