Don’t be a Warrior. Be a Doctor.

Face the Raven Part One

CLARA: We can fix this, can’t we? We always fix it. 
DOCTOR: No. (to Ashildr) But you can. Fix this. Fix it now. 
ASHILDR: It, it’s not possible. I can’t. 
DOCTOR: Yes, it is, you can, and you will, or this street will be over. I’ll show you and all your funny little friends to the whole laughing world. I’ll bring UNIT, I’ll bring the Zygons. Give me a minute, I’ll bring the Daleks and the Cybermen. You will save Clara, and you will do it now, or I will rain hell on you for the rest of time. 
CLARA: Doctor, stop talking like that. 
ASHILDR: You can’t. 
DOCTOR: I can do whatever the hell I like. You’ve read the stories. You know who I am. And in all of that time, did you ever hear anything about anyone who stopped me? 
ASHILDR: I know the Doctor. The Doctor would never 
DOCTOR: The Doctor is no longer here! You are stuck with me. And I will end you, and everything you love. 

The thing about violence or the threat of violence, is that it gives the illusion of being able to bring about justice. With the ability to inflict violence comes power. Of course the State uses violence as a show of power, but for oppressed groups being able to use violence successfully against the State gives the impression that they are powerful. That they can’t just be killed and tortured without the State suffering consequences. The successful use of violence is not necessarily about the type of weapons one has-look at the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan where the US military was bought to its knees by a militarily inferior enemy. Insurgencies, are able to somewhat readdress  the power imbalance that occurs when a State goes against non-state actors.

And why wouldn’t the oppressed be justified in using violence against their oppressors? I know that in moments of anger, I have had fantasies of Americans rising up against an unjust and corrupt government. The thing about America, is that its corruption and authoritarianism, is hidden underneath the veneer of democracy. Unlike completely totalitarian governments, the United States gives the illusion of free speech, freedom of the press, and we are made to believe that we elect our leaders. But the reality is, the game is rigged and has been from the start. The mainstream press does the bidding of the private corporations that own them, and the government often works in sync with said corporations. Free speech exists…but only if you are so unimportant that your opinions don’t matter, or if you follow and endorse the status quo. But if you exercise your freedom of speech to criticize the government, law enforcement, intelligence agencies, etc you can find yourselves on a government watch list.  Look at what happened to some prominent black lives matters activists: they used their constitutional rights to protest both in person and online the brutal murders of black and brown people at the hands of police, and the Feds responded by monitoring their activities. Well known animal and environmental activists have also been placed under government surveillance.

Meanwhile, anti-government right wingers are able to specifically challenge government authority, even to the point of taking over federal land, point guns at federal agents and avoid punishment as was the case during the Bundy standoff in 2014 and not face consequences. It waits to be seen whether the armed group in the current Oregon standoff will be charged with any crimes. Yet compare the response of the Feds to a standoff by armed white right wingers, and their response to black lives matter protests, many of which have been relatively peaceful. If the government is going to harass you, send law enforcement agents and the National Guard after you, when you are peacefully protesting, why not take up arms?  Why not give them a taste of what they have been dishing? If the government is going to treat you as a enemy combatant why not fight back?

In Face the Raven, the Doctor is powerless to help Clara. There is nothing he can personally do to save her, except to threaten Ashidir and those in her refuge with death and destruction. I can understand his anger. I can remember moments where such anger flowed through me as I read about another instance of the US government killing dozens of civilians in the Middle East, or when I read about another police officer getting away with what amounts to murder. It’s been over 50 years since the civil rights movement, and while much has improved, much hasn’t. Black and brown bodies are still viewed as expendable by the US government. War continues to gain the share of the budget that should be going to create a more just and equitable society. Those who advocate for justice are viewed as enemies of the State. It leaves one with a feeling of helplessness where violence seems like the only alternative. So I can empathize with the Doctor’s rage. His anger threatens to destroy anything and everyone.

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But as angry as I get. I remember how violence has the tendency to spread out of control. It might start out as targeting only those directly responsible for oppression, but soon the circle becomes larger, enveloping more and more people. The State responds with a disproportionate response, and revolutionaries up their game. More and more people end up dead. There are cases where violence has helped force the creation of a more just and equitable society, but it came with a heavy price paid in lives lost and bloodshed. And in a time period where conventional wars seem to be a thing of the past, violence can go on for years or even decades, with little progress being made. I would never condemn those who are utterly oppressed and who feel as if violence were their only alternative. But I don’t think I could join them. On tv and in books, even history books, revolutions are portrayed as just causes, with the forces of good vanquishing evil. Rarely are the atrocities mentioned. The rapes that occur on both sides, the targeting of children and civilians for death, torture, cruelty, etc. At some point, the original, noble cause that fueled the violent revolution gets lost. The oppressed in turn oppress others. The cycle of violence and exploitation continue. Deaths pile up for no discernible good reason. Lives are traumatized.

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But nonviolent activism doesn’t always work. In fact it is often met with strong resistance by the government. The government kills and imprisons people with no second thoughts. Why shouldn’t I encourage violence? Why not encourage the people to fight back? Why insist on an action that does not seem to work? I don’t have brilliant answers to these questions. And as I said before, I would never tell a group that has been oppressed for centuries how they should advocate for equality, but for me personally, I know that I’m not a warrior-at least not the violent kind.

In The Day of the Doctor, Clara once again reminded the Doctor of who he was:

CLARA: We’ve got enough warriors. Any old idiot can be a hero. 
DOCTOR: Then what do I do? 
CLARA: What you’ve always done. Be a doctor. You told me the name you chose was a promise. What was the promise? 
DOCTOR 10: Never cruel or cowardly. 
WARRIOR: Never give up, never give in

In a similar way, I believe that in the real world we have enough warriors; people willing to kill in order to create what they believe to be a more equitable society. But in the end, violence often creates even more violence, leaving massive amounts of death and suffering in its wake. I’m not denying there are instances where violence may be necessary, I’m just saying that for me, a different approach to creating a more just and equitable society is needed. Our worlds needs less warriors and more doctors.

 

Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.

The Doctor: Sometimes the only choices you have are bad ones, but you still have to choose.

Last week I wrote about my own personal struggles with hatred and the temptation to believe that violence might be a valid option. I believe that nonviolence can bring about vast changes-but only if both the oppressed and the oppressor are committed to it. When the oppressor refuses to listen to multiple nonviolent protests, when said protests are twisted and lied about and are blamed for the deaths of others, when those in power decide to create an us vs. them mentality, they are paving the way for violence. So this is a plea, a desperate cry, for those in positions of power to listen. Specifically this is a cry for those who work in law enforcement and their loved ones, as well as those in charge of crafting public policy, to listen to the Black Lives Matters Movement, which has predominately been peaceful. Even though some, who did not have ties to the movement or were in the periphery of the movement, have taken it upon themselves to react violently. And no, I don’t think destruction of property in anyway compares to the repeated murders of black and brown bodies at the hands of the state. Right now there is an opportunity for the state and for law enforcement to help turn a new chapter in the troubled history between the legal system, the government, and people of color. But if the peaceful protests are ignored, I believe that violence then becomes an inevitability.

In Mummy and the Orient Express, Clara and the Doctor have the following conversation:

CLARA: So, when you lied to Maisie, when you made me lie to Maisie
DOCTOR: I couldn’t risk Gus finding out my plan and stopping me.
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In this episode, the 12th Doctor seems particularly cruel. He witnesses he death of others and doesn’t even wince. And when it seemed as if the Doctor was going to allow Maisie to be murdered, one was left wondering whether this regeneration even had a conscious. The Doctor however, proves he still has a heart and a conscious, he till cares. But he admits that had she died, he would have simply kept on trying to defeat the mummy, even at the expense of the lives of the lives of others on board. He argues that he only had bad options. Now I’m sure some could debate that and argue that he had other options (for instance, perhaps he could have continued to ignore invitations to the orient express) but in this scenario the Doctor felt as if he was placed in a situation where the only options he felt he had were bad ones, but he couldn’t refrain from making decision. In fact refraining, would have in and of itself been a decision. He was placed in a position where he felt as if his only options were inaction or risking the lives of some individuals, in order to save a larger amount of people.

Likewise, when the state and those who work for the state, insist on co-opting or dismantling peaceful movements-they are placing those who are at the receiving end of their actions in a potentially difficult spot. The “Blue lives matter” movement is not simply about or even primarily about affirming the worth of police officers, but it is about discrediting the Black Lives Matter Movement and accusing it of perpetrating violence. The movement is accused of fostering a “war on cops” When the statistics clearly demonstrate that there is no “war on cops.” In fact, if the rate of police deaths continue, 2015 is on track to be the second safest year on record for police officers.  Furthermore, The Guardian has counted over 800 civilians have been killed by law enforcement. Over 172 of those people confirmed to have been unarmed. Knowing how things have worked, how many of the other 700 may have been unarmed but because of lack of footage, we only have the officer’s account? This isn’t to accuse individual officers of being “bad people”, but it’s acknowledging the pull that the atmosphere of an institution can have on individuals, no matter how good they are. Martin Luther King Jr, himself could be a police officer and the institution would still have a profound effect on how he would treat the poor, people of color, etc and all those dismissed by the larger culture of being thugs. And of course this isn’t to say there are no justifiable shootings, there are. But the fact of the matter is that the institution, like most government institutions, is marred by injustice and racism. The individual cop can be the most upstanding person but if the institution upholds laws that target minorities and the poor, if accountability is considered to be a dirty word, if civilians are treated as enemy combats, all this will affect how the officer treats those that he/she comes into contact with.

The “Police/Blue Lives Matter” movement and its supporters have insisted that calls for accountability are the same as calls to murder individual police officers. They are equating protests for change with waging a war. As a result, they are precariously close to creating an atmosphere where nonviolent protests are ignored and discredited leaving those who care about justice two options: inaction or to bring change through violence. The state is potentially creating a situation where those who care about injustice are left with nothing but bad options, which leaves the door open for death and destruction.

The “Exodus story” in which God frees the Jewish people from the abuse and oppression of Pharaoh is often portrayed, rightly I think, as a story of liberation. It reminds those who are being exploited by the powers that be, that God is with them, and will never leave them. However, it is also a story of warning for those who find themselves in positions of power. In an individualized country, such as America, the exodus story has been reduced to a feel good story that if I am in trouble, God will help me. In reality, the message serves as a warning for those of us who participate in institutions that systematically oppresses others. In the story, ( specifically Exodus chapters 7-14) God, through Moses provides the Pharaoh with numerous opportunities to repent and gives warning after warning about the devastation that would occur should the pharaoh decide not to listen to God’s demand for the freedom of the Israelites. Finally, after the death of the firstborn in Egypt, the Pharaoh seems to have had enough. He lets the Israelites go. Yet at the last minute he changes his mind: Exodus 14:5-9

14:5-9: When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the minds of Pharaoh and his officials were changed toward the people, and they said, “What have we done, letting Israel leave our service?” So he had his chariot made ready, and took his army with him; he took six hundred picked chariots and all the other chariots of Egypt with officers over all of them. The Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt and he pursued the Israelites, who were going out boldly. 9

The story does not end happily for Pharaoh and his men, who are ultimately killed.

While I don’t believe in a God figure that manipulates people into doing what is good or what is bad, or that God “hardens” the hearts of people, (however one may interpret that) what I take away from the Exodus story is that those who exploit others and refuse to repent will ultimately be destroyed. And I believe that they end up destroying themselves-they create situations where the only way for justice to reign is by the end of a sword or gun.

I firmly believe that the lives of all people-black, white, native, men, women, police officers, government officials, etc matters. This is why I advocate for justice and why I stand with the Black Lives Matter movement, who are trying to peacefully bring about change. They aren’t saying only Black Lives Matter, but are pointing out a larger truth in America: that institutionalized racism continues to serve as the basis for many institutions including the legal system and law enforcement. And this is why I cry out to those in positions of power to be willing to accept calls for accountability, to make the necessary changes, and to not create an environment where peaceful protests are ridiculed and are accused of endorsing violence. Do not create a situation where people are forced to choose between inaction and justice, even if justice comes through violence. Violence can so easily get out of control and create a perpetual cycle of injustice. When peaceful cries for change and justice are ignored, death and destruction follow. If those in power and those in law enforcement truly care assert that “Police Lives Matter” and that “All Lives Matter” they will take seriously nonviolent calls for justice.

Note: I am not speaking on behalf of the Black Lives Matter, or any other social justice movement. These are simply my own thoughts and reflections.

“I don’t think you want to become that man.”- The Temptation of Violence

DOCTOR: We can end this right now. We could save everyone right now.
AMY: This is not how we roll, and you know it. What happened to you, Doctor? When did killing someone become an option?
DOCTOR: Jex has to answer for his crimes.
AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?
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In my introduction to preaching class (I am in the final year of the Masters of divinity program) the instructor asserted that no matter how many times a pastor has preached on a specific biblical text he/she should be able to craft a different sermon each time that takes into account their current context. In a similar vein, I decided to write a blog post on the above quote from the episode, A Town Called Mercy.I know have written on the episodes and the aforementioned quotes and to be honest I will be touching on a recurring theme on this blog which seems to be a variation of the biblical mandate “to love your enemies” (which has turned into an over-used cliché that masks the difficulty of such a task) and to follow Christ in trying to demonstrate a way of living that runs counter to the status quo of daily life.

In A Town Called Mercy the Doctor struggles with his own inner demons based on his decision to destroy galifrey (this is a pre-The Day of the Doctor episode) and the numerous instances where he has tried to save lives and failed. Yet in addition to his struggles with his own guilt, there is something pure, raw and relatable about his anger and his belief that killing Jex would not make Jex pay for his past actions but would also protect the town from the Gunslinger seeking to bring Jex to justice (or rather what the Gunslinger considers to be justice: Jex’s death) I at least, relate to the Doctor’s anger and his struggle with the temptation to believe the myth of redemptive violence: that death and destruction can ultimately bring about justice.

In the past few days, a handful of police officers have been killed and the police officers and politicians want to lay the blame of their deaths on the Black Lives Matter and police accountability movements. Despite the fact that the murder of police officers are down and that the numbers of officers killed by gunfire so far (24) nowhere compares to the numbers of civilians killed by officers, police departments throughout the nation have argued that there is a “war on police officers.” The injustice and absurdity of such an argument angers me. The fact that 786 people can be killed by police officers and over 100 of those killed are unarmed (and one should question the remaining deaths of those considered to be “armed,” especially if the only record of the incident is the word of the police officer) renders the assertion that there is a “war on police officers” to be disingenuous. To be clear, I am not arguing that police officers are “bad” in fact I find the dichotomy of “good” cops and “bad” cops to be false. I think most cops are regular people-with the strengths and weaknesses that we all struggle with. While there are cases of rogue cops-the larger issue is institutional.  The American legal system-including law enforcement is built on notions that foster white supremacy and compliance to authoritarianism. As citizens we are supposed to accept the idea that somehow black and brown people rare inherently more violent than their white peers. We are to acquiescence to the notion that the state can and should be able to kill with impunity-no questions asks. We are encouraged to comply with the state’s demands and actions in the name of “national security” even if it involves the deaths of hundreds of American citizens, false imprisonment, and the erosion of civil liberties.

As a person of faith-it is disheartening to see how cycles of oppression and valence continue unabated. As a person of color it angers me that some of the issues that the civil rights movement were addressing are still a problem and that the state refuses to acknowledge the existence of said issues, let alone take steps towards a sustainable solution. It feels as if there is no hope that of long lasting change. And it is this despair that causes me to wonder, in the darkest recesses of my heart, if violence might, in fact, be the answer. If the state refuses to listen to relatively peaceful protests, then maybe we should fight back. If the lives of black and brown people (though it is important to acknowledge unarmed white people are also killed by police) seem to value so little to the state and to police officers, why the hell should I care if a police officer is randomly gunned down? While I would never engage in physical violence, I find myself thinking that perhaps in order for change to occur we need to start using the state’s tactics against it. In other words, I find myself very much empathizing with the eleventh doctor’s decision to put a gun to Jex’s head. Violence seems to offer a solution.

Amy Pond however, points out the futility and cruelty of such action. Not only should the Doctor avoid reducing himself to Jex’s level but she wants to know what happens after he kills Jex. Amy responds, “AMY: And what then? Are you going to hunt down everyone who’s made a gun or a bullet or a bomb?” If the doctor kills Jex because of his past actions of injustice, then where will the killing end? Who else should be executed-those who make bombs and the guns that lead to war and destruction? And what about the ways in which we all in some measure benefit from oppression and injustice? If we point the gun at those we believe to be the cause of oppression, then at some point we will need to point the weapon at ourselves.

Later on in the episode the doctor recognizes the futility of violence. The Doctor tells Walter, a 17 year old who wants to kill Jex that doing so would only extend the cycle of violence:

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In the gospels, there are verses in which Jesus condemns violence. One such case occurs in Matthew 26:47-56, in which Jesus is being arrested. One of his followers cuts off the ear of the high priest’s slave and Jesus responds, “put your sword back into its place, for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.” (Matthew26:52). By the time Matthew was written, the Jewish temple had been destroyed and the armed revolt on the part of some Jewish people was brutally put down. The fact is that violence is rarely if ever redemptive and it often perpetrates more injustice and oppression.  Furthermore, what did cutting off the slave’s ear accomplish? It didn’t end the systematic exploitation and injustice Jesus often railed against. And as a slave of the high priest-how much power did the slave truly have? Likewise, what does the act of killing an individual cop accomplish? Does it end police brutality? Does it eradicate institutional racism?  Or does it simply expand the suffering that violence causes?

Intellectually and spiritually I understand this. As someone who yearns for a better world, I understand that violence-even in the name of justice or in response to injustice, often only creates more pain and suffering. Yet despite knowing that I find myself wanting to act like the person in Matthew who cut off the slave’s ear, or like the Doctor who put a gun to the head of the person who committed horrible atrocities. I have to continually listen to the prompting in my spirit and the yearning in my heart that tells me there is another way, a better way to respond to injustice.