In the on-goings of daily life, it is easy to get wrapped up into one’s self – to lose the ability to see how or when you have impacted another person’s life in a way that is far less than good. It is ever so easy to find yourself in a place of doing a certain sort of violence to other persons without actually inflicting a single physical blow to another person, and yet, the person that is impacted has become the victim of this sort of violence. It is the sort of violence that can easily go unnoticed, get swept under the rug, or simply blamed on the victim for being too sensitive or not being able or willing to speak up in the moment as a sort of self-corrective to the violence that is being inserted into the immediate reality. It is the sort of violence that is created by simply using words while failing to pay attention to the impact those words have on another. It is the sort of violence that enters into a room when a single person dominates others through interruption or by sucking up all the oxygen in the room thereby eliminating any chance of other persons to actually have a voice, to offer a creative thought, to give a new shape to the discourse (if one can call such a situation a discourse). In this kind of situation, we find that the old saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” is without any meaning because it runs counter to our experience as human beings.
The ultimate sadness of this sort of violence (and any violence, for that matter) is that it is equally as harmful to the perpetrator. Even when they are not able to see the impact that they are having in a moment, the person is damaged by the violence they have created in a given situation. They have limited the ability to have authentic relationship, to engage in the gifts of others, and to learn more about the hopes and desires of people around them. The perpetrator is cut off, stranded, isolated on the shores of the island of arrogance. Though the perpetrator is not necessarily forgotten, he or she is left out of the constructive reality of community. He or she is left to continue blundering about in the world without any cause to rethink how they walk their life while others simply hope to minimize contact in order to avoid the stinging violence that comes with it.
Of course, the question is how can a person find redemption if the person is completely unaware of the violence that he or she is creating in given circumstances? Is it possible for the person to be saved from the downward spiral of the vicious cycle? Is the ultimate fate for the person the lost shores of the island of arrogance? Or, is there another destination towards which the person can aspire?
Perhaps the good news is that all of us have persons in our lives that care so deeply for us that they muster up the courage to give it to us straight. They find the courage to call us out for our own baggage, our own missteps, and grant us the grace of being confronted with our own fallen condition in order that we might be able to seek forgiveness and reconciliation. The key to breaking the cycle, however, is to focus on creating the opportunity for that reconciliation in order that all persons might be transformed through the experience. It is remembering that the focus is not on a punitive justice that simply mirrors the tragic realities of our society in the modern age. It is remembering that God offers something much more transformative if we can open our ears long enough to hear it. It is remembering that the purest victim of violence, Jesus Christ, goes to the cross in order to subvert violence, to offer us redemption through the violence that is inflicted upon him, and to invite us into a new way of being by following, as closely as is humanly possible, in his footsteps.
In his book Resurrection Rowan Williams writes,
“What is at issue is simply the transaction that leads to exclusion, to the severance of any relation of reciprocity. It may be unconscious, it may be deliberate and willfully damaging, it may appear unavoidable; but as soon as such a transaction has occurred, God is with the powerless, the excluded.”1
It is in this moment, the moment of the transaction that leads to exclusion, that damage is done to every person involved – both perpetrator and victim. The exclusion wreaks havoc on all parties as dignity is stripped away from the persons, and it is the moment to which the perpetrator must return in order to find the healing power of God’s love. Williams continues by saying,
“And our hope is that he (God) is to be found as we return to our victims seeking reconciliation, seeking to find in renewed encounter with them the merciful and transforming judgement of Jesus, the ‘absolute’ victim.”2
Our hope is that by returning to the moment of our sin, to the persons that were impacted by that sin that we are able to find the judgement of Christ – a judgement that does not seek to condemn but to transform the reality of how we enter into relationships in our daily walks with each other. Our hope is that we will be reminded, when we gaze upon the Cross, of our ability to slip so easily into the vicious cycle of violence. Our hope is that we will remember that Christ went to that Cross in order that we might see the self more honestly and grow from those unadulterated glances in the mirror of God’s love.
Though being confronted with the ways that we fall (again and again) is never comfortable, it can always be healing if we seek the healing that Christ offers to us through the ministry of reconciliation. Each time a friend has had the courage to speak truth to me, though it stings when I receive these particular truths, I am always thankful that someone cared that deeply for me. I am always thankful when I am able to grow in my self-awareness, and I am always thankful when I am given the opportunity and the courage to say, “I am sorry. Can you forgive me?”
- Rowan Williams, Resurrection: Interpreting the Easter Gospel (United Kingdom: Darton,Longman & Todd, 2002), p.10.