Ways to Erode the Cycle of Violence
By Neil Earle
Evelyne O’Callaghan-Burkhard is an Irish-based Chapter Leader for the Office of Reconciliation and Mediation in California. She is a well-travelled nurse to some of the world’s heart-breaking trouble spots, a lecturer on dealing with violence and a workshop presenter.
A few years ago she presented a lecture at Glendora Friends Church in Southern California which spoke to all people concerned about the practical how-to’s of implementing the timeless teaching to love our neighbor. It can speak to us today as we still wrestle with the implications of gun violence in the United States.
What is it that blocks the fulfillment of Christ’s most elementary commandment? In an age of arms buildups, trade wars, nightly homicides and extreme religious tension and personalized violence Evelyne showed how unresolved feelings and unmet needs set us up for feeding a cycle of violence.
Created for Love
“The creation account in Genesis shows we are made in God’s image,” Evelyne began. “We human beings have a built-in capacity for love and relationships, indeed we are created for relationships, but very early we read that pride, rebellion and selfishness short-circuited communications between the first man and woman and with God. Genesis 4 records the first murder.”
Murder, violence and other destructive acts often flow from bitterness and resentment, says Evelyne, “chewing the cud,” stewing over real or imagined wrongs. This is amply demonstrated in another example of failed relationships, the story of Joseph and his brothers. Genesis 37:2-4 mentions the timeless issue of sibling rivalry. “Joseph was given favor and acceptance by his father which led to competition, jealousy, a desire for retaliation and ultimate violence against him. Often the answer to the victimizing we feel is to go for CONTROL, seeing the Other as the enemy, seeing them as an object and ultimately perpetrating violence against them.”
Evelyne saw this cycle at work in her time in Rwanda. “There was the colonial period which led the colonizers, and even Christian churches, to play off the ethnic groups amongst themselves. This only enhanced latent tribal rivalries after independence which ultimately led [after political failures to reconcile] to each one wanting to display power against the other. Many dictators take this route: When I didn’t know who I am or my feelings are not acknowledged I use frustrated feelings to seek power over others.”
In our day and age with the unintentional cooperation of films and media we get seduced to thinking power comes from the barrel of a gun, or a knife, or even a truck.
The history of the 20th century was too often a recurring series of groups seeking power at the expense of others to feel significant: India, Korea, Biafra, Cambodia, Darfur, Somalia. One root source of a solution is, says Evelyne, answering the questions: “Who am I? What makes me, me?”
This is the well-known problem of identity. One’s identity has many sources, Evelyne argues. Tennyson wrote: “I am a part of all that I have met.” In Evelyne’s reconstruction: “We are each of us affected by our nation, our church, our neighborhood, our group, our personality, our jobs, our public and private selves, from hidden wounds, from unresolved emotions. Our vision of the world is ultimately affected by all these factors and more.”
All too often, the reality is that we see the world only through these filters. “Our perceptions shape our view of the world. It’s so easy to focus on our anger and our feelings instead of what we know to be our true reality, that we are made in God’s image, that we are made for relationships. This is because what we ‘know’ to be true cannot override our feelings and experiences. A person can say, ‘I know God is love but I can’t get past my feelings.’”
This was confirmed by a visiting psychologist at a Glendora Ministerial Association meeting in answering why so many mass shooters are youngish men. She replied that much of it seems to trace to the fact that perpetrators had never been trained to accept rejection in a mature way. They haven’t been “civilized” out of immature responses that become breeding grounds for more serious reactions. As has been well-documented, the self-discipline and maturity that once emanated consistently from families, churches and schools has been undermined across the decades. The institutions we depend on for true education are much weaker than they once were in their task of passing on values and maturity. We could have almost expected the loosening of civilizing elements to have costly results on society.
At the end of his 1962 novel, The Reivers, author William Faulkner has the grandfather figure admonish his 11-year-old grandson Lucius (after four days sowing wild oats) that it was time to pick himself up from his tearing sense of failure, shame and guilt. “A gentleman can live through anything,” Faulkner has the grandfather say, “He faces anything. A gentleman accepts the responsibility of his actions and bears the burden of their consequences even when he did not himself instigate them but only acquiesced to them…”
This heartfelt advice makes a warm ending to Faulkner’s poignant tale of growing up.
What is Central?
To all of this Evelyne O’Callaghan-Burkhard adds: Fear is the great inhibitor. Fear cripples. Fear prevents us from going beyond our feelings. It makes us afraid to risk, to risk love and to create loving relationships. “Our purpose in life is to find significance in Jesus and in his love. We become part of the intimacy, the love that exists between the Father and the Son, as it says in John 14:23, ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word; and My Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’”
Fear and its allies shame and guilt and other unwholesome emotions blocks all true intimacy. Evelyne the Christian counselor urges her audiences to focus on Christ as the center of our lives. “Christ is perfect love, holiness and justice. Perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). A focus on Him reminds us of his promise that we will receive all we need, that we will be filled. As he said, ‘He who believes in me, as the Scripture has said, out of his innermost being will flow rivers of living water’” (John 7:38).
God meets our needs and that in turn inspires us to serve God and neighbor in loving actions. “This is the kind of intimacy that bears fruit,” concludes Evelyn. It also counteracts the hollow emptiness we feel when things aren’t going right which in turn tempts us to lash out in the living room, the board room and the cabinet room and turns us toward dark behavior as compensation.
Hearing Evelyne’s presentation caused some in her audience to remember and model this wisdom. A housewife and grand-mother commented: “On behalf of those who have to raise little grand-daughters burdened with their own fears, I wish I could hear that message all over again.” A Korean specialist living in Los Angeles, remarked: “Evelyne really got to the root causes of so many of our present distresses – national and individual. I wish everyone could have heard that talk.”
Amen, and if you like her message pass it on.