Andy Brockenbeck was my first real enemy. A sixth grader with pale freckled skin, he was a head shorter than I, with the mouth and reputation of a man doing 25 to life. He commanded his gang of three, all of them roundish and speaking mostly in monosyllabic grunts, using only his gifts of intimidation and swagger.
I popped a wheely off the curb of Andy's driveway one Saturday and attracted his wrath for it. He hollered at me from his front porch, launching into a serpentine stream of curse words that chased me down the hill and to my front door. I locked it and swore I'd never trespass on Andy's turf again.
I didn't need to. Andy found me
after that. In the boy's room at school. In the cafeteria. Andy magically materialized again and again wearing that smirk of his and crafting detailed descriptions of how he'd soon destroy me.
Until one day.
For what seemed like hours, but couldn't have been more than a few minutes, Andy beat me. My stomach knotted and burned and my head rang from his pointed punches. I fell repeatedly and every time his henchmen picked me up and pushed me back into Andy's fists for more.
"Fight, faggot!" Andy taunted. But I wouldn't. My father, whose hands were much larger than Andy's, had warned me of the consequences of hitting back. "Turn the other cheek," he'd told me with an or-else look in his drill sergeant eyes.
Finally, somehow, I broke away and ran the block to my front door, locked it behind me and dialed my dad's office. I explained through panting and tears all that had gone down on the hill, how Andy's goons had ambushed me on the way home from school, how they'd pulled me from my bike by my shirt sleeve and flopped me to the pavement, and how I told Andy I wouldn't fight him, how he punched me anyway, how bad it still hurt. I told him everything.
When Dad's car sped into the driveway, Andy and his boys were still circling on their bikes at our mailbox like buzzards waiting for a wounded animal to stupidly crawl out of hiding. In one fluid motion my father slammed his door and snatched his belt from his waist band with a CRACK! I peeked through the dining room blinds and prayed for Andy's soul.
His face red and his jaw cocked forward, my father began the inquisition.
"Did you hit my son?"
Silence and sarcastic grins from the gang.
"Get out of here. Go home," he said calmly and firmly.
"Or what? It's a free country," John, obviously the least original and intelligent of the bunch, shot back.
First mistake. My father walked the jungles of Vietnam for freedom. He pronounces the word "freedom" like it's God's very name. He needs no reminding of it's existence or it's meaning, and an eighth grader doing so ticked him off. The end of my father's belt flew from his fist like lightening from Mount Olympus, popping just behind John's empty skull and scaring him off balance.
Second mistake. John hopped from his teetering bike and strutted all five feet of his adolescent frame toward my father, his chest bowed out like he was about solve something. He wasn't. A closer look at my father's brawny biceps convinced him of that and he circled back to his bike quickly and headed home with the others.
I'm asked often what we're to do about our enemies if we're not to use violence. What is our response to be when evil surrounds us and the innocent if we're not to stand and exchange blows? What should we do instead of get angry and fight? To take the beating is to do nothing. Is that all we can do?
It's not all we can do but that alone is so much more than I realized in the seventh grade.
Last week a madman entered a school in Pennsylvania and consoled his conscience by ending the lives of five little girls. Their Amish families, followers of Jesus, comforted the gunman's widow, mourned with her at his funeral, invited her to their own and began making plans to offer her financial assistance.
The many "Christian blogs" I read haven't mentioned this story yet. I'm not sure why. It is quite the story. At a time when bad news rules the airwaves and web pages, paragraphs about peace and love have been penned and wedged within the reams written on death and conflict. The story of forgiveness and compassion is being told around the world and the reason for it is in the story too: Jesus said...
The Amish, like so many other decedents of the Anabaptist movement, believe it is their job as Christ followers to "stand apart and witness." Not all Anabaptists choose physical geographical withdrawal to a life without electricity and other accouterments of modernity, but they all choose to stand apart in their hearts, in their values and allegiances, in their response to neighbor and enemy, just and unjust.
Their love is their witness to a God that is not of this world. Love is what they do instead of anger and fighting. And it's so much more than nothing.
That night after Andy and his boys were faced down by my father, Andy's mother was invited over. My parents and I sat in our dining room and recounted the afternoon's drama to her, Andy sitting silent on the floor at her feet.
"Why didn't you hit him," she asked me.
"I was more scared of him than I was of Andy," I grinned nodding toward my father, then calm and smiling back. I explained how my dad had told me to "turn the other cheek" the way Jesus said. I awkwardly admitted that I wanted to hit Andy but I didn't think Jesus would.
I told the story.
She stood across the room and listened.