I had a bully. My bully taunted me and occasionally hit me, but I endured the bullying, and I learned to ignore the taunting. I was bullied for being the son of a Dentist. Unbeknownst to me I was a rich kid (come to think of it, maybe I was bullied for using words like ‘unbeknownst’?). I was five years old, not quite old enough to understand socialist theory or class envy. I was just a kid getting beat up… every day… in Kindergarten… by a third grader.
Bullying is all too common in our society, but it is nothing new. In the Darwinian hallways of American schools, the big lord over the little, the beautiful over the homely, and the athletic over the awkward. In my day fist fights were common and often the principals of the local schools would handle fights like officials in a hockey game. They would let the kids fight it out and intervene only when things got out of hand. In today’s world bullying has changed. We could not have conceived of cyber-bullying, but all things considered I would rather be punched in the face once than mocked by a million hits. The “weapons” of todays bullies are cell phones and twitter accounts, and everyone is carrying them.
I grew up in a rural town where we all carried “weapons” but we saw them as tools. I remember classmates who had rifles prominently displayed on the rack in their truck. Some would bring spears (used while checking traps before school) into the school and store them in the varsity locker room before classes began. I personally carried a six-inch pocket knife with me every day to school without a single incident. No one was afraid of our tools. That was then.
Today we live in a world in which our tools have been weaponized.
Even our rhetoric is weaponized. When a tortured soul uses weapons to destroy classmates or colleagues, we rush to use the circumstances to affirm our own agendas. We focus on guns or values; global warming or the state of our infrastructure. The blood is not yet dry before the ambassadors of meaning use their power to heap scorn upon their opponents. The guilt is universal and the impact is global. From Texas to Toronto, from Tel Avi to Tehran, we each use our weapons of choice to attack our enemies. We use Facebook and AR-15s, long knives, and short essays to attack the other side. And we ignore the consequences in broken hearts and fractured lives. We have learned new ways to hurt, new means to hit back, new ways to be vicious without ever getting blood on our hands.
Our media world and our social media lives have allowed us to engage in psychological drone strikes on those we disagree with; all while claiming that we are innocent of violence, sin or hatred. Evil persists not because of the legality of weapons, but due to the innate ability of evil hearts to weaponize anything in which we come into contact.
This is the sad truth of our sinful world. There is nothing on earth that we cannot turn into a weapon. So has it always been. From ancient times we have weaponized rocks and trees, fire and water. In recent years we have discovered ways to weaponize travel and commerce, love and sex, gender and race, community and communication. The problem isn’t the tools, it is the craftsmen.
The way to transform our violent society is to change the inclinations of our hearts by the grace of God in Jesus Christ. I speak from experience, for it was Jesus that helped me to endure and learn to love even in the midst of bullies.
From the time I was a child I embraced the story of Jesus Christ. For a young Roman Catholic boy, this meant learning the painful story of His suffering and crucifixion. It is important to note that the suffering of Jesus Christ was never portrayed to me as accidental or useless. This was a redemptive suffering. Jesus died as an act of God’s love for his confused and reckless people. Jesus took the punches, the taunting, and the torture and He responded with love, grace, and forgiveness. The crucifixion of Jesus Christ changed our world, but we may have missed an important part of what God in Jesus Christ was able to accomplish.
In order to discover this hidden blessing, we must first remember what crucifixion meant to the Roman world. In crucifixion the Romans found a way to weaponize their famous system of roads against the people. They crucified “criminals” along the roads to show the futility of acting against the power of Rome. In crucifixion they found a way to both punish their criminals and warn their subjects. In the days that Jesus walked the earth, the cross was the principal weapon of terror used against the people.
Then Jesus was crucified in the sight of all of Israel. They passed him along the way. Rome shoved their broken Messiah in their faces. Pilate put a sign on His cross to make sure that the Jews got the message. Like all good bullies they made sure that people knew what they had done as a warning to any who might cross them. Jesus died in the full view of the community but then, according to the scripture, something miraculous happened. He rose again!
It is what Jesus didn’t do next that should get our attention. He didn’t go to Rome. He didn’t prove His worth to His detractors. He didn’t shove their noses in His triumph. He didn’t weaponize the resurrection. Instead Jesus went to the Church. He lifted up the wounded and the broken. He healed those who had been so devastated by their failures. He showed them His scars and His wounds and He instructed them to go into the world and do the same. The manner in which we evaluate success was transformed, as was the cross itself.
The transformation of the cross may be the greatest evidence of the enduring power of God’s grace in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ didn’t break Rome, He transformed it. In the span of a few hundred years, the city of Rome would become the seat of the Church and the Roman Cross would become the symbol of Christian love. Jesus turned the weapon of Rome, the cross, into a symbol of life.
Five-year old Danny already knew that I was supposed to be like Jesus. So I tried. I learned to pray for those who hurt me. I learned to resist fighting back against the actions of those who were “lost” in hatred and bitterness. I learned to turn the other cheek and surrender my expectations to God. I clung to the cross. Then as I got older and matured in my faith, I learned to reach out in love to those who continued to experience abuse and bullying. I am still learning.
God is not blind to the inhumanity of our society. In fact Jesus is trying to show us a more excellent way. We will not defeat evil by weaponizing the Church. We will not find eternal joy in the free exercise of our own hatred and escalating animosities. Without the love and example of Jesus Christ in our lives, those who have been hurt will only continue to hurt others.
We must not continue in the cycles of violence that have left a legacy of bloodshed and corruption around the world. In Jesus Christ we are called to stop the cycles of violence. Someone has to let go of the rage. Someone has to step back from the brink of retaliatory violence. Someone has to take the blow and turn the other cheek. The hatred will never end until we replace it with grace.
The Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ is not of this world. It has both heavenly origins and heavenly expectations. We cannot use the weapons of human warfare to win the spiritual battles that are raging around us. The Church must embrace the example of Jesus Christ and learn to love. Love your brothers and sisters in Christ. Love those who you work with and play with. Love your family. Love them, even when they have hurt you. Love them even if they seem to be your enemies. Take your retaliations and your hurt to the cross. Let it be transformed there even as we are transformed by the power of the Cross of Christ.
For the Kingdom will be filled with those who have not just heard, but also followed, the words of Jesus Christ, “But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those that persecute you.”