Learning Peace Talk Through Human Vulnerability

If you read Dmergent, I hope you also read the wisdom produced by the Raven Foundation.  This reflection is based on the rules of violence that Suzanne Ross wrote last week in her article titled, North Korea, Syria, U.S.: Violence Rules.  I hope you read it and absorbed it, but for those who did not here are the three rules of violence:  “Rule #1: Violence Escalates…Rule #2: Only good people use violence…Rule#3 Violence destroys goodness.”  Well I hope that intrigues those of you that did not actually read the article to go back and review these rules, which yes Rule #2 and #3 are in conflict. 

It is however this part that intrigues me the most for I know it to be true:

Humans pick violence up by immersion and so we are all native speakers. From Syria to Korea to Pakistan to Iraq to the U.S., the language of violence is so natural to us that we couldn’t recite one of its “grammar rules”.
Sadly, ignorance of language rules does not diminish fluency. The odd thing is that if we stopped to learn the rules governing our fluency in violence, it would actually make us less fluent. Why? Because the rules of violence reveal an unpleasant reality: We don’t use violence; violence uses us. (Erickson)

It intrigues me because it is so true, but mostly because of my experience of teaching language and communication to my son who has profound communication delay as part of his autism.  This makes me think about how we learn things as a society, and I agree that language, be it spoken, written, body, and otherwise, is how we share our human society with the social other.  So it makes sense when Ross suggests there is a grammar to violence and therefore we need to find the grammar of non-violence and grace.

Therefore, a person with communication delay is not simply someone that not only cannot easily ask for their basic needs, they are delayed in socialization which is achieved by the imitation of the social other, (the adult).  We assume the draw to such language of humanity is automatic and thus “[…] take such a draw, such a movement, for granted, though of course it isn’t automatic, as is evidenced by autistic children, who lack precisely the attraction, the draw the movement toward an adult”[i]  This is where I see great hope.  The grammar of violence is certainly not divine, nor is it integral to humans, but somehow a result of the human reaction to desire, which I would add as Rule #1a, that is violence begins because of a real or perceived desire for the same thing, person, position, etc.

However, we can stop this violence grammar by looking carefully at how we learn it, and I believe there are unique situations that occur that can replace the grammar of violence.  I don’t want you to think my son is perfect, nor do I want you to think that as parents we are not frustrated, saddened, stressed, overwhelmed, and even angry at the difficulties of having a child with autism, by sharing stories of my son.  I share these stories because I have learned about the divine through being a parent, not unlike all parents, and yet with a unique situation based around language.  He does not suffer, save from the pressures from society, and at this time he really doesn't get it so he goes about happy with his unique and rudimentary communication.

So last Halloween we were at a party, where my son was known by most of the children.  There were two new children among the group, and I observed this interaction.  A new boy who was 5 or 6 tried to interact with my son, and while all the other children were used to him not responding or interacting much, this boy noticed my son playing with an inflatable pumpkin.  Well the new boy took it from my son, but as usual AJ did not really care it was gone as he was not engrossed with it (it would have been different if it was a book or letters), and it was obvious the fact that AJ did not react was a disappointment to the new boy.  So much so that he held that inflatable pumpkin for almost an hour, even once putting it on his foot as he played a different game.  My son did not understand the grammar and diffused it by not desiring the object.  This may seem small compared to wars between states, but it demonstrates to me that violence is a learned behavior, and my son’s delay makes it clear we can teach children to not escalate to violence over a desired object that could possibly be shared, or like in this case, not actually desired because the social other does.

So again my son is not perfect and he does get angry.  Well, it was about a year ago when AJ hugged for the first time because he wanted to share the emotion of happiness.  He had played hug as a game, but it was very different the first time I took him to a fitness event with his Headstart class, specifically the huge parachute.  I did not recognize it as a bonding hug on the first time, but it was obvious the 2nd and 3rd time.  It was wonderful.  I suspected that sometimes he was hugging based on other emotions as well, and that become obvious at a Labor Day Picnic.  There was a little girl a year older than him, who was playing with him, and she got in his way, so he hugged her.  She said “He hugged me, He likes me!” with great enthusiasm, however it was obvious to the adults that could see his face that he was angry.  Yet he reacted in the same way that he would when he was happy. 

I don’t want to think we should simply celebrate autism as a better way of thinking or being.  Trust me, it is frustrating, difficult, expensive, and yet it allows us to see a more about humanity’s language of violence and the sacred because it allows us to reflect on humanity’s vulnerability.  In this case we see how delayed communication shows us the way toward the grammar of non-violence and away from the grammar that we take for granted and uses us to perpetuate more violence. 

It is in this vulnerability we can know what God wants for humanity, and often the most vulnerable humans can demonstrate that all of us can actually learn a new grammar.  A grammar of a vulnerable communion, where hugs are the answer when you are glad, angry, sad, happy, or mad--for it would demonstrate a language of love and non-violence. 

This is the language Jesus gives us Christians, by demonstrating vulnerability and non-retaliation when he appears to the twelve and says, “Peace be with you,” and I cannot help but think he hugged them with his scarred hands even though they scattered and betrayed him.  

AJ exploring self in mirror. 

[i] Alison, James. The Joy of Being Wrong: Original Sin Through Easter Eyes. New York:  Crossroad, 1998, pages 27-28. 

Did Jesus Really Die for Our Sins?

This article originally appeared on Christian Piatt's blog on

One of the most pivotal concepts in contemporary Christianity has to do with whether Jesus died for the sins of humanity. For many, this is a central tenet of their Christian faith; for others, the very idea that a God would require the spilling of blood — let alone that of his son — to forgive us seems appalling.

In my “Banned Questions” book series, I’ve tried to pull together some of the most challenging questions about the Christian faith I could find. Then, instead of offering cut-and-dried answers, I pose the questions to a group of theological thinkers and activists to see what they think, with the intent of allowing readers to decide what they believe.

Given the centrality of this particular question, I decided it would make a good opening topic for the newest book in the series, “Banned Questions About Jesus.” I posed this to the respondents as follows:

Why would God send Jesus as the sacrificial Lamb of God, dying for the sins of the world, instead of just destroying sin, or perhaps offering grace and forgiveness to the very ones created by God? Why does an all-powerful being need a mediator anyway?

Chris Haw, co-author of “Jesus for President,” says:

I have found it important for my mind to get “sacrificial lamb” idea back into working shape by, for example, considering how Jesus also died from the sins of the world. … A multitude of our sins, not God, killed Jesus. And for what it is worth, the “sending his son” verse should not be understood as God killing someone (Did God’s denunciation of human sacrifice not begin with the binding of Isaac?) No: we killed God’s Son, and it was sinful and unjust.

Haw’s response resonates with John Dominic Crossan’s understanding of what was the cause of Jesus’ death (humanity, not God), while also pushing up against the myth of redemptive violence, as put forward by such theologians as Walter Wink.

“There is a long and complex tradition of varying interpretations of the meaning of the death of Jesus,” says Lee Camp, author of “Who is My Enemy?” He continues:

The early church primarily thought of the death of Jesus as a victory over the powers of sin and death. … In the medieval era, another trajectory became predominant in the west: Anselm argued that a God-Man was necessitated because of the great gravity of sin: sin dishonored God, and humankind had to make some reparation, some satisfaction for sin. Humankind was unable to make such a repayment, and thus Jesus became the substitute, restoring the honor due to God through his obedience unto death.

It is worth noting that, in Camp’s historical context, the notion of Jesus dying for our sins did not gain traction in the Christian imagination until at least a dozen centuries after Christ’s death. This is critical in our understanding of the crucifixion, namely because so many assume today that their present belief in substitutionary atonement has forever been the cornerstone of Christian theology. Not so, suggests Camp.

“By the sixteenth century, Calvin focused upon punishment,” he says. “Because of the immensity of humankind’s sin, God’s wrath demanded punishment; Jesus became the substitute punishment.”

Australian peace activist Jarrod McKenna takes a different approach, affirming the need for sacrificial atonement, but suggesting we distort its purpose:

The Gospel is not that some deity takes out its rage on an innocent victim so he doesn’t have to take it out on all of us eternally. God doesn’t need blood. God doesn’t need a mediator. We do!

The Lamb of God is not offered to God by humanity, but is God offered to us to enable a new humanity. God is reconciling the world to God’s self through Christ by knowingly becoming our victim, exposing this idolatrous system that promise order, safety, peace and protection in exchange for victims.

The idea that the sacrifice of a living creature was required to appease God for one’s sins has been around a lot longer than Christianity has. Mentions of animal sacrifice can be found throughout the Old Testament, and Abraham’s faith is even tested when he’s asked to sacrifice his own son.

This value of sacrifice as part of one’s faith also was common in the Roman culture, where the types of sacrifices usually were specific to the characteristics of the Gods being worshiped. So a God of the harvest would require an offering of produce, and so on. Some pre-Christian cultures, such as those from Carthage, even practiced human sacrifice, though the Romans generally condemned it.

Interestingly, a millennium prior to Anselm’s understanding of blood atonement, there were very different understandings of Jesus’ death germinating in the Christian collective consciousness.

In the fourth century A.D., Gregory of Nyssa proposed that Jesus’ death was an act of liberation, freeing humanity from enslavement to Satan. Seven hundred years later, around the same time that Anselm presented to concept of substitutionary atonement, a theologian named Abelard proposed that it actually was that Jesus’ response of pure — some might emphasize nonviolent — love in the face of violence, hatred and death was transformational in the human psyche, reorienting us toward a theology of sacrificial love over justice or atonement.

Contemporary theologian Walter Wink goes a step further than Abelard, claiming that atonement theology is a corruption of the Gospel, focusing on an act of violence rather than the values of peaceful humility and compassion lived and taught by Christ.

Resolving the debate about the causes of, and purpose behind, Jesus’ death is an impossible task. More important, though is to make clear that such a debate is going on. For too long, Christians and non-Christians have assumed that all who yearn to follow the way of Christ universally believe Christ died for our sins. For millions, this not only defines their faith, but their understanding of the very nature of Good as well. For others, it is the basis for rejecting Christianity, understanding it as an inherently violent religion, centered on a bloodthirsty God that requires death in exchange for mercy.

This is not the God in which I put my faith, and I am not alone.

Christian Piatt is an author, editor, speaker, musician and spoken word artist. He co-founded Milagro Christian Church in Pueblo, Colorado with his wife, Rev. Amy Piatt, in 2004. Christian is the creator and editor of “Banned Questions About The Bible” and “Banned Questions About Jesus.” He has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called “PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.” For more information about Christian,, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.