So I thought we had a good discussion and he understood the lesson. Well that week I get another call from school saying my son had got into trouble on the play ground and was going to miss recess for the next couple of days. When he came home he told me about the kid who was picking on others. We then discussed consequences. Picking on others isn't right but that does not justify hitting. If he is in detention at school then at home he will lose his privileges to electronics (no gameboy, gamecube, or tv).
So I thought again we had solved the problem and he knew the consequences. Then I get another call from the principal's office saying that my son and the kid he is fighting with will be spending their lunch hour in the principal's office for the next week. I didn't understand what was going on. Yes I had taught my son to stand up for the underdog, but I didn't teach him that violence was ok. So we again had a discussion about consequences for actions and that it isn't ok to hit people.
That night as I am reading to my son before he goes to bed. He says to me. Dad told me I was to fight back. If people pick on me I should hit them back and stand up for myself. I listened as he shared everything his dad had told him over the summer. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." We talked about what he thought the best response was. When was it appropriate to call a teacher, when should we fight back and what the consequences of our actions would be.
I was furious at his dad. Here was my calm, cautious child starting fights at school. "An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth." I was torn. I was proud of my son for standing up to power, of fighting against oppression, but I didn't want him hitting people. I didn't want him to think that it was alright to engage in violence. I wanted him to be safe at school. I wanted to know where the teachers and principal were when someone was being bullied. We eventually solved the responding to violence with violence because he was tired of losing electronics.
But this is our dilemma. How do we change the assumptions that violence is ok, that you can respond to violence with violence? How do we find a better way?
The answer Jesus gives to this question seems like you will just be a doormat to whatever power comes along.
38 "Here's another old saying that deserves a second look: 'Eye for eye, tooth for tooth.' 39 Is that going to get us anywhere? Here's what I propose: 'Don't hit back at all.' If someone strikes you, stand there and take it. 40 If someone drags you into court and sues for the shirt off your back, giftwrap your best coat and make a present of it. 41 And if someone takes unfair advantage of you, use the occasion to practice the servant life. 42 No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously. Matthew 5:38-42, The MessageI don't think Jesus intended us to be doormats. I like Walter Wink's interpretation of this passage. He argues that Jesus is training us in nonviolence. Jesus is showing us how to turn an oppressive situation on its head and make a way, a new way, and opening for God's vision of the world to come through. When faced with violence turn that violence around. This is not easy to teach or live. In the moment we want to respond in kind. Yet to live in God's kingdom means to live in a way that ushers in God's dream for the world. To respond to violence with nonviolence, to shame the rich when stealing from the poor, to hold people accountable for bad behavior. To live generously and nonviolently.