God speaking: Eat freely from any and all trees in the garden; I only require that you abstain from eating the fruit of one tree—the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Beware: the day you eat the fruit of this tree, you will certainly die. –Genesis 2:16-17
I am a violent person.
I have violent thoughts and violent dreams. I tend to have homicidal sleep-walking occurrences. Which is one of several reasons we don’t have firearms in the house….
I have a warrior’s spirit, which served me well when I played on the high school tennis team. In Phoenix with 100° or higher weather, I would deny myself water if I started to lose. I played mind games with my own body–which led to mind games with my opponents when they would see me pass up water breaks. Out of desperation (or dehydration), my body would submit to my mind and begin to make un-returnable shots for survival.
While I have never fought anyone physically, I have destroyed many with my words. In the fight-or-flight psychology, I’m a fighter. I fight to win. I rarely back down. You want me in your corner, because I will go to the mat for those I love. And I almost always win. Almost always. I’ve honed my injustice/hypocrisy radar to near perfection, and my craft in shaming a hypocrite are alarmingly sadistic.
And I enjoy it.
How did I get this way? I ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Like everyone else, I chose the fruit that would put me in control of my own soul. While some didn’t get the homicidal gene, even the ones who would prefer ‘flight’ over ‘fight’ have eaten of the tree that brings death to our souls. Fleeing does not equate to a non-violent approach to life. It just means that you may live in fear of being over-run by those of us who live
homicidally … I mean … assertively ….
Over the last several months, I’ve thought about the world events that flood my newsfeed. Boko Haram and ISIS still rear their ugly heads. Israel/Palestine relations continue to devolve. Ferguson and, most recently, Baltimore divide people’s passions. In the midst of these discordant stories, I’ve felt torn in understanding the desire for justice (really, vengeance) and wanting to embrace a non-violent approach to conflicts.
How do we live out eating from the tree of life in the midst of so many who live by the tree of the knowledge of good and evil? Because the people I see in history that held to the tree of life philosophy were crucified, assassinated, martyred. How many of us are willing to die, accept rejection or even exile from those we consider friends for what we value? How easy compromise seems in keeping everyone happy! Yet, that compromise brings a slow death.
Death of integrity.
Death of soul.
Death of innocence.
Death of hope of a better way of living.
What I see in Jesus, many of the Hebrew prophets, Martin Luther King, Jr., Gandhi and all our peaceable heroes who died violently is an uncompromising spirit that embraced non-violence regardless of how others treated them. They forsook the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil in favor of letting the fruit from the tree of life sustain them–even in their own physical death. And the life they struggled to actualize for the world, blossomed and grew exponentially because they would rather die than see the world continue to divide over selfish pursuits of who-is-in-charge-of-everyone-else. They sought unity over power-systems, human dignity over winning, equal-standing over hoarding–hoarding wealth, knowledge, opportunity.
Over the years, I’ve mellowed and am learning the grace of humility. I think it’s a life-long lesson; because when I sense injustice, I feel the fighter in me rising. While most of my verbal assaults take place in my head these days, I still regret how easy it is for me to ‘slice-and-dice’ a person’s soul. In recent years, I’ve seen firsthand how a less defensive mode can defuse a tense situation. When I go on the offense, relationships suffer and tensions escalate. When I take a moment to breathe and deny my primary desire to win, relationships grow and each person feels respected and esteemed. How much more does this way of treating people play in world events?
Would we rather have a hothead with a knee-jerk reaction in charge? Because that’s mainly who we’re putting in office.
But I digress….
How much do I practice that skill on myself? If I train myself to use words against me, how will I learn to do the opposite with others?
And there’s a big part of the problem. The more I destroy my own value, the less likely I am to see others as valuable. If I view myself as created in the image of God, I would be less likely to destroy God’s image in someone else. The hope, then, is that if others can see themselves as the image of God, perhaps they will not be so quick to use their power to savagely sacrifice others. But it all starts with recognizing the image of God within us and loving that image. Until then, we will continue only to hope for non-violent resolutions while perpetuating the violent cycle.
I wish I had more answers; but then I would struggle even more with arrogance. I know I only have a small piece of the puzzle. Together, we need to share our ideas of how to live free and victorious while humbly helping those who remain trapped in shame and anger from the circumstances of their lives.
I welcome comments. Please keep them respectful and constructive.