Culture

Escalation

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“Yo, we at war. We at war with terrorism, racism, and most of all, we at war with ourselves.” —Kanye West (Jesus Walks)

“Tears on the mausoleum floor, blood stains the coliseum doors…” —Jay-Z (No Church in the Wild)

“If you act like wild animals, hurting and harming each other, then watch out, or you will completely destroy one another.” —Paul (Galatians 5.15 GNT)

* * * * * *

We have a problem.

We don’t do peace very well.

It seems like our default position, our normal, is stress. Like the David Bowie and Queen song says, we are “Under Pressure.”

American culture is and has always been bloody. There is constantly another war we’re fighting. We are violent, aggressive, and we love a good revenge story.

We have a John Wayne image of Jesus. We want Him to be tough and leathery, good with a gun, after all the bad guys, the last man standing.

But Jesus doesn’t sound one bit like this…

I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on. (The Shootist, 1976)

Young fella, if you’re looking for trouble, I’ll accommodate ya. (True Grit, 1969)

Out here a man settles his own problems. (The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962)

Out here, due process is a bullet! (The Green Berets, 1968)

Don’t say it’s a fine morning or I’ll shoot ya. (McLintock, 1963)

Don’t apologize, it’s a sign of weakness. (She Wore a Yellow Ribbon, 1949)

Now you understand. Anything goes wrong, anything at all… your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault… it doesn’t matter… I’m gonna blow your head off. It’s as simple as that. (Big Jake, 1971)

It makes us feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside to see our Jesus as a John Wayne character, with a “my gun is bigger than yours” and “the law is on my side” world view.

Is the Kingdom of God anything like a John Wayne movie?

Before you answer that question, take a moment to consider the teaching known as the Beatitudes (Matthew 5.3-12). Here, Jesus says the meek will inherit the earth and the peacemakers will be called the children of God.

Of course, John Wayne isn’t making movies anymore. And we don’t use horses for transportation or carry six-shooters around on our hips…

But maybe we’re still living out “Cowboys vs. Indians” in the modern world.

Do you know where the expression “road rage” originated? I’ll give you a hint: it’s not from China or Norway or Spain. If you guessed it came from the United States of America, you’re right.

We are the kings of escalation.

We fight…

We fight for our pride. We fight for our place.

We fight to protect. We fight to advance.

We fight for ourselves and for our kind.

And something always happens in the process: we exchange peace for whatever it is we’ve been fighting for.

Without peace, we live on edge. This life on the edge causes us to be frazzled, frayed, full of tension and angst.

To put it plainly, we have a problem.

I recently witnessed multiple shouting matches and near-fights at the shopping mall in my community. One of the verbal fights was between pedestrians and the driver of a car looking for a parking spot.

It’s almost as if people are quoting lines from a John Wayne movie to one another:

I won’t be wronged, I won’t be insulted, and I won’t be laid a hand on.

Young fella, if you’re looking for trouble, I’ll accommodate ya.

Out here, due process is a bullet.

And all this because someone cut in line, took your parking spot, looked at you the wrong way…

Talk about first-world problems! Going to the shopping mall is gravy—it’s extra, it’s all bonus, a privilege. I mean, really, it’s a leisure activity. Unless you’re there as a thief or you work at Auntie Anne’s making pretzels, it typically means you have time and money to spare. There are hundreds of thousands of items to choose from at the mall. It even has a “food court” – with more options and calories than anyone could ever need. Most of our malls have movie theaters in them too. See what I’m saying? Leisure activity.

Something about all the stress and angst at the shopping mall struck me as odd. I kept thinking, shouldn’t we be walking in with smiles on our faces? Why all the tension and aggression?

And if that’s what we act like when life is good, how do we behave when things are really challenging? We have a problem!

Of course, we’re not all “throwing down” in mall parking lots. Some of us like to hold it in, but that doesn’t mean we have a greater sense of peace and rest in our lives.

I’m by nature reserved and quiet; it takes me a long time to think about what I want to say. This makes me a terrible trash talker (and by terrible I mean I’m no good at it). Sure, I will think of something great to say, but it’s always hours or even days too late. The only person who ever hears my great comebacks is me.

I used to do this when I worked at an animal hospital in Seattle. As bad as cat scratches and dog bites are, the real danger came from their owners. Dealing with the people was always a greater challenge than dealing with their pets. People would be rude, insulting, and at times would even threaten us.

One time an angry client yelled “B****, I’ll rock your world!” at another customer in the lobby because she called him a cruel pet owner. That was weird. Is that even an expression people use? I’ll rock your world? In fact, doesn’t it usually mean something good, like “I will make you amazed” or “this will blow your socks off” or something like that?

Anyway, they kept yelling and threatening each other all the way out to the parking lot, so I called the cops. While the people were having an altercation, their pets stood by calmly. Just another day at the veterinary hospital where the pets are fine and the people are out of control.

When clients would say something way out of line, I never had a response. I would always just take it, quietly, with sort of a non-expression on my face. My wheels would be spinning. In that moment, I’d be thinking, “Did they really just say that? Am I the only one here who thinks this is crazy? Who talks like this? What’s going on? Is this a dream? I can’t believe this is happening right now.” Nothing would come out of my mouth, not because I didn’t want to argue or fight or hurl insults back at them, but because I couldn’t think of anything good to say in time.

Then, for the rest of my day, I’d be replaying what they said over and over in my mind. I’d think about it, get mad about it, and work on coming up with some good lines that I should have said (and believe me, I would come up with some doozies). In my mind, the situation that was over and done with hours ago would be escalating. I would actually get more upset after the fact than I was in the moment. Crazy, I know.

The thing is, some of us are trash-talkers in the moment, and some of us are talking trash in our heads hours after the moment. Either way, we’re on edge.

With all the straining and stressing, we’re under constant pressure.

It’s a problem.

Especially for those of us who call ourselves Christians.

Why?

Because the way of the Kingdom is not strain, stress, violence, and revenge.

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, gives us something different. What He gives is counter-cultural. It’s subversive. No “Out here, due process is a bullet” lines from Jesus. This doesn’t look or sound like anything we’re used to hearing or seeing in our culture.

“I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.” (John 14.47 NLT)

Peace.

This peace is internal. It’s a treasure contained deep within ourselves.

It is ours to have and to keep. It is God’s gift to us.

The way of the Kingdom is not strain and stress. Instead, God gives us an invitation to peace and rest.

Attention, all! See the marvels of God! He plants flowers and trees all over the earth, bans war from pole to pole, breaks all the weapons across his knee. “Step out of the traffic! Take a long, loving look at me, your High God, above politics, above everything.” —Psalm 46.8-10 MSG 

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