Sunday, May 16, 2010

Hawk or Dove? What Does God Want?


My wife and I just watched the 1986 Jeremy Irons / Robert DeNiro film "The Mission." Very loosely based on history, the movie concerns a mission village established by the Jesuits in 1750s South America. Jeremy Irons is the local head of the Jesuit Order. Robert DeNiro is a slave trader. Jeremy Irons establishes a mission village for the Indians with sovereignty. The mission annoys the heck out of the Portugese, who wish to seize and enslave the Indians, but can't so long as the mission enjoys legal protection. Robert DeNiro, slave trader, nibbles at the edges of the cookie, so to speak, as he regularly endeavors to enrich himself by capturing Indians to enslave around the mission.

But, God has another fate in mind for the Robert DeNiro character. First his girlfriend tells him to take a hike -- and then he catches his own beloved brother in bed with his girlfriend! The brother realizes that the Robert DeNiro character is about to go out and kill someone. So, the brother pursues the Robert DeNiro character into the street, and picks a fight with him so that he will be the one who suffers and dies, and the Robert DeNiro character kills him.

Consumed with guilt, the Robert DeNiro character goes to the cathedral, sits in a room there, refuses to eat and waits to die.

The bishop asks the Jeremy Irons character to intervene. He does, by calling the Robert DeNiro character a coward for not letting him, the Jesuit priest, punish him for his crime. Bent on his own destruction, the Robert DeNiro character takes the bait, and agrees to accept whatever punishment the Jeremy Irons character imposes.

The punishment is this: He has to bag all of his slaving equipment and weapons in a net and drag the ball of material up into the high jungles, crawl up to the Indians whose family members he has killed, injured, kidnapped and enslaved, and beg their pardon.

The journey is torturous. The other Jesuits are shocked at the suffering the punishment entails, and at one point hack away the ropes connecting the slave trader to his impossibly heavy burden. The slave trader himself ties himself to his burden again.

When the group arrives in the Indians' lands, the slave trader crawls up to the Indians, dragging his heavy load behind him, crying. The astonishment of the Indians at this remarkable site knows no bounds, and they burst out laughing. The slave trader offers them his neck. Instead of cutting his neck, they cut the rope connecting him to his slaving equipment, and forgive him. Not only does he begin serving the Indians in the mission, but he becomes a Jesuit priest!

That new status quo becomes the setting for the main story. The Portugese demand that the papacy surrender its sovereignty over the mission, thus ending the protection of the Indians against the Porugese slavers, or face having the Jesuits expelled from Portugal. The pope sends a legate to South America to decide the case. The legate is shocked at the Jesuits' success in converting the Indians, but he lacks the backbone to oppose the Portugese's extortion.

The legate decides in favor of the Portugese and orders the Jesuits to depart. The Jeremy Irons character resolves to disobey the order, but will oppose the Portugese in a non-violent fashion, only. The Robert DeNiro character resolves to disobey the order, but he renounces his vows of obedience, and with other Jesuits begins to prepare for war on behalf of the Indians.

The Indian men follow and train with the Robert DeNiro character. He leads them into battle against a powerful Portugese force. As the Indians begin to be overwhelmed, the Robert DeNiro character is shot and severely wounded.

But as he lays on the ground dying, he is curious -- how will the Jeremy Irons character do, with his peaceable approach? He watches carefully as the Jeremy Irons character, carrying the Holy Eucharist in procession at the head of a huge group of Indian children, women and old men, leads them toward the Portugese army.

At first the Catholic Portugese soldiers are shocked and confused by the procession of priest, children women and old men walking towards them. But, as the Robert DeNiro character watches, the soldiers fire into the procession, murdering women, little children and then, finally, the priest carrying the Eucharist, so that both approaches had the same result -- death -- except that the violent approach sought to protect the women and children, while the non-violent approach led them peaceably to their deaths.

So, which approach is better?

I have tried the non-violent approach twice. Doing so generated an unforeseen result on both occasions: The enemy to whom I was kind reviled me and hurt me even more BECAUSE I was non-violent and kind!!!

Proverbs at 25:21-22, and Romans 12:20 assure us that if we respond to our enemy's hatred with love, "by doing so you will heap burning coals on his head."

It didn't occur to me, as I read this challenge by the Holy Spirit years ago, that burning coals hurt, and the enemy, as a consequence, responds by hitting harder!!!

In the second case, a Vietnamese woman I helped in extraordinary ways to survive her separation and divorce from her violent husband began to revile me "out of the blue," one day. I saw her on the phone with someone, arguing for about half an hour. I heard her last few words, in English: "Okay, but he's going to be very confused!" Then she laughed and said, "Peter, you're fired as my lawyer." And, over the next few weeks, "Stop calling me by my nickname. We can't be seen together in public. And you can't babysit Nhu anymore."

The woman's sudden reversal, from friendship to raw, abusive hatred, made my head spin. But Nhu was like a daughter to me. Not seeing Nhu was devastating. I loved that little punk, more than my own life.

She did this just as I was about to give her money which I knew she desperately needed. I thought, "Should I? Or, should I retaliate and break my promise?"

I decided in favor of responding to mindless hate and to "evil on the march" with love.

The woman worked in a nail salon. They give manicures and pedicures to men, too. I went in and asked her for a manicure and pedicure. She treated me with cold, silent hatred, as she rendered the requested services. At the end, I tipped her by giving her an envelope stuffed with cash, and left.

While she continued treating me like dog droppings in the gutter, on a second occasion I left her a second envelope stuffed with cash.

We got to see little Nhu again, after Nhu cried for 6 months to be babysat by us. But, the mother took her away again. It has taken me a year just to become functional again after losing my "daughter."

So, in my personal experience just described, I made myself the Jeremy Irons character. The effect was the same thing seen in the movie ... I was "shot and killed." (The Vietnamese woman's kid was, too, like the kids in the movie. I am certain that that little one missed me terribly.) Despite the terrible pain, I am proud that I did what I did. I think that maybe this is the only way to change the world.



  1. Nice reflection on 'The Mission'--my dad purchased it a few years ago, and we've seen it and enjoyed it as well.
    The dilemma they face between the peaceful and violent response is so interesting because it's applicable not only to personal conflicts like yours, but also to larger philosophical issues like the just war theory.

  2. Hi, Phil.

    In our house, I'm normally the conservative hawk while Rise is the liberal dove.

    This time, there was a complete inversion.