SEEKING A MORE EXCELLENT WAY
My first exposure to appliance violence was an article I read years ago in The Holton Recorder, the newspaper of Holton, Kansas. The headline read: Hunter bags fridge. The story was about a rural Whiting woman whose refrigerator stopped running. According to the article “a repairman found the cause. A bullet had passed through a refrigerator wall at a critical point. The slug, from a high powered rifle was found in a drawer at the bottom of the refrigerator. Not only had the bullet struck the refrigerator, it had passed through two walls (including an outside wall) of the house and two pieces of stuffed furniture.”
The local sheriff said “the shot that killed the woman’s refrigerator was not a criminal act,” but warned, “People need to realize that some of those high powers (bullets) go three miles.” I saw the article as a cautionary tale for people who live in rural areas and hunters, and laughed over the clever headline.
That was before Sam told me about the darker side of appliance violence.
First I want to tell you about the award Sam gave me. Then I will tell you why he is quitting his job of four years as an appliance repair worker.
When I met him at the door, I liked Sam right away. Tall and lanky in his neat uniform, toolbox at his side, he impressed me as a young man who was on his way up.
I welcomed him in, led him down the steps, and introduced him to my dryer. He was here on a routine maintenance call. In a weak moment I had purchased a protection plan from a persuasive salesman. This was against my principles. I believe manufacturers should make things that won’t break. But I was weak. The salesman had kids to feed. And after he told me about the horrible fires dryers cause, I caved. Since I had paid for the darn thing, I figured I ought to take advantage of the annual maintenance check.
Sam laid out his tools, pried up the top of the dryer and set to work. When I returned half an hour later he said, “I have never in four years of servicing appliances ever seen a dryer as clean as yours. There was not any lint. I even lifted off the bottom plate to check under there – spotless.”
I demurred, “Well there is just me and I don’t do big washes.”
“Oh no!” he assured me. “I have been in homes with single people whose dryers are dirty within six months. This one has not been checked for two years.”
“No dog hairs?” I asked. “Spiders, crickets? I had a lizard down here last summer and mice this fall.”
“Nope,” shaking his head. “I have never seen anything like this.”
I need tell you this made my day. One has to grab for any accolades that are offered in this life, and a clean dryer award from a repair man is all that I need to smile for the rest of the week.
“You must see I lot of things in your job, coming into people’s houses, their basements, moving out their refrigerators…? “ I ask.
“Oh yes,” Sam said. “It’s awful. People threaten me. They are so mad their appliance is broken. They are mean. I have had people pull guns on me. One woman shot at me. Hit my truck. Put a hole in the side, as I was walking around to come up to her house. Sometimes I have to leave and go drive around the block out of sight and call the police. I even put in to work in customer satisfaction, but it was just as bad there. And they don’t pay as much.”
I wanted to be sure I had heard him right. “People draw guns on you over their appliances?”
“Yes. All the time. They get so mad. I am not going to do this work anymore. It’s not safe. My fiancé wants me to quit.” He went on to tell me of the two job offers he had.
I live in Topeka, Kansas, where some people still have a Wild West swagger and hold fiercely to their right to bear arms and to protect their property. However, I cannot understand how someone could feel so threatened, or so powerless, that he or she would feel a right to draw a gun on the appliance repair man.
I have been thinking about the people who shoot at repairmen, those who take aim at the random person in the mall, or shoot to kill the guy stealing their TV. Sometimes they are mentally ill. Sometimes they feel threatened. Sometimes they are just really pissed off.
Here are questions the current gun debate in our country poses for me:
What do I do, if I do not get what I want or need?
What do I do, if I do not get my own way?
What do I do, if I get so mad I can’t stand it and want to kill someone?
What do I do, if I feel so afraid and powerless that I want an arsenal of weapons to protect myself?
What do I do, if I suffer grief, frustration, oppression, or injustice?
I am not saying weapons never have a place. I am not against weapons, but I am for people having a wide range of options for handling conflict, frustration, fear, and pain. When my only option is threatening someone else’s life with a gun, I have reached a radical impoverishment of intellectual, emotional, social, and spiritual resources. My freedom and dignity as a human being, as well as that of the one I perceive as my enemy, are deeply compromised.
There appears to me, to be in some citizens, a gaping lack of the personal resources to handle strong emotions, manage anger, frustration, disappointment, fear, and threat without resorting to violence.
I am thinking about the guy out on Croco Road sitting in his cold house waiting for the furnace repair truck to drive up. I am thinking about the woman who walks into the Quick Stop and shoots the clerk to get fifty dollars. What sort of despair, sense of powerlessness, and desperation breed these acts?
A sign of the maturity and social development of a culture is not the size of its arsenals and fire power or access to weapons, but the depth of its restraint and the richness of its citizens’ internal and external resources for coping with the inevitable frustrations and sorrows of being human.
Through our faith traditions, science, medicine, our community resources, art, and our open hearts, we as a culture have a treasure trove of resources to help us deal with the agonies of being human. There is more help available than ever before, for when we do not get our own way or what we need.
Christian writer, Dallas Willard, has suggested that –
perhaps too much time has been spent by Christians trying to smooth over hurt feelings and even deep wounds, given and received, and to get people to stop being angry, retaliatory, and unforgiving. But suppose, instead, we devoted our time to inspiring and enabling Christians and others to be people who are not offendable, and not angry, and not fearful, and forgiving as a matter of course. p. 303, The Divine Conspiracy, Dallas Willard
Willard reminds of a story I heard years ago.
A warlord stormed with his troops into a Buddhist monastery and came before the abbot waving his sword. The abbot stood firm and calm. “Don’t you know I can run you through with this sword without batting an eye?” the warlord thundered at the abbot.
The abbot replied, “Don’t you know I can be run through without batting an eye?” At those words, the warlord put down his sword, bowed before the Abbot and left with his troops.
There is a more excellent way. We have great arsenals for peacemaking stockpiled in the teachings of our spiritual leaders, saints, and the faiths of world. We know how to teach our brains to be more compassionate and lower our blood pressure. We know how to help those among us who are mentally ill. We know how to be there for one another in tough times. We understand what breeds desperation and despair.
My friend Sam is headed for bigger and better things. But no one has a right to bear arms over his broken dishwasher. And no one in this nation ought ever to have to feel so unable to get his needs met that he must have a gun in order to do that. No one should have to carry so much pain inside she can’t stand it.
We can do better than this.
We are better than this.