One of the benefits of not pastoring a church is that I can express my opinions without having to worry about losing church members. Over the years I’ve developed ideas, considered by most of my brothers and sisters, to be of an aberrant ilk and therefore, usually kept them to myself. I had even refused myself the luxury of thinking too far outside the proverbial box in which even good friends of mine assumed I had long before taken up residence. So, rather than give very much time to musing about things that I knew I would offend people, I simply “cast down imaginations and brought into captivity every thought to the obedience of my more conservative brethren.”
Let me back up to say that though I love movies I watch them almost exclusively on Netflix. Since my Wi-Fi is spotty to the point of sometimes having to take my laptop into my apartment’s pantry, lift it up head high, and point it in the direction of a friend’s apartment on another floor, I get the DVDs sent in the mail. Please don’t pity me; I’m quite content. Though it’s probably illegal, please don’t turn me in. I do give my neighbor some money each month for the right. Due to the ridiculous price, the uncomfortable seating next to strange strangers, the sticky floor, not to mention the theater refuses to pause the film when I have to use the facilities, I almost never go to the movies, as in every 15 years or so. The other reason I steer clear of the theater is that I tend to talk (out loud) to the characters, a practice, I’m told, is annoying to other movie-goers and embarrassing to my guests. I have even been known to pray for people on the screen – out loud – when I am privy to danger that they don’t see coming from around a blind corner. I usually catch myself before standing and praying in tongues or getting all the way to the “In Jesus’ Name” part. It’s just better for everyone for me to watch Netflix at home.
My movie watching habits are just me being quirky. But what’s even weirder, and I don’t have this all figured out psychoanalytically yet, but though I’m pretty much of a “peacenik” and take Jesus quite seriously when he called us to be peacemakers. But the storyline to which I’m attracted and am most vocal about while viewing from my cozy apartment, in comfortable seating, atop my not very sticky floor is the revenge theme, where the good guys always win and the bad guys get their due.
I want the protagonist to win in the end and every fight with the antagonist. I can’t help myself from warning or counseling the good guys about how to get the best of the bad ones. And if they are too merciful for my taste and choose to let them go, I’m outraged that they didn’t kill them and save themselves a lot grief later! Last night I was watching such a movie and wondered if my neighbors could hear my grumbling through our thin adjoining wall.
I’m adamant about peacemaking and the freedom it brings, but put it on a screen with well-developed characters, and I call for vengeance even if it does perpetuate a Hatfield and McCoy feud. That makes for an easy segue to a sequel.
When I visited “Ground Zero” in Manhattan I wept profusely for the excruciating loss of lives on 9/11 and devastation of families. Nevertheless, I have some definite opinions about our reaction to it and to other heartless terrorist attacks on us and against other parts of the world. But when it comes to movies, I want to see the antagonist suffer and the good guys ride off in the sunset with the girl on the back of his horse. It seems sort of hypocritical, doesn’t it? Maybe it’s simple catharsis to experience the good win over bad on a screen, even if they have to break the law to tender their victory – Jack Bower comes to mind – it’s all worth it. Maybe my faith for the final outcome of God’s free-will experiment is weak. Maybe I just can’t stomach one more senseless and brutal attack on innocent and vulnerable people, and the movies of the ilk I prefer help me sneak a look at the back of the Book and remember we win – rather He wins!
Back in 2002 when I was still pastoring I was in a car with a few of my closest friends from our church – leaders all. As we drove by a small contingent of anti-war protestors on a street corner a couple of my buddies rolled down their window and said something like, “Get over it! What did you expect, us to go to Iraq and thank them for murdering our citizens?” Everyone was on edge in those days, even more so than now. But though I thought our national retaliatory actions were ill-advised and even liable to make matters worse I kept my pastor’s mouth shut. Any divergent opinion regarding “Operation Rambo,” otherwise known as “Shock and Awe,” (I’m not sure how many people around the world are in “awe” of us) in those days, in evangelical circles, was taken as unpatriotic.
If it had been a movie, I’d have been cheering the administration’s decision to go to war to get back at those who massacred our people. But what works in the movies doesn’t necessarily work off screen. It’s not that terrorists should be coddled and let off the hook for their crimes against humanity I just have never been able to get behind going there and killing more civilians that actual terrorists. It always seemed to me to be a very bad idea.
I’m not what you might call a “pacifist” per se. No doubt, there are times to fight for the greater good. Kaiser Wilhelm, Hitler, Hirohito, and their brainwashed and demonized cronies had to be defeated to save lives and preserve countries from extinction. But if we’re being honest, I don’t think we can say that we’ve seen a “greater good” achieved by our operations against terrorist in Iraq, Afghanistan, or anywhere else for that matter.
Let me be clear that I mean absolutely no disrespect to those who’ve fought in any of our ill-advised conflicts from Viet Nam through the present day. For the most part they’re doing what they’re told. When I encounter a person in military garb, I always thank them for their service. I don’t blame them for the decisions made way up the food chain.
If you ask me, and nobody did, revenge almost always, if not always, produces a worse scenario than the situation that originally existed between two parties or countries. Hate always corrodes the container it’s carried in as well as the recipient of it. That’s certainly the case with the global terrorist threat. Now, instead of just the Taliban and Al Queda to deal with there’s the conscienceless ISIS and Boko Haram that have committed unspeakable atrocities and yet has grown in popularity among new recruit radicals.
I agree with N.T. Wright in his essay called, “Where is God in the War on Terror?” that “every bomb dropped has proved to be another Al-Qaeda recruiting agent.” Again he writes, “Throwing stones at a wasp’s nest because one wasp has come out and stung you is not the best way of addressing, let alone solving, the problem.”
If they make into a movie, I’ll wait till it comes out on Netflix and cheer as terrorists get their just due and the America triumphs again. Until then I’m not convinced that we have done or are doing the right thing to throw stones at this lethal wasp’s nest. Maybe our administration had, like me, watched too many revenge-riddled movies and didn’t know how to separate fact from fiction.
Note: If you’re wondering what I would pose as an alternative to war in this case, though I’m no political or news junkie, but I will say that revenge is not often and can’t wait to exact its pound of flesh. Jesus said, “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Won’t he first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?” Luke 14:31
N.T.Wright said, “The only way we could have done something wise in Iraq would have been for a force, with the energy of the whole international community behind it, composed equally of Norwegians and Nigerians, of Australians and Pakistanis, of Chileans and Japanese and, yes, British and Americans. . . . Of course, when China or India becomes the next superpower, we can expect the present superpower to go running for help to any international court that might then exist.”
Solomon, who could’ve declared war on anyone without consulting anyone, said, “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” Proverbs 11:14 If we’re the superpower that we think we are, maybe we should use some of that power in our war against terror to enlist the support of a larger international community.
“As the terrorist activities of a very small number have grown in importance, the western powers have played into their hands by reacting in immature and counter-productive ways. And the efforts of many to build bridges between communities, and to rediscover what it is that mainstream Muslims believe and why, has been far too little and far too late.” I sincerely hope it’s not too late. I fear it is.
Those in recovery often propose that “insanity” consists of doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results. While I don’t have an opinion about exactly what to do next, I’m just a simple vagabond preacher, it’s clear to me that what we’ve been doing isn’t working. So, let’s do something different!
Much more could be said, but I’ll put a pause here with an invitation for some friendly pushback.