Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Quaker ninjas

Last week I watched my 10-year-old grandson play something called “Spin Jet-Su.” Seven evil-looking Lego action figures, armed with swords or spears, were mounted on small rounded cups and set spinning on a surface about two feet square. The purpose was to let them spin around, crash into each other, and see who knocks whom down. And, of course, to declare the victor, standing alone in a field of bodies. Reilly accompanied the whole repeated sequence with leaps and shouts of, “Go!” “Get ‘um!” “Kill ‘um!”
At one point he looked back at me, apparently noted a look of concern, and said, “Don’t worry, Grandma. These are Quaker ninjas. They kill each other for world peace.”
Needless to say, that was a big relief.
Then he notched the game up a level by adding his own Nerf gun skills to the pageant. He set the figures all spinning, then tried to knock them off one by one before they got to each other.
I asked him, “Are you also fighting for world peace?”
He answered quickly, simply and directly, “Yup.”
Our daughter and her husband don’t teach their children violent games. They try to promote peace (especially in the minefield between siblings). Reilly earned the Nerf gun himself by pulling weeds this spring, and he is not allowed to aim at people. I guess Quaker ninjas don’t count.
I certainly can’t judge. At one point last week as I fled to the bathroom for momentary relief from brother-sister hassles, I found myself mentally rehearsing what I really wanted to say to those little rascals, and it was not a peaceful homily. I ended up praying, “Lord, have mercy on us all. Have mercy on me, a sinner.”
In raising children to become followers of the Prince of Peace, I sometimes feel caught between two forces. On the one hand, our culture of violence and consumerism finds perfect expression in the toys, games and movies it markets for kids. And on the other hand, human nature plays a strong role. Kids raised in homes that don’t allow toy guns soon discover the utility of a fist and two fingers aimed at little sister’s forehead: “Pow! Pow! You’re dead!” Who needs a plastic rifle?
The devil may play a part in all this, too.
Peacemaking begins at home and takes all that the Spirit of God can supply. It’s the day-in-day-out consistency that has more to do with the fruit of the Spirit, with love, joy, and our own sense of peace as we care for our children and patiently coax out those attitudes and behaviors that lead to life. “Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness” (James 3:18). But it takes a lot of time.
And it takes a lot of praying, “Lord, have mercy.”

Saturday, November 17, 2012

"B.C." by William Stafford

The seed that met water spoke a little name.

(Great sunflowers were lording the air that day;
this was before Jesus, before Rome; that other air
was readying our hundreds of years to say things
that rain has beat down on over broken stones
and heaped behind us in many slag lands.)

Quiet in the earth a drop of water came,
and the little seed spoke: "Sequoia is my name."

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Seeds of violence

I was six years old, and our family was living in a low-cost housing development in central California—a group of duplexes arranged in a circle around a grassy area where the kids played.  I remember that our neighbors included a gang of older boys (they would have been between seven and ten years old).  They looked mean and scary.   I avoided them.
One afternoon I noticed this group of boys huddled in the common yard.  They were looking down at something, laughing and pushing.  I feared they might be tormenting some animal, so I cautiously approached.  One of the boys moved and I discovered that the object there in the middle was my little brother Tommy, who was lying on the ground and crying.  My fear instantly changed to fury, and I grabbed a board that just happened to be nearby and charged the group, yelling and swinging my weapon.
The boys reacted almost as quickly as I had and fled the scene.  I think I hit some of them before they got away, but the battle field cleared in a remarkably short time.  I helped Tommy to his feet and burst into tears myself.  Then we both ran for the safety of our house.  I don’t even remember my mother’s reaction.
I haven’t thought about this for years, but the memory is definitely vivid.  I learned a few things that day.  I learned that even though I was small, skinny and female, I had what it takes to confront obstacles larger and stronger and more numerous than me.  I also learned that violence works.
Obviously this requires deeper reflection.  Thanks to the grace of God, I did not develop the violent side of my nature as I grew up.  I am an active peacemaker today by choice.  But I still need to confront the seeds of violence that are part of my nature. (That’s probably why the memory is so vivid.) They spring up every once in a while, for example, in the presence of injustice.  Unfortunately, this is usually some violation of my own rights, rather than a reaction to the plight of the poor or oppressed.  I feel concern for the latter, but rarely fury.  I’ve learned to control the outward manifestations of my inner violence, but I have to admit its presence. 
I have lots of questions:  Did I do the right thing in rescuing Tommy in that way?  (Something in me likes this memory.)  Are there more sophisticated, “adult” ways that I still attack problems by swinging a big stick?  
Dear Lord, give understanding.  Have mercy. Show me the paths of peace.