Friday, November 7, 2008

The Honk of Redemptive Violence

Scholars much more intelligent than myself have brought to my attention that our world operates on what they call "the myth of redemptive violence." This premise maintains that our tit-for-tat culture is under the assumption that the next act of violence will be the last act of violence. We believe that that next comeback or harsh word or name called or bomb dropped, will finally settle the score for good, bringing about redemption through these means of violence.

It is obvious that this is a myth. Just look at antics on the elementary school playground. One kid says something mean to another and the other responds. Now the bar has been raised and there is an expectation of something worse than the previous comment. We've all been a part of these escalating engagements, and we realize that they never end civilly. They always end with someone being hurt irreparably, but never redemptively.

I witnessed an example of this while downtown a few weeks ago. In a big city you are constantly inundated with sounds, one of them being horns honking as impatience levels rise in the midst of heavy traffic. Usually, however, this honking is one-sided (one person is mad at another, and the other feels shamed for their poor decisions). That day, though, I heard my first "double honk". One car honked at another and immediately the other car honked in response. It was definitely the sounds of the myth of redemptive violence. There's no way that the second honk was going to let the first honk have the last word.

I was so keenly aware at that moment of the idiocy of this quest to settle the score through upping the ante. The message of Jesus, and a few others who have followed (i.e. MLK, Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, Oscar Romero), has shown for us that the only true redemptive comes through non-violent resistance. In the words of Jesus, it is the willingness to "take up your cross" that shows the world the true beauty of the redemptive process, the life of turning the other cheek, loving your neighbor, and ultimately carrying the burden of the cross of calvary upon your back. The hard part is that the cross is heavy and may cost us everything, and many of us (myself included on most days) aren't willing to bear that load. May we be people who lean into the life of ultimate sacrifice, a life of submission that leads to redemption.


  1. You would like Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

  2. Thanks for the book suggestion. I've never heard of the book or author. I'll have to look into it.

  3. I like everything that you said except the last line. "a life of submission that leads to redemption." clarify submission. To what to whom...? I personally am tired of Christians submitting to the crap in this world, the dumb ideas, the negligent thinking, the shortsighted opinions...ect. Submission to the difficult way of following Jesus does not mean I become a tool.

  4. It's definitely not a submission to a set of ideologies. Christians spend far to long arguing about right and wrong or "crap in this world, dumb ideas, & negligent thinking" as you say. But the life of Christ is one of ultimate submission to others in relationship. It is a decision to lay aside the desire to convert in order to pick up the desire to converse, with anyone, anywhere, about anything, even if they are "negligent" thinkers with "shortsided opinions". It seems like you have found at best a neighbor in these kinds of people, or at worst, an enemy, and I would say that you are called to love them the most, even if you disagree with them. Our savior submitted to negligent people to the point of death on a cross, and we won't even have lunch with them to hear out their perspective and opinion.

    Please push back. I'm interested to hear more of your thoughts on this.

  5. I agree with what you say. Though I think an exercise in practicality would be to not use these token words that all christians 'know' but really have no idea what that means. For example, the common church has a mission statement filled to the brim with words like, disciple, serve, love, when really they mean nothing in real every day life. And those I listed were the simple ones. So when you write a paper at school, or when you are thinking or talking with someone, I challenge you to not use a token christian word, instead push for what that actually looks like in the given example.

    I think my real anger is justified, I read about the Jesus that had little to no patience with those religious to holy people that were hypocrites, and incredibly 'shortsighted' - or self-sighted. I believe that Christ died for all, but why then did he waste so little time with those that were quote un quote 'religious'? He spent the majority of his time with the 'lesser of society'. So should I have patience with those people? Should I really waste my time with a person that has a Jesus fish on their car and cuts me off, and drives over the speed limit in their hummer, wasting gas, using more oil, depriving the world by buying more oil that makes countries poorer when they strip it to find oil. Is there such a thing as righteous anger? Justified anger? I'm pissed to say the least. We can do better, and we should.

  6. I can understand your frustration with our 'religious' language not meaning anything. I don't think that should cause us to not use that language. I think we can still use words like 'disciple', but if we are going to use that language than we better be willing to live out what we speak of...we better be 'covered in the dust of our Rabbi' as Rob Bell would say. Maybe our role as followers of Christ isn't to stop using that language, but instead to redeem it for the good. I think language can be really important for challenging and encouraging people, and words like redemption and beauty and story can be very helpful. In my classes they don't give us 20 page papers, but instead challenge us to write our thoughts in fewer words, so to tell too many stories is not an option.

    Jesus obviously got mad at the Pharisees, but it didn't seem to keep him from being around them. And it obviously didn't keep him from going to the cross on their behalf. As for your oil example...I hope I don't offend you, but what are you doing to help the problem? You do own a huge truck, an SUV, and 2 motorcycles.

  7. I do. Mine gets 40MPG, my wife's gets 120MGP. I use the truck as a last resort (22.4MPG), I ride the motorcycle during ride-able weather; but mostly I try to use the bicycle for getting to and from work. I drive less than 8,000 miles a year. I don't fly on air planes, and I buy local food as to not use oil for food reasons. I don't commute more than 2.5 miles away from my home. My wife's car gets 45 MPG(mini cooper). And basically I like to justify my actions, so of course I am not guilty of using the planets resources. - just kidding of course.

    I am guilty of Oil Gluttony. Though I am aware of it, and use all other means possible to ride bike, and not use the gas hog. I would be in favor of 65 MPH national speed limit. Even though I would hate to go that slow, and it would drive me nuts. BUT the annual Oil savings by lowering the speed limit would be over 20,000 gallons a day I think was the stat.

    I would love to walk every where and ride public transportation. I would hope that would become and option where I live.

    I could justify all my actions. To be honest though I know I could do better. I am doing better. I traded my truck in for one that gets better MPG, and can hold more people for the times that I take people hunting, and family trips to the cities(those are more frequent now, unfortunately). I use reusable bags, reusable water bottles, and I buy everything local that I can. But Justifying actions is not what I am called to, instead Christ constantly calls me out every day asking, "Joel, what can you do better? Where can you help?"

    Maybe before I spend money on personal things, maybe I should make sure some others have clean drinking water, or food for the week.

    - Further - Pets - if we spent some of the money that we spend on our pets on making sure the world has clean water, we could solve the problem in 4 months...hmmmmm makes one think.