17 September 2014

Doing That to Some BODY

by The Late Frank Turk

Hello.

So after I announced that I would be returning from Hiatus, things happened that no one was looking for or could foresee -- and it turns out that one of them was this:
I've had lunch with Darrin Patrick.  Frankly, there are only one or two things in 15 years I have ever seen him do which I would raise an eyebrow to, and I see him as a faithful brother, a leader who smells like the sheep he is serving, and a "friend" in the theological, Blogological and Internetilogocal senses of the word.  He's a loving father, a devoted husband and pastor, and he's the kind of guy Acts29 aspires to produce and nurture.

I like Darrin Patrick.

So for the next few weeks, I'm going to say a few things for the sake of encouraging others on this topic.  I think there's a larger question involved here which I have written about and linked to over and over again since I originally wrote it in 2008.  Clever readers of this blog will see that this post is really a version of that post.

For my money and time, this is only one place to start this discussion.

When Martin Luther King Jr. told us in 1962 that (in his words) "the Negro is still sadly crippled by the manacles of segregation and the chains of discrimination ... on a lonely island of poverty in the midst of a vast ocean of material prosperity," he did not foresee something that is evident today which I am certain would have been on his list of crippling, enslaving, and isolating barriers to freedom.

I think that all of us, as a culture, are utterly desensitized to violence -- particularly, the brutality of gun violence.  It's funny for the comic book guy to have to explain this to you, but maybe I'm the only one who really gets this.  The only people that I know who are actually re-sensitized to it are my friends who have served in the military under fire in hot war zones.  For the rest of us, gun violence is something that we use for entertainment.  We watch the Expendibles, and we play Call of Duty, and maybe we hunt once in a while.  Watching the way men use bullets has somehow translated for us from an unthinkably-final act made necessary only by the worst-intended and least-explicable sorts of aggression into a kind of dramatic device.

You know: Captain America's shield (which is not a gun) is a dramatic device.  There is nothing in the whole (real) world which can do everything that it does -- and the one thing it does most of all is define who has the upper hand.  When Cap has his shield, he has the upper hand and is nearly invincible; when someone else has it, it is a visual cue that Cap is no longer in control.  When someone else carries a fake version of the shield, they are either trying to pay homage or to trade in Cap's rep.

My point being this: somehow we see gun violence exactly like Cap's shield when we try to think about gun violence in this country -- that is, somehow it is only a dramatic device to be used as a rhetorical flourish or a way to advance a plot development, but not the sort of thing which frankly leaves at least one person on the pavement bleeding out painfully in the last minutes of life, and the other changed forever - usually for the worse.

Here's how I know this.  This video exists on YouTube:



I picked that one rather than a rap video only because the dehumanization of the shooter and the target is here so obvious.  Seriously now: the point of it is to make the idea of a bullet which generates shrapnel a thing of beauty and art -- in order to create the idea that this is a kind of dramatic device and not a weapon which anyone can use to spill someone's guts out all over the street or all over a room.  But what we're actually considering in this video is doing that to some BODY for any reason whatsoever.

My point in saying that is not to go on to some pacifistic rant about taking guns away from everyone. I'm not interested in those sorts of comments from other people at all.  The problem really is not that there are so many guns and bullets.  I'm already on record plenty about that.  The problem I am underscoring here is that somehow when we talk about the times when guns are at the center of a controversy, we often speak -- on both sides, mind you -- as if we are talking about exploding watermelons instead of husbands and sons who are on both sides of the barrel.

Look: the first best thing to do if we open up a "theological" or "gospel" discussion about "racism" here is to begin with the obvious first step.  We have to humanize this discussion before we try to theologize the discussion.  Some people will tell you this has it backwards, but those are also people who have never successfully spoken to another human being about anything ever. If we don't humanize the discussion right away when we are discussing the topic of racism -- especially the charge of racism in a police shooting -- what we are actually doing is minimizing the real human toll of events (like the one everyone is so sincere and troubled about in the last few weeks) on real people for the sake of the drama rather than the sake of getting our minds and souls right.  If we are minimizing the human toll, high-brow sounding language about "gospel" and "theology" is forgetting one of its two foundational categories for presenting themselves to anyone about anything.

We don't have to convince God racism is wrong.  We also don't have to convince anyone that God thinks racism is wrong.  The point of trying to talk about theology and racism really turns out to be a discussion about whether or not we are talking about and talking to people who are not worse sinners than ourselves in order to show how God's solution for sinners applies to the situation in question.  You can't do that if they hear you say, in effect, that gun violence is justified because it's done to sinners.

When someone shoots someone else in the street, the person who goes down does not go down bloodlessly.  He doesn't get up again.  It's not a routine thing, as if this is what we do instead of our barbershop quartet.  It's not scored to an epic martial theme.  And in many cases, unlike most of the fight scene in a Marvel movie, it's not always white people taking out white people.  It's often more racially complex than that -- for the most part because there is crime in both white and non-white communities which the police must do something about.  The police go to all communities on crime calls because if they didn't, it would also be called (for good reason) a subtle form of racism.  And when someone goes down like that, someone else has done it, and has to live with it because let's face it: he probably didn't get out of bed intending to do something that terminal today.

So if you are asking TeamPyro -- or specifically, me -- to talk about this subject, my first reaction to the request is this: I'm not going to address this topic as if it was some sort of theological/sociological drama in which it's pretty obvious who the good guys and the bad guys are.  This is a topic about how sinners behave in a real world.  I'm also not going to treat it as if this is an abstract subject -- because in this case, abstraction dehumanizes those we are talking about and leads us to presuppositions which are both unwarranted and unhelpful.  That approach is dehumanizing -- and dehumanization is loveless, thoughtless, and godless.  It forces us to treat someone who is a person as if he was not a person, and is not related to other people.  Most importantly, however, I am definitely not going to tell you what you want to hear.  I am warning you before we get to the meat and potatoes here (or even the drinks before dinner) that I am definitely going to offend you because I am absolutely certain of one thing as I start to gather my thoughts on this subject: you (whoever you are, great or small) are part of the problem in this public discussion, and at least some of your perceptions and opinions are wrong.  You are, after all, a sinner.  Our objective in this discussion ought to be to fight against all the sinful inclinations we have toward other people and deal with them first before accusing them of being or doing something we shouldn't have expected in the first place.

The main take-away from today's post, however, needs to be this: every single time a gun is fired at a person in our nation, a brutal act of violence has been done by one human being to another.  A melon is not exploded; a player is not sent to respawn.  More than one human life is ruined in a bloody and irrevocable way. Unless you can accept that premise and work out your own views by accepting that fact, you really have no business in this discussion at all.

More next week.







26 comments:

Michael said...

Well, Frank, you've got me on the edge of my seat. We have to wait till next Wednesday?!

Jonathan said...

I read this while fiddling with something else, "The point of trying to talk about theology and racism really turns out to be a discussion about whether or not we are talking about and talking to people who are not worse sinners than ourselves in order to show how God's solution for sinners applies to the situation in question." Then I stopped fiddling and read it again. And once more slowly. Excellent.

I'm looking forward to this discussion. Love the way you're framing it.

Daryl said...

This post should be mandatory reading for anyone heading into or currently holding any position of authority anywhere.
I'm heading into a term as and elder in our church this coming year and, as someone who tends to get pretty theoretical at times, it's a helpful reminder that all issues, racial or otherwise, involve people who matter and not simply ideas that are interesting.

Thanks.

the4thdave said...

The whole post, but especially the last paragraph--yes. Well said. I'm looking forward to the next post on this topic.

Frank Turk said...

It's not funny that a serious situation and a serious matter of public policy can turn into a staged drama -- until we see that somebody on each side of the gun is a human being, and both of them are right now changed in a way that nothing except the Gospel can make sense of.

Real People. Real World. Needs Real Jesus.

Next week we're going to dive into this in a way that will require most people to put on shock-proof undergarments.

A Wheeler said...

having seen someone hold somebody at gunpoint and another suffer in the hospital with a bullet lodged in his head for no good reason, your last paragraph sums it wonderfully.

God helps us to open our eyes to truth.

Aaron Snell said...

Welcome back, Frank.

>>I'm also not going to treat it as if this is an abstract subject -- because in this case, abstraction dehumanizes those we are talking about and leads us to presuppositions which are both unwarranted and unhelpful. That approach is dehumanizing -- and dehumanization is loveless, thoughtless, and godless.

Could you give us an example of this, so we know what you're aiming your sights at (sorry about that) as it's fleshed out?

Webster Hunt said...

The dehumanization bit has undone me. I've begun thinking of all the ways that I dehumanize folks. I'm afraid to find out that it's more than I realized at first.

I look forward to your next posts.

Frank Turk said...

Aaron:

"The Police are Racists," is an abstraction which dehumanizes the one guy who has to decide whether or not to use his gun. He's finished at that point with no moral choices.

"Black Men commit more violent crime than any other ethnic group," dehumanizes the fellow stopped by a police officer because this fellow was black. If the content of HIS character is tossed out because of what others have done, his who life is just a waste, deconstructed by a statistic.

Morris Brooks said...

"-- and dehumanization is loveless, thoughtless, and godless." To my thinking, the best point in your post. Dehumanization is exactly where the trajectory of desensitization leads.

The other thought that occurred to me, is that as Christians, our gut-level spiritual response in regards to this arena should begin and end with loving our neighbor as ourselves, which would automatically lead to us treating others as we would have them treat us. This has to be done with the knowledge that non-Christians will not do this, and that Christians will do this imperfectly.

However, since the knife of racism cuts in both directions, the love of neighbor is required, should be expected, and should be manifested by all Christians regardless of ethnicity.

Christians of all colors and stripes battle with stereotypes and certain built in presuppositions regarding those of other ethnicities. These presuppositions would be included in the fortresses, the speculations and lofty things raised up against the knowledge of God in II Corinthians 10:4-5, and can only be overcome with taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ, which brings us back to the command to love our neighbor as ourselves.

In the matter of racism, loving our neighbor as ourselves begins with being sensitive to their condition as someone raised within a different context in our American culture, and this sensitivity, again, should be shown by all races toward the other race. The problem of racism will not be solved in the Christian community until all colors put this command into practice in their dealings with those of other ethnic backgrounds.

I am looking forward to your future posts on this.

TP SockPuppet said...

"You personally" is about to enter a new dimension. I'm just grateful that I have a week to prepare.

Jacob Phillips said...

Very helpful.

LanternBright said...

"When someone else carries a fake version of the shield, they are either trying to pay homage or to trade in Cap's rep."

Suddenly I want to re-read the very first issue of Mark Waid's seminal run on Cap (for what has to be the millionth time). Well-played, Turk.

Frank Turk said...

I was actually thinking of TWS, but that works.

Doug Hibbard said...

This was part of the discussion in our church after the Arkansas law change that allowed concealed weapons in houses of worship. I had a few who were very positive about carrying a weapon--at which point I asked them who, in our small town, they were willing to shoot.

Then pointed out that the most recent threats to folks in our church had come from a young kid--barely a pre-teen.

When you sit in a weapons class and part of the training is that you must think of the "target" as just that, a "target," and not a person, this comes very clear. Violence, whether justified overall or not, involves real people.

And that means mistakes coupled with errors, because everybody involved is capable of it. But when we make it about "targets" rather than people, or "the state" oppressing us rather than people, we will never resolve anything.

At both ends of the bullet (or sword, or arrow), there's a person.

Brad Mason said...

It seems like quite a big statement in and of itself that one must first speak of gun violence before one can begin a discussion about race. I immediately imagine someone being offended by this; and not any of the white people. Can you contextualize this a bit more?

Frank Turk said...

Brad:

do you think anyone cares what you think about racism if you can't admit that one person shooting another person is a horrible and violent act?

c0b00c9a-3383-11e4-b6af-3b9e84c278ab said...

Brad, I actually appreciated your question quite a bit.

But Frank, your answer doesn't really do justice. If one person shooting another person is a (prima facie) horrible and violent act, regardless of the context, presuppositions, and circumstances involved, then why would we rule out caring about someone just because they don't see what we see about the sanctity of human life? Is it not just a subtler form, ie, "Racca"? And somewhat of contradictory to your trajectory for the conversation?

Frank Turk said...

That's fantastic. In fact: it's better than I expected (as the internet usually is). What we get from a post like this one is the perfect examples of what I am talking about -- so perfect in fact that they cannot see it in themselves.

The post starts with this assertion:

[QUOTE]
I think that all of us, as a culture, are utterly desensitized to violence -- particularly, the brutality of gun violence.
[/QUOTE]

The italics added here for those who missed those words when they didn't read the post the first time.

Then it ends with this:

[QUOTE]
The main take-away from today's post, however, needs to be this: every single time a gun is fired at a person in our nation, a brutal act of violence has been done by one human being to another.
[/QUOTE]

Now, I realize that what this means is that I haven't said one word about race yet. Darrin Patrick asked us to talk about race, and the Drunken Master at TeamPyro decides to talk about guns instead. But said DM isn't just saying random nouns and verbs here. He is also saying things like this:

[QUOTE]
we're actually considering in this video is doing that to some BODY for any reason whatsoever.
[/QUOTE]

I actually pulled the title for this piece from that sentence. And then this:

[QUOTE]
the first best thing to do if we open up a "theological" or "gospel" discussion about "racism" here is to begin with the obvious first step. We have to humanize this discussion before we try to theologize the discussion.
[/QUOTE]

And I realize that this means you have to read the whole post and follow its logic, but I did write the whole post. I didn't even post it in a week-long series, but posted this piece of reasoning all in one place.

Of course, maybe the guys poking at me right now are completely unaware of the reason Darrin Patrick asked us to chime in: the death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, MO. Maybe that's the part they don't get -- which is possible I guess. But here's the problem with that kind of generous thinking toward them: my advice still makes more sense than they can fathom.

Listen: I did spend the whole run-up to the end of my hiatus (about 3 weeks) posting some of the greatest things ever written about racism and its solution right here in the Wednesday slot. And both of those excerpts were clear about the foundational perspective for the solution to racism: seeing the ones we are talking to as real people and not merely as components of statistical analysis.

So there's not going to be any further unpacking of the punchline here. If you personally can't understand why you have to see other people as human beings in order to say anything about the Gospel to them, either you don't understand the Gospel, or you don't understand people (which is a subset of misunderstanding the Gospel).

More clearly: if you don't understand the problem of dehumanization in the whole unfolding of the events at Ferguson, you cannot understand how the Gospel can remedy the events at Ferguson. And that is a problem for you and your pastor to resolve. I can't resolve it for you over the internet.

Brad Mason said...

Mr. Turk,

I do not think I or the other commentator are questioning the importance of humanizing the subjects involved. This is a not a race related ethical principle. It is something I feel quite definitely. We are foster parents living in a racially diverse and crime ridden area. We know the subjects intimately, love them, and even understand the potentially life destroying decision the policemen are making in our community daily. None of this is being questioned.

I just can easily imagine one of my neighbors saying, "what? The discussion about race begins with a discussion of gun violence? Isn't that a bit racist?" I wouldn't even say their criticism would be necessarily valid, but I would need more context, which was not found in the post, to convince myself and them.

We are not internet fools thickheaded about humanity and the dignity of those in our neighborhoods or even those on the television.

I honestly do not think I am criticizing or being unfair. But the response was a bit unfair.

Frank Turk said...

Well, ignoring both what I said in my post and what I said in my 2 replies doesn't encourage me to go a third round.

Yes: please talk about guns when someone asks you about racism. That's what I said, and of course that's the only answer that will allow you to preach the Gospel. Thanks for reading.

Frank Turk said...

And before you hustle me for what I just said, remember that I just agreed with Brad. I have conceded his read of my article.

Brad Mason said...

In some ways your post reminds me of this song:

http://www.rapzilla.com/rz/videos/6414-derek-minor-dear-mr-christian-lyric-video-ft-dee-1-a-lecrae

I think it's pretty powerful, but not perfect. It's also rap which I know a lot of folks don't like. But it's similar in spirit: humanizing.

Jose Roberto said...

Hello Frank,

A late post but perhaps one you can address in your upcoming followup.

1) What about "knife violence"? "Tire iron violence"? "Baseball bat violence"? "Fist violence"? What about all and any of these forms of aggression against those less strong, less quick, older, frailer, etc., who would otherwise be unable to defend themselves or their families?

2) Why does 95% of the "gun violence" happen in 2% of US zip codes? [Not a real statistic - anecdotal, but likely about right]. In other words, if it were guns per se that are the problem then one would find an equal distribution of "gun violence" by population; e.g., White Plains NY would have as many shootings per capita as the worst areas of Chicago or Philly. But it doesn't -- how come?

3) "Run if you can. Shoot only if you can't." Yes it's true that any shooting is an act of violence against another, but isn't this justified where the other is trying to inflict violence on you or your family?

4) Are the Michael Browns of the world responsible for their own actions? Did the c-store video show you a nice young man who was on his way to choir practice, or someone who was boiling over and ready to inflict harm on others?

5) You know who really ought to be on trial? Michael's parents.

What say you? To make it personal, would you defend your family (or for that matter a stranger on the street) against a knife attack if all you had was a gun? (Ever seen a knife attack?)

Frank Turk said...

Jose --

to #1, it would behoove you to read the link in my post under the text "written about and linked to over and over again."

to #2, it would behoove you to read the link under the test "on record plenty" in my post.

to #3, I never said that. But I will say this: anyone who can shoot another human being under any circumstances without being changed by it for the worse is probably a sociopath at best. That sort of person probably ought not to be in law enforcement.

to #4, given that I am unclear regarding your ability to humanize the problem we are talking about, I am now also unclear as to whether or not you think that that shooting another real person is a tragic matter. For the sake of this comment, let's say that Brown was in the process of killing Wilson by means of punching and kicking him, and that legally Wilson committed justifiable homicide. Should we have no pity of Brown's family? His friends? Should we really not mourn with those who are mourning, and should we really take no pleasure in the death of the wicked?

to #5, I am now very worried about how you would answer #4 -- because suddenly Michael Brown's parent are now the problem. It looks suspiciously like the same tactic those trying to call all cops "racist" are using by widening the scope of culpability. Reconsider it today, or tomorrow when you read my next post.

And to make this as personal as possible, I resent the implication you are making here that because I think God is serious about mercy and compassion that somehow I would not defend my own family. Shame on you for being that sort of person. Shame on you for using Scripture insufficiently in this matter. Shame on you for making enemies when God is seeking reconciliation -- especially inside the household of God.

Robert said...

I know this is very late (was on vacation as Disney World and am now catching up on reading), but reading some of these comments made me recall something I heard this morning. When we go out into the world to present the Gospel to the lost, we should remember that "we also were once foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy". When we see other sinners out in the world, we need to see that the only thing separating us from the lost is God's mercy and grace. And we should want others to receive the same mercy and grace because there, but for the grace of God, goes each and every one of us.

Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy from God.