It was always a B-movie cliche. As the good guy prepares to teach the bad guy a lesson, out of the corner of his mouth he orders the bartender to “Call an ambulance.”
“Why?” the bartender asks, “Someone hurt?”
“Yup,” the hero replies as he cold-cocks the bad guy.
So, it wasn’t difficult to recognize the same script in a phone call I received in my former job as an Air Force chaplain.
“Chaplain, I’m calling from out-of-state to tell you about a military family who’s going to need help.”
“Yeah, there’s a guy on your base,” he said with a tone that suggested I owned the base, “who’s messing with my wife!”
“I’m sorry?” I said, questioning my own answer.
“I’ve kicked my wife out of the house and now I want this guy prosecuted. I know what the UCMJ (Uniform Code of Military Justice) says about adultery and if this guy doesn’t see some brig time, I’m calling my congressman!”
“I can understand why you would want to see him punished, but chaplains don’t get involved in the punitive side.”
“You’re not understanding me,” he cautioned. “I’ve already called his commander and I’m waiting for him to call me back. I’m calling you because you are supposed to help families.”
“OK,” I shrugged.
“After I talk to the commander, this guy will be court-martialed and his family’s going to need your help.”
“So, you’re calling me so I’ll be ready to pick up the pieces?” I asked with a healthy injection of incredulity.
“Yeah,” he said as if I’d finally rung my bell with a circus sledgehammer. “Like me, his wife will go nuts. She’ll need your help.”
Now I was beginning to understand. This guy was calling the proverbial ambulance. The military calls that strategy “prepositioning.” He was getting the pieces in place, like sending a hospital ship to a war zone.
“Oh, I see,” I said with feigned appreciation for his thoughtfulness. “This guy hurt your family and now you’re going to hurt his family. ‘An eye-for-eye deal,’ right?”
“Is there a senior chaplain there I can talk to?”
Whoops, he was wise to me, but since I hadn’t actually asked my 20 questions, I pushed on. “How did this guy meet your wife?”
“They never actually met. They talk on the Internet and I’ve got proof.”
“So, now you’re going to hurt this guy for what he’s planning?”
“Absolutely,” he replied. “When his commander returns my call, this home wrecker is going down!”
“Do you have some people there you can talk to?”
“Yeah,” he said letting suspicion ooze from his tone. Then, my receiver went dead.
I sat staring at my receiver and hoping that he might call back and continue the dialogue. He didn’t.
On his end, I also imagined him staring, waiting on a call from that commander, which never came. I know, because the commander later told me he wasn’t playing this game.
Centuries after Moses announced the “eye-for-an-eye” thing, Jesus added a bit about turning the other cheek, loving your enemies and basically giving anyone anything requested from you. If we took the advice literally, we’d be a bunch of bruised nudists and my caller would have hosted a party for the Internet interlopers.
But with skillful hyperbole, Jesus was directing our gaze straight toward our own motives of vengeance. The “Jesus Plan” was all about taking the power out of the insult by taking the power of out of the confrontation.
The power in the confrontation is all about our need to see another hurt, but by seeking a mutually injurious experience, we rediscover the pain of repetitive injury. This path only keeps us imprisoned and tortured by our need to define justice.
Imprisonment is a great picture, because the wait for vengeance is always confining and never freeing. You become like an inmate waiting for a call of reprieve. It’s not coming. You become like Metropolis waiting for the Justice League superheroes, but, like my caller discovered, that call will never come.
The only way to take the insult out of your hurt is to give up the anger that sustains and feeds the hurt.
Centuries after Jesus, a man named Martin Luther King Jr. introduced a plan based on turning the other cheek, and millions of people were freed from the dungeons of vengeance and saw the bright light of freedom.
May that light continue to shine. Happy Birthday, Martin.