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Tuesday, 16 June 2009

shirt #3: Choose Your Weapon

Title: Choose Your Weapon

Design: white illustration and slogan on red

Make: unknown (printed on a Hanes tagless tee)
If you recognise this shirt, tell me who made it so I can credit them.

What you gonna do, punk?

This T-shirt (a gift from my good friends Bryan and Elaine) always raises a little chuckle. It’s a moment of confrontation – who knows what about – and in that moment the two protagonists have a choice. The ‘weapon’ they choose will determine the outcome of the contest. One will win; one will lose.

So what’s it to be? Rock, paper, or scissors?

In recent months I seem to have gone through a number of confrontations. At work one colleague was in a difficult situation and reacted badly, and I copped plenty of flak simply because I sat nearest to them. There was a family disagreement between grown adults that ended in tears. And just a couple of days ago someone in a church situation said something so unfair and untrue that even now, writing this, I still feel irritated.

But what should we do when confrontation is unavoidable? When we’re in that moment. What weapons do we reach for? What will we pull out from behind our back?

There’s a lot of advice in the Bible about pulling the right kind of weapons. For example, “A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.”(Proverbs 15:1) And my all-time favourite: “If your enemy is hungry, give him food to eat; if he is thirsty, give him water to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head, and the Lord will reward you.”(Proverbs 25:21-22)

The temptation is to lash out. We like to pretend we’d only do so in defence, but let’s be honest, there are times when want to get our retaliation in first! But one of the best weapons according to the ‘wisdom books’ of the Bible is kindness. There’s also a warning too. Being wronged doesn’t give you the right to repay evil for evil. “In your anger, do not sin.” (Ephesians 4:26 – also in Psalm 4:4)

Jesus had a few weapons up his sleeve, which he used to devastating effectiveness. When his opponents used flattery to catch him out, he asked a clever question in return to expose their duplicity (Luke 20:21-23). When the Pharisees declared him to be demon-possessed he used ruthless logic to counter their accusations (Matthew 12:24-25). He quoted Scripture when the devil sought to beguile him (Matthew 4:4,7 &10). He used a home-made whip to drive the money-changers from the Temple (John 2:15).

But the times when he could have drawn the biggest weapons of all were the times he chose not to. He refused to perform miracles for the amusement of Herod, or even talk to him (Luke 23: 8-10). When he spoke to Pilate, he made the treasonous statements that a) all Pilate’s authority came from Yahweh, not from the god Caesar (John 19:11) and that b) he was the King of the Jews as he was accused of being (Luke 23:3). Those statements sealed his death warrant when other words could have helped him walk free.

Jesus refrained from using the other ‘weapons’ at his disposal. In his divinity he had the rock to blunt the scissors, the paper to wrap the rock, the scissors to cut the paper and yet he chose not to.

This isn’t meant to be a homily on non-violence, because active ‘non-violence’ itself is actually a weapon, which you have to choose to use. It’s a weapon that breaks the will of the oppressor. There are many stories of people in authority whose will is broken when they are forced to move against the forcibly non-violent. Police officers who disobey orders to turn on the water cannon. Soldiers who ‘shoot to miss’ in the firing squad.

Most of us aren’t in such a literal firing line. In every day life the right weapon is important, however hard it is to use it. I know how hard it is to give a gentle answer instead of a harsh word when someone writes a curt and utterly rude email. I also know the shame felt by a person who is shown kindness when what they really deserve is a good kick up the backside. ‘Burning coals’ is a good analogy for how your face feels if it happens to you. Trust me.

Bigger and badder weapons don’t work against each other. We’ve had a nuclear arms race and no one really came in first. The beauty of rock, paper, scissors is there is no one thing that beats everything else. Rock can beat scissors can beat paper. If both people draw the same then neither wins. You have to use something different.

In life, sometimes that means finding the third way. Instead of riding the segregated buses, or burning them, can you walk to work instead? Can you turn the other cheek and invite the punch of an equal rather than the slap of a master?

The reason kindness is such a devastating weapon to use is simply that nine tenths of the time it’s the one no one expects you to choose. And, if you both do choose kindness to fight your battles with, then that’s the only time that having the same weapon means you both win.

I’ve just got to remember that.


  1. Suggestion for t-shirt 4: 'I wanna still be running when the sand runs out'

  2. Oh - the credit goes to Rascal Flatts (you need to have seen the Hannah Montana movie to appreciate this...)


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