When I was little I would think: I got this. One down…what’s next? I really didn’t even understand why we had to write it down: Thou Shalt Not Kill. Isn’t that a no brainer? Or in a kinder way: isn’t that simply basic morals? We only have Ten Commandments, why waste one on the obvious?
As I got older, I realized that there was a whole historical context around this. Wars. Famines. Desperation. Limited resources. I’d read enough books to learn to understand, even if there wasn’t justification for these actions. Great novels that help us to see what’s on the other side of desperation…and redemption.
Stories. We always seem to come back around to stories. Studying the Bible, I could read this in the context of The “story”. The Bible: a library of stories: “once upon a time”…”In the beginning”…
In the beginning, we have Adam and Eve in a peaceful garden. We don’t even eat meat at this point. Then Adam and Eve get cast out of the garden and they (and their descendants) have one rule: don’t kill each other. You may now eat meat, but don’t kill each other.
Again and again and again there’s killing. And more killing. God starts over: the plagues and we’re still killing. God starts over with the flood and we’re STILL killing each other.
We talked about this in a previous Sunday; it seems that even God gets frustrated and has to regroup. The story becomes a story on one group of people and the rules are set in stone…literally. Including Thou shalt not kill.
“The Ten Commandments concern matters of fundamental importance in Judaism and Christianity: the greatest obligation (to worship only God), the greatest injury to a person (murder), the greatest injury to family bonds (adultery), the greatest injury to commerce and law (bearing false witness), the greatest inter-generational obligation (honour to parents), the greatest obligation to community (truthfulness), the greatest injury to moveable property (theft).”
The first are duties to God and the last are duties to humanity. Social codes: how to live in society. Every spiritual system, religion, philosophy has a social moral code.
Forgive me for using Yoga philosophy to land this for myself. It was through the Yoga Sutras (threads of wisdom) that I really understood this law of not killing (nonViolence). It’s said by the Dali Lama that you Don’t use Buddhism to become a Buddhist. Use Buddhism to become better at whatever else in your life you are doing already. Same with yoga and other sacred texts. We use wisdom, in all it’s forms, to become a better Christian as we use Christianity to become a better human.
It’s not simply: don’t kill. But kindness (especially in new testament where Jesus shifts the relationship with violence and unkindness from that of the Old Testament). Desperation is softened through kindness. Desperate men do desperate things, but when we offer kindness to our fellow man, desperation is lessoned. There is enough. And we feel good. We feel a part of something whole. A people. A people of God.
We’ve come a long way from the oral traditions of the Old Testament. We’ve come a long way from the written traditions of the Old Testament. Our relationship with the texts or the oral tradition (yes, we have our own current oral traditions of the Bible) have created varying degrees of a relationship to non Violence. For each of us, this concept will speak to us in different ways. We are not alike. We don’t think alike. Our histories and personal stories that inform us are not alike.
Although the Bible tells us it is ok to kill in war (what is a just war?) or crime (what is a crime worth killing over?) or self defense (what are we defending/who are we defending?) we each have our own relationship to non Violence.
For some, thou shalt not kill has decided for us that we are vegetarian or vegan or pescatarian (fish). What bugs will I kill that you won’t? What pest will you kill that I won’t?
Not simply killing, but kindness (especially once we bring Jesus into the story). I think Jesus would agree with this: non Violence in thought. Word. Action.
Non Violence includes (and this is often the hardest part) kindness to ourselves. How do you speak to yourself throughout the day? How often do you find yourself calling yourself names? “That was dumb.” “I’m stupid.” What harsh words do you use on yourself? What do we say, or think (thoughts) when we look at ourselves in the mirror? Do we see the good qualities? The ‘bad’? Or do we choose not to think about that?
How we speak of ourselves is a reflection of what we carry into the world. How can we do good if we dislike (or worse) detest ourselves? How can we be kind in the world if we are mean to ourselves?
Others. How do we treat others? Our own family? Friends? Colleagues? Acquaintances? When was the last time you got caught up in gossip? When was the last time you found yourself judging?
The depths of four words. Thou shalt not kill. Or one. NonViolence.
When is there violence in inaction? Non Violence and not killing isn’t about turning away from the needs of the world (that would be easy). It’s engaging to make the world better. We have an obligation in name of nonviolence to speak out or act when injustice is happening. In small ways. The playgrounds (of the adult and child; bars, parties, the cafeteria, etc.). I feel in a lot of ways, it is the many versions of the ‘playground’ that our greatest good happens. The impactful good. The good in our little circles that spread like ringlets on a lake from the droplets of rain. Our droplets are kindness.
How about War?
What are you willing to die for? Go to jail for? Cause a commotion for?
Often the courage is stepping in not stepping out. It very often takes more courage to step in than it does to turn away. Often it is easy to join the mob that is speaking the loudest or walk away. It take more courage to speak up or speak against.
If Jesus had chosen to ignore the stoning of Mary…we never would have known. That neglect never would have made the stories. But he didn’t. He stepped in any time there was injustice. He stepped in even, and especially, when it would have been easier (and safer) to walk away…
To act. Or not to act.
What is the nonviolent course?
Nonviolence. Thou shalt not kill.
In word. Thought. Deed.
Ourselves: unkindness kills our spark.
Others: unkindness kills their spark.
“Seek to light the flame in others.” Don’t kill it. Don’t snuff it out. Be the good you wish to see in the world.
Last word: this can be heady stuff. We’re all in different place and there isn’t one way. It can be a deep personal exploration of growth. I often tell people this can be churning and kindling. Things can rise up that are a challenge to deal with: things from our histories and our personal stories. Junk and resistance always rise up first. Let it settle. Don’t fight it. Always: be kind to yourself first. Find a strong place (in yourself), and maybe some support (we have that, here, in each other), to dig deeper when you’re ready.
What is YOUR relationship to nonViolence/thou shall not kill?
“Seek to light the flame in others.” & be the good you wish to see in the world.