Scorched Earth

I was thinking about a man I know. He’s a bully and on a scale of one to ten, he’s a solid ten jerk. You know him too.

He’s been married four times. Has many, many children—mostly boys. And now his children are having children and carrying on their dad’s tradition of being irresponsible fathers.

This man is marching through life burning everything in his path. His reach and influence are deadening to those in his inner circle, maddening to those of us sitting a few rings out—and legendary in the community. This man’s thousands of twins (including his brothers in the NFL) have the same impact.

© photo by Johsel Namkung
© photo by Johsel Namkung

I’m tempted to focus on the amazing resilience of this man’s families and the others he has impacted, and broaden that to the resilience of the human body and spirit. After all, what happens after a fire? The wildflowers sprout and the trees re-emerge. Right?

But I’m not going there.

Life calls upon us to be resilient enough with unavoidable  illness, loss, and death. What I’m calling out is all the avoidable illness, loss, and death. All the damage done by bullies, rapists, batterers is damage of their own making—it is all under their control and therefore they can prevent it from happening. So, why don’t they?

In trying to make some sense out of this, I revisited a “fireside chat” that my boss Nan Stoops gave earlier this year. It’s long, but if you skip to 16:30 you get to the meat of a pretty darned brilliant commentary that sheds some light on why the bully in my circle keeps on destroying.

Briefly, I believe Nan’s view is that for better or worse, the gigantic movement of mostly women working to end violence against women developed ideas that focused on women’s victimization, and not on men’s violence. And we placed the responsibility for ending violence on individuals and families, not on communities.

Imagine what would have happened if my bully was required to go to a shelter, rather than his wives and children fleeing. What if rather than putting him in jail, we had every institution guide—and if necessary shame—him when he behaved in arrogant and mean ways? What if everyone, everywhere just said “don’t talk to her that way.” And “How about you join this group and take this class on being a great dad?” What if my bully had to answer for himself over and over again?

True grit meets beloved community

I’m just back from our smashingly successful annual conference, entitled Beloved Community. We had a great vibe—lots of joyful tears and laughter—new ideas and thoughtful conversation. 2012 might have been our best conference so far.

Buried in the stack of junk mail when I walk in my front door is a thank you card from my neighbor for her birthday present, and a long thin envelope. From the minister of my church. Explaining the church’s position on, and the current status of, our music director who is under investigation for possession of child pornography.

Nothing like going from all the warm fuzzies of beloved community to the true grit—where the rubber meets the bumpy beloved boulevard.

Me personally? I have men in my life who have perpetrated horrid acts. And I struggled for years to figure out where to put John (my brother-in-law/murderer) and Joel (my long-time-and-still-good-friend/pedophile) in my world view. And, more importantly, in my heart. I bet anything that you too have people you care about who have done terrible things.

Let’s face it. We do not have a sophisticated way of dealing with this. And I am NOT talking about a criminal justice response—or rather ONLY a criminal justice response.

Beloved community calls upon us all to respond in a much broader assortment of ways—to every street harasser, rapist, and batterer—whether the criminal justice system ever touches them or not. To be kind, assertive, and persistent. To see it through until the victim is made as whole as possible, and only then attending to the perpetrator and seeing that he is made as whole as possible too.

Beloved community can be messy and demanding. So I guess we’re just going to have to roll up our sleeves and get to work.