A few years ago, I was driving on a wide and busy road. It was a warm summer evening, and I was caught in a slow stream of traffic. It all seemed normal.
On the other side of the wide road, and slightly ahead, I noticed a group of people. I glanced over at them, and it looked like an argument was starting. It looked a bit scary, when I looked closely.
One older man was talking to some younger men. The older man was not old, just older than the others. He was probably native.
The young men were white, and they looked like skinheads. They had short hair and work boots, and they seemed aggressive. The boots are important in this story.
If we could describe a racialized and ugly encounter, like a scene in a movie, this was it.
Then the fight started.
The lone, older man was shoved, and he fell to the ground, on his hands and knees. The fight continued, and I can still picture one of the young men kicking the lone man, in the head. He was like someone kicking a soccer ball, with a large boot.
After that, the young men moved away, and the lone man got to his feet. When he could, he crossed that wide and busy street, to my side. I was able to park my car, and go to help him.
This is where things got even weirder. The poor man had one thing to say “Don’t call the police.” He kept repeating that, and then he asked me for money.
And then he walked away. His attackers went somewhere else, and the other drivers continued with their business as if nothing had happened.
Now, looking back, the fighters were probably criminals, including the victim, and the fight was not supposed to be visible, on a public street. At the time, I remember feeling angry, and thinking that I need to move away from this city. I still live here.
And I know that I was not ready. Violence is complicated, and I was just driving my car on a summer evening.
If you are wondering, I grew up in a bad neighborhood, but the ugly violence was mostly inside some houses. We only heard about it later. On that summer evening, I saw something I was not supposed to see.
So, are you ready? I was jolted out of my peaceful suburban life, in a few seconds. I got a violence wake-up call. If you haven’t had yours yet, brace yourself. I hope you stay safe.
There is a spiritual lesson in this. Violence has always been a part of the human experience, and we have lived through some unusual peace, in our quiet suburbs.
There is now, a steady increase in violence; what happened to me was not so strange. We also have growing violence directed against Christians. Nigeria and India are two of the worst places, but the trend is spreading:
One of the sayings of Jesus that I find strange is about violence:
From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and forceful people lay hold of it. (Matthew 11: 12)
Apparently, we should understand that violence is found even among spiritual, or religious people. I believe also, what happens in the world around us, also comes to us.
If something terrible happens near you, I hope you stay safe. I also believe that we need to expand our list of things that we trust God for. I was the only person who tried to intervene, in my incident, and I could have been attacked.
I believe God kept me safe.
So, in our polarized and angry societies, we need to know what we are trusting God for. We need to expand our playbook. This is one promise:
Don’t be afraid, for I am with you! Don’t be frightened, for I am your God! I strengthen you; yes, I help you; yes, I uphold you with my victorious right hand! Look, all who were angry at you will be ashamed and humiliated; your adversaries will be reduced to nothing and perish. (Isaiah 41:10-11)