shut up and take your shoes off

There’s a funny little story about Jesus found in the book of John that I’ve always found fascinating. It takes place the night before Jesus dies, the night of his arrest, when he’s sharing his last meal with some of his best friends. If you’ll remember, in the middle of dinner, Jesus gets down on his knees to wash his disciples’ feet, which is a responsibility reserved only for the lowliest of servants. I call it a funny story, not because washing (or even touching) another person’s feet is weird, but because a rabbi like Jesus (who happens to also be the Son of God and the savior of the world) would never, ever, ever do something so proletarian.

A lot has been made about what Jesus did and how incongruent the job was to his station. We talk about how, if we really want to be like Christ, we need to be willing to stoop down and wash others’ feet like a truly humble servant. And that’s all fine and good, but there’s another person in the story with whom I resonate more readily (more so than the truly humble servant, unfortunately). That individual is Peter, Jesus’ personal spitfire know-it-all. (Ask my wife. She will tell you I’m a know-it-all as well. That’s probably why I can so easily identify with Peter.)

As Jesus is going around to the other disciples, Peter is flummoxed. In fact, when Jesus reaches out to wash Peter’s feet, Peter first asks Jesus what he’s doing, and then Peter flat out refuses to let Jesus wash his feet.

It’s understandable to me why Peter would refuse. After all, Peter believes that Jesus is the Messiah, the one who has come to rescue Israel from the clutches of the evil Roman Empire through violent, bloody warfare (for confirmation of this, just see what Peter does later that evening). Jesus is a king, not a foot-washer. In Peter’s mind, the two do not overlap in the slightest. Effectively, by refusing to let Jesus wash his feet, Peter tells Jesus who Jesus is allowed to be and what Jesus is allowed to do. Peter thinks he’s got Jesus all figured out, and he’s unwilling to let Jesus diverge from Peter’s understanding of him.

I imagine Jesus rolling his eyes at Peter and then saying, “Dude, shut up and take your shoes off.” Jesus didn’t actually say it that way, of course, especially since Peter probably already had his shoes off. What Jesus actually said (according to the New International Version) was, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” So, yes, it’s not exactly the same thing, but the idea is similar. Basically, Jesus wants Peter to let his conception of who Jesus is be shaped and remolded by Jesus himself.

Peter responds to Jesus by not only agreeing to let his feet be washed, but also by practically demanding that Jesus build him a holy Slip’n’Slide (my interpretation, no one else’s). This is somewhat rare for Peter. Usually when Jesus challenges Peter’s assumptions, it takes Peter awhile to understand and accept the truth that Jesus is trying to convey. But Peter does okay this time. Good job, bud.

A past version of me, however, would probably have had a harder time than Peter did. I’m not talking about this particular scene from the book of John, although I admit I would hate to have anyone try to wash my feet, even if it’s the Son of God. Rather, I’m talking about how that past version of me would have had a difficult time accepting a different understanding of Jesus than the one I held at the time.

Like I said earlier, I’m a bit of a know-it-all, and if I’m a know-it-all now, I was even more so in high school, college, and…well, up until about five seconds ago. I love to be right, and I hate being wrong so much that I’ve been known to fight dirty just for victory in a debate, even if I am obviously wrong. Like Peter, I don’t like to have my beliefs challenged because that means I might be wrong. Like Peter, I like to keep my shoes tied up real tight because I like to believe that I’ve got Jesus all figured out.

When I was in high school, I believed that Jesus may have been willing to die for sinners, but that he did it begrudgingly out of some sort of obligation. Or if not that, I believed that, while Jesus loves sinners in general, he couldn’t possibly love me in particular. And then I started to get an inkling that maybe Jesus really did love me for me, as me, and that he happily died for me because he legitimately wants to have a relationship with me.

But, like Peter, I argued. “No, Jesus. You’re too perfect to love a worm like me. Sure, you died to save sinners, but you couldn’t have possibly wanted to! And me? No, no, no. I’m too far gone, I’ve done too much. I don’t even deserve to be saved.”

Jesus just rolled his eyes and said, “Dude, shut up and take your shoes off.” And then I accepted God’s grace for the first time and gladly drown myself in it on a daily basis.

In college, I struggled to reconcile the Genesis account of creation with the fossil record. A professor introduced me to the concept of a literary framework reading of Genesis, wherein the reader approaches Genesis not as a history textbook, but as a document written to help a people group that had been enslaved for four centuries learn about who their God is. This view neither denies the existence of God and God’s role in creating the world, nor does it deny the scientific evidence for evolution and a universe that is billions of years old.

But I argued. “If I can’t trust the book of Genesis (or at least the creation story) to be historically accurate, how can I trust the Gospels to be accurate? What about Adam and Eve, then? Are you saying none of that happened? Isn’t this view just a little too convenient?”

And Jesus smiled knowingly and said, “Dude, shut up and take your shoes off.” And then I realized that, whether Adam and Eve were real people or whether they were a story used to explain our sinful nature, God can still be God, and Jesus can still be the savior of the world.

Thankfully, in the past year or so, I’ve embraced a “barefoot” approach to faith—meaning that I’m (learning to be) open to Jesus reshaping my understanding of who he is and what he does, allowing him to be both my Lord and my foot-washer. This requires me to admit that I’m wrong sometimes and that I don’t have everything figured out, just like Peter had to do when Jesus revealed that not only is he a king, but that he’s also a servant.

To some (including myself sometimes), this may sound scary and perhaps a bit dangerous. After all, who’s to say that I won’t go too far in my personal reformation of faith, to the point that I’m no longer following the real Jesus? I believe this could be a genuine concern, but I also believe that the nationalistic, homophobic, Republican-voting, legalistic, sinner-hating, young earth creationist, war-mongering Jesus I started out with isn’t the real Jesus either.

Barefoot faith doesn’t mean that I throw my brain out with my tennis shoes. I don’t simply believe everything I hear, and I do my best to listen to competing voices to maintain a balance. Also, I’ve made a point to learn from people who actually know what they’re talking about, not just any idiot with a podcast or a blog (heh, irony). Then, based upon the information I’ve consumed, I use my critical thinking skills (my pride and joy) to come to new conclusions—or, more accurately, a more realistic Jesus.

Through my barefoot faith, Jesus has helped me reexamine the Kingdom of God, pacifism, hell, America as a “Christian nation”, social justice, black lives matter, politics, feminism, the LGBT community, national enemies, the death penalty, power structures, poverty, atonement, doctrine, and, most shockingly, Hillary Clinton and Rob Bell.

I could go on listing things I think about differently than I used to and expound on all the things I believe now that I would have thought were heretical five years ago, but for your sake, I won’t. For some it might be shocking, while for others it might be disappointing. However, I do believe that I am not just shifting back and forth in my beliefs, but that I am actually chasing after the real Jesus.

The growth I’ve experienced in the past few years (most of which, interestingly, has taken place after graduating Bible college) has been substantial and thrilling. My faith has never been stronger, and my excitement about the Kingdom of God has never been greater. And all I had to do was shut up and take my shoes off.

why i might be a nonviolent nonresistant pacifist

Awhile back I read a book that was not very good. If I remember the premise correctly, it’s the story of a dude who wakes up as a hostage of some terrorists and has completely forgotten the last year of his life, and somehow comes to the conclusion that serving America is just as important as serving God. There is one passage I recall in particular in which he talks about turning the other cheek. He says you should always avoid a fight, that is, unless you have no other choice, like if someone’s trying to hurt you or infringe upon your freedom.

At first I thought that made a whole lot of sense. Of course I should be allowed to fight back, especially if someone is doing something wrong! But the more I thought about that and tried to synthesize that with what Jesus said in Matthew 5:39, the less sense it actually started to make. Is it really okay to hurt someone if they’re trying to hurt you or someone else, or have provoked you in some other justifiable way? I mean, Jesus never actually gave any exception clauses to the turning the other cheek rule. All he said on the matter was “blessed are the peacemakers” and “if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also” and “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” That’s it.

This bugged me for awhile because I’m the product of a culture that loves violence, and I gleaned much of my masculinity from violence of some sort. I mean, my favorite movie is Braveheart, I have a black belt in Tae Kwon Do, I could play Skyrim for days on end, and I absolutely love stories about warriors fighting for what’s right. I even approached my faith with a warfare-inspired vocabulary and attitude. But the more I came to believe that Jesus really meant what he said and said what he meant (a Messiah is faithful, one hundred percent), the more I realized how untenable my love of violence really was.

It got difficult for me to look at the things Jesus said in regard to people who mistreat you and who you consider to be your enemies because I was forced to deal with some pretty difficult truths. The root of violent retaliation—even in cases which seem justifiable to most people—is almost always selfishness or, if you prefer something a little nicer, self-defense or self-preservation. However, it becomes very difficult to love your enemies when you are your own primary concern, doesn’t it? So either Jesus had no idea what it was like to have people dislike and mistreat you (and let’s try to remember who was tortured and crucified by his enemies) or he was calling us to some pretty radical stuff. As you have probably guessed, I contend the latter.

I am now at the point where I truly believe Jesus was advocating for nonviolence with no (or at least shockingly few) exceptions or equivocations. I know this is probably an unpopular opinion, but frankly nonviolence just makes sense to me. Our world is already so crippled by violence, and more often than not we seek to heal the wounds caused by violence with even more violence. But if Jesus came to establish an upside-down kingdom, then you would expect him to tell us to just knock it off with the violence already, because it has yet to fix anything and probably never will. See, the intent of violent retaliation is to overcome the initial perpetrator, whereas the intent of nonviolent nonresistance is to overcome the evil deed of violence while still valuing the humanity of the perpetrator. Therefore, violence (generally) burns bridges while nonviolence (ideally) maintains them.

So where did this totally unbiblical (from my point of view) exception clause which allows violence in certain cases come from? How did we get to the point where, as the band Showbread would say, “turn the other cheek succumbs to preemptive strike?” I don’t know for sure, but I have an idea.

As Americans, we hold very dearly to what we perceive to be our God-given rights. We have the right to vote, the right to free speech, the right to bear arms, the right to pursue happiness, the right to religious assembly, the right to personal opinion, the right to get mine and keep mine, and we’ll be damned if anyone tries to take those rights away from us. But when we turn the other cheek—no matter what the circumstances—we have to give up our rights freely, even if it seems wrong or unfair. And I just don’t think we’re comfortable with that. To us, that feels like we’re giving up part of our identity as Americans.

But I think if we’re truly citizens of that upside-down kingdom Jesus came talking about, we’ll gladly give up our rights as Americans so that “thy kingdom come, thy will be done on Earth as it is in heaven.” At this point in my life, I’m ready to do that. The world has already had its fill of violence; I can’t see how my enacting any more will do anyone anywhere any good. I’m desperate for that nonviolent kingdom to get here, and if I want any hope of seeing it, the change has to start with me.

I’m not naïve though. I am well aware that there are some very difficult issues with nonviolence, and I’m sure some of you will have qualms with what I have posited here. Below I will try to preempt some of those qualms with a self-imposed question-and-answer period. I may not be able to answer everything perfectly, but hopefully I will provide some sort of thoughtful rebuttal to sustain a dialogue.

Q: Doesn’t being nonviolent nonresistant make you a sissy?

A: Yeah, maybe. If you think Jesus was a sissy.

Q: So if I’m not supposed to “resist an evil person,” does that mean I should just let someone hit me over and over and over and over? Or should I just stand and watch by while they beat the living daylights out of someone else?

A: I’m going to do what many writers do when asked a difficult question: quote somebody else. I’m going to quote from a blog post by Greg Boyd (the full post can be found here) in which he states:

“We are not to ‘resist an evil person.’ The Greek word here (anthisteimi) does not imply doing nothing. It rather forbids responding in kind to an offense. When an “evil person” uses violence against us or our loved ones, we may certainly do all we can to stop him, except use violence. Refusing to use violence when it’s deemed necessary is of course contrary to common sense. And everything about this passage is contrary to common sense. Yet, this is what makes following Jesus radical, distinctive, beautiful — and profoundly difficult!”

I would also like to provide a personal example here. In my job as a youth mental health case manager, I frequently work with youth who become violent toward myself or others. During those times, I’ve been punched, kicked, bitten, head-butted, scratched, spit on, etc. My job requires that I intervene in these situations, and we are carefully trained in nonviolent crisis intervention to defuse such situations. This allows us to provide safety and teach the child that the violent behavior is unacceptable. For me to respond violently to these situations would be simply unconscionable, but that does not require me to remain passive. Intervention does not require retaliation.

So in answer to this question, no, you don’t have to keep taking abuse after abuse. You don’t have to just do nothing. However, resorting to violence is not the appropriate way to solve the problem either. Yeah, that’s right. You might have to put on your thinking cap and get a little creative.

Q: Does this mean you don’t support our troops?

A. By no means! In fact, I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t for our troops! Both my grandfathers served in the military, my dad served in the military for twenty years, my sister served in the military for like four and a half seconds, and my brother-in-law currently serves in our military. I appreciate everything our servicemen and women have done to protect our nation. While I may not be in favor of everything that has been done during war times—and I am certainly not a fan of war—I do understand that our nation’s leaders and military have acted based upon what they believe to be of the greatest good to our people. I am just grateful that I will never have to be put in a situation where I must make such difficult decisions.

Q: What about if someone broke into your house and was going to shoot your wife and kids?

A. First off, how often does that actually happen? And secondly, for the sake of the cases where this actually has occurred, I would again like to defer to Greg Boyd. He puts it so well in this video that even trying to paraphrase it would do it no proper justice.

Click here to see the video!

Q: Does this mean you want to just let violent people off the hook?

A. Nah, I definitely believe in restorative (not retributive) justice. I just don’t think it’s my job to dish it out, and certainly not to respond violently to violence. That’s like a parent hitting their child to teach the child that it’s not okay to hit people.

Q: How do we stop ISIS then?

A: No idea, dude. Again, I’m glad I’m not the one to make those decisions.

Q: Did you stop watching violent movies and reading books about medieval warfare?

A: Nope. Even though I put little stock in violence as a viable source of healthy conflict resolution, I do think stories of war can be used to teach values such as camaraderie, courage, integrity, and so forth. Plus, movies like 300: Rise of an Empire are just plain awesome.

So that’s that. My intent with this article was not necessarily to sway you over to my line of thinking, but to at least get you thinking about the issue and perhaps start a dialogue about it. After all, I’m still trying to figure everything out for myself as well. That’s why you’ll notice the title of this article is Why I Might Be a Nonviolent Nonresistant Pacifist and not Why I Am a Nonviolent Nonresistant Pacifist. And, like I always say, if you like what I said or absolutely hate it, let me know so we can talk about it.