Thursday, January 17, 2008

The Growing Cycle of Violence

Thursday, January 17, 2008 -- Week of 1 Epiphany, Year A
(Antony, Abbot in Egypt, 356)

Psalms 18:1-20 (morning) 18:21-50 (evening)
Genesis 4:17-26
Hebrews 3:1-11
John 1:43-51

Is it inevitable that with the advancement of civilization there must be a corresponding increase in violence?

Today we read of the descendants of Cain. His son Enoch founds the first city. Four generations later we encounter Lamech, whose children are the ancestors of nomadic shepherds, of musicians and artists, and of the makers of metal tools. Civilization is becoming more skillful and diverse.

But Lamech also announces that he has killed another human for a minor offense, and he has magnified the order of vengeance. "If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold." In the mid-1990's Geoffrey Canada wrote his personal history of violence in America, with the provocative title "Fist, Stick, Knife, Gun," narrating his coming-of-age in the South Bronx.

Last week I read an article about the increasing dependence upon air attacks in this phase of the "surge" in Iraq. As American troops encounter suspected hideouts of insurgents or other potential enemies, we are increasingly turning to air strikes to destroy the locations, usually homes. It is far safer for our troops than the risky door-to-door work of infantry combat. But the numbers of civilian and non-combatant dead rises significantly.

Generations have debated the relative value of dropping two atomic bombs on Japanese cities thus ending the Second World War without a bloody invasion of Japan. Would a non-urban setting have sufficed? Was a second city necessary to convince Japan to surrender?

No one knows with certainty. But the potential for violence has certainly increased with the advance of civilization and technology. New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman often writes of the potential for violence that is now available for highly motivated extremists who may be numerically almost invisible.

In the Genesis narrative, there is a spiraling crescendo of violence and corruption that grows until the point when God decides to give up on the project and sends the flood. Yet, that violence did not solve the former violence, and God vowed never to answer with such destructiveness.

For Christians, Jesus is God's definitive answer. He breaks the growing spiral of violence by refusing to strike back. He is a victim of violence. He responds only with forgiveness and love toward those who threaten. He trusts only in God. Resurrection is God's answer.

The passage we read in Hebrews encourages us to be faithful as Jesus was faithful. "Do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion." Do not continue to think that greater violence will overcome violence. God says of those who continue on that ancient path, "They will not enter my rest."

I find that Jesus' example of non-violent victimhood in the face of violent threat to be the most radical and most challenging part of his calling. I've never been able fully to embrace his cross. I had enough imagination to say "don't do it" when the Bush administration proposed the Iran invasion, but I thought we were too slow responding in Bosnia a few years before. For several years I've want some military action to intervene in hopes of stopping the genocide in Sudan. I've wondered, could anything have halted the Rwandan holocaust.

My mind wanders to the gospel encounter. Jesus speaks of Nathanael -- "Behold, an Israelite in whom there is no guile." What would an American in whom there is no guile look like? I don't think I qualify.



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About Morning Reflections
"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --
The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

See our Web site at
Our Rule of Life:
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas


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