A man sits in his yard and wonders how things got so crazy. He’s a rational man…a reasonable man. He’s convinced he’s a good man…not prone to extravagances, not ravenous for luxuries, not one to indulge in eccentricities. He’s even-tempered, keeps his nose in his own business, and lives a “live-and-let-live” existence with neighbors and coworkers. He’s pretty much upbeat, and is quick with a smile and a handshake. He has no enemies…the mere thought is silly. He obeys the law, pays his bills, registers his cars, licenses his pets, insures his property, keeps up his house and disciplines his kids. So how did things get so far out of control so quickly?

They came by to see him this morning, just after breakfast. They weren’t strangers. The faces were mostly familiar. Some of the younger ones had lived in the neighborhood for years. A few had provided services—delivered papers, mowed the lawn for a couple bucks, sold him treats and knickknacks for community fundraisers. But, something had changed…those familiar faces were set and stern. The older ones were less familiar. They were the ones doing most of the talking…or yelling. They were angry. They were threatening, but said he had nothing to fear…as long as he supported their cause. They said they were here to set things straight, make social adjustments, advance political change and establish a new order that would benefit everyone…everyone who was a part of the movement, that is. All others were to be excluded…by force, if necessary. They made it clear that he was being recruited for his support. They would call on him later. “Oh, hey…nice house you have here. We’ll help you keep it.”

How did things get so crazy so fast?

The scene described has played out time and time again throughout the world for thousands of years…noncombatants getting folded into conflicts. We have our own experiences of the American Revolution and Civil War…circumstances that have come to life on the “silver screen” in movies such as The Patriot and Cold Mountain. But if we go too far back, we’ll enter that distant history that is so out of focus that it’s irrelevant to most. But those who still remember their school lessons, or are old enough to recall firsthand, can bring to mind some specific examples:

  • The lead up to the Russian Revolution of 1917
  • The many Irish revolts leading to The Troubles of the 1960’s that pitted Catholics against Protestants and the IRA against British troops through the 1990’s
  • The nationalist movements that proceeded World War II with the Nazis in Germany and militarists in Japan
  • The communist insurgency in Vietnam from 1954 to 1976
  • The Cuban Revolution of 1953-1959

That’s just to name a few, and they all involved conflicts that resulted in formal wars of one kind or another. Of course, we also have the very contemporary struggles in the Middle East. It’s hard for most of us to imagine having everything including our lives threatened because of our religion or our nationality…or affiliation with any group, class, tribe, party or status. Thousands have been slaughtered for such things…a horror that most of us fail to fully appreciate, because it’s happening “over there.” 

Downplaying the significance hasn’t helped. That done by politicians has made the uninformed less so and has raised serious doubts in their credibility among those who do know better. Many otherwise peace-loving individuals have been rolled up in the radical Islamist activities that have engulfed that region in hostilities for decades, particularly since the beginning of the Israeli State in 1948, and are now threatening us domestically. Interestingly, the roots of those problems have become so diffuse that they don’t always involve nation states or even clearly defined organizations. That gives news media heads fits over how to cover the issues accurately when their habit is to dummy-down the facts for easy public consumption. Such is the apparent growing state of modern radical politics.

What, then, shall we say in response to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?(Romans 8:31)

True, but it’s not always so easy. The man in our story above asks, “How did things get so crazy so fast?” In truth, the movement that deposited the group of radicals in his front yard has been swirling around him for some time. The progress has been gradual and the result of circumstances largely outside his sphere of influence, because while the flames of discontent and conflict were small little flickers, he kept to himself and stayed out of the fray. He dismissed the telltale signs of a growing storm as none of his business and irrelevant to his life…until it was too late and things burst forth in open aggression. If he survives the conflict intact, he, and those like him, will help write the history of the conflagration sure to come. In the meantime, the neighborhood cherubs have become radicalized and will be constructively holding him hostage in his own house. He may try to find comfort in the tentative aspects he has in common with the troublemakers and allow him to maintain some semblance of loose camaraderie with them. “Well, they’re raising hell with those other people, but at least they’re not burning down my house. They may be radicals, but…at least for now…they’re my radicals.”

At least for now

But that’s just the problem. Eventually, this stereotype will be forced to declare for a side or suffer the consequences. As others establish an aggressive opposition to “the radicals,” the options will get whittled down to “you’re one of us or one of them.” He may withdraw, lock the door, and try to ride out the storm under the radar. He may become enveloped in a cause he really wants nothing to do with. Or he may abandon his abode, escape the clutches of the mob, and become a refugee on the other side…or stay where he’s at and become an “enemy spy.” Ultimately, he doesn’t favor any of the choices and at some point laments not having done something to circumvent the conundrums when he had the chance.

How is this relevant to us? Well, look around. Those of us who live in suburbia may have a little trouble relating directly to this scenario, but we don’t have to look too far to see where it’s playing out for many Americans. Look at those living in neighborhoods dominated by gangs. Look at those living in multicultural and ethnically diverse communities where there is conflict between groups and with authorities. How about those heavily influenced by white supremacists, neo-Nazis, or anti-government militias? What about the political, social and religious conflicts that emanate from our televisions 24/7, our radios during our commutes, and the Internet and social media on demand? Do we really believe that “self-radicalization” is a passive affair? I would suggest that if we don’t address that situation aggressively (arguments about political correctness aside), we’ll be standing in our yards asking, “How did things get so crazy so fast?”

Some of us already are.

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Photo by Jose Chavarry via Flickr