in defense of violence, part one :: being a mirror-bearer

August 22, 2009


I can’t really believe I’m in this position.  I don’t want to be in this position.  It’s not comfortable.  But there is a certain degree of nonsense a person can tolerate or ignore, and then there is a tipping point.  My baloney-meter has sufficiently been tripped.

I have a friend on Facebook who is full of malarkey.  She’s great, but wrong about a bunch of stuff.  Before you think I’m blind to my own failings, let me put your mind at ease… From the mountain tops, I will declare that I, too, am wrong about a BUNCH of stuff.  Such is the way of humanity.  Nonetheless, each of us must make some decisions along the way, filter our experience through some sort of moral/philosophical/intellectual grid, and sort out what is true, what is not, and what is yet to be determined.

And I guess I’ve already hit my first potential communication problem of the day.

For the sake of full disclosure and deeper clarity, I want you to know up front that I do believe in right and wrong – the unflexing kind, like bedrock, not determined by individuals, but by a higher authority.  I believe in truth and falsehood – reality and, well… malarkey.  I believe in “absolute truth” as a bedrock principle.  My Biblical grid tells me that some things are true and some things are not.  And that is not code for “I know better than you” or “If you don’t believe what I believe you are a lesser person.”  Not at all.  But before we can advocate a point of view with conviction, we must first determine whether we are honestly trying to hold a mirror up to reality to determine what is right, or whether we are trying to paint a picture of reality that furthers our view of things.  The way we want them to be.

This is an impossible task, and none of us is batting 1000.  But I am trying to be honest, and I believe that my life – as a man, a dad, a husband, a pastor, a worship leader, you name it – is to be spent reflecting the truth as it really is.  Absolute, unchanging, bedrock truth about God and people and our condition in the physical and spiritual world around us.

So…  That brings me to this uncomfortable place.  Standing in defense of violence.

Here’s the quote that flipped my switch.  Posted by my good malarkey-filled Facebook friend a few days ago:

One is called to live nonviolently, even if the change one works for seems impossible. It may or may not be possible to turn the U.S. around through nonviolent revolution. But one thing favors such an attempt: the total inability of violence to change anything for the better.
– Daniel Berrigan, poet, peace activist, and priest.

On its face, who wants to argue with that?  Mr. Berrigan asserts that we are called to live non-violently.  Awesome.  I’m in.

Until someone threatens my wife and kids.  Or until I’m facing an enemy combatant on the battlefield.  Or until my police training kicks in to protect and serve the public.  And there is my problem with Mr. Berrigan.  What he says looks more like picture painting (with some happy little trees) than mirror-holding.  And stating “the total inability of violence to change anything for the better” is foolishness that borders on dangerous.

I’d love to live in a world of non-violence.  But that is an idealized world full of happy little trees.  The reality we live in is inhabited by a mix of personalities, many decent, and many dangerous – violent – evil.  Yes, there are bad people, with bad intentions, and bad motives.  There are dangerous people among us.  There are violent people around us.  And you know, what?  I’m OK with a little John Rambo now and again.

Mr. Berrigan would like to change the world for the better, I have no doubt.  He would like to inspire others to take action – non-violently contending for a better tomorrow.  Me, too.  And there is all kinds of good to be done in our own neighborhoods and in our country at large without taking up arms.  Go do it!  Get involved!

But please, Mr. Berrigan do not diminish the heartbreaking sacrifice of good men who resist evil with reciprocal force.  Do not pretend that if we wish hard enough, our dreams will come true when we face enemies who seek to do us harm.  Do not spread malarkey in order to support your pacifist ideals.  Because, Mr. Berrigan, it is dangerous to live with rose-colored glasses on.  It is dangerous to propagate the myth that no good has ever come of violence.  Sometimes violence carefully wielded against the bad is necessary to protect the rest from harm.

When I see the bumper sticker, “War is Not the Answer,” I want to pull my hair out.  I say, that depends greatly on the question.  “Hey baby, what should we do for dinner tonight?”  Yep, War is not the answer.  Good times.  Or how about, “Here they go again – raising my taxes/wrecking my healthcare/pushing gay marriage/insert-your-favorite-political-hot-button-here… What can I do about it?!”  Again, I say say… Yep, War is not the answer.  So far so good.

But when liberty is threatened, people are in bondage, America is in danger, and bad men seek to perpetrate violence against good people, then… You know what?  War may be the answer.  Violence may serve some greater good.  Blood sweat and tears may need to be shed to protect the right of decent people to dream and paint their happy little trees.

I don’t want to be an advocate for violence.  I want to be an advocate for reality.  I’ll work to make this a better world to live in, but I honestly believe we can have the deepest, most long-lasting impact on the world around us when we first put down the paintbrush, and take a good hard look in the mirror.

 NOTE:  Continue reading Part Two HERE

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“in defense of violence, part one :: being a mirror-bearer” by Joshua Skogerboe is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.


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Psalm 24:7 & Luke 10:42 >> Like David, and Mary, I'm in pursuit of my one thing. I'm the Pastor at St. Olaf Lutheran Church in Montgomery, IL. Pastor, teacher, writer, communicator, designer, and drummer. I definitely got the better deal in my marriage to Amy. And I couldn't be any more proud of my five amazing boys. Deeply grateful.

No responses to in defense of violence, part one :: being a mirror-bearer

  1. Preach, brother! Well said. Not to simplify the whole matter, but this issue reminds me of that quote from the wonderfully deep movie Home Alone: “You be positive, I’ll be realistic.”

  2. Hey, Joshua! This is your malarkey-filled Facebook friend speaking… 😉 Nice post – I promise I’ll think on my response & get back to you. Promise!

  3. In the meantime, I was curious about who Daniel Berrigan is, so I did a little Google search… turns out, he is definitely a kindred spirit! Check out Wikipedia’s bio: and a relatively recent article from The Nation:

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