Friday, November 11, 2011

Go to war in shoes of peace

This week, our pastor skipped the benediction and sent us out with an exhortation instead: "Go to war in shoes of peace."

There are just so many thoughts about this.  The first of which is that I received this message in a place that I completely didn't expect to receive it.  You see, when Daddy was working six days a week, we were going to church on Saturday night to maximize the boys' time with Daddy.  That's no longer the case.  So we were left looking for a Sunday church.  At first, I went back to my old home church.  It was good, but, in a way I'm not good at explaining, I heard explicitly that this was not the place for us.

I contemplated returning to the Korean church.  Lots of issues there.  Two of the biggest are distance/driving (I am NOT a good driver, and the church is far away) and the class I usually belong to and get the most out of has been moved to a different building than the children's worship.  Because of my little one's separation and health issues, I NEVER leave him somewhere either I or a family member can't IMMEDIATELY get to him.

I discussed all of this (and more) with the children.  Together (well, the little one needed a bit of arm-twisting) we decided to go to the Korean church, and I decided to go to the Korean service, which happens to be more of a traditional-presbyterean rather than the contemporary-charsimatic or fundamentalist service that I'm used to.  That, combined with the language and cultural differences, and I just didn't expect to get anything out of the service.  This was a good choice from my children's spiritual and cultural development, not mine so much.

But I should never underestimate God's ability to feed us.

And so we went to the Korean church, and I sat in the Korean language service.  And God does amazing things because I understood (well!), and I felt like I had come back home.  And more importantly, I understood how important it is that I sat there.  More on that later.

Go to war in shoes of peace.

"Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." Ephesians 6:12

Yes, I have quoted the Bible here, but it isn't here alone--it's just very succinctly put here.  It is elsewhere as well.


Read Tolkien's Ring Trilogy.  That is the point, which the movie kindly cut.  The last section of the last book is devoted to understanding how evil came to be rooted in the Shire and how it had to be rooted out.

Arun Gandhi summarizes the lessons he had learned from his grandfather, M.K. Gandhi, lessons which underscore the point that the problem is within, in this way:  "One of the many things I learned from grandfather is to understand the depth and breadth of nonviolence, and to acknowledge that we are all violent and that we need to bring about a qualitative change in our attitudes."

Hannah Arendt wrote of the difference between attitudes in places that the Final Solution worked and in those that it didn't, asserting, "[U]nder conditions of terror most people will comply but some people will not, just as the lesson of the countries to which the Final Solution was proposed is that 'it could happen' in most places but it did not happen everywhere. Humanly speaking, no more is required, and no more can reasonably be asked, for this planet to remain a place fit for human habitation" (italics in the original).  Her point was one of attitude, not military prowess.

And I so deeply believe this. Our struggle begins at home. In our houses. In our hearts.

I try very hard to be the change I want to see in the world, to love my neighbors as myself, to not assume that I am right, to actively seek information that would disprove my theories of life.

But it is hard.  Very hard.

Take for example this weekend, the very afternoon following the exhortation of the pastor.

You see, we have a neighbor who is on the autism spectrum.  So what?  So many people are on the spectrum these days.  My own children have had provisional and rule-out diagnoses on the spectrum.  My nephew is on the spectrum.  My heart goes out to this child, and I try very, very hard to be fair, to include him, and to protect him.

However, he is not perfect.  He doesn't understand most social things, as is common among like children.  He can't, of himself, help it.  He routinely takes the other kids' toys, hits the other kids, spits on them, and accuses them of stealing his things which he simply hasn't put away.

On the other hand, this isn't the whole story either.  He isn't the only child who hits.  Other children take toys without asking permission.  Other children have been known to spit.  And accusing others of malice (stealing, in this case) when the problem has been your own ineptitude (not putting your toys away) seems to be a biproduct of elementary school (I can't begin to tell you how many of these arguments I break up every single day!).

But, like most children on the spectrum, the difference is in the severity/frequency/quality with which he behaves in this manner.

As a result, he is treated like a fringe member of the group, and like all fringe members of groups, he is held to a higher level of compliance to group norms (which he is naturally incapable of meeting).  And, like other members of the fringe, he is sometimes attacked by other members on the fringe because they are able to attack him without reprisal from the ingroup, because attacking him reinforces their own connection with the ingroup, and because they have learned this behavior from being bullied by others and it therefore seems natural.

This makes the behavior understandable but not excusable.

Anyway, on this particular afternoon, all of the kids were a bit out of sorts and acting up.  Said child was especially having trouble hurting smaller children.  I don't think any malice was necessarily intended, but no care or consideration was being shown either.  I generally simply tried to redirect (my step toward peace).  But the older (and therefore bigger) kids were getting frustrated with the whole situation and were really wanting to pound the child--although none of them were quite willing to cross me to do it.  And since I was literally standing between them and this child, he was saved said pounding.  This is my version of shoes of peace--prevent harm, do not provoke, redirect toward peace and understanding.

BUT then my son's teacher arrived, and we had to go in.  I was concerned about the child's safety if he was left out in that group without supervision.  I was also a bit concerned for the safety of the smaller ones because, while no malice was involved, they were still being physically injured without someone (again) to redirect and physically just stand between the two parties, making it more difficult to tackle them.

So I went to the child's parents and tried to warn them that the situation was not the best, and adult supervision was necessary.

This is what I would want myself.

It was not, apparently, what his parents wanted.

Repeated attempts after the fact to try and clarify that I was warning them about their son's behavior to protect their son from reprisals and not to accuse him were only met with direct threats toward another neighborhood child and veiled threats toward my own.

Go to war in shoes of peace.

What do you do in that situation?  What do I make of these threats?  Are my neighbors serious or just running their mouths (which I know that they do from time to time)?

Go to war in shoes of peace.

I haven't figured out what to do yet, but I don't want to up the stakes.  And I want to act with love.

Living peace is hard. 

Back to the church.  It is hard for immigrants (living anywhere in the world, not just here) to face cultural difference and premature judgment everyday and still choose to think the best about their neighbors.  It is harder when you never see those neighbors accepting anything about you.  It goes beyond just simple apathy. It might be okay if they never learn your language, accept your mores, or learn anything about your culture at all.  No, oftentimes they disparage your attempts to speak their language, call your mores amoral, and openly scorn any aspects of your culture which don't match their own.

And therefore, seeing someone from the outside accept you, seek you out, try to assimilate into your culture instead of demanding it of you--that, my friends, brings hope.

As an old woman made her way out of the church and blessed me, I could tell I gave her hope.  But even moreso, she gave me hope as well.  There was no feeling of trespassing, no hesitancy to accept me, no anger--things that I have often faced in such situations.  These are small steps toward breaking down the violence in our own hearts.

To paraphrase Arendt, my friends, hate can happen anywhere, but it doesn't need to happen everywhere.  It is a choice that we can choose not to make.

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