Monday, February 9, 2015

Diplomacy Made Easy – But, “You’re Gonna Need a Bigger Boat”

It's never too soon to get that bigger boat.
I am a bully. It has been almost half a century since I was beating up fellow-first-graders at the bus stop each morning. But I am still a bully.

Of course, like all bullies, I don’t bully everyone all the time. There’s plenty of room for bystanders. I don’t mind a few sycophantic followers who smile and nod in agreement, even if they have no idea what the fight is about. And you’re unlikely to get into my crosshairs, unless you disagree. Even then, you may not identify what was done to you as bullying. Even if you have the slightest hint, you wouldn’t dare say so. Not because I would bully you even more (though that’s a possibility). You wouldn’t speak up because most of the bystanders, and certainly the sycophants, would tell you “That’s not bullying.”

You see, my skills fall into categories which most don’t readily recognize as bullying behaviors. I usually don’t have to apply more than a small portion of my excessive education, esoteric vocabulary, and/or labyrinthine logic in order to overwhelm you. The result, though, is rarely agreement, and almost never any kind of collaboration that would deepen our relationship. You don’t have to admit I’m right for me to win. As with many competitive enterprises, I don’t have to convince you. There’s no need to force a concession of my argument’s superiority. Most of the time, I just have to keep talking until those who disagree decide “enough is enough,” and quit the argument.

This Historical Policy
I’m unlikely to stop being a bully. Even among those whose neurons store far less information, or whose synapses fire less quickly, there is ample evidence in favor of successfully bullying others. And I can hardly be expected to withstand the peer pressure. Most of those in my faith tradition can’t bring bigger brains to the table. But we do have the greater numbers and social influence that comes with being the dominant majority. And even where we have atrophied any thought processes we may once have had, there are still a handful of leaders who are more than willing to do our thinking for us. In fact, I aspire to be one of them. I think I’ll probably succeed at it. Do you dare disagree?

The Contemporary Practice
It’s not just the ballot box where my tribe’s greater resources are brought to bear. Public demonstrations, fundraising, broadcast and publishing media outlets, and some of the more vehement social media positions all rely on nothing more than the sheer numbers who are willing to agree…rather than find themselves bullied by the majority.

In world politics, those with greater economies, larger populations, and/or more advanced technologies get to enforce their will over others, even while pretending to invite collaboration, to offer an opportunity for agreement, or simply to demand acquiescence—or else. The practice used to involve literally parking a fleet of the dominant nation’s warships off the coast of those to be bullied into submission. Air superiority was the preference for awhile, and now we can cripple most others through economic sanctions and/or selective assassination. But it’s still rightly called “Gunboat Diplomacy.”

"I'm sorry, you'd prefer I do what?"
I like it. And I like it, not just because my brain works well enough that my bullying doesn’t involve actual threats of violence. I like the idea of Gunboat Diplomacy because I know some bullies who seem unlikely to stop their bullying unless another bully brings their bigger boat between them and the targets of their bullying behaviors. Three in particular come to mind.

One of them is the wife-beating rapist who wants the courts to amend his child custody arrangements. That’s unlikely to happen. His work schedule would frequently put the children under the care of the matriarch whose incestuous household has bred narcissistic entitlement into each of the males I’ve met. My wife and I have met two of the females, too—both victimized by their own brothers. Still, my friend’s ex-husband has the means to pursue his day in court, to prolong the process indefinitely, and to hope that in the absence of alimony and other support payments he’s forestalling, she will run out of money, lose her lawyer, and simply have to give up. It might work. Unless someone has a better idea.

Sometimes you're not so worried about the "concealed" part.
Another I’d like to bully is the drug-dealer who was recently released. One of his convictions was for having beaten his domestic partner…again. The last straw was when he finally beat her in front of her offspring. He’s out, but she has a restraining order. There are also protective orders as a result of the criminal case. Yet somehow probation approved his new place of residence. It’s true that among the consequences of battering your domestic partner is the need to change your place of residence. But he could not have gone back to “her place,” because it wasn’t her place any more. Because she had allowed him to beat her, she was evicted by her landlord. She couch-surfed until a few weeks ago when she finally got into an apartment again. Why is all this important? Because the address her abuser gave his probation officer as his new residence—yes, he gave them her new address. How he got it? Why no one checked it? What she’s supposed to do to protect herself? No one seems to know. But I have an idea.

It’s the same idea that comes to mind whenever I face the reality of the next few months of negotiations and interviews with probation officers and therapists over the release of a convicted child-pornography trafficker. If the most recent two prior releases are any indicator, he will request permission to attend services, and there will be hours of paperwork and phone calls back and forth on the conditions, stipulations, restrictions, and supervision necessary to accommodate his rights in this area. I believe in hope. But I also believe in recidivism. I believe in redemptive purposes. And I believe that a little bullying might be just what’s necessary to prevent a sixth conviction. I do justify my frustrations, however, along with the difficulty of summoning any willingness to help facilitate his return to fellowship. How do I justify anything less than providing the greatest possible assistance to him? By remembering that preparations and follow-up on the previous two releases that were on my watch (of the four, total, so far) took more days to complete than the number of days he was actually free…before reoffending and returning to yet another imprisonment. Is there any reason to go through all that again? Well, not if someone has  a better idea.

Here’s the better idea I allow myself to imagine: I want to use my bigger boat to enforce my will on the perpetrators in each of these situations. I can think of several effective ways I could persuade then to make some accommodation of my position. Those victimized by these predators would greatly appreciate it, I know. In a community known for outrageously long response-times and malignant inattention to any needs so far from the county seat…well, if no one will dissuade them who’s to dissuade me? your own risk.
So, why don’t I simply bully these bullies into finding someone else to bully?

Here’s why: for Gunboat Diplomacy to work, you have to be sure you have the biggest boat. And I never will. Neither will you. There’s only One who guarantees that His boat is biggest and best, and it utterly blows out of the water all the rest of my petty fantasies about threats, intervention, retribution, vengeance or other more violent means of correction. (I admit, though, the phrase from my training many years ago keeps echoing: “Continue firing until the threat is eliminated.” My gunsmith tells me that the law in California, even if I were still serving with law enforcement, requires something a little different. But I’ll bet it’s still true that “personal safety trumps department policy.”)

So, am I saying that we should allow matters to take their course in hopes that God will protect the victims and smite the miscreants? No. I’m saying that I’m a miscreant. So are you. And before we start loading up, cocked and locked, looking for the justification to end any one of these conflicts, we might want to look to the true nature of the conflict. It’s sin. And sin has never overcome sin. I can’t stop their sin by committing my own. Even if my aim were as true as it used to be, their sin would survive them, having been adopted and furthered by me—the one who claims to hate the damage they’re doing by their sin, so much so that I might sin in order to stop it?.

The real solution is not so satisfying a fantasy. It is not so gratifying a pursuit. It is not as directly effective as a magazine or two of .45 ACP would be. But the real solution happens to be the biggest boat we’ve got. There’s probably a children’s church song to be written about this…except for the handgun part, of course. “Jesus has a big, big boat, and He’s loaded it with love.”

And so I will seek an answer to the question “What would Jesus have me do?” I will continue to love, provide for, and—only when absolutely necessary—protect those victimized by others like me. And I will admit that the same traits I see in these criminals make it easier for me to love them, whenever I admit that they are very much “neighbors” to be loved because they are so very much “like myself.”


Pastor Greg said...

I have never liked bullies…because I was the one being bullied. Every day of 7th grade and half of 8th grade were spent dodging the bully and his gang. It’s my own fault of course. They gave me fair warning that if I reported that I saw them stealing some kid’s bike that they would make me pay. Of course I reported them…it was the injustice of the situation that got to me. They kept their end of the deal…the only way I could win was not to fight. Half-way through my 8th grade year my prayers were answered and the bully was expelled. Four years later, as a Senior in High School and with a couple of years of weightlifting under my belt, I saw the now drug ravaged bully in a Plaid Pantry and thought…I can take him. But then I realized that I had won in 8th grade why go and lose now. Actually I pitied him and showed mercy. However, I will always stand up for the underdog.

I just read and blogged Romans 12:18-21 today.
"If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”
To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good."

Though a pastoral mentor of mine used to say, "Some evil cannot be restrained except by superior force."

nschaak said...

Bill, I really like the line "sin has never overcome sin." (I hope you're ok withy my liking that line, and if there's a different one you'd prefer me to like I'll certainly like that one even more). Seriously, I appreciate your honest, self-depreciative writing on your "bullying" tactics. I also appreciate your concern for those around you and your identification with them. It certainly is a challenge for all of us to think of ourselves as "the least of these," and much easier to see ourselves as beneficent by "stooping down" to help them. However, we need to be constantly reminded of our standing before Christ and our calling as His body!

Wm. Darius Myers said...

Great testimony, Greg. At some point I should probably write about the roots of my bullying others--it was a way of asserting a similar kind of control over others that others had asserted over me. The abused do sometimes become abusive. Likewise, I should give credit to the first-grade teacher who intervened, asking me, "How do you think Jimmy must feel?" She later told me she thought I would never stop crying once I realized that I was making him feel just as others had been making me feel. That swing of the pendulum left me unwilling to lift a hand for awhile, making me--again--more susceptible to others' bullying. It hasn't just come full-circle, I've been around the block a few times on this. But my "conflict resolution style" under stress is still to start looking for nails to hammer. And if I were again put in a position where direct intervention was necessary to the safety of others (as it was twice in six and one-half years with the department in Fort Collins--even as a volunteer chaplain), I believe I would have no problem ensuring the safety of anyone else but me. So, I'll "Amen" your Romans 12, and thank the Lord that He is the superiorest force of all! Thanks, as always, for your thoughtful comment.

Wm. Darius Myers said...

Thanks, Noel. I'll be sure to let you keep your lunch-money next week. :-)

Being in a position of influence and, relatively speaking in my community, financial security (if not "wealth," exactly), the temptation to be the benefactor always lurks behind the desire to handle others' needs just as directly as I would intervene between them and a physical attack. Just put the checkbook between them and the problem, instead of putting me between them and the bully. Same "stooping down" problem in both, I think. And it means that I end up getting between them and Christ as well, preventing them from building trust in Him by allowing them to trust in the provisions and protections I can make available. So many opportunities to try to overcome sin by sin! Thankfully, there is an answer, and it's often fairly clear, to "What would Jesus have me do?" When I answer that, then I can rest in the assurance that "I'm responsible for obedience; He's on the hook for the results and the consequences." Thanks, Noel, for the thoughtful (and laughter-provoking) comment.

Jim Polensky said...

Bill, thank you. You remind me of the Apostle Paul as he wrestles with his sinfulness; that he can't do what he wants to do and does what he doesn't want to do. There is nothing good in me, that is, in my flesh. Wretched man that I am, who will save me...Jesus Christ. I agree with Noel that I love that line that sin never overcomes sin. Jesus showed that as he walked on this earth to free the oppressed. May we remember, like you said, that Jesus died for sinners, His enemies, and we are called to do the same. Thank you so much for your wrestling and it allowed me to wrestle with you.

Wm. Darius Myers said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Wm. Darius Myers said...

Thanks, Jim. I don't remember who I originally stole the idea from, but I've inflicted a particular object lesson on a couple of congregations over the years. "We think of our lives as though they were this hundred-dollar bill. We carry it around with us; but we imagine that at some point Jesus may ask us to come lay it on the altar. We'd like think we're going to be just fine with that, should that day ever come. We know we would choose martyrdom over denying our Savior. But that's not what dying to self means. That's not what carrying around in our bodies the dying of Jesus means. (This is where I pull out the bag of four hundred quarters from under the pulpit and walk down the aisle of the church, passing out handfuls of quarters as I go.) Jesus asks us to take up our cross daily. He asks us to follow Him in paying attention to the needs around us and putting those ahead of our own. He asks us to surrender our lives in service to Him and others every day, a handful at a time." (I used to say "two-bits at a time," but even though our cheerleaders may occasionally yell out "two-bits, four-bits, six-bits, a dollar," no one seems to know what they really mean by that.)

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