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.

The Two Types of Truth-tellers

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There is a story about two con artists who convince a vain emperor that they’ve made a garment for him so fine that it is only visible to the smartest and most competent people. The emperor, more concerned with what other people think that what is own eyes tell him, plays along with the tricksters as not to appear unfit and stupid.

The emperor pretends to put on the imaginary new clothes. His ministers, also fearful of appearing unfit for their positions, ignore the emperor’s true nakedness, go along with the charade and allow him to parade through town in his make-believe garment. The townsfolk, while uncomfortable, do not dare offend the emperor and keep up the pretense.

The collective self-delusion comes crashing down when a young child, lacking social awareness, blurts out the truth: “But he hasn’t got anything on!” His father first tries to hush him, but the word is whispered through the crowd and, eventually, the townsfolk erupt into laughter. The emperor suspects they are right and yet he with his ministers continues on the ridiculous procession.

This ironic story about willful blindness to reality is an accurate description of how social pressure works. It is extremely relevant in our age of political correctness. Today, like in that fictional account, scientific evidence is ignored in favor of popular narratives and many smart people lack the courage to face down the social elites.

But there are truth-tellers…

1) Those too socially unaware to know the ‘correct’ answers. These are people, who like the child who blurts out the truth, are those of lower social status and a little stupid. They are unable to rationalize their way around the obvious reality like smart people do, they do not know (or care about) the socially “right” answer and simply blurt out the truth. They are easily ridiculed, they are often unsophisticated in their use of language and uncouth, they might not be morally upstanding individuals or always truth-tellers, but they are often brutally honest in ways that the polite people are not because they lack a filter their thoughts. They, in their lowly position, do not care about what the elites think of them and might even be empowered by offending their superiors.

2) Those unwilling to ignore the consequences of living a lie. These are the rarest of people. They are socially aware, they are able to see through the propaganda and brave enough to speak out against the popular narrative. They are able to see beyond what the socially smart people do, they are too principled to play along with the delusion and yet also understanding of the consequences of speaking an unpopular truth. Still, because it is dangerous to have social leadership that is divorced from the truth, conscience compels them to speak out. So they do, albeit carefully and using their intelligence, by telling stories about naked emperors in the hopes that others will read then awake to the lies that have ensnared them.

What part do you play in the story?

Most people, at least those intelligent, like to think that they are the ones who see reality as it is and are above delusion. Unfortunately, that is the first lie that blinds a person to the truth. Even the brightest minds are not entirely rational. We all suffer from a problem called “confirmation bias” where we select or ignore evidence-based in our established beliefs.

Many people eventually lose their sight because of fear, social pressure or indoctrination. They see themselves as smart and savvy for their ability to give the socially correct answers, but they are really only parrots of popular opinion and puppets to the status quo.

There are many taboo topics in the public discourse. There are many whom we are supposed to shield from certain truths lest they become outraged when their nakedness is exposed. They may call you “hateful” or many other nasty names if you dare to challenge their protected status. They attempt to use social pressure rather than logic and reason to defeat counterarguments.

The emperor’s new clothes story is only inaccurate in that it doesn’t depict what often happens to truth-tellers when they humiliate the emperor. In reality, speaking unpopular truth often leads to social alienation and sometimes to persecution. Speak out against patriarchal abuses in a fundamentalist church, for example, and you might be unfairly labeled a “Jezebel” or feminist agitator.

There are many social domains—religious, denominational, secular or otherwise. Our keen awareness in one domain doesn’t make us immune from being deceived and deluded in other domains. Our only defense is humility and understanding the limits of our own ability to see beyond ourselves. We must first realize that we are ourselves not above being fooled individually or as part of the collective group.

The first step to being a real truth-teller is to be humble and see your own moral blindness. Once you understand the limits of your own vision you will be able to help others overcome their blindness. And, at very least, don’t walk around naked because you are too vain to admit that a ‘truth’ you were convinced of is a lie.  Being a truth-teller means first being brutally honest about your own vulnerability.

When Words Fail and Love Prevails

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I forget the exact circumstances.  I do, however, remember the feeling of humiliation and embarrassment. 

I had made a crossword puzzle for my 5th grade classmates.  I was moderately proud of my creation and, as copies were distributed to my peers, ready to savor the accomplishment.

But, I did not expect what came next…

 As the class began to solve the puzzle there started a bit of a ruckus.  There was laughter and an absurd allegation that I had misspelled one of my words.

Impossible! 

I thought as my face flushed. 

How could I have made a mistake so basic? 

They had to be wrong…

But, as I examined the evidence, my initial denial was soon replaced by dismay, and my heart sank weighted down by the reality: I had misspelled a word. The entire puzzle was irreconcilable for those who knew correct spelling and I was an imbecile.

It was something awful.  My lack of proper editing (still a weakness) had made me a laughingstock and I was absolutely devastated.  I wanted to crawl under a rock to get away from the cackling in the room.  But there was no escape and no recourse.

What I had hoped to be a moment of satisfaction was now a nightmarish reality of abject failure.  I couldn’t hold it in.  Emotions overcame me in the study hall period after and I began to cry.

Mr Berger, the shop teacher, was my comfort that day as I sobbed my pain and disappointment.  I’m not sure if he said much, but I know that I felt his empathy and understanding. 

My terrible mistake probably mattered very little to him.  The condemnation and ridicule faded in importance. His love remained.