Sticks and Stones and Words (That Always Hurt Us)

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In recent days, I have recognized yet again that some people crave surety and certainty. They believe in, and seem to need a definite answer phrased in absolute terms. Beyond the biological and even theological implications of this system is the reality. Rational sense alone has frequently been disregarded for stubborn need. Thought it may not be our role to pass judgment, lest we be judged in kind, we eagerly take it in any case. When we are not the best stewards of our own perspective, the nastiness of our ideological allegiance reinforces our separation.

By this I do not mean to imply bipartisanship is a possibility or that idealism is always the best option. What wounds me most is what a sport it has become, in certain corners, to beat up on religious expression. This is not a condemnation of atheism or unbelief, either. Nor is this in any way a rousing endorsement of currently trendy right-wing invective. Rather, it is a sad retelling of how a conservative version of faith is assumed instantly by many to be the standard by which all believers must surely ascribe. I see this most prominently in many, regardless of age, but especially so in young adults, particularly teenagers and those in their twenties. Their scorn, snark, and sarcasm is heaped highly upon those who espouse Christian language, perceiving that it most assuredly be found only in one objectionable embodiment alone. We are a reflection of our youth, just as they are surely a reflection of us.

A basic understanding of the Bible would put aside many of these incorrect assumptions. We seem to be stuck in evolutionary neutral in some regards. But when even some Christians don’t truly grasp more than the most literal of interpretations in a book full of paradoxes and problematic passages, then the problem is visible. Even scholars disagree with each other and hold alternative points of view concerning the same well-known story or parable, so believing that one and only one way of looking at the entire massive text could well seem nonsensical. To better qualify my remarks, let me say I’m not necessarily a proponent of going back to “that old time religion.” or automatically assuming that old ways are always better.

Much of the disconnect I’ve described, like so much about life, is a matter of ignorance and poor translation. The nuances and interpretations of Scripture are a fact lost to far too many believers, for reasons great and small alike. We can take pride at having completely disproved many harmful, unfounded beliefs over the centuries, but we cannot be similarly proud of how we have treated those who still cling to them, with or without firearm. We lose the moral high ground altogether when we can’t seem to stop ourselves from getting in a dig or two at who we perceive as deluded or severely misled.

On Thursday, we celebrate Veterans’ Day, though those of us who are members of Peace Churches often find it difficult to find the proper balance of reverence for individual sacrifice and sorrow at the destruction of combat. On this day, we once celebrated a cease-fire and end to the first war that showcased the awful impact of mechanized slaughter. It is certainly possible for pacifists to come down too harshly on those who enlist and fight as any who advance it as a solution. What always keeps me grounded is the realization of how many of my relatives and ancestors served in the military. One relative was even decorated for valor. In decrying the system, I must not give short-shift to humanity’s ability to overcome and conquer challenges, though I mourn deeply their need to do it in the first place.

Verbal warfare is what bothers me most these days. The after-effects of it cannot be easily seen in ways a physical wound could. We can, and should point to the gaping injustice of a conflict thousands of miles away, but in how we express our opinion, we might all be hawks. Civilized war is still that, and the barely restrained (and sometimes unrestrained) anger which has led people in a thousand impulsive directions the past several months would not seem out of place during a search-and-destroy mission. Even low-grade Civil Wars leave their mark.

Popular unrest, poor decision making by leaders, and economic uncertainty led to many revolutions in the 18th Century. The volatility of reactionary sentiment in our age has created many such backlashes over the centuries. In this instance, Tea Parties responded to Barack Obama and the Democratic majority as though their reforms and what they represented really were as dangerous as those of the radical Jacobins. If they knew their history better, they’d be carrying pictures of the President tricked up to look like Maximilian Robespierre.

These days, when I contemplate the human race, I realize our fragility more than our strength. We are so easily damaged in shipment and the ways we attempt to repair the damage are often as injurious as the initial hurt. In all our cocksure stoicism, we have been too busy fighting verbal battles to take stock of impact of the latest round of bombast. We have not paused to collect our dead and wounded from the field. From a psychological standpoint, we all might well suffer from the after-effects of traumatic stress. Psychologically and physically, we are not as tough or impenetrable as we think we are. Through personal experience, I have learned the hard way that the combined impact of stress on the human body can often be death on the installment plan.


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