A reader contacted me after last Sunday’s post (“Out of Cheeks to Turn”): WHAT HAPPENED TO YOU? In your Palm Sunday post you touted Jesus’s way of nonviolence and then on Easter you “armed yourself to the teeth.” Did something happen? Were you violently attacked?
No, I wasn’t.
Although if multiflora rose bushes count, I’ve been under attack for weeks. Those barbarians invaded my land and occupy large portions of it. A walk in the woods is like a walk through barbed wire. No man’s land! The enemy is entrenched.
I’m cool with mushrooms. I’ll give them all the room they want. But I’ve declared war on those roses.
Protected by thick leather gloves and armed with pruner, shovel, and hoe, I methodically decapitate one enemy combatant after another. (I’ve ruled out chemical or biological weapons.) Once a bush is disarmed and uprooted, I let it shrivel and die and then gleefully cast it into the flames of hell.
Yes, I could import a herd of goats, but they’d eat my wife’s flowers, and then I’d have to kill them.
And to think I once was a radical pacifist.
So what happened to me between Palm Sunday and Easter? Why did I tout Jesus one week and Moses (“an eye for an eye”) the following week?
Because real life is messy.
I once idolized Gandhi and Martin Luther King. No violence. Ever. Love your enemies—like Jesus—even if it kills you.
And then I begat children and realized that if they were ever attacked, pacifism would not be my response. Violence wouldn’t be ruled out.
In my youth I admired Albert Schweitzer’s “reverence for life.” He wouldn’t brush ants off his dinner table or kill a fly. But what about a malaria-bearing mosquito? Schweitzer might let it be, but His Holiness the Dalai Lama wouldn’t. I’ll slap and kill a mosquito if it bites me, he once said.
No one rule, however pious, fits every situation.
After my Palm Sunday post, a Jewish reader told me he admired Jesus and respected “turning the other cheek,” but if he were trapped in the Warsaw ghetto, he’d pray for courage to kill Nazis.
I would too.
I don’t know what Schweitzer, Gandhi, or the Dalai Lama, would do about multiflora rose. But I know that between Palm Sunday and Easter I contemplated getting myself a flamethrower.
See Paula’s photo on the home page. Posted April 10
Your posting last week made sense to me. That’s where the title “ Mama Bear” comes from. A Father can also be a “bear.” Good luck with the roses. I am pursuing a similar path regarding yard cleanup. The volunteer grape vines (thank you birds) become thick and resistant winding in an out of the desirable plants. they are going. and then the bushes behind the garage have outgrown their purpose. The huge wood trailer is full of yard trash for the dump!
Boy howdy!!! You sure got my pacifist limits testing scenarios revved up!! Wars & weeds…I’ve had a few good belly laughs with my morning coffee & inward contemplations…including pacifists with flamethrowers… aimed at barbarian invaders…I, too, am capable of fires that warm, fires that cleanse & purify, and fires that destroy… praying for wisdom in the choices… and I light heart. Thank you. 🙏🏼
Ardyth, your posts are always such a delight! Thank you — so much! 🙏🏼
Amen. After all, when it comes down to it, isn’t the so-called Nonviolent approach an act of cruelty, apathy, privilege, and even Violence when it lets unholy destruction and murder persist in its midst??
Absolutely. You can turn the other cheek when it is only you being brutalized, but turning away when others are being murdered is being complicit.
I love your sense of humor and your complete lack of pious artifice. Resistance to tyranny is one of humanity’s highest values. Like a woman resisting domestic violence, we cannot judge the oppressed from our own safe homes.
When I was young the nuances, dichotomies, and the seemingly endless contradictory aspects of living always appeared to point toward not exclusively believing in any system of thought, action, creed or deed. While I greatly admired King and Ghandi, I instinctively knew that turning the other cheek would never be an option for me. Instead, the Kabuki dance of diplomacy appealed more. But successful diplomacy inherently carries with it the force of power/violence. For these reasons, the teacher in Ecclesiastes seemed to get it as close to right as anyone. Though I had heard it before by various Folk groups, The Byrds rendition of Pete Seeger’s song “Turn, Turn, Turn”, utilizing Chapter 3, verses 2-8, brought it into focus for me. “To every thing there is a season, and a time to every purpose under heaven:” Most of us know the rest. Meanwhile, “The sun also riseth, and the sun goeth down…”
Beautiful! Yes, I had to lol, too. It seems we are meant to very carefully navigate the truly consequential ironies: I am a pacifist — unless. Life has never been “black or white” and an informed and high consciousness understands that the complexities “come with.” I applaud what your readers have commented today — depth and compassion — and emotional maturity. Why can’t we make these qualities contagious? In the meantime, it is a high privilege to live among such exquisite company. P.S. I feel so good from having read all that is here that I cannot wax on and compare multiflora roses and Russian warmongers, fifty shades’ difference but kin though they are.
I’m in a development now. In my former yard I was forever warding off the invasives — plants and animals. Here I am forced to conform to a certain grass height, and watch many neighbors employ lawn services. These use chemical fertilizers and weed killers for the sake of lush lawns. Dandelions seem to be a common enemy. I think they are a nuisance, but a pretty one.
Thing is we are using fossil fuels to keep up these lawns, as well as lethal chemicals. It is very instructive to go to Lowes and see all the bags of lawn and garden stuff labeled “kill”! I had to look long and hard to find anything natural.
I grew up in NY. Pete Seeger and Odetta played at an assembly in our public high school. I lived near the grounds of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, and demonstrated against the Vietnam War while my brother fought in the war. It was not an easy time. I turned on, tuned in, and dropped out. Many roads led me back. I have worked with many different peoples in the world and learned and in some cases seen much injustice in the plight of the Palestinians, South Africans, the Polish, and even the Catalonians. I consider myself a pacifist, raised my kids vegetarian, and meditated. So I was surprised when my son told me he wanted to go to West Point and become an army officer, and eventually flew Apache helicopters (saving other soldier’s lives) in Afghanistan. I visited him often at West Point and I learned that the students there were the best that America had to offer in terms of dedication and service. So yes, the world is complex, nothing simple about it. It is easy to be an armchair pacifist while others are engaged in the fight for survival. Somehow, we need to be able to walk in another’s shoes, put some skin in the game, empathize, instead of seeing our world as not wanting to be inconvenienced by the price of gas, the supply chain, and inflation. Just like a tree that grows beside the water – I will not be moved.
Life is indeed “messy” and nuanced. Malcolm X remarked, “Sometimes you have to pick up a gun in order to put it down.” But something lingers in my heart—some burning, yearning questions: “What are the psychological and spiritual effects after killing another human being? What about the generations of hostility and ill will that are created? Have we explored the long-term consequences?” Working for peace is hard, but necessary. As the song goes, “Let there be peace on Earth and let it begin with me.” Perhaps fewer guns would need to be picked up if we got serious about peace as a society and world.
I regularly kill the tiny ants in our kitchen, individually and then with a trap. While I do I say “sorry” to honor the value of their (highly complex) life. Mary Ann Edwards used to say “Go home to Jesus!” while she swatted flies. I liked that too.