On Killing, #1 An Introduction

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Last week a friend of mine suggested that I read the book, On Killing: The Psychological Cost of Learning to Kill in War and Society. Her suggestion was based (I think) on my anti violence stance that borders on an anti war stance. I constantly struggle with this issue. She noted that when I lead our congregation in weekly prayer, I continually pray for the day the peace will reign in our world. After noting this she suggested that I might also pray for courage for those who are called to be warriors. In thinking back on this conversation, and on Sunday morning prayer, I am reminded that I often pray for justice, wisdom, peace, healing, and that we (collectively) use the power that we have to make this a better world. I think that underneath all of this is the realization that it takes great courage to work for the common good. We might see or define this courage a bit differently (and that’s a good thing).

I very much valued this discussion and am grateful that two people who see the world through slightly different lenses can engage one another in a healthy conversation that leads to growth for both of us. A hope and prayer that I have is that more of us can find ways to do this.

So, a couple days after our meeting I went to Barnes and Noble and bought the suggested book. Sadly, immediately after purchasing the book I went to lunch, checked the latest news on my phone, and thus learned the news of yet another massacre, this time in Oregon.

I had mentioned to my friend that a book like this could be good for a discussion group. So right now I am going to try to start such a discussion here, on my blog. I will read a chapter and share my thoughts and hopefully those who are interested will share theirs. And maybe, hopefully, I will learn something as will you, if you choose to join me. You can purchase your own copy of the book on Amazon or your local bookstore.

Today I share my observations from the book’s introduction.

First, the author comments that as a society we have an unhealthy relationship with violence and death. He talks about how death is far removed from most peoples experiences. For instance we don’t experience death in the home as in years past. Today death happens in hospitals and nursing homes so we often don’t have an intimate experience with it. While I agree with this observation to a great extent, I am wondering if those who live in the more violent prone neighborhoods of our country would agree with this generalization.

Most of us also do not slaughter our own food. Instead we buy it nicely cut and wrapped in the local supermarket. According to the author we don’t want to get any closer to the real experience of death and many of us go so far as to condemn all killing, even for food or for the elimination of rodents.

At the same time we don’t want to see real death, we seem to glorify violent death in movies, television, video games, and other forms of entertainment. He sees this as very unhealthy for our society. I agree with this assessment and am chagrined at my own desire for non-violence in real life while I choose to watch crime shows and dramas that show an ugly side of human nature. I am very inconsistent and I must come to terms with this.

This book will focus (mainly) on the killing that accompanies war. I am hoping that it will be valuable as a tool to understand the violence the permeates our culture outside of war as well. It’s interesting that the author writes of the need to study this topic. I agree and right now lament the fact that our congress has made it almost impossible to study the subject of handgun violence in our nation. We need to study this.

As a pastor, my interpretive lens is always (hopefully) the grace and forgiveness that we receive through Jesus, who himself died a violent and horrible death. The good news is not found in his death but in his resurrection… in new life. Today (and for many days past) our country is hurting. My prayer is that we all have the strength and courage to look at violence – not as a source of entertainment, but rather as something that needs to be faced so that we can experience new life.

Please join me on this journey

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