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10/12/2006

STAND APART AND WITNESS

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.

He did.

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.

6 Comments:

Blogger stephen said...

Bart Township is a little more than an hour away from my home. All week our local newscasts focused on the events that transpired in that schoolhouse (that was just razed before dawn this morning). Soon enough, the national media started streaming in. And then about Tuesday afternoon, the word "forgiveness" started being spoken. Greta Van Sustern couldn't understand how the Amish could forgive Mr. Roberts.

Personally, I was ecstatic to see the media of the world shine their lights onto this community and to have Christ's love shine right back in their eyes. These are wonderful people who walk the talk. People poke fun at their lifestyle because it's different than their own.

And about that word "forgiveness." It's so foreign in our culture today that I don't think people understand or comprehend it. In an age where victims cry out for justice and reparations, forgiveness is viewed as a piece of history which is no longer practiced.

I'll be praying for your shows tomorrow.

10/12/2006  
Anonymous Stephen said...

It's obvious your Dad didn't read John Eldredge's book Wild at Heart where he says this to his son, after he was hit by a bully:

"[Blain,] I want you to listen very closely to what I am about to say. The next time the bully pushes you down, here is what I want you to do - are you listening, Blaine?" He nodded, his big wet eyes fixed on mine. "I want you to get up... and I want you to hit him... as hard as you possibly can." A look of embarrassed delight came over Blaine's face. Then he smiled. (p. 78)

10/12/2006  
Blogger GrovesFan said...

Isn't it awesome when we can see those lessons dad taught us actually come to fruition? I'll bet that talk with John and his mom, made John think about his treatment of you more than any other response you could've given him by fighting. Wise dads are a gift from God to be sure! We're blessed to have them.

Beth

10/12/2006  
Blogger Kat Coble said...

Respectfully I have to disagree somewhat with you here, Shaun.

I grew up Mennonite (and I have a Christian blog and I wrote about the Amish killings). I have several ex-
Amish relatives.

While I respect the Amish practice of forgiveness, and it's pastel colourations in a modern media looking for spiritual heroes, I have issues with the Amish way of life that allowed this to happen.

Had the school been set up with proper security, these children may not have had to die.

I think turning the cheek is a right practice. But I also think that when God entrusts you with children, it is your duty in the eyes of God to take all reasonable measures to keep those children safe enough to live to adulthood. In short, your offspring should never be put in a position where they have to turn the other cheek to a crazed gunman.

The fact that this schoolhouse--like so many Amish Fundamental Schools--had no men on staff and no security is appalling to me. Most Amish view the raising of children as solely women's work, and that follows through to their schools. And when you live in Pennsylvania (as my husband did) or Indiana (as I did), it is a well-known fact that AFS' are sitting ducks.

They'd do just as well to leave their precious children in the street.

Yes, Jesus called us to be peacemakers. But did he call us to be foolhardy? I somewhat doubt it.

10/13/2006  
Blogger Shaun Groves said...

I didn't comment on or applaud the security measures, or lack thereof, taken at the Amish school. Sorry if I was unclear. My post was focussed on the Amish community's response to the violence against one of their own after it occurred.

And I haven't read your blog...until now. So I obviously wouldn't count it as one of the many "Christian blogs" I read that haven't mentioned this story yet.

As far as Amish schools being notorious "sitting ducks" I can't find, on-line anyway, any other Amish school news items - not shootings, kidnappings, rapes, bomb threats etc. Not saying their schools are safe and shouldn't be differently secured. Just wondering if there's a history of Amish schools being dangerous places in which to house children - a history more factual than anecdotal.

Thanks for linking us to your blog. And thanks for your comment.

10/14/2006  
Blogger Emily said...

I disagree with Kat. They are living their lives the best way they know how. They are offering their children the best earthly life they have to offer. Just like everyone else. This obviously is not the first school shooting we've heard of. Had Columbine had better security, maybe it wouldn't have happened there. Or maybe it still would have. At any rate, it is not the fault of this peaceful community that someone came in and did this aweful thing. Is any victim of rape at fault because of what they were wearing, or because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time - even if that wrong place was that person's very own home?

10/17/2006  

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