An Era of Violence?

Last weekend, I took my youngest son to a Renaissance fair.  

It seemed like every other booth had lethal weapons for sale.  Knives, swords, battle axes, arrows, etc.  One person even gave us a little speech about the tactics and strategies for using medieval weapons, including a graphic description of how the archers would urinate on their arrows to cause infection, and how best to use a long-sword as a pike to stop a charging enemy.  My five-year old was entranced by the whole thing.  I kept trying to drag him away, but he wanted to hear more.  Since we don’t have any arrows or long-swords around the house, I suppose it didn’t do any harm.

But one of the other children insisted we go over to the archery range, where my boy expertly (so he perceived) shot a wicker deer.  (Environmentalist daddy cringed.)  

I thought, then, let’s go over to the mock sailing ship that they had set up by the pond.  That started out much better, with a young woman giving an amazing demonstration of how to use authentic navigation devices, such as a sextant, to find one’s way across the sea.

Then, however, it came time for the evening firing of the canon.  I thought it was to be one canon, but it turned out they had ten canons of various sizes all around the “boat,” and they fired them off in succession.  They showed us how to cup our ears rather than cover them, to avoid puncture of our ear drums.  I took my boy over to the side, where I imagined we would be further away, only to realize that the largest canon of all was right next to us.  

Isaiah did just fine, cupping his ears obediently, and jumping a few inches off the ground with the fire of every canon.

I guess that was a pretty violent time in the Middle Ages, but then today isn’t much better.  Some nights from our living room we hear the gunfire from a few blocks away.  Our next-door neighbors were burgled a couple of days ago at 3:30 in the afternoon.  I had left at about 2:15 to pick up my boys from school, and it happened by the time I returned at around 4:00.  They went through two doors and napped their VCR.  Now, they have security doors on all their entrances, a security system in the house, and motion sensors on their lights outside (although this wouldn’t have done any good at 3:00 in the afternoon).

Our neighbors keep telling us that the people who lived in our house before us moved out because someone threw a brick through their window.  They also said that our neighbors across the street kept coming into our house while it was vacant and taking various things.

Down the street, there are always a group of young men hanging out, and a few weeks ago there were four police cars with their lights on in front of one house.

So, before I go judging past eras for violence, today isn’t much better.  We think we’ve grown and progressed, but I’m not so sure.  We’re responsible for hundreds of thousands of deaths because of our military campaigns over the last few years.  Is the armor our soldiers wear much different from the armor worn in previous eras?  Armor is a privileged defense.  Most people in the world are armed with nothing more than their skin and perhaps some garden tools.  

My mother’s Mennonite background has instilled a deep commitment to pacifism in me.  And yet violent movies and animated TV shows seem to make a case for getting even, for retribution, and for violence.  My older son struggles with these messages.

So, I sat my boys down the other day and said I was going to read something to them from the Bible.  They groaned.  I said, “Well, would you rather clean the toilets?”  So, they gave in.  I count it a source of great pride that I have trained my boys well enough that they prefer reading the Bible to cleaning toilets.

Anyways, I read them the passage where Jesus goes to the garden, Judas betrays him, a disciple cuts of the ear of one of the scribes’ slaves, and Jesus tells them to cut it out and heals the slave’s ear.  See?  Jesus didn’t come to overthrow or get revenge, he came to bring grace and forgiveness.

I didn’t read them the passage where Jesus says he came to bring a sword to separate families and peoples.  They can find that for themselves later and come back and say, “But, Dad!  Look!”  

My oldest son informed me that the passage I read to them wasn’t really a sword fight, but just one person with a sword cutting of somebody’s ear.  But I think he got the point I was trying to make.  I can only hope.


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