by Allen Snell
I am the most violent pacifist I know. I might not be the sign waving, tree hugging type to spend my life protesting all militant actions, but my beliefs system hovers right around there. I think it has something to do with my usual oversimplification of Jesus’ words. So when he tells us to love one another, I somewhere made the connection that this meant not shooting them. Perhaps if other hippies didn’t smell so bad or if I thought it would make any difference at all, I could have been one of them, but I’m content with God’s direction for my life so far.
Still, I’m almost embarrassed at how much a “pacifist” like myself enjoys a good fight. When it comes to action movies, the more guns and gore, the better. If you get hurt, I will more than likely giggle. Fight Club remains to this day a message that touches the soul, and to make things worse, my hall in college started a regular activity called “knife fights.” We would take a harmless prop to serve as our substitute knife and from there two men at a time struggle to take control of the knife and kill the other. I have watched, fought, and endorsed this event at every chance. I don’t know if it’s some masculine gland controlling my perspective on life, but I enjoy violence entirely too much to make sense of my ethical stance on the matter.
Take this very afternoon for instance. After a terrible three hours of sleep, I was unable to motivate myself to get up for church this morning. Five hours later, however, I bounced right out of bed filled with enthusiasm—today was paintball day. I have no idea what allures me to play such a game with super-compressed CO2 tanks, semi-automatic rifles, and miniatures spheres of pain-wielding paint. I have no idea why I would choose this absurd sport over eternally significant options on a Sunday. I have no idea why I would spend $35 to do all of this.
But I did it, and I loved it. With an overcast sky above us, we sprinted, crawled, and slid our way through the dirt, hiding behind inflated bunkers as our only hope of survival. We hurled round after round at any open target, moved from base to base in hopes of tagging the enemy in the back where it stings the most. We had no need for purpose. You were simply the other team, and thus you deserved to get shot and lose. We had no use for grace. The weak would find themselves targeted just as naturally as the strong. Aside from all the basic safety rules, the highest code of conduct is survival, and to do that, you had to kill.
This may all sound over-dramatic, but if you had to listen to our post-game war stories (which we could tell for hours), you would understand just how real it felt. Since it was only my second time ever playing, I only pulled out about 5 or 6 kills for the day, a number not that impressive for the 10 games we played. Still, it was enough to have some pretty glorious moments. The most memorable of the day, however, came in my greatest moment of defeat. Allow me to illustrate the playing field for you.
|— |<(2 foot wall)
|— |<(4 foot wall)
|— |<(2 foot wall)
Now point A illustrates the destination in the far right, center of the field I sprinted toward from the opening break of the round. So while this is a long, gutsy run, it would normally be a great position to control much of the center field. That is, except for the presence of point B. Point B represents the destination of Keeler, the best player on their team, only a few feet in front of me. We both knew the ugly situation, and even other players realized this was probably going to end in blood or tears. From that position, there isn’t much you can do until the heavy fire of the round slows down, so the idea is to lay there in complete silence and wait for your chance to pop up and make some crucial shots (especially if their short-term memories forgot your deadly presence). Unfortunately, my team was outnumbered and outgunned, and by the time I could safely poke my head up to rattle off a few rounds, my team had dwindled down to myself and one other guy on the base just to my left. Since my teammate seemed to be drawing most of the fire, I started popping up and taking quick shots as much as I could, knowing we had to do something quick to stop the four remaining guys on their team from annihilating us. I kept taking those quick-look shots, but I just didn’t have the aim to peg either of the guys within sight of my position. Eventually came the fateful shot. I rose to release a few more rounds, knowing I didn’t have much ammo left, but my opponents knew something that I did not. My last teammate had fallen, and without his cover fire, all barrels trained on me.
Do you remember the predicament with the much more experienced marksman only a few feet in front of me? Well without anyone else to keep him down, he rose to his feet and pointed his barrel right at my bunker, donning the duty as my executor. So as I rose like every time before to take my shot, I was very quickly met with a nearly point-blank shell to the facemask, exploding right over my mouth and splattering through the slits so that I could both feel the imminent pain and taste the disgusting orange liquid. Keeler apologized for the incident, especially when he saw my swollen lip. But I couldn’t dare be mad at him; I would have done the very same to him.
The thrill of the game kept me returning every round for more punishment, yet behind the thrill was a fear that could warp you. Every time you sprinted to your bunker, sweaty palms and a dry throat hit you worse than any silly paint assault. And for me, while I laid face-down in a bunker within whispering distance of my worst enemy, I shook like a leaf. At that moment I would have given anything to have God transport me anywhere else in time or space, anything to have our game ended by an influx of dust-storm, hail, tornado, or plague of locusts. The terror and trembling in my hands called out to turn my gun into a garden-hoe. I am not the first to desire such a place.
The Message Isaiah got regarding Judah and Jerusalem: There’s a day coming when the mountain of God’s House
Will be The Mountain—
solid, towering over all mountains.
All nations will river toward it,
people from all over set out for it.
They’ll say, “Come,
let’s climb God’s Mountain,
go to the House of the God of Jacob.
He’ll show us the way he works
so we can live the way we’re made.”
Zion’s the source of the revelation.
God’s Message comes from Jerusalem.
He’ll settle things fairly between nations.
He’ll make things right between many peoples.
They’ll turn their swords into shovels,
their spears into hoes.
No more will nation fight nation;
they won’t play war anymore.
Come, family of Jacob,
let’s live in the light of God.
I have spent year after year in my life holding the heavy weight of the shovel, wishing it were a sword, hoping for a chance at heroism and greatness. Twenty years I have waited and prayed for God to turn the heavy labor of my shovel into the epic majesty of a sword. It took a silly war scenario of paintball to make me miss the shovel.
I have to admit, most of our imagery of heaven bores me. In fact, it’s not just the heavenly imagery that bores me—it’s all our talk of the kingdom we long for. I have lived a marvelously sheltered life, and I cannot imagine a perfect world without excitement on every corner and the thrill of adventure, only possible by the terror of risk. These are the musings of a naïve little knight in shining corduroy. I am the minority. When Isaiah conveys this message of climbing God’s mountain, I think he speaks to the heart of many more of us. And by the time my life is through, I imagine I will long for such a mountain of God, where God settles things fairly, turns our swords into shovels and spears into hoes. I will look forward to comfort rather than conflict. I am, after all, a pacifist, albeit a terrible one.
Still there is one part I do not have to wait to appreciate, one passage of this verse that I can enjoy even now while my youthful vigor propels me to the adventurous side of life. God promises, “No more will nation fight nation; they won’t play war anymore. Come, family of Jacob, let’s live in the light of God.” After spending just one day actually playing war, I don’t think my fragile construction can handle the battlefield, and I realize that I don’t have to find my thrill and adventure at the cost of another man’s life. So I pray God hastens the day he makes things right, and forever turns our guns (even paintball guns) into garden-hoes.
Allen Snell is a graduate of Johnson University and a worship leader/novelist by day. And by night . . . well Gotham isn’t going to protect itself, is it? http://www.youtube.com/BarrelofJesus