The pastoral is geeky, at least.
I’ve had an episode of Star Trek (TNG, for those of you who care) stuck in my head this week. The one in which the Enterprise encounters one of many unknown phenomena: this one washes waves of energy over them which threaten to tear the ship apart. So, of course, they raise their shields.They assume a defensive posture, to safeguard not only the military-esque Starfleet personnel, but their families on board.
It’s human nature to self-protect, and to want to protect our families and loved ones. Even those who would willingly give their own lives for a cause will hesitate, when asked to give the lives of their beloved, their parents, their children. None of us would readily question the need to “raise shields” in moments of danger, real or perceived – most of us would be quite willing to defend first, ask questions later. Safety first.
When one is crouched behind shields, however – whether they are force fields against space, or harsh rhetoric, or physical barriers – everyone on the other side is going to look like an enemy.
Jesus, facing those who had come to arrest him, rebuked the disciple who drew his sword. And we nod wisely, when we read the end of Matthew 26: of course we shouldn’t attack, meet violence with violence. But I don’t think we question why there was a sword: of course it’s right to be ready for whatever comes. Of course it’s wise to defend ourselves.
And so we miss the point.
The current administration, facing the threat or perception of violence, draws its proverbial sword and raises its shields. All in the name, not of promoting violence, but of defending ourselves. And those who read Matthew with us in our pews, those who admire the crew of the Enterprise in their moment of crisis, question only the methods, not the impulse of defense.
But perhaps we should.
Because it’s a TV show with a very discreet story arc, the folks on Star Trek figured out (in the nick of time!) that the more power they poured into their shields, the stronger the phenomena became, until it nearly destroyed them. At the crisis moment, the answer was to drop the shields, to remove the barrier.
Jesus, facing his own arrest, not only rebuked the sword-wielding disciple, but warned the entire group: who relies on the sword will perish by it.
In this time of deep anxiety and anger, many Christians are – I believe rightly – calling out policies that scapegoat certain groups entirely. But perhaps it’s time to take a step further back, beyond even the current administration, and question the underlying assumptions that put swords in our hands, and shields up: the assumptions that defensiveness will keep us safe; that the threat of violence will deter violence.
It is a risky posture, to lower our defenses when the world around us feels so violent, when reports of attacks and violence flow daily through our newsfeeds. It leaves us vulnerable – and harder still, it leaves our loved ones vulnerable. As vulnerable as the children in Aleppo. As vulnerable as a group of church folk at Bible Study. As vulnerable as Jesus when he left Gethsemane.
As vulnerable as the person who sees before them, not an enemy, but a human being.
As vulnerable as the person who relies, not on the sword, not on barriers, not on exclusion and the expectation of violence, but on the possibility of love, and compassion, and vulnerability.
Our scriptures do not tell us that love will keep us safe. Mary, weeping at the foot of the cross, may well have wished that the disciple had ignored Jesus’ injunction. Our scriptures simply point us on the ways of death, and the ways of life; the ways of this world, and the ways of the realm of God.
And our scriptures tell us not to fear.
Not to grab for our swords. Not to put up our shields. Not to see anyone as inherently enemy, inherently “other.” Not to go on the defensive.
Not to fear. Even when the cross is looming before us.
Not to fear. Even when our place of comfort seems to be coming apart.
Put away your sword. Drop your shields.
Make it so.
Rev. Eliza Buchakjian-Tweedy is Senior Pastor of First Church Congregational, UCC, in Rochester NH. She blogs at sermonizing.wordpress.com.
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