A few weeks ago I was shopping for pepper spray (defense against random loose dogs) when the suggestion, “Other people who purchased pepper spray also bought this” popped up at the bottom of my screen.
It was a suggestion to purchase a stun gun.
It was a cute little device and came in an assortment of bright colors–Lime Kool Aid green amongst them.
Since my favorite color was included I clicked on the link and took a look at the product. It was only fifteen dollars and shipping and handling was free… so why not?
I didn’t really feel the need for a stun gun. I had never considered owning one. But it was an impulse buy… like those little odds and ends placed strategically in the check out lanes at Wal-Mart where you are forced to stare at them rather than make eye contact with all the other people standing in line.
A few days later it showed up in the mail–a tiny little package and I couldn’t help but wonder if it would actually work. So I ripped it open and anxiously gave it test fire, nearly dropping it when the loud crack of electricity exploded in my hand. I burst into giggles and set about trying to find some adventurous soul who would let me “zap” them as an experiment.
Later that night, having not found anyone willing to be a guinea pig, I zapped my own leg. Thank goodness I was sitting, because I would have dropped to the floor if I had been standing. Between the “oooohhhs” came bursts of laughter from myself and my friends.
“It’s not so bad,” I said… but I was still rubbing my leg and still laying on my side, so they didn’t believe me.
But fun and games aside, now that I have a stun gun I might as well start carrying it, right?
So every evening I’d slide the device into my pocket before leashing the dog for her nightly walk… and then I would go about wandering around town, hoping to burn off some of my dog’s surplus energy before bedtime.
The only thing I really used it for was as a flashlight (that’s one of the bonus features on it) to locate the doggie doo I needed to clean up. Mostly, it was just one more thing in my pocket and I hardly thought about it.
My usual route takes me by the only bar in town–a little dive dedicated to bikers. There are always a couple of them hanging out on the bench out front, getting some air and puffing on cigarettes. The dog always greets each one with a sloppy kiss and I usually stop for a moment or two and shoot the breeze with whoever is out that evening.
After having carried the stun gun for nearly a week, the novelty of the thing was wearing off and it was becoming more a force of habit to shove it in my pocket rather than an intentional act.
One evening I lost track of time as I sat in my chair reading an interesting book. By the time I was getting ready for bed it was late in the night–past midnight, but the dog still needed a walk unless I wanted to be awakened in a couple of hours by a cross-legged dog. So I took her out. What else could I do?
As the dog and I rounded the corner heading toward Clayton Avenue a young man caught my attention. He was cutting across the Fire Department parking lot cussing and fussing at someone I could not see. It was clear he’d had a couple too many over at the bar and I didn’t recognize him. So I took a mental snapshot of the man and kept moving. No harm, no foul. I didn’t even think about it as I directed the pooch down Clayton and tried to speed up the tempo to wear her out a bit quicker.
It was on the way back down Clayton, heading home, that everything changed, though.
As I as nearing the old Catholic Church, where Assumption Records is now housed, the young man reappeared. He came around the corner at a power-walk pace. He was agitated and he was still loudly cussing, but now it was clear that he was alone and talking out loud to himself.
It was close to 1:00 a.m. and I didn’t recognize this man as a local or a regular at the bar. He was under the influence of something, or at least appeared to be–In the past, my response would’ve been to do the things they taught us in women’s self-defense seminars back in college: make eye contact because most perpetrators want the element of surprise, note what they are wearing, what they look like, their height, their weight, don’t hunch over, don’t show fear, don’t appear vulnerable… but instead I fumbled in my pocket for a stun gun and every thought in my mind was about how I could zap him with it.
Fear bubbled up inside me. My fingers itched to jam the button that would set the electrical arc into motion… but he just nodded his head, gave a small smile, and kept moving.
My hands clutched the stun gun until I had crossed the foot bridge back over to “my side” of town…
At home I removed the unused stun gun from my pocket and laid it on the counter next to the dog leash and couldn’t help but think that when I had my hands on a weapon of defense all I could do was think defensively. A device bought for protection had actually instilled a great deal of fear in my soul–by having something I could protect myself with, I just assumed I had to protect myself.
The next day I happened to be reading John Dominic Crossan‘s Excavating Jesus in which he addresses the difference between Gospel accounts on Jesus’ command to his disciples to “take nothing for the journey–no staff, no bag, no bread, no money, no extra shirt…” At least that’s what Luke says. Matthew says to “take nothing for the journey except a staff…”
Crossan maintains that the staff was the basic weapon of self-defense–what pepper spray had always been for me. It would protect a traveler not only as a club to be wielded against thieves and criminals, but also against wild animals and dogs, as well as a device to lift and throw dangerous snakes (okay, my pepper spray won’t do anything for snakes, but I got all the others covered). Luke’s version of Jesus encouraged complete pacifism. Luke’s Jesus sent his disciples into a world without even a staff for defense. But Matthew’s Jesus allowed for self defense. Both encouraged complete dependence upon Christ–they were to take no money, no supplies, no extra clothes. But they differed on whether Jesus intended that complete dependence to extend to self defense.
That caused me to start thinking about my reaction to the young man on the street. To be honest, I don’t think I would have been nearly as afraid of him if I hadn’t had that stun gun in my pocket. Once I knew I could zap him and drop him to the ground I just sort of assumed I would have to… but in the previous four and a half years, my nightly walk more often than not takes me right past the bar that many folks in town are afraid of. Yet I’ve come to see the bench out front as a safe resting spot. A lot of the burly bikers who hang out in front of the bar love on my dog and give her the attention she wants.
Here’s the thing about those guys–they are a rough talking lot. They curse. They’re a little too loud sometimes. They say some pretty offensive things at times. They are big and heavily bearded and they roll up on thunderously loud motorcycles with their orange bandanas waving in the breeze. There’s a lot of leather and a lot of tattoos and not all of them well-done professional jobs, many are clearly prison tats. But without a weapon clutched in my hand, I perceived them as friends, even as others feared them.
But when I had a weapon in hand I perceived one of them as pure danger.
Now, I’m not advocating for people to put themselves in harm’s way. Nor am I taking a stand for or against carrying devices for self-defense. I’m not saying Luke is right and Matthew is wrong… because I think the truth is somewhere in between.
Heaven knows I’ve taken self-defense classes and that I usually have some sort of deterrent in my pocket, even if it’s just my keys held between my fingers… but when we approach people with weapon in hand we’ve already assumed we need a weapon
What Jesus wants, what I think Matthew and Luke both would agree upon, is that we are to set aside our tendency for defensiveness. We need to live with a spirit of peace that trusts God and that spirit of fear which causes us to cling to our insecurities and our assumptions that other people can destroy us needs to be laid aside and left behind. We can’t extend grace if we have a weapon in hand. We can’t be an instrument of peace if we are clinging to an instrument of destruction.
If we are going to be wholly dependent upon Jesus Christ, we need to be willing to be vulnerable: For the Spirit of God does not make us timid, but gives us power, love, and self-discipline.