Redemptive Violence

Kevin and Charlie: Part 4

If you’re just jumping into the story, catch up here: Intro, Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

In the past month, Charlie hadn’t brought up Jesus’ third way a single time. Yet Kevin couldn’t get it out of his mind. So much of what he knew about “Christians,” the Bible, and the responses of Christians who supposedly believed in the Bible didn’t fall in line with what he’d heard from Charlie. In fact, Kevin tracked down a Bible from the prison library and read through Jesus’ life as described in the book of Matthew. He found himself inspired and drawn in by the words and actions of Jesus. There was something incredibly strong about his humility and service. Jesus never compromised his dignity, but he also didn’t compromise the dignity of those around him—not even those who opposed him.

Kevin knew he’d never get out of prison after killing Cory, but he nevertheless made the conscious decision to follow in the way of Jesus. And it was time for Kevin to get creative in responding to those who hoped to hurt him. He wanted to be known for his ability to humbly forgive rather than violently respond. Kevin decided that if his personal realignment in the way of Jesus was going to impact the world around him, then it must start with healing in his family.

For almost two years, Kevin had chosen anger and bitterness toward his parents for the way they’d raised him. He’d wanted nothing to do with them. His mother wrote him letters every week, but Kevin had mustered up the courage to read only a few of them. But after weeks of excited, hopeful discussion with Charlie about this new life in the way of Jesus, Charlie challenged Kevin to read his mother’s letters and find a time to have a conversation with her.

With trembling fingers, he slowly ripped open the envelope containing his mother’s most recent note.  Kevin’s heart skipped a beat as he read that his mother was planning to see him the next day in the hopes of talking with him. It was one thing for Kevin to begin the healing process with his parents by reading his mother’s letters. But it was something else to see her in person. He suddenly couldn’t read anymore, and he felt his stomach tighten. Kevin had carried so much pain and anger for so long. He wasn’t sure how to live without it, and he certainly wasn’t sure how to release it.

While lying on his bunk and staring up at the cement ceiling, Kevin was reminded of Jesus’ words that followed the passage that Charlie had first introduced to him in Matthew 5:38–42. He opened his Bible to Matthew 5:43–48:

You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.”  But I

tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be

sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and

sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you,

what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you

greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans

do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Reading these words didn’t make the next step any easier or less painful. But again Kevin was inspired by the words of Jesus. Part of forgiving his mom meant loving her. As a follower of this radical way of life in Jesus, Kevin knew he had no other choice but to meet with his mother the next day.

I will post the FINAL part of the story tomorrow!

Kevin and Charlie: Part 3

Today, we move from the nitty-gritty character/plot development of the first two parts and move into the art of integrating Scripture/theology into the story.  If you missed early parts of the story, here you go: Intro, Part 1, Part 2.

The next day, a well-dressed older fellow walked into Kevin’s jail cell. Kevin hadn’t said a word since the events of the day before. The man looked Kevin in the eye and said, “My name is Doug. I’ll be representing you as your attorney. Cory died last night at the hospital. Since you turned eighteen last week, you’ll be tried as an adult.”

Kevin felt paralyzed by this news. What had happened to his life? How could he be facing a life sentence in prison? Was there something he was missing?

Someone had to be blamed for this situation. How about Doug? Kevin thought. No, he did a good job representing me; it just didn’t work out like he’d hoped. How about my sister? No, she never asked me to defend her, and I don’t think she did sleep with all of those guys. Could it have been my fault? Not a chance. I only did what I needed to do. Plus, that’s how I was taught to handle conflict growing up . . . growing up! That’s it! My parents—they’re the ones to blame. They knew something like this would happen to me, and they didn’t say a thing! All of my life I saw only revenge, violence, and anger. This is all their fault.

Kevin’s bitterness toward his parents grew every day. As a result he isolated himself from everyone. This is what had become of him. He was serving a life sentence in prison, and he had no desire to communicate with anyone, not even his family.

That is, until Kevin met a guy named Charlie.

Charlie knew Kevin didn’t want to talk, but after seeing Kevin sitting by himself at every meal for over a year, he sat down across the table from him anyway. Kevin didn’t look up, so Charlie simply said hello and introduced himself. He already knew Kevin’s name, so he didn’t bother asking. In fact, Charlie didn’t ask Kevin any questions; he just started telling his story.

Charlie had lived a simple life in a small mountain town. When he was twenty-one years old, he ran into an old friend who was back in town for the week visiting family and friends. Apparently his friend had some enemies because while they were eating dinner at a restaurant, someone started shouting at him to get out of town. Charlie wasn’t sure what the story was. But he figured that if this guy wanted to yell, then they’d yell back. They started fighting; and after getting punched in the face, Charlie picked up a chair and slammed it over the guy’s head. Somehow the chair hit the man’s temple, and he died instantly. Now Charlie was in prison with a life sentence.

Although Kevin was still looking down and pretending to be interested in his dinner, he heard every word. Charlie continued, “I’ve learned a lot as a result of that night, Kevin. Maybe sometime we could talk more about it. And I’d be interested to hear your story as well.” That was the first time anyone had paid any attention to Kevin.

The next afternoon Charlie came up to Kevin again while the inmates were outside in the courtyard. Kevin was sitting against a chain-link fence, and Charlie sat down right next to him. They didn’t say much, but Kevin found himself appreciating the company. All of a sudden, Kevin started talking. He had no idea where it was coming from, but he just felt the need to tell his story. So he did. He discussed his childhood leading all the way up to the day he killed Cory. And he told Charlie about all of the bitterness he had toward his family, especially his parents. Kevin also shared about the guilt he carried around with him every day for murdering Cory.

It was like a small weight had been lifted off Kevin’s shoulders. Even so, Kevin still remained hostile toward the other guys in the prison, and he began picking fights with anyone who seemed like an “enemy.” It was as though he was transitioning from a quiet, isolated, and bitter person back into the angry, hostile person of his youth.

One day while they were back outside in the courtyard, Charlie pulled Kevin aside and began telling him another story—about this guy, Jesus, and his revolutionary way of dealing with people who disagreed with him or meant to harm him. Kevin had seen Bibles on TV before when those crazy preachers were on at 2 a.m. But when Charlie pulled his Bible from his pocket, it was the first time Kevin had seen one in person. Charlie opened his Bible to Matthew 5:38–42 and told Kevin that this was how Jesus taught his followers to respond to injustice:

You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.”  But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.   And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.   If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Charlie began to explain that when Jesus said these words, the Roman Empire ruled the land, and Israel was a small minority that was supposed to change the world as God’s “chosen people.” The Roman soldiers would often humiliate the Israelites as an act of lording their power over a submitted people. But in this passage Jesus suggests a creative third way of responding to the injustice that the Romans imposed on the less powerful.

Then Charlie said, “When I was growing up, I thought there were only two ways to respond to someone who tried to hurt me: I could either react passively and let the person beat me up, or I could fight back with the same violence they offered me. Through Jesus’ words and example, however, I’ve found there’s a third way that allows me to keep my dignity as a human being but doesn’t compromise my morals by fighting back—like I did when I killed a man and received a lifelong prison sentence.”

Charlie continues, “You see, Kevin, Jesus fights for equality, justice, and humanity while his third-way response exposes a disjointed and violent culture. Jesus isn’t asking us to just ‘take it’ (which is version of pacifism), but he also doesn’t want us grabbing a sword and retaliating (which is violence). Our culture offers us only two ways—but Jesus’ third way means we turn our oppressors’ tactics on their heads whenever we take action like turning the other cheek, offering all that we have, and walking the extra mile. When we do this, their strategies lose their power, and our humanity is restored.

“You know how many movies have to do with a ‘good guy’ getting back at a ‘bad guy’ who’s done some form of injustice? Well, these movies promote what I call redemptive violence—the myth that responding to violence with violence makes things right. But redemption means to rescue or reclaim—it has nothing to do with violence.”

Charlie hoped he hadn’t said too much. But he could tell Kevin was actively listening, even though he never made eye contact. This was the first time Kevin had ever heard anything like this. He was very intrigued with this myth of “redemptive violence,” as Charlie called it. But he struggled to see Jesus’ third way as a realistic response. It required forgiveness and humility, and Kevin wasn’t ready to embrace that just yet.

follow-up Questions

Do you ever hold onto bitterness and try to do life alone?

Do you have a “Charlie” in your life who you’ve rejected or who you’ve allowed to be a part of your life?

What are our culture’s options for responding to someone who hurts us?

What would it look like to enact this third-way response?

What move can you make that will remind others that you’re human?

Kevin and Charlie: Part 2

The story continues…Check these out if you missed them: Intro and Kevin and Charlie: Part 1

Kevin was eighteen years old when he heard about a rumor going around the high school about his fifteen-year-old sister, Tara. Some of Kevin’s friends had heard an eighteen-year-old boy named Cory calling Tara a whore and saying that she was having sex with a bunch of the older guys—including himself. Immediately Kevin was filled with rage and wanted to meet this guy in the parking lot after school. All of Kevin’s friends knew about his temper and made sure he didn’t do anything he’d regret that day.

Kevin couldn’t sleep that night because he was filled with hatred and bitterness toward Cory. He thought, This guy needs to pay for what he’s done, and I’ll make sure I’m the one who collects. Kevin came up with a plan, and the next day he was going to put it into action.

Word passed through the school about a showdown between Kevin and Cory that afternoon in the parking lot. The whole school was buzzing, and Kevin enjoyed every minute of it. He didn’t usually carry a gun, but his dad had given him one when he was fourteen—just in case he ever needed to use it in self-defense. As he dressed for school that morning, Kevin tucked the gun under his belt and against his lower back so his shirt covered it.

After the last bell rang, most of the students had boarded the school buses and headed home. But a few stayed back in the parking lot to see what would happen between Cory and Kevin. Each boy was standing by his own car when the two of them made eye contact and began walking toward each other. Kevin threw the first blow, and it sent Cory to the ground. Cory quickly jumped up and pushed Kevin into a retaining wall. Kevin fell shoulder-first onto the concrete. As he was getting up, Kevin saw one of the campus supervisors running toward them to stop the fight. Before he could get there, Kevin pulled out his gun and pointed it at Cory. Everyone stopped and stared in disbelief. Kevin felt as though his blood was pumping through his body at a blinding speed. This confused and angry boy began shaking, and his grip on the gun was loosening. Then suddenly he fired.

Follow-up Discussion Questions

Why would a bad family life lead a person to act out in other parts of his or her life?

What’s our natural tendency when someone hurts us?

Why do we believe the lie that this is the only way to respond?

I will post Part 3 tomorrow!

Kevin and Charlie: Part 1

Today, the story begins.  If you didn’t read yesterday’s post, now would be a good time as it lays the groundwork for the next 7 days of storytelling.

I will be telling this story in its entirety over the next week and offering it as a free resource, so if you know any communicators/youth workers please share on Twitter and Facebook.  Also, every couple days I will include some discussion questions.  If you have any to add, please share them in the comments!

Once again Kevin found himself sitting across the desk from his school principal. “Why do you get in so many fights?” asked the principal. “Is there some reason you can’t walk away when you get angry?” Kevin had no response. He just sat low in the oversized chair and looked at the floor. The principal continued, “If you don’t have anything to say, then I don’t have any way to help you, Kevin. I’m going to have to call your parents and suspend you for the next five days.” Kevin accepted his fate, stormed out of the office, and sat outside on the curb next to the campus supervisor, waiting for his parents to pick him up.

Kevin was a skinny nine-year-old kid who carried himself like he was 18, always watched his back, and had the temper of a viper. He was the kid who either picked a fight or ended a fight by lashing out at someone if he felt that person had wronged him.

He grew up in a pretty tough neighborhood, but his family life was even tougher. Whether it was his father yelling at his mother or “disciplining” Kevin and his younger sister, Tara, there always seemed to be some kind of conflict at home. Kevin figured this was the way all families worked. Plus, he didn’t feel like he could blame his dad for his violent actions. His father has been wounded during the Vietnam War and now walked with a permanent limp. “If we could just blow up all of our enemies, this country could finally be at peace!” his dad would say while watching the evening news. Sometimes Kevin felt the same way about his “enemies” at school.

Whether Kevin was in a fight with a neighborhood bully or another kid on the school playground, his dad always supported him: “Son, the most important thing to do is to stand up for yourself. If you have to throw a punch or talk back to save face, then that’s what you’ve gotta do.” Kevin did what his father said, and he couldn’t remember a single time he’d let someone get away with making fun of him or taking cheap shots at him.

This angry kid who retaliated in most every situation only became fiercer as he grew up through middle school and high school. Every faculty member knew him by his first name, and many of them had had to help break up his fights. Most of the faculty felt bad for him. He was so angry and confused, but he wasn’t about to change his ways—and if he did, his parents would disown him. For Kevin, everything was “us” (his family, close friends, country) versus “them” (anyone outside of who he considered to be “us”).

Kevin was eighteen years old when he heard about a rumor going around the high school about his fifteen-year-old sister, Tara…

I will post Part 2 tomorrow!

Sharing a Story

Well, it’s coming down to the wire as Teaching Through the Art of Storytelling will be released next week on December 14th!  It has been a long road (almost 3 years) and I’m looking forward to the ways it will challenge/encourage communicators and invite others into the masterful Story of God.

In the book, I challenge communicators (specifically youth pastors) to consider teaching through storytelling; a mode of communication usually employed only as an illustration to the message that is taught in a 3 point prepositional format.  I propose that through the development of artful modern day parables (also known as Jewish Agada), the telling of a story is not simply illustrating the message; instead it actually becomes the message.  Through the development of characters, plot and setting, we can articulate deep theological and practical insights by simply telling a story.  Not only is storytelling neurologically easier to follow than other forms of verbal communication, it creates a “suspension of belief” that allows the listener to imagine themselves as characters within the story.

All that being said, the last section of my book contains stories that I have written over the years and told in a variety of teaching contexts.  I am offering them as a resource and working example of what teaching through storytelling might look like.

So, for the next week I will set aside my usual blogging and simply tell you a story.  It is one of the stories that has been published in the book and you are more than welcome to use it and try it out in your context.  I wrote it to an audience of teenagers and it centers on Matt. 5:38-48 with it’s major themes being: redemptive violence, injustice, forgiveness, reconciliation and restoration.  Finally, the story is told through two main characters named Kevin and Charlie.

I will post the first section tomorrow.  Follow along and enjoy some storytime!

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