all of the recent commotion about some racially offensive skits published in a zondervan/youth specialties book has caused me to spend some time this week seriously considering issues of race, power and faith, and how they are interconnected. no solid conclusions yet; i’m still kicking around ideas in my head. helpful in my thought process these days have been some words that brian mclaren and rob bell have both shared about turning the other cheek. from the secret message of jesus:

Conventional morality argues for appropriate revenge (an eye for an eye), but Jesus calls for something beyond revenge entirely: reconciliation. These are the words that so inspired Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr., Desmond Tutu, Nelson Mandela, the people of post-genocide Rwanda, and so many others. These words introduced radical new ways of responding to injustice: nonviolent resistance, conflict transformation, and active peace-making. Think of it like this:

If someone strikes you on the right cheek, they have given you a backhand slap – the kind of thing a person in power (like a Roman soldier) does to a person he considers inferior (like a Jew). You could strike back, but that would reduce you to the same violent level as your oppressor. Or you could simply skulk away in humiliation, but that would mean letting the oppressor win. The kingdom manifesto invites you to pursue a third alternative: courageously turn the other cheek. Think of it: now to strike you on the left cheek, your presumably right-handed oppressor must treat you not as an inferior person but as a peer by hitting you with his fist, not his backhand. You have shown yourself to be not violent or weak but rather courageous and dignified and strong. You have shown your oppressor for the violent person he is. You have thus transcended oppression without violence or revenge.

this has been driving me nuts ever since i read it. this third-way alternative response to violence and oppression prescribed by Jesus for His followers is, of course, the best way. however, as transcendent and creative as it is, i still struggle with it. despite my hothead tendencies, i don’t think i struggle with this third way because i want to be a violent person or dwell in anger. the frustrating part is that choosing this way does not feel particularly satisfying. more frustrating still is that very idea that i am not yet the kind of person who feels satisfied by obeying Jesus’ commands and following His lead, in these types of cases. slowly, hopefully i will be changed.

i know Jesus is not blaming the victim here — it is not the fault of the oppressed that they have been mistreated. their response, however, is up to them. clearly, Jesus embodied this third way beyond the ability or imagination of anyone of us — the Lamb of God, humbly living among us and giving His life away freely, even in the face of corruption, deceit and injustice.

it’s a strange kind of double burden: to be wronged, and then to respond rightly despite being wronged (regardless of how the other party chooses to live). i don’t know how this plays out differently at an individual versus corporate level (or if it does at all), but i do know this is an impossibly high calling. i am convinced that only Christ in us can compel us to move forward in any meaningful sense.