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Gary's Faith Walk

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Violence begets violence... again

"Give me wisdom and knowledge…" answered Solomon to the Lord’s offer of any gift for the young king. Wisdom and knowledge—two blessings which we could all use a little more of this fall.

Days ago I returned from my most recent trip to Russia, Ukraine, Poland and Hungary. In the twin capitals of Moscow and St. Petersburg, every conversation with church leaders was colored by the impact of the "August war" which erupted between Russia and Georgia. The outline is simple: long-simmering ethnic tensions, a precipitous military action by the Georgians, an overwhelming military response by the Russians, two pieces of Georgia now self-declared independent "states" protected by occupying Russian troops, and the lowest point of U.S.-Russian relations since the end of the Cold War. This is the outline of the military and political drama played out weeks ago in the Caucasus.

The rest of the story, however, deals with burned villages, bombed cities, thousands of ethnic Georgians and Ossetians displaced to squalid conditions far away from their homes. As always seems to be the case in our modern age, it is the victims (many of whom are the elderly, the infirm, and the children) who suffer most from the violence wrought by armies pushed forward by breast-beating national leaders.

The lesson reaffirmed for me in this ugly episode is truly that "violence begets violence." Simmering hatred stoked by rhetoric and the ambition of political leaders spills over into attacks against "the other." The recently attacked respond in kind, then escalate the violence. Soldiers and civilians die, communities are destroyed, victims suffer, and the young on both sides are taught to hate and seek revenge. The cycle continues. Indeed, "violence begets violence."

Amidst the nightmare, I learned of the response of faithful Christians to the Georgian crisis. Members of the Russian Orthodox Church sped food, hygiene kits, and much more to refugees who had fled into Russia. Members of the Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists collected clothing, diapers, food and other supplies driving the supplies from as far away as St. Petersburg to the Caucasus area. Members of the Moscow Protestant Chaplaincy took a special offering dedicated to providing vitamins to nursing mothers displaced by the violence. Churches from around the world channeled monetary support for refugee assistance in both Georgia and southern Russia. Reconciliation is a long way off, but love and care for the victims is a step toward a better future.

Now back in the North Country, I am forced to ask, "Are there lessons from this international crisis which I can apply to my life here?" If we as humans are so conditioned to respond to violence with more violence, are there simple things open to me in my faith walk which may break the cycle? Am I called to reach out to the murder suspect confined in the country jail? Am I called to offer more assistance to the food bank where families in need have been caught up in the violence of an economic crash? Am I called to engage in restoring a part of God’s creation set upon by the forces of unwise development and gated communities? Is this the time to volunteer as part of a work team to journey to Texas in response to the violence of Hurricane Ike and the lives damaged in the storm?

Ancient King Solomon asked for wisdom and knowledge. The gift of wisdom suggests that violence need not necessarily be met by violence. When the body of Christ joins together we can break the cycle through prayer, love, and acts of kindness.

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Gary Payton Gary Payton is on a Faith Walk that takes him to Russia, Eastern Europe and Sandpoint, Idaho

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