Warriors and Martyrs
School playground circa 1982 two seven year old boys are locked in mortal combat. We join them as the taller boy seizes the L shaped branch and with it the advantage
"Pe-ow! Pe-OW! PE-OW! You're dead, ha-ha-ha."
I'm not laughing. I am the short one, the constantly snotty one with a slight asthmatic wheeze. I am a bit put out that I've been downed again. I can't remember the game. i can't remember my adversary apart from he always occupied the first half of the following pairings: Cowboys and Indians,cops and robbers, goodies and baddies, heroes and villains.
I reluctantly and halfheartedly clutch my wheezy chest and lay down on the ground, careful to adjust the leaves and branches out of the path before properly dying, again.
Travel through time with me to earlier this year and these are the words I remember:
These words were from one of the coaches at the boxing gym I'd attended a half dozen times.
Up until that evening I'd happily attended for a novel fitness experience and had spent my two hours shadow boxing, using the punchbags, skipping and using the dumbbells. This particular evening it had been decided that I was ready to spar with the others.
The only man remaining is Goliath 6.3" wearing a mouth guard bouncing on the spot. He has his own gloves! I've got the mismatched sweaty gloves from the supply bin. The bell goes and I approach him smiling in an attempt to elicit empathy or at least sympathy. I stretch to my full 5.6". We begin to spar, he is on fast forward and I'm a lamb to the slaughter. Like the roller-coaster rides I endured as a child I do the only thing I know. I close my eyes, as the nimble Neanderthal breaches my defences again and again.
"Go easy on him, he's scared he's got his eyes closed! Open your eyes boy!"
I feel I've lived much of my life, scared, with my eyes closed, as a martyr to someones else's warrior. To his credit Goliath relented and for the remainder of the two minutes attempted to coach me saying things like:
"If you meet man on road, you can't drop your guard, don't waste your energy, choose your shot"
What he didn't know was as a priest I'm more likely to attempt to get said 'man' to enrol in a job scheme, or 12 step program, or attend a Christianity 101 course.
The area where my church is situated is urban and has contained warriors. In October 2014 would be terrorists, would be warriors were arrested from the building besides the church. In July 2005 other would be terrorists were arrested from the buildings opposite the church.
How do we even begin to comprehend let alone respond to such extreme individuals who increasingly are on our doorsteps and within our communities? Let Goliath speak:
"If you meet man on road"
Can we meet everyone as another human deserving of respect just like us? In a recent meeting of community leaders to plan a public meeting one father said:
"I'm afraid my children are vulnerable of being radicalised"
He was a Muslim as afraid as the Christians and those of no faith I've sat and listened too.
"You can't drop your guard"
Could there be a spirituality behind the ideology of violent intimidation? Can we muster faith to dream a different reality for those most at risk of falling under the spell of immortality and immunity as they use swords to carve out a distorted new world order? Can we be the type of martyrs prepared to die for an ideal but not to kill for one. Can we be the type of warriors who fight for and fight with, not those who fight over and fight against?
"Don't waste your energy"
How can we effectively spend our resources to build bridges and change the narratives which can shackle and limit areas progressing? What resources do we have at our disposal to unlock new ways of being family, community, and society? I recently sat with a group of community leaders and by the close of the conversation we became aware of the collective wealth of the organisations represented. It begins with a conversation.
"Choose your shot"
The task ahead is to reweave the torn fabric in our little part of the world. I often want to clutch my chest and lay dead and hope some else will resolve the dislocation we collectively feel. But I am called to open my eyes stare the horror down with eyes of faith and love. I'm called to stand up and declare life, declare resurrection, break L shaped sticks recruiting my enemy to fight the real Goliath's which are unseen. Warriors of life and love for all, and martyrs who have died to fear. I no longer want to close my eyes, but fight the good fight. Who's with me?