Two conversations stayed with me during the past week. Though they were in different places, different conversants, and different topics, they held remarkable similarities.
The first occurred around the coffee table at work. Discussion involved the tragic police attacks in Moncton, and the eventual capture of the alleged shooter. “I didn’t think they’d bring him in alive. In fact, they should have fired a warning shot really low, like between the eyes!”
The second comment was a day later, in downtown PA. “That woman that was so badly beaten just a few blocks from here? When they find the person responsible, they should just do the same thing to him! Beat him to within an inch of his life and then light him on fire!”
The passion, the anger, the indignation, the feeling of helplessness, these things are part of what defines us as human. Shocking events affect us deeply, and that needs to find expression. It points to us finding our creation in the image of God. Writers of the scriptures frequently reference an angry God, threatening some shattering events on the messed up folks on earth. Usually, that’s us chosen ones.
Certainly, our spirituality, our determination to live fully and well, needs to be able to go to the hard places. Our spirituality needs to have some relevance as we experience those raw emotions. In the bleakest, saddest, most destructive occurrence, there also lies opportunity.
A story I’ve probably told here before is about the break and enter at our church 13 years ago when, among other acts of senseless destruction, our grand piano was smashed. The following Sunday, I called the children together and we gazed at that broken piano, bent legs, smashed woodwork, still covered with police fingerprinting dust. I asked the kids what should happen to the person who had done this damage.
In the indignation expressed, there were mostly mutterings of serious jail time.
We then moved on to discuss what Jesus had said about various offenders in the New Testament. Before they returned to their seats, I asked, once more, how the person who had done this deed should be dealt with.
Young Damien, probably five years old, offered a suggestion. “Maybe we could ask him to come help us clean up the mess!”
Enemy love is the most difficult, the most maddening, the most countercultural concept in the actions and words of Jesus. It has the potential to totally change the culture of the world.
I take note that to the extent that culture moves in those directions, it is already doing just that. Here in our city we have an initiative, credited to past police chief Dale McFee, where representatives of a whole whack of social and police agencies sit together in co-operation as they look at the troubling issues, and the trouble makers, in our city.
They then deliberately plan to bring available resources to those situations and those people, long before framing it in “bad guy/good guy” language. A safer, less troubled city is the result. I suggest that the aroma of “enemy love” wafts at the root of this concept. The passions and energies of, “between the eyes,” or “burn them like they burned others” is moved on to creative solutions.
Maybe the Jesus thing has potential.
The concept of that inter-agency group suggests a direction, for example, in the tragic Moncton story. With the alleged attacker in custody, the system can do a much more thorough and much needed examination of what that activity was about. Had he been gunned down, much less can be learned and we are doomed to more of these stories, more of this grief, more of this fear.
If that young man in custody, like all of us, is indeed created in a holy image, what were the events that so terribly veered him off that path? How is that about each of us? What do we need to learn? What should we look for?
How can we most effectively recognize and offer healing to brokenness?
In a recent television program, Indigenous Circle, host Nelson Bird took us to the beaches of Belgium, where aboriginal elders conducted a ceremony in aid of gathering the spirits of fallen warriors so that those spirits could return to their traditional homelands.
It was a moving concept, made much more so when one elder articulated, “We don’t differentiate between us and the enemy. Our ceremony seeks to free the spirits of all warriors to return to their home.”
Again, love for enemy is the most difficult and most radical mandate that Jesus hands to us. It has the potential to change everything.
Ed Olfert is a Prince Albert freelance writer.