I have had the occasion to spend the better part of two days in the company of 35 other clergy as we were taken through the Red Cross Violence Prevention program.  I certainly understand that this compulsory training is part of the Church’s attempt to make a strong gesture of taking its own violence as seriously as any secular organization like Hockey Canada or the Boy Scouts of Canada do.

But how do we actually prevent violence?

The Red Cross program, as I experienced it, focuses on recognizing vulnerable groups of people, assessing the organizational environment for risk, and creating policies and codes of conduct that are presented to all who might have significant contact with the vulnerable demographics.  But nothing I experienced convinced me that this incredible output of human energy and resources was actually reducing the level of violence in the world.  I am willing to entertain the possibility that such measures might reduce the level of violence within a particular organization but it seems to me that the Church cannot be satisfied with this approach.  The Church is concerned with the very roots and source of the human propensity to violence.  The word we use is “sin.”

Richard Rohr has furnished one of the most compelling and pithy insights of our time:  Pain that is not transformed is transmitted.  Policies, codes of conduct, volunteer screenings, do not, in the end, transform pain.  They can certainly deflect it but they cannot transform it and so that pain will circle until it finds a more vulnerable place to land.  The existence of violence is not a chaos that can be dissolved by better policies or more comprehensive screening tests.  Its only solvent is the love that conquers death: the revelation of our crucified and risen Lord.

Jesus’ crucifixion reveals to the world that the system of rivalry fed by our fears of scarcity is utterly bankrupt.  God is revealed once and for all to be on the side of the innocent.  Might is not right, the Kingdom of God is one in which the meek shall inherit the earth.  The cross is the ultimate unitive vision which beckons us forward to a vision of reconciliation where the categories of perpetrator and victim are cut through and transcended by the proclamation of our common humanity.

Violence is a spiritual, rather than organizational, problem.  The secular world, it seems, admits it has no tools to deal with violence on any sort of deep level.  Instead we invest in the clumsy, heavy-handed, blunt instruments of state-sanctioned force (police and prisons) and bureaucratic policy shields to try and deflect the violence away from us; but the volume of violence remains unchanged as the pain that underlies it is transmitted from person to person, group to group, nation to nation, over and over again without ceasing.

Jesus, I believe, came to understand this and “set his face toward Jerusalem” to do the only thing that puts a spoke in the wheels of the vicious circle…instead of running away he walked right into it with open arms.  The paradox of the Great Transformation is shrouded in mists our rational minds cannot calculate.  But it is a mystery as old as the earth: out of death comes life.  We must align ourselves with the Spirit of the One who walked toward death and therefore defeated it. Perhaps you have sung the Easter Trope:

“Christ is risen from the dead
Trampling down death by death
And on those in the tomb bestowing life!”

How do we set our faces toward Jerusalem?  How to we embrace the pain and violence that comes into our life in a way that means it will stop with us rather than be transmitted onward?  How do we follow Jesus to the cross?

These are difficult questions.  They have also been used to manipulate and shame people – is there a greater blasphemy when the cross of Christ is turned around and used as a sword to wound others?  But I am convinced they are questions we must ask ourselves as followers of Jesus: For he did not regard equality with God as something to be grasped but emptied himself, becoming human, and humbled himself in obedience to death, even death on a cross. (cf. Phil 2:5-11)

Trying to manage violence is all well and good but I am much more interested in transforming it.