I was a teenager in the 70s – Vietnam, peace movement, tie-dye, levis and barefeet. I had just pushed myself out of the conservative Baptist Church before the big leap (baptism, that is). I considered myself artistic, publishing bits of poetry here and there, doing some very amateurish artwork. My goal (can you believe?) was to backpack through Europe and parts of Asia. (I did not do that.)
Vietnam was the back story of our lives then. It was not discussed in our household. At school, we debated and argued and got quite polemic. I was definitely a peace advocate, and it was all quite exciting to take the radical stance.
Then I moved out into the real world and things were different. Job, kids, studies, and the concerns of everyday life diluted my enthusiasm. The strong American view of military might subdued my arguments. I became blase about peace and forgot about non-aggression. If anything, I was proud of my personal strength and agility. Although I have never had to face a human opponent, I learned to shoot a gun, to box and to fight with the sword.
And I called myself a Christian.
Okay, I never had to hurt anyone, but I was prepared to do so. The martial arts are good exercise. I have a thousand excuses for leaving behind that gospel I had absorbed as a child. Jesus did not fight back, even though he could have called on all the forces of heaven in his defense.
This is more profound that we would like to admit. It is incredibly hard to be defenceless when you have the ability to defend yourself. There’s that scene in the movie “Witness” where Harrison Ford, in Amish clothing, punches a guy who is harassing the Amish neighbor. We all cheer, at least inside. But the Amish didn’t see it that way. They saw someone who looked like them doing something they would not do. Why won’t they fight back?
Because they are following Jesus, and he did not fight back.
Martyr means witness. We can witness to the gospel everyday in a non-aggressive way. We can be defenceless against the taunts and hostility of the world. We can change radically the way we live, by giving up selfishness and worldliness. This is a non-aggressive stance, too, that we live with only what we need, that we don’t participate in the world of television, shopping and consumerism, the world where getting ahead means a lot of other people are left behind or left out.