On Blowing Up the Narrative of Blowing Things Up

I was talking with a friend today. She relayed a conversation with another friend. The radical, change-the-world kind of friend. The kind of people I like. (Well, most of the time…)

They had been debating the ethics of destruction of property when the target in view is the bad guys: the animal torturers, the people killers.

Why not demonstrate that there is power arrayed against them?

I was reading a book the other day. It embodied a deep critique of male-dominated religious literature. It put starkly before my eyes the ways that the women in the Bible were assumed to be desirous of whatever man they were given to, that they were treated as appendages to stories and commodified for the boys’ power games.

And it put starkly before my eyes the ease with which we can take up the power we’d been excluded from and turn it on our oppressors. It’s easy to retell the story by reassigning the roles in the same script.

I was watching the Syria situation unfold. It was a situation of horror (actually, it has been for quite some time before chemical weapons were used).

Then we decided to get involved. Someone else was killing and torturing with weapons that we’re not allowed to use. Unless you kill and torture people in another hemisphere while seated in the comfort of Nevada, you’re not allowed to act that way.

So we were going to kill and destroy and torment. Not even for the purpose of changing the characters in the script, but only for the purpose of momentarily playing, “More able to kill than thou.” That was the intended message.

In each, the story of imposition of will by show of force was affirmed as the story by which value, virtue, and place are determined. The narrative of “if I can blow you up, destroy you, I will secure my place and the world be better off” seeps into every crevice because it’s the very water of the ocean in which we live.

When Christians place the cross at the front of our sanctuaries, it is supposed to be a reminder of those great words of Jesus:

It Shall Not Be So Among You

The cross was Rome’s little way of saying that it had sufficient force to keep its power.

The resurrection was God’s little way of saying that God has a different story to tell. God has a power story that overthrows the power stories of the world by refusing to retell them in God’s name.

In a beautiful refusal to play the “I can blow you up” game, the earliest Christians created a new standard of power: walking the way of the cross.

In a stunning escape from the “I can blow you up game,” they did not fall in the colonized people’s trap of striving for the same power and means to power but with themselves in charge.

They surrendered that game to Rome, and claimed different rules altogether. They blew up the narrative of blowing things up.

They saw in Christ the inscribing of a new narrative, and called others to join it: in faith, entrust yourself to God, even to the point of death. See our hopes fulfilled by the God who gives life to the dead.

The Christian calling is nothing if not a relearning in every generation how to tell the story of the Crucified in our personal lives, in our life together, and in the public sphere that will always, it seems, strive for its place by the power of the sword.

6 thoughts on “On Blowing Up the Narrative of Blowing Things Up”

  1. It seems to me that the present situation with the US and Syria is like you point out with Rome and dissidents, and all the other bullies who parade(d) as on the side of right. We remember the school-yard bullies and how they were perceived by most of the rest of the school, and it was not good. The same is true when there is no compelling reason to “use force” except to openly express our power to bully. Hardly the kingdom of God approach.

    Than you for a well spoken point.

  2. In church this happens a lot. People with little or no power in the rest of their lives can get power in the church and they tend to misuse it and create all manner of difficulty.

  3. I’m a pacifist so I’m fully with you on not blowing people up, and that being the significance of the cross, the departure from the way of empire etc…

    I do think that property destruction is a more complicated matter. Jesus was nonviolent, but overturned tables, disrupted commerce, and a lot of the healing stories have to do with economic loss. The reason the people are mad at Paul for exorcising the slave girl in Acts 16 is that it was an act of economic interference: of property destruction.

    I think that there is Biblical grounds for nonviolent activists to consider doing things like interfering with pipelines being built, blocking traffic, shutting down businesses. Land redistribution movements have often squatted on private property, or removed fences and such using biblical jubilee language to justify it.

  4. Someone else was killing and torturing with weapons that we’re not allowed to use. Unless you kill and torture people in another hemisphere while seated in the comfort of Nevada, you’re not allowed to act that way.

    As one who’s been to war .. this is a shallow (and somewhat naive) portrayal of the issue.

    Whether or not you agree with war there are still principles that govern it.

    “Reasonable and proportional response” means that you never employ force in excess of what is necessary to achieve your military goal. This ideal is embedded in Laws of Armed Conflict (LAOC), whether or not one thinks it should.

    Additionally, Laws of Armed Conflict also stipulate that the application of force in warfare is for the purpose of achieving a military goal, hence a political one, not for the sake of causing cruelty, torture and suffering (though sometimes this does happen).

    The goal here is to minimize pain and suffering, to confine the horrors of war minimally as much as possible; and though wars are rationalized and executed by politicians, it is combatants who are held responsible for its conduct.

    In biblical times, tribal societies had blood vendettas, where if I killed a brother of yours, you would kill all of mine. Blood vendettas escalated violence out of control. So to limit sin, Israelites were given the proportional limit of “an eye of an eye” meaning “not 30 eyes for an eye” and “a life for a life” to restrict the escalation of violence.

    Yet your comments mock the very real concern about the employment of chemical or biological weapons? Try looking at a youtube video of what a nerve agent does to a mouse.

    This is not simply a case where the west is opposing Syria’s use of a weapon itcannot, but a case of the west reacting appropriately (and with Christian charity) to an act of great cruelty.

  5. If I can be metaphorical I would say the ocean talked about that we are immersed in is more of a dammed up lake. We need to “blow up” or deconstruct that dam that is stopping the water from flowing, thus changing the landscape in which we live. Pacifism can be easily co-opted by empire when it only plays a pastoral role. I like to think I am an aggressive pacifist, or a peace maker- at least I’m learning what that means. But I’m talking about deconstructing systems of oppression, especially the empire in which we are complicitly tied to.

    1. What if you accidentally deconstruct a system you believe to one of oppression, only to realize that system was itself preventing the emergence of a far more oppressive system?

      Of course your when you say ‘systems of oppressions’ you really mean systems you don’t like based upon imperfect and impartial knowledge (which is somewhat relative and arbitrary); or do you have objectivity from omniscience?

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