Al Humphrey was a tall, gangly, pretty unattractive guy in 9th grade. He had thin hair, big ears and was fairly clumsy. In short, he was the perfect target for the bullies of 9th grade. Even his name was enough to bring out ridicule and be called, “Big Al,” or “Humphrey the Camel.” And it wasn’t just now and then that he was picked on. It was all the time. All the time, from the moment he got on the bus to go to school, through every class period, and back on the bus for the ride home. At almost every turn, he was treated with derision and threats. Of course, the rest of us were driven away from any relationship with him, since the horrible 9th grade culture meant that if you were friends with a target, you became a target yourself. Just an aside: in a majority of cases, most 9th graders should be shipped off to a deserted island, at least until they are juniors.
So, day after day, Al suffered as the target of slurs, and books knocked out of his hands – you can imagine that gym class was the absolute worst, since given our gym teacher’s preference for the strong bullies, Al – and the rest of us – were helpless. There was nowhere for him to find refuge or peace, except for the fact that he was very smart, and somehow resilient enough to withstand the daily assaults.
One day, one of the chief bullies, a thick-necked brute named Steve Kother, decided to escalate the bullying. Everyone watched as he followed Al down the hall, mimicking his gawky walk, and then he began to verbally abuse Al, and then started pushing him, at first just a little jostle, and then more and more. Al did his best to ignore him. Steve knocked his books out of his hand, and as Al bent down to pick them up, the bully shoved the poor guy as hard as possible into the lockers, face first. Kother walked on without consequence.
A few of us meekly went over to help Al get his books, and then noticed the welt on his face, and his bloody nose. All he said to us was, “Thank you for your help.” He then continued walking down the hall, but not as a victim. He was seen by so many at that moment as almost noble, and stronger than anyone else in the school. He defeated the bully, without raising a single finger.
That story is a flashback for me, as I think this morning about our country bound up in violence on all sides. It is just wrong. Violence from any course, any persuasion, or even the result of any slight or injustice is still horribly, terribly, stupidly wrong. These past months, most of us have stood on the sidelines and watched bullying and violence, and then the reaction of equal or worse violence, much against innocents. As I have watched it, day after day, hearing the reports, I can only think that all of this, from any “side” you may choose, is never justified. We have seen brutality, and then riots, and then a sense of injustice, and then more violence. You see, all of that – every time – is a thoughtless reaction to what someone else has done. Now, I don’t know what motivated Steve Kother to bully Al, but somehow, he felt justified, or enjoyed the power that came from those actions. But it is wrong. It is wrong to misuse the power you have to inflict pain or any sense of oppression on another person. It is also wrong to gather up your supposedly justified sense of being treated unjustly or of being a victim, and use that reaction to inflict pain or destruction in any other person’s life. It is frankly never justified. I don’t care the context, and I don’t care the history or the action that invited the reaction – I believe in my heart that whenever violence occurs, it is wrong, and it only comes to the surface in accidental lives that somehow think that because they can, they should.
I know this isn’t a very fun column today, but so much about today, and the months past has not been very fun for our nation, and our culture. Those have all been accidental actions, instigated without an intentional or response-able mindset. When I rage about something, it’s because it “feels good,” and gives me a sense of power when I would otherwise feel powerless. That’s not living an intentional life – that is living the worst possible choice of a life, and I should first be pitied, and then stopped from whatever reaction I want to undertake.
Also be sure – sometimes violence is more that physical. When persons or groups or sides choose to act in ways that are not honest or open, that too is violence against our relationships. When I cheat or threaten or do whatever I can to get my own way, whether it is the right way or not for all of us, then I have committed violence.
So, as you read about our country and our world today, do so not from any “side,” but do so asking the question: Is what is happening the most truthful, most intentional, most peaceable, and most loving path forward for all of us? If the answer is no, then that can and should become the basis for our prayer this day as God’s people.
Word for the day: intentional. Thought it was about time we defined this one. Pronounced in-TEN-shun-all, the word is of course of French and before that, Latin roots. We can look at intention, and intent, and intend, all from the same word: intendere means “to stretch out, to lean toward, to strain in the effort of something.” When I “intend” or act intentionally, I “strain” with all my mind and heart to do that very thing. I don’t just idly react – I stretch out all that I am to “intend” the best I can, in whatever situation I find myself in. Of course, if I “intend” evil in my life, that is the worst use of that word, because it means I give all my energy and mindset to try to accomplish the worst I can, instead of the best I am called to be.
After 43 years of ministry, Randy Cross lived his "fourth life" and shared about retirement, living boldly and intentionally in our world. To be sure, there was some North Dakota thrown in.