On Violence

I am not good at memorizing verse. Honestly, I’m not particularly good at memorizing things in general. I recall one class in college–I think it was English 381–where the professor gave qualifying students an alternative to taking the final. If we had a “B” grade or better, instead of taking the sit-down essay portion of the final, we could choose instead to memorize a Shakespearean sonnet. The most famous of these is eighteen, but I chose number sixty. (You can check them out here if you want to do so.) I struggled mightily to get through my sonnet. It was just fourteen lines; I had two weeks to memorize them, and I barely managed, and only then by some lenience from the professor.

The strange thing is that I have an excellent memory for people, places, directions, basketball statistics, conversations, and concepts. I’m also a fair writer with an exceptional command of the English Language. But I struggle to memorize strings of words.

Those circumstances make this all the more remarkable: I memorized this one little couplet of verse on the first read, and it has stuck to my mind like paste:

Do not envy the violent
    or choose any of their ways.” Prov 3:31

It may not seem like much, but that one verse has enlightened my point of view and perspective in some ways. I think part of the reason it stuck to me so readily is because I was ready to hear it, and it is important to my understanding of my own heart.

The violence being discussed in this section of Proverbs is still present today, though not in my own life. They’re talking about raiders, rapists and pillagers who assault travelers. But though the violence in my own life–in all of our lives–is far less conspicuous, and far less dangerous, I think it is still foolish to assume it is innocuous to my soul.

Violence is found in movies and television, where death and destruction are nearly omnipresent. They are found in pop-culture, where songs promote guns and gun violence. It is found on the news, where we are constantly bombarded with stories of shootings and slaughter. It is found in sports, where we exalt players who intend to harm each other.

For some people, I think that those things are no problem whatsoever; they see it, they think about it, and they move on. For me, it’s been a little different in the past.

The problem with them in my own life is not the violence itself, but the glorification of violence, and the mental process of dwelling on it and letting it take over my mind. Watch too many Kung Fu movies, and I start thinking about learning Kung Fu so that I can do those things. I have never had a need for Kung Fu, and I am sure I never will. Hearing about home invasions and the second amendment might lead one to think about buying a firearm for protection. Statistically, I am more likely to hurt myself or someone I love with a gun than I am to actually use it for protection.

American Football is the meanest and most poignant example of this glorification. The players are absolutely trying to injure each other, and anyone who says otherwise isn’t watching the game. And we cheer them for it! I have cheered them for it! Last season, I realized that, and finally understood that it was hurting me to see those things. Now, having read the aforementioned verse, I understand why. I envied that violence, and my mind was at odds with my heart and soul. Knowing that, I’m not sure that I can ever watch that deliberate violence with fandom in my heart again. If not, it’s no great loss.

Ultimately, I am fortunate enough to live a life well-insulated from such violence, but that does not mean that I have not been guilty of glorifying it and dwelling on it.

With that verse in mind, I went and saw a movie I had been anticipating for a while. “Free Fire,” starring Brie Larson, Armie Hammer and Sharlto Copley, is a shoot-em-up thriller set in the 1970s. I watched, I enjoyed, and I did not glorify that violence. The spell was broken, because I understood that on no level was the movie a path for me, but just a source of entertainment–it is entirely a work of fiction.

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