Coaching junior basketballers presents a unique and exciting challenge. It is with wonder that one watches kids barely taller than the basketball mustering all the energy they can in order to propel the ball towards the ring, or to dribble the ball through heavy traffic. When the only technique available to them is basically flawed but initially effective, it is difficult to get them to embrace corrections which provide a more consistent technique better able to serve them as they grow. There is a general reluctance to let go of the known and embrace something new.
I liken it to taking the engine out of a formula one racing car and placing it in the body of an old FJ Holden. The original engine served the car well, as did the body – they were reasonably well matched. But when greater demands are placed upon suspension, braking, and steering, the car is bound for disaster. It is simply not able to cope with the stresses a high-powered engine places upon it.
The situation in Iraq reminds me of the challenge of coaching junior basketball. We have become so conditioned to believe that the only way to gain peace in a war-torn country is by violent means that we cannot believe that another way can work. In the face of an indigenous insurgency the immediate response is to increase the number of troops, ultimately escalating the potential for violence in the hope that it scares the insurgents away from their activities. The bigger toys win.
But this is not the way Jesus teaches. When confronted in the Garden of Gethsemane by his accusers, Peter reached for the sword and cut of the ear of Malchus – servant of the High Priest. In the face of an aggressor, Peter took the only step he knew – counter-aggression. Jesus’ command to Peter (and to the gathered disciples) is telling: “Put down your sword.” In Matthew’s Gospel the injunction to the church is added: “he who lives by the sword dies by the sword”. Peace cannot be gained by violence and fear.
The Beatitudes are a poignant reminder of the ways of Jesus – the way of non-violence which exalts those whom society regards with little value. The challenge to turn the other cheek is to find an alternate way to usurp the power of the violent, to expose their shame and to create an opportunity for peace.
It is not a way we have learned from youth, yet has the power to serve with greater endurance. What better way to build peace than on shared humanity?
March 25, 2007