What Else You Got?

First Posted 15-Jul-2014

I said this while kidding around with a friend, “what else you got?” The back story is that she was throwing the usual threats at me of violence, prison, cut off from resources like food & housing as ways to gain my compliance. These were said in jest. My retort was that I’d had all that done to me and survived, so . . . Genocide has been used to bring a population under heel. Torture, confiscation of land, burning villages, name an abhorrent act and its been done by soldiers while attempting to force a populace to give up the fight. There are always survivors. They remember the war. If they choose to fight there is not much you can do to stop them.

So, what’s the plan? Global apocalypse so that the population is reduced from 7 billion to oh, maybe 2.3 billion or so? In our personal relationships, arm ourselves heavily and solve our differences by shooting each other until we tire of attending funerals? We know what the world is like with violence, war, conflict and strife. There is no innovation needed if we are to maintain our traditional, warring ways. We know how to fight.

Various emperors, kings and governments have been trying to control the Afghans since at least 330 BCE when Alexander the Great tried to invade. We went to Afghanistan to topple Taliban control of Afghanistan. Did that, then stuck around much longer trying to prop up the puppet democracy we foisted on them. The Taliban just moved into the mountains of Waziristan. They knew that we would get bored with the fight and go home eventually. They were right.

The Afghans have been fighting on that land for centuries. No one has been able to win against them or sustain control of them in all that time. The Russians went home because they ran out of money. We’ve unloaded many thousands of tons of munitions on those we seek to destroy. Our best fighters have won battles. Once we announced we were leaving the Taliban started to move back, knowing that we’d be more embarrassed at having to come back than having to leave as losers.

The press, in the last couple years, has fallen in love with stories of bullying. Every few months we get another story of some poor sap who lashed out or committed suicide because of the insults and ugly behavior of a bully. Is the answer to find the bully and beat him or her down? Should we fill more graves with bullies? The press seems to like “sensitivity training” as if talking to a bully will make them stop. It’s a version of, “if you knew you would understand and if you understood you would behave in a way more pleasing to me.” Uhm, yeah . . . about that . . . You are reading my blog. Just saying. The ones I know will listen and as they do, brainstorm ways to beat you silly once the sensitivity training is done.

I’ve been on both sides. I’ve been bullied, beaten, a victim and I’ve been the bully, the beater. I know the world I lived in before I became so crazy for loving my enemies. I know what awaits me should I choose to abandon more than ten years of work to be salt and light to those who are tempted toward violence. We did carpet bomb Germany in WWII. We pressed the full weight of our might against the Taliban and they are still there. Fighting harder isn’t the answer. What else would we do? The answer really has not changed in at least 2,000 years. Before we lobbed missiles at each other we spoke words. Once the ground is muddied with enough blood we will speak again of life after the war. There really is only one choice: love God with all our heart, mind and strength, love our neighbor as ourselves, and love our enemies. Any other plan leads to familiar and ugly conclusions.



First Posted 11-Feb-2015

War is one of the easy essays. War is horrible. It’s easy to oppose war. War exists now in places in the world. For us Americans, though, it’s something that happens on TV. Some families face it in the men & women who come home from military service with visible and invisible wounds. Some more face war as they grieve the loss of a loved one. But it doesn’t happen here, usually. So it’s easy to be for peace, to say that world peas is a worthy goal. War, though, is a tough topic for me. I know the reflexive answer of, “War is wrong!” Yes it is. Still, it exists, is happening now in the Middle East.

by Kathy Jacobs
by Kathy Jacobs

World peas is a worthy goal. At one time the memory of what I’d done to my wife was raw and present. The consequences of my violent choices were current fact for me. I was passionate about non-violence because being violent had harsh personal consequences for me. Still, something sat nagging me. What do you do with an opponent who just wants you dead? There is no talking to them. They don’t negotiate, don’t follow any rules of proper combat. They set about increasing the body count as rapidly and brutally as possible. It doesn’t even seem to be about the traditional metrics of victory–control of land, resources and political power. We have an opponent that just wants to fight.

I’ve said to my son that bullies are at heart, pussies. The reason they bluster and threaten is that they are scared. The aggression is a cover for their fear of being found to be weak, afraid and thus, easily defeated. The way you win is in the head game, the maneuvering war that happens before battle is begun. And this is fine as long as it’s a smallish group or one guy and there are no guns in the fight. This is also fine if the bully can be beaten this way. There are some on the world stage who will shoot first, burn pilots alive first, commit genocide and then walk away. “Can we talk?” is a stupid question for them.

I work hard at being compassionate because that’s what keeps me from being violent. My careful world, though, that keeps me safe, is ruined by folk who believe that brutal legalism is pleasing to God and thus, a worthy way to live. Everything I’ve done to become the peaceful man I am is useless against zealots like this. It puts me in a hard place. If martyrdom were enough, if letting the body count climb high enough could be the way to stop it, maybe failing to fight might make sense.

Even I, with all that I’ve done in the last decade, have my breaking point. Push me hard enough and I too will make that shift from wanting resolution to wanting my opponents dead. I don’t say this proudly. I say it honestly because I am conflicted in considering whether peace is possible with the sort of opponent we have in the Middle East. I spent my youth learning how to win the head game against bullies. When I failed I’d get beaten up. My Dad told me I was not allowed to fight. It was a huge deal for me when I decided to defy him and fight back against Russell. We fought to a draw but I bled first so I lost. Most days I was smarter than them and either talked my way out or made sure on my walk to and from school that I was impossible to find.

The weekend after last Christmas, as I rode the bus to the Greyhound Station, a drunk twenty-something lolled his head in my direction, looked at me and slurred, “What are you looking at? Do you have a problem?” Stupidest, lamest way to start an argument ever, “Is that it? Is that what you’ve got? All I have to do is look at you and you are angry? You make it too easy. Do you like being my little bitch?”

He wasn’t happy with me. His friends pulled him up out of his seat and made him move a few more seats further away from me. I got told I was the little fucking bitch, bitch. Yeah, whatever. That was a small encounter and except for hard words, the end of it.

Muslim Fundamentalists, though, don’t seem to want it to end just on words. They have a utopian fantasy of a united Muslim Caliphate covering what was the Ottoman Empire. It is something they are willing to kill for, to die for. And for all my words about seeking grace first, being merciful, this may be the time when the answer must be to fight, to shed enough blood that they can’t fight us any longer. I wish it were not so. But, if it is to be war, let it be war. No sanitized, remotely controlled drone attacks from 50,000 feet or targeted cruise missiles. Nope. Swords, knives, guns, canon and all the rest. I hurt Russell bad enough that when his friends wanted him to fight me again, he refused. Death on a large scale. Enough death that no one dare lift a gun against us for another couple hundred years. Evil? Maybe. But sadly necessary, perhaps.



Some of you don’t need to read this. You know. Those that I hope read it are the neurotic, put the kid in the bubble, full, fierce, mama-bear, helicopter parent crowd. By now, being boomer parents, your kid should have gotten a day job and you can do the full-press, “my kid will never experience harm” schtick with your future grandkids. Count me with the fathers who believe skinned knees and fat lips are a rite of passage. A little harm to the kid at the right time can be a positive.

Conflict is part of this world. Fighting happens. Romantic dreams of a perfectly safe world come at the price of free will. Part of being a mature, well-adjusted adult is working through a healthy relationship to the miseries that befall us. With a life in this world where free-will exists it is absurd to assume we can escape into death without harm of any kind. We will find opposition. Some will fight us precisely because our childhood taught us we are entitled to our every whim and to be insulated from any potential stressor.

Warriors run toward the fight. Boxers and mixed martial artists go to the dojo to train and spar. Some of us are fight-seekers. We close the distance. We get inside the attack. We like the sweat, lactic acid in our muscles, the mental duress, the misery of battle. The rush of fighting makes us feel alive. But . . . fighting is bad, no? Someone who is a fight seeker is a problem, right? No, not all the time. For me, the boundary is intent. Why are you running toward the attack? What is your purpose in the battle? If the purpose is destruction, to cause as much damage as possible, to hurt or kill the opponent without regard for the initiating dispute, if that is the purpose, that is wrong. Seeking that sort of fight, being someone who simply seeks destruction, is someone who ought to be defeated. If you are running toward the attack, seeking the fight so that the initiating dispute can be brought to resolution in the least harmful manner possible, then go. Finish it. Last, if you are an athlete and your sport is boxing or martial arts, train hard and train well. Your battlefield is within you. The war is against your own limitations. Victory comes every time you get stronger, improve your technique, conquer yet another aspect of yourself keeping you from a deeper union with God.

I hold a purple belt in Saigyo Ryu Aiki Jujitsu. This is the highest adult rank you can get that isn’t either a teaching rank or a teacher’s apprentice rank. I trained for 5 years. I haven’t trained seriously in over 20 years. I’m way out of shape and don’t remember most of my kata. The spirit of the school, though, is still with me. The definition of victory as accomplishing the destruction of the opponent’s will to fight, remains with me. The love of training, of the sweat and tears, is still there. I am not a warrior as someone in our military is a soldier. My title of warrior comes as a student of fighting. My war is within me. My battlefield my spirit and my heart.

Anti-War. It’s a word we assume everybody knows the definition of. One who is against war. Fighting is bad, no? Yet . . . people fight. Nations fight, go to war. We know better and still, fights happen. Misery is bad, no? No one wants to be miserable. Warriors are fighters. Warriors fight, go to war. War is bad so warriors are bad. Nothing about them could be worthwhile . . . Maybe. . . not. Warriors study war so they can win. They learn their opponents and the battlefield. They push themselves physically, mentally and spiritually so that they can outlast their opponents. They train, and submit to proper authority. They have a relationship to misery and duress that sets them up for success. Athletes & dancers know this. If you are training and comfortable, you are not training hard enough.

In relationships any couple that claims they don’t fight is either delusional or liars. Couples that last figure out how to work through the conflict that arises. Misery, duress, and conflict all have their place in our lives. They all have the potential to make us better people. I still like the metaphor of fire. Fire can be harnessed to heat our homes and cook our meals. It also destroys forests and homes. Misery, duress and conflict share similar attributes. These three can be harnessed to grow us into better people. They can also harm us and thus, must be handled well. The problem isn’t the presence of duress, misery or conflict. It is how we respond to it. These can make us better people.

Victory is destroying the opponents willingness to continue the fight while preserving his or her ability to fight. This is distinct from the way wars are won, where victory is achieved by destroying the enemy’s ability to fight. There is a level beyond that, though, given by Christ in calling on us to love our enemies. This is a radical command. It countermands our instincts on conflict. When we are hurt by someone we want to fight, to hurt back, to make them feel the pain we felt, to get even. Getting even, though, can be problematic. And there is the nagging feeling that really, probably forgiving might be the better long term plan. Still, the emotion is there along with a hunger for justice.

Asking us to love our enemies just seems wrong. Yet it is the way to victory. Loving our enemies puts our heads & hearts in the right place so we can understand what self-sacrificial victory would mean in our particular instance. Then we can work through what is needed to transform the heart of our opponent so he or she no longer desires harm. Where the warrior way can help us is in how we live our lives. Proper submission to authority, preparation and training, knowing our enemy, understanding the battlefield’s effect on the fight, and being literate in strategy and history are attributes of a warrior we can all benefit from. These, along with a warriors attitude toward persevering, can be a plus instead of a minus.


Pain Forecasted

The King James version has Exodus 20:13 as “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” The ESV has it as, “Thou Shalt Not Murder.” What do you do with a bully? There is also Matthew 5:38, “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39 But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40 And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic,[a] let him have your cloak as well“. Yet, a bully is driven to cause misery, to intimidate and injure a victim. Turning the other cheek seems like exactly the wrong thing to do.

bullyIn my neighborhood the way we figured you out was to tease you. We bullied you to understand what you were like when faced with aggression. If you stepped up and won a few fights we liked you. If you let us be ugly to you we shunned you and you became prey. I did not know how to make my place among Eric’s friends and honor my father. My Dad, confessed Christian and red((pink)er) diapered son of card carrying communists, understood the Bible to say that we ought not fight. My Dad is a good man and sincere in what he believes with conviction. When I was young I thought he was evil.

Eric and his buddies lived down the street from me. We all went to the same school from kindergarten until fifth grade. I failed Eric’s attempt to figure me out. I honored my father and refused to fight. That hurt, still hurts.

Eric was my nemesis. He headed up a clique that took great delight in my misery. He was the one guy who I could not defeat without defying my father. Not then, not with what I knew then. These days, if I could talk to my younger self, we’d deflate Eric and be done with him.

I thought then, still feel at times, that what Eric needed was a black eye, a fat lip, and maybe a nice bloody scalp wound. To respect my father rule meant I had to find ways to avoid Eric. I got very good at being where he wasn’t. He and I fought a maneuvering war that lasted through fourth & fifth grades. It felt like a 100 years. Sometimes I’d lose the maneuvering war and have to engage with him. Now I was caught. If I fought I’d piss off my Dad. If I didn’t it hurt. My memory, now colored by time, is that it seemed like every day was a battle. Eric and I did fight once or twice over two years. I lost each time. And my Dad sat me through a long lecture on honoring your parents. Bleh.

I make a lot of noise about mercy. I say that forgiveness is central to the way I live. If you ask me if I’m a lover or a fighter I’ll tell you I’m a lover. Mostly because I figure being a lover is the more socially acceptable answer. There is still a boy in me who’d like to kick Eric’s ass. Am I a lover? Am I a fighter? Do I have to choose? I think I lean more toward fighter, toward warrior. I am not, though the fighter my younger self was. I hold rank in a martial art that teaches non-violent variants of old hand-to-hand combat techniques. Victory is the defeat of the enemy’s will to fight. This is not the boy-soldier life of my youth. It is much closer to the grown-ass man life of Musashi with an oak practice sword. The misery of the playground was resolved by moving me to Mullica Hill Friends School. I thought that if I changed schools my days of being bullied would be over. Not.

Brian Sykes, a star athlete at the school, picked up where Eric left off. I taught Brian how to treat me. It took another decade or so for me to learn that our internal battlefield travels with us. Our minions, dragons & demons remain no matter how agreeable our domicile is. Our fight with them only escalates if we attempt to outmaneuver them or ignore them. The misery of the playground will continue until you engage. This is really what Eric wanted. He wanted to engage. He wanted to win. All I had to do is run toward the fight and win. Between defying my father and letting the misery continue I ended up choosing to defy my father.

There are ways to engage Eric, though, that settle it and leave him able to attack. That is the art of war we should be learning and embodying. I’m a loving warrior. I fight for peace. I fight to find ways to transform my enemy so that we can engage and build healthy relationships. Pain is possible, as is striking and grappling. Weapons are used–Musashi’s oak sword and lengths of staff from 6″ to 8’ as examples. The boundary is this: if you are able to continue the fight then it wasn’t violent. Within those boundaries I fight to strengthen relationships and make allies of my enemies. What if, though, you find an enemy who won’t quit. Today is a good day to die for them. This gives us a choice. Do we die and be martyred to protect our principles or do we attempt to destroy the bloodthirst of such an enemy, knowing that if it can’t be defeated we may have to choose whether we live or our enemy lives? I don’t know what I would do if it came down to it.. I’d like to believe I can end it before I have to make such a choice. Between, “thou shalt not kill” and “thou shalt not murder” I tend to agree with those who read that commandment as “thou shalt not murder.” I pray I live a long and rich life before I have to choose. Not very definitive but there it is.

Bullies are not warriors. Bullies want pain. Warriors fight to end it, to end the pain, to regain peace. My twist on it is the setting of a rule of engagement. Victory comes in the defeat of the enemy’s will to fight. Defeating a bully comes in transforming his or her heart so he or she no longer hungers for the pain of others. We can do this in artful ways if we are humble before God.