When my family moved to the urban core of KC over three years ago, friends and family cautioned us, “It is more dangerous over there!” Some said, “It isn’t safe!” The narrative of our part of the City had been told in terms of its crime and instability.
The neighborhood alerts on our community boards do sometimes reach a fever pitch, announcing another suspicious person, another break in, or worse. But it’s the city. We expect that, right?
Violent acts and violent rhetoric seem to dominate our landscape. From suicide bombings in far off places to murderous rampages and vehement speech closer to home, violence presses in on us. We turn on the news or browse the headlines expecting it, even looking for it. It seems inevitable to us that certain places or certain people would be violent.
But violence is as close as our own hearts.
I have cringed at the sound of a mother berating her child at the bus stop. I have called the police when the argument heard coming from a nearby house sounded like it was turning dangerous or if I heard gun shots closer than I’d like. I have taken an alternate route on my walk when I encountered two women shouting and degrading one another. Yes, violence is pressing in, but it is also pressing out.
In 1 John 3:15 it says that, “anyone who hates his brother is a murderer.” That isn’t some flowery metaphor or shocking image. It is fact. An act of hate is murder.
So what makes me different from the mother berating her child at the bus stop? Nothing, really. I despise her behavior. I despise what she represents. I despise how she treats her child. Therefore, I despise her, hate her, murder her in my heart.
In the end I put myself in the place of judgement over these violent “others” and assume that they are just degenerates and perpetrators, forgetting that their story is most definitely one of victimhood as well, with complicated and traumatic stories that have played out time and time again.
So how do we battle violence?
Gentleness, forgiveness and reconciliation. These are the weapons we must use.
We see examples not only in the Bible but in Christian saints, modern day activists, and mystical teachers—of how peace can disarm violence. St. Seraphim of Sarov, a Russian saint entreated, “Acquire the Spirit of Peace and a thousand souls around you will be saved.” We see in the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:9 in the Bible, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”
Peace is this thing that we must acquire, hunt down, work for, struggle to maintain. We are urged to close the gap between ourselves and others in peace and reconciliation. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who reconcile.
It seems an overwhelming proposition to me to take on a violent culture, the vehement rhetoric of today’s warmongers, the institutions and religions that perpetrate violence. That is why I must make my most strategic battlefield my own heart. This is where I begin my struggle to overcome violence. From there, who knows what may come!
Article by Jodi Mathews