violence – rotted seed and spoiled fruit

Jesus said, “Put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matthew 26.52).

A great crowd, doing the bidding of the chiefs priests and elders, the established authorities, came to arrest Jesus; a seizure that led to his crucifixion and death. One of his disciples, seeking to protect and to retaliate, drew a sword. Jesus believing, knowing the power of violence to reproduce, bearing like fruit, counseled the sheathing of the sword.

I am reminded of the words of Martin Luther King, Jr. (quoted in a variety of sources); another innocent assassinated:

“Hate begets hate…violence begets violence…”

“The ultimate weakness of violence is that it is a descending spiral…begetting the very thing it seeks to destroy; instead of diminishing evil, it multiplies it.”

“Returning violence for violence multiplies violence, adding deeper darkness to a night already devoid of stars.”

Rioting spiraled in the City of Baltimore in response to the death of Freddie Gray, another black person who experienced the ferocity of law enforcement; arrested for an as yet unspecified crime (looking at a police officer and running?), in the course of which, he suffered a spinal injury, leading to his death. Some, seeking, if not to justify police action (or inaction in failing to provide on the spot medical care for Mr. Gray), to mollify community outrage, cite Mr. Gray’s criminal record; so to infer that he could not be numbered as an innocent. (Truth to tell, as all of us, I believe, in intention and action, word and deed, fall short of whatever standard of goodness we profess or practice; none of us is innocent or, to state it positively[?], we are innocent only by comparative degrees or gradations of our failures.)

My point, simply, profoundly is that the rotted seed of violence, indeed, begets the spoiled fruit of violence.

I lived in Washington, DC, for over a quarter century. Baltimore, less than an hour away by car, is a city I had the privilege and enjoyment of visiting many times. West Baltimore also was home to a number of my wife’s relatives. O’er the years, the stories I heard (and, blessedly, did not experience personally) of police brutality were legion; the agents of law enforcement, by many and almost necessarily, were viewed with circumspection and fear.

I do not condone the violence of rioting and looting, particularly as I believe that some of the instigators of these unlawful actions have come from outside Baltimore, taking advantage of the unrest for whatever personal gains. However, I can understand the root of the violence in a long-simmering community-wide sense of having been disregarded and disrespected by the institutions of government. To some degree, this may explain why the pleas for calm, though, I trust, well-intentioned, by the mayor and police officials, ring hallow and false to those who bear grievances.

8 thoughts on “violence – rotted seed and spoiled fruit

  1. It’s painful to watch and hear about the violence in Baltimore. And scary because my daughter got stuck in the traffic around Reisterstown Road as she attempted to pick up her son at school in that neighborhood. The main roads were blocked off and she was totally lost. She took a deep breath and asked a local resident for help in finding the school. The woman got in her own car and drove Amy for 45 minutes around and around, trying to get through to the school. They finally got there. We feel that truly this was a guardian angel of some kind. Then they (on their own) had to meander back through town to get home, which took another two hours. They are shattered, exhausted, glad to be safe, and very grateful for the help they received. It’s such a cliche, but this unrest truly does bring out the best as well as the worst in people.


  2. My paternal grandfather and his wife, and a maternal uncle all lived in Baltimore. My first husband and I were married at Baltimore City Hall, when it was the only place left where an underage person could still get married. My sadness for that city, right now, is profound.

    A remarkable young man, a poet who goes by the single name of Guante, reminded me yesterday that Rev. King’s words are only remembered now because of the violence that claimed his life. The things that were accomplished in his name were not done through his peaceful, non-violent activism, but through violence. There is a certain truth in Guante’s words. Movements of change are built on the rubble and destruction of what went before. As it was then, so it is now.


  3. Sadness profound – indeed and amen. As for Gaunte’s observation – “the things…accomplished in (King’s) name were not done through his peaceful, non-violent activism, but through violence” – Sandy, say more, please. Not sure I follow or can agree fully


  4. Thanks for writing this Paul. I’m beyond heartbroken. Like you, I do understand the root of all of the anger and frustration.

    When the senior center went up in flames I simply lost it and finally went to bed after watching every minute of the coverage on TV. I woke up just as heartbroken as I went to bed, too upset to even do my normal morning workout. I know so many good folks who live in those neighborhoods, particularly the entire security staff I’m working with from Bank of America. I sent them prayers and we’ll wishes this morning wanting to ensure that they were all safe. They are safe, but three of them worship at the church where the senior center burned. We prayed together on the phone, but I don’t feel much better or know if it did any good. The only thing I know for sure is that we have a lot of work to do. Thanks again for your great words.


  5. “A lot of work to do” – yes, yes! I am comforted to know that you connected with those with whom you work, those you know who dwell in harm’s way. Did that/you do “any good”? I believe so, for, amidst strife, to know that another cares and reaches out to offer comfort, that is, for me, the very definition of good.


  6. Sorry, Paul. I haven’t been reading much the past couple of days.

    Guante’s observations remind me of Jesus. What would we know of him, what would we think, if the death penalty hadn’t been passed on him? Would we follow him? Would we believe in him? Would his words, however deep and meaningful, have any application to our daily lives? It’s hard enough, sometimes, to claim and maintain connection to a crucified and rised Lord. What if he hadn’t been? Not to lift others to the stature of Christ, but would we elevate the memories of, in the words of the song, Abraham, Martin, John, and Bobby if they hadn’t been offered up on the altar?

    It is a curious aspect of our society that we kill our heroes and then try to learn lessons from them after they are dead, rather than while they are alive. And so we have the altar still. For sake of expediency, let’s call the altar change. We live in a day bereft of heroes, and so we have seemingly random young black men being sacrificed upon the altar. We try, try, try so very hard to remember the words of the heroes, but it is hard to remember them apart from the times in which they lived and died.

    Already we have Kingdom Day parades and sales, in honor of Martin’s life, they say. But I think if we allow ourselves to see it, we will admit that what is often represented is the victory of the status quo over the changes that he embodied. Not much has changed, afterall, and what has changed has been mostly the outward appearance. How many hearts have changed? How many people make a conscious effort to teach their children differently?

    I’m really not thoroughly cynical and hopeless, but I try to see through the eyes of my children and grandchildren and others who, because of race and class, are summarily denied the benefits of living in our so-called free society. Nothing is free. The young people who are out there expressing their frustration and rage know this. They also know that whatever the accepted currency is, they don’t have it.


  7. Thank you, Sandy. I DO very much understand and accept the points you make. I do believe martyrdom makes for long-held memories, generations into the future, of the valor of the one sacrificed. Still, that, in and of itself, does not make for change. Hence, I agree with that point you make, too. As pessimistic as I can be, I do believe that there are many who strive and are striving to teach their children and grandchildren another way – many such as yourself. In them, I find hope.


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