choke hold

Written by J. Gardner : October 15, 2008

Through the past year and a half or so I’ve been drawn to the new monastic movement through connecting with some local communities and reading literature from Claiborne, Wilson-Hartgrove, Hauerwas, and Yoder. Combine that with the frequenting of the Jesus Manifesto site and reading the likes M. Van Steenwyk and B. Rhodes and the other brilliant contributing writers and I’ve begun to learn some new dance steps in interacting with scripture from hearing a new song of what it might mean to live the kingdom of God. As my convictions have begun to slowly reform in this way of knowing Jesus as a new kind of King offering good news of another way to live in the midst of the empire we find ourselves in, inevitably conversations on these topics have sprung up in my sphere of relationships.

More often then not the topic of non-violence comes up. I chimed in when talking with friends of my forming convictions regarding a pacifist stance and how as followers of Jesus we are called to love at all costs. A healthy debate would ensue with my friend, and the dialogue would help me process these convictions and more often than not lead to prayerful consideration of what following Jesus is. A fairly safe way of formation.

But God is funny.

Not to long after a series of these conversations with friends and roommates and discovering that I really believe this stuff, I had the reluctant privilege of walking through a few different scenarios to test these convictions out…

I’ve been skateboarding off and on since my early teen years, and these days its fewer and far between, but with the surge of excellent skate parks in the Portland area it’s a “must” to roll around on the many flawless concrete transitions. After one such session with a friend of mine, we noticed an inclined bank behind a shoe store that we thought should be shredded on our skateboards for a few minutes. The inclined bank was next to a little driveway launch that we ollied off a few times. Well that driveway ollie got us into a little trouble. The owner of the driveway came out a minute later throwing a tirade of profanity our way. ‘You no good pieces of skateboarding slime,’ is a loose translation of vocabulary choice. I apologized looked at her and simply said, “peace “. Well that kind of sent her into round two of her fury and she started to come towards me with an increasing pace. Thinking I could diffuse her anger, I walked towards her a bit, but before I could say my peace and humbly explain we’re not some punk skaters looking to destroy property, she had both of her hands around my neck. Hmmmmmm…

Her choke hold was pretty weak and a fingernail scratch was my only wound as I stepped out of her grip. I was so taken aback I don’t think I even had time to have any angry or violent thoughts. My friend and I made our departure and after the shock wore off I laughed about the whole scenario, as we asked ourselves if that really just happened.

I processed and prayed about the situation with my friends and two days later I found myself with my heart pounding and hand knocking on her door wanting to give her an apology card I made to express my heart posture. Not knowing how she would react but I knew I had to take this step of faith. After fighting my fear, her daughter answered the door and promised to give her mom the card. I departed with ambivalent feelings which I still have. Joyful for making a step of faith in peaceful Jesus following manner, but still unsure and uncertain of how to live that vulnerable life consistently.

I don’t want to paint myself as a saint by any means, for a couple of weeks later I rode my bike right by her and with my headphones on gave her a smile and head nod unwilling to take a minute of time to talk to her. I received a glare in return. I retreated back to Egypt’s slavery of being unwilling to live in the promise land of love motivated conversation. I regretted my fearful behavior rearing its ugly head once again. Lord have mercy on me, a sinner. I semi-hope that we will run into each other in the future. God is comical and gracious to give us opportunities to put our faith where our mouths are.

Does anyone else have any stories of fleshing out their non-violent convictions? How did you deal with an unexpected outburst of violence? How can we practice peace and embed ourselves in the way of Jesus to consistently live in that vulnerable position of faith, hope and love?

Author Bio:: J. Gardner lives in ne portland, makes an income as a youth advocate, is connected at the Bridge Christian Church, and likes to hip hop music and rappy raps his little heart out.

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    This is an intriguing article and it hits home for me. I too am new to this grass roots way of Jesus. And to complicate matters further, I am in the Army. Although I am in Iraq right now, I am in a non-combat job, and I have about five months left in the Army (only two months left over here). I plan on comleting my contract and joining Veterens For Peace after I'm out.

    I've been having many conversations with my roomate about the way of peace, and it has been challenging. He is of the opinion that we will always need an Army because there will always be tyrants and despots in the world who are willing to oppress and destroy the peaceful. I say that we should be working for a society in which we can throw down our weapons and trade the sword for the plow. It seems that we always encounter a paradox. How do we stand up to the tyrant without becoming a tyrant? If I punch the schoolyard bully in the face, have I not become the bully?

    I've had to question myself and dig deep in my convictions. It is easy to espouse peace and nonviolence while I live in a place where the threat of violence is relatively low. I have to ask myself how far would I go? Would I take a bullet and die for what I believe? I know that Jesus and his first followers did just that, so for me, I must engage in much prayer and soul searching to know that I am willing to follow in his footsteps should it be required of me.

    I enjoyed the article. May our Father bless you in your journey.


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