Blessed Are the Peacemakers

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My heart sank when I saw the image of Jonathan Price.  I’ll admit, while the lives of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Jacob Blake do matter, it is hard for me to identify with those who turn them into blameless victims and saints.

But this was different. Price, according to reports, was a “pillar in the community” and had been intervening in a domestic incident when Tazed, then fatally wounded, by a responding officer.

The officer has been charged with murder and it will be up to the justice system to decide his guilt or innocence. There is no reason for me to demonize him nor to defend his actions. There are always multiple sides to every story, the bodycam footage is likely to tell us more about the circumstances that led to the shooting, and the officer deserves his day in court.

However, the reason I’m writing this is that there some who are now mocking Price for his taking to social media, back in June, to encourage peace with law enforcement officers.  They would have you believe that this is some sort of lesson to him or those who would follow in his footsteps.

This is his post:

The glee that this man learned the hard way and that “they will still want to kill yo’ ass” is wrong on so many levels.  No, the death of Price does not disprove his advice nor help to prove the narrative that black men are being gunned down for being black.  It certainly does not justify the hatred of the police or make anything he said wrong.

1) There is no proof (yet) that the officer acted with malicious intentions.  Police officers are human.  Humans make mistakes.  It could be very possible that the officer who shot Price horribly misinterpreted the situation or that Price himself did something unintentionally that made him appear to be a threat.  If he was simply out to kill black men there would be many far easier ways he could satiate those aims without being as clearly identified as the killer.

2) With rare exceptions, it is still far better to cooperate with law enforcement and not see them as our enemies.  Most deadly encounters with police involve some kind of criminal behavior and resistance to lawful commands.  That is why I can’t see many of those killed by police (or who died in police custody) as being hapless victims as they are often presented.  If people did not fight with officers or run there would be very few deaths.

Price, despite his own tragic end, was right.  Yes, he was a black man killed by a police officer.  But the officer was promptly charged and, more importantly, this case is the rare exception.  The fact remains, no matter your skin color, a person who does not engage in criminal behavior or resist the lawful commands of a police officer is at a much lower risk than a person who does those things.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

Those trying to make a positive difference in the world are taking a risky posture.  The sardonic quip, “no good deed goes unpunished” pays homage to this reality that being a Good Samaritan is often not safe.  Doing the right thing, getting involved, can cost a person their life.  A Google search for “Good Samaritan killed” shows many times where those intervening were harmed and that’s why many keep their heads low rather than get involved.

Chris and Taya Kyle

Chris Kyle, the ‘American Sniper’ was one of those go-getter types.  He took an active role in the lives of others and with this trying to help made himself more vulnerable.  He took a man under his wing who had some serious mental health issues and ultimately paid with his life.

The reason the sick man murdered them?

I was just riding in the back seat of the truck, and nobody would talk to me. They were just taking me to the range, so I shot them.

That, above, is precisely why many run the opposite direction from a crazy person.  It is a self-preservation instinct.  We know when something is off and we run.  This man couldn’t even appreciate the fact that the only reason that he was included at all is that the men he murdered cared about him.  They took the risk, they were doing something good that very few are willing to do and paid the ultimate price for their courage.

Price too, by getting involved in a domestic dispute, put himself in a position that was very risky to himself and certainly could’ve just been a bystander.  He would very likely still be alive today had he not gotten involved.  And yet his bravery took him into a confusing circumstance, led to a police officer mistaking him for the offending party and ended up with him being shot.

Price, like Kyle, had their lives together.  They very well could’ve avoided dangerous people and risky situations.  They could’ve taken the safe position that many people do.  But quite obviously they were willing to stand apart from others.  Price by humanizing law enforcement and refusing to go along with the easy tribal narrative.  Kyle in his willingness to lay aside his privileged life, as a successful warrior and publicly known personality, to spend time with a troubled man that most would avoid.

These stories could be used as a cautionary tale against this sort of faithfulness.  The tribal cynics and true cowards now ridicule Price.  They will have you believe that being like him will lead to you being shot.  And these same people would probably have stood by, as bystanders, laughed, and made a video for YouTube rather than attempt to intervene on behalf of another.  Kyle and Price should be commended for not being content to steer clear of danger as many do.  They were being peacemakers.

For They Will Be Called Sons of God

The Beatitudes are a regular part of the liturgy and a wonderful reminder to think beyond our present circumstances.  It is basically a list of what true righteousness looks like and the rewards of righteousness:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are you when men revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for your reward is great in heaven.

Matthew 5:3-12

All of those things listed come at a short-term cost.  Humility as opposed to arrogance; sobriety as opposed to mindless merriment; taking a submissive rather than aggressive posture; leaving our comfort zone rather than being complacent, all of these things require one to sacrifice something in the present tense.  But the promise, in relation to all, is a later and greater reward.

This is completely at odds with the “get mine” attitude and pursuit of instant gratification of this age.

The idea of a “peacemaker” is not to be in denial of the personal risks of involvement.  Entering into the conflict-zone is always a risky affair.  Those on either side of a divide could easily mistake you for an enemy combatant.  In the fog of war, friendly fire or getting caught in the crossfire are very real possibilities and those entering the fray usually are not unaware of this.

It is courage, not ignorance, that drives a peacemaker into danger.  A Christian is supposed to “count the cost” (Luke 14:28) of following after Jesus, the ultimate peacemaker, and consider the price of His obedience.  Jesus, the son of God, came into the fray, knowing full well of the pain and suffering He would endure, as a means to make a path of peace between us and God.

It is by the God-man Jesus, the word of God made flesh, that we can become the sons of God through adoption.  To be a peacemaker at personal cost is to live beyond ourselves, to live by faith rather than fear, and put on the divine. For those of faith, doing what is right will be rewarded in the end and even if it costs us everything in this life.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called the sons of God.

Those Times When We Are Truly Alive

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I’ve never been a huge thrill seeker. I’m too aware of gravity’s power to take my chances with heights and think drowning in the ocean would be a stupid way to die for someone who had no business being in that nasty salt water to begin with. I mean, I understand, there are risks worth taking in construction or in travel, but there is no need to play games with a terrifying trip to my final destination. Besides, I’m in awe of enough things of substance (science, history, architecture, etc) to have no need to chase after cheap excitement at the cliff’s edge.

Although that is not entirely true, there is one vast exception to my normal cautious streak, that being when I’m behind the wheel of any machine and know it well enough to be confident. From my youth until this very day, there is no better feeling than that dance, on the edge of control, where senses heighten, time slows and instincts take over. For those who have seen my more inspired moments, I’m legendary, or Biblical as in 2 Kings 9:20, “The driving is like that of Jehu son of Nimshi—he drives like a maniac.” And, whether talented or just plain lucky, I’ve pushed vehicles to their outer limits and came out of the teeth of death alive.

One of those glorious moments was a cannonball run out of the mountains. My church youth leader, now a conservative Mennonite deacon, was an equally furious driver, had a slightly more capable car, and was right behind me. My own car, a Ford Tempo, was made for a pedestrian existence (brakes that would fade after a couple hard stops, lots of body roll, and underpowered) was vastly outmatched by the Pontiac Sunbird GT Turbo in my rearview mirror, and overloaded with the weekend’s gear and at least one slightly terrified passenger.

The game? Keep the bowtie derivative behind me through the twists and turns of these narrow poorly maintained roads. A sane person would tread very carefully on these unfamiliar cow paths, some with loose gravel, and especially driving a vehicle built with no purpose in mind besides being cheap basic transportation, certainly not made for excitement nor even to be especially reliable. Fortunately, I had two things going for me: 1) It was all downhill, some portions quite steep and 2) my teenage adrenaline.

The strategy was simple. Conserve brakes, slide the turns, stay in the lane when visibility was poor and take the inside track when available. Oh, and no trips over the edge into the ravines, trees, and rocks below, that would probably be a big ouch and possibly paralysis and permanent disability or death I was young and stupid, but still understood that one bad move could lead to permanent consequences. However, pride, a competitive spirit, and that dopamine reward awaiting me at the end meant embracing the challenge.

So, off we went, testosterone overriding our developing frontal lobes, my senses sharpened, awareness heightened and was as completely alive as one could possibly be.

I wound up that 2.3 liter, the poorly conceived four banger it was, with two valves per cylinder, breathing out the same side as the fresh air came in, probably designed by the bean counters in Dearborn, and more suitable for a boat anchor than any vehicle of the era performance or otherwise. The suspension and braking matched, it had drums in the back that were probably near useless and nearly the body roll of an Oldsmobile station wagon from the 1970s. Still, it would have to do, it was my cherished first car and all I could afford at the time.

The first turns were soon behind me in a cloud of dust. The speedometer, as I recall, only went up to 85 or 95 mph, and I had it pegged. As I tested the outer limits of this habitually understeering, bathtub on wheels, of a sedan, my companion, Alex, the son of Russian speaking immigrants, sat wide-eyed and held on to whatever he could grab—perhaps the only security that he could find at the moment or maybe a desperate bid to keep the car from coming apart? I’m pretty sure he was praying, repenting of his sins and asking for God’s mercy to be upon him.

My brakes were basically mush after the first couple hard stops, so balancing current and future needs became a priority, but the fact that the pesky Sunfire was still behind me ensured that my grin remained wide. I was maintaining just enough momentum to keep him from chancing a pass on the few straights. That and my dedication level, as someone young, single, the clear underdog and oftentimes frustrated, might have given me the slight edge.

The unannounced race ended as we swung onto the interstate onramp. My car, clearly outmatched, would easily outrun on the highway and, besides that, the State Troopers were sure to be out there lurking. I had my fill of exhilaration, man and machine had passed the test, the sun shone more brightly in the sky and it was, indeed, a great day to be alive!

Postscript: Say what you will, I can’t say this was not foolish, but all human progress depends on this love of novelty and risk-taking spirit. Had some idiot not experimented with keys, a kite, and a lightning storm, you would not be reading this blog on an electronic device. Certainly, we should try to temper these urges and try to direct them to more useful outlets, but we should never stifle the youthful in their pushing the boundaries of experience. Yes, to make civilization possible, we may also need to subdue our most aggressive impulses, still, all creativity, advancement, and pleasure depend on engaging in a bit of risky behavior. It is those glorious moments, riding that line between control and chaos when we are most truly alive.