Last night I had dinner with one of our congregation’s many retired pastors (who happened to give the sermon yesterday at services) as well as a relatively new family whose daughter is in my Sabbath School class and one of the many conversations that came up in the hilarious conversation was the need of people growing up to be able to defend themselves when it comes to being quickwitted. The family I was eating with commented that their son had already done a good job at developing his wit in self-defense but that they were still working on improving the self-defense of their daughter in that regard, which is a worthwhile task. I grew up in a family that was full of pretty sharp-tongued people and I early recognized that my own sense of dignity required a degree of sharp wit in self-defense, even if my own wit tends more towards playfulness than towards insults and verbal aggression personally.
Meanwhile, the state of Virginia is facing the reality that there is a cultural divide in our country when it comes to the need for self-defense. On the one hand, we have those who use every violent use of weapons as a way of removing from people the means of self-defense and making such people prey to those who do not obey the law with the promise of defense from police. This promise, of course, is frequently broken, as it was in a Florida high school where a police officer hid like a coward rather than defend innocent students and teachers from violence. On the other hand, we have those who recognize that living in a dangerous world requires that we recognize that human authorities will not be able to guarantee our safety and that we are responsible for defending ourselves. To be sure, we cannot guarantee our well-being in a hostile world, but we cannot rely on anyone else being able to protect or defend us in time either.
Over and over again, responsibility and trust find themselves being inserted into every political conversation because they rest at the core of a variety of issues. Do we trust ourselves and our capabilities more than we trust in those who would wish to have authority over us? Do authorities trust a populace to be well-armed and in a mood of deliberate suspicion towards the intents of those authorities? Do we have the self-restraint that allows us to be armed to the teeth without being a threat to other law-abiding citizens? Is it just and proper for us to expect others to be responsible for us if we will not be responsible for ourselves? I know I have answers to these questions for myself, but other people will answer these questions about me and about themselves differently than I will. I do not believe that it is possible to create safe spaces in a world that is hell-bent on committing evil and on taking advantage of others. I do not believe authorities can be trusted to do what is right unless they are fully aware that they are replaceable unless they do their jobs properly. In an unsafe and ungodly world, we must make ourselves harder targets through arming ourselves with wit and sound reasoning skills, and the ability to defend ourselves as well as we can in whatever sort of arena we find ourselves in.
Ultimately, when we are faced with a hostile reality, the first order of business is figuring out whether we first need to change ourselves in light of that reality or seek to change the reality. There are some times where it is wise to change the reality–especially if the reality that is bothering us is a small part of reality that is not reflective of the whole. Most of us, after all, are quite willing to spend time around those who are like-minded and like-hearted and avoid spending a lot of time around those who are hostile to us and disrespectful of us. But much of the time reality is implacable and those who believe they have the power to change adverse realities are engaged in rebellion against God and hostility towards the objective reality that exists everywhere, in the natural consequences that follow folly and error, and so on. In such cases the only sane response is to adjust ourselves to reality and to grow accordingly in those skills that are necessary to thrive in the world in which we find ourselves. There are many ways this can be done. We can develop skills and hone our own abilities, we can work on joining with other people in mutual aid and defense, and so on. But doing so comes with a recognition that reality must be dealt with and we are responsible for dealing with it as best as we are able.