Thursday, March 13, 2014

Bobby Keever and the Myth of Redemptive Violence

Today, most people think of the cross as a religious symbol. Fleming Rutledge notes, the cross is not in any way “religious” at all; which is hard for us to understand, because over time, we have developed ways of romanticizing violent death so as to make it seem spiritual and inspiring, and somehow redemptive.

There is more in that comment than meets the eye.

Walter Wink talks about the myth of redemptive violence. This idea - that is so engrained in us as a society - says we can effect change in people who commit violent acts by violently responding in return – whether we call it war, or precision bombs, the death penalty, or revenge.

I have a hard time squaring that with Jesus.

For me, redemptive violence which is so much a part of our cultural psyche, often makes about as much sense as Bobby Keever when he bit the horse. Bobby was a young man who lived with his parents on the next farm over from my grandmother’s in Indiana. With yellow tobacco-stained teeth and a constant dibble of tobacco juice down his chin, he came with his lawnmower once a week and mowed my grandmother’s yard. Bobby was – I was told – mentally and socially challenged.

I grew up knowing only two things about Bobbly Keever.

When I was two years old, while my dad was in Vietnam, my mom said I followed Bobby around as he mowed the lawn, walking behind him in the freshly mowed track, and called out to Bobby, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!” My parents loved telling me that story.

The only other thing I knew about Bobby was that he once bit a horse. Yeah, he once bit a horse.  My parents asked Bobby, “Bobby, why did you bite the horse?” And he responded with bewildered indignation, “Well, the horse bit me; so I bit him back!”

Redemptive violence seldom makes any more sense than Bobby biting the horse.

Which is to say that in our humanness we intuitively react to being wounded. We are human so we strike out, strike back, and strike down, all in an attempt to save, or bring lasting peace, or set something back to the right. What we are likely unable (or unwilling) to see is our own capacity - under certain circumstances - to engage in terrible acts ourselves; or perhaps assign others to do terrible acts in our name while we wash our hands of them.

Let us take time this Lent to examine our own hearts as we move toward Easter and the hoped-for experience of our own resurrection to new life; the life Jesus said he promised to bring.