Focus – The Kingdom of “as if”
by Major Deborah Flagg –
What an adrenaline rush! In a darkened theater, a blockbuster film reaches a crescendo of ear-shattering decibels; countless people have already died senseless, gruesome deaths; busses and buildings disintegrate in a chemical hell of explosives; celluloid chaos reigns. But, then (and quite predictably) just as all seems lost, the good guys appear, latter-day saviors armed with automatic assault weapons. They open fire with enough ammunition to disarm a small country. The bad guys are vanquished–shredded. The audience breathes a sigh of relief; they clap, they cheer. I hate it when that happens.
When I step back and look at what I have experienced in this dark Cineplex sanctuary, I realize I “hate” it on several levels. I sometimes hate myself for even going there, for wasting 103 minutes–so what if the reviews were glowing? I hate the fact that popular entertainment so often involves savagery, rage, destruction and brutality. I hate it that we are immersed in a culture which tells us that only violence can overcome violence. I hate the fact that we so blithely celebrate vengeance and death.
Oh, we don’t always do it so dramatically, but the roots of violence and vengeance are very deep: they insinuate into every level of our lives. Most of the time, we don’t even realize that we labor under what Walter Wink has called the “myth of redemptive violence.” In Wink’s insightful and disturbing analysis, “Violence is the ethos of our times…the spirituality of the modern world…Violence simply appears to be the nature of things. It is what works.”
The myth goes like this: Only violence saves. Retribution is the answer.
Capturing the imagination of each new generation, this myth is as subtle as light smog. It gets in our eyes, our nose, our hair, our lungs–we breathe it, wear it, live in it. “We are awash in it, yet seldom perceive it.” Its symptoms are many and varied, ranging from global issues like war, nuclear armament and the death penalty to the many small vengeances we exact on a daily basis. Its locations are legion: Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Rwanda, the inner cities of America.
Yet, Jesus taught the love of enemies, not their extermination. The problem is that we are so carefully schooled in violence that we often can’t even imagine what this looks like. We think that Jesus could only say “turn the other cheek” because he wore a robe and sandals and lived before the age of gunpowder. But, I think Jesus did mean it. I think he was exhaustively serious when he said, “Bless those who curse you.”
Thankfully, every once in a while there are people who courageously show us how to do this. Peter and Linda Biehl are two of these people. Their daughter Amy was stoned and stabbed to death in South Africa by the very people she was trying to help. A 19-year-old student embedded a knife in Amy’s heart and, as the Los Angeles Times reported, “The Biehls forgave him.” Recently, South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission pardoned Amy’s four convicted killers, “And the Biehls understood.” When Linda Biehl met the mother of her daughter’s killer, she embraced her.
The Biehls now work in South Africa, serving as symbols of reconciliation, attending church in the neighborhood where Amy was killed. Some people openly disapprove of their extravagant forgiveness. Most are simply astonished.
From the agony of the cross, Jesus invoked forgiveness. In his ministry, he taught that the Kingdom of God is here, realized in our very midst. In essence he said, “If you would have a Kingdom heart, this is how you will do it–love your enemies, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, pray for those who persecute you.” When he can break through the noise of explosions and gunfire, he beckons us to live “as if.” As if forgiveness is a present possibility. As if the love of God has permeated our hearts. As if the very fabric of reality has been altered by God’s intrusive presence. As if our enemies are also children of God. As if we have truly been redeemed. This is dynamite!
Ghandi challenged, “You be the change you want to see in the world.” Who would not want to see a world cleansed from violence? The Biehls are living that change in South Africa. We can also be that change. All it takes is everything we’ve got, and faithfully studying in the classroom of Jesus, who was “in some special, mysterious way…the Kingdom”
(Ed note: Major Anne Pickup concluded her column in the July issue of New Frontier. We thank her for her faithfulness in writing this column and for her insights into the Word of God, and pray God’s blessings on her.)