In advocating for more peaceful play among children, especially boys, I realize that I have gotten stuck.
I keep searching for data that backs up my claim that violent play creates violent children, or at least their greater acceptance of violence within our society. Like anyone advocating for societal change, I gather facts to back up my claim. The research is out there but the other side claims they have conflicting data, and then the argument can quickly degenerate into little more than “he said, she said.”
I played such games when I was a boy and look at me. I grew up fine. Heck, I’m writing a Peace blog!
I had bottle rocket wars with my former bully turned friend (see my earlier post). My cousins and I had rubber band gun battles (guns made by my conservative Mennonite grandfather nonetheless – a subject for another post). Another buddy and I would blow up military plane models with firecrackers (though I did gather the pieces, take them home, and try to reassemble them with paint and cardboard). My cousins and I played many marathon games of Risk long into the early hours of day (we did tell our aunts and uncles when they questioned us that we were missionaries spreading the Gospel to the world – another future blog post subject). I played various violent video games, from the early Atari attempts to those on the PC.
While such boyhood war games did not keep me from being the peacemaker that I am trying to be, I do believe that they had an influence on why I am still attracted to violent stories in the newspaper, why I am fascinated by war, why the fires of rage still threaten to rise up from within. I am still far from the peaceful man that I wish to be.
But even if I was the gentlest soul on earth, my actions and insides unaffected by my “just doing what boys do,” I realize now that there is another reason for parents, youth, and children to say no to such play.
It is called being a witness.
This is especially critical for those of us in the Peace Church tradition. With this country engaged in two wars, what does it say to our neighbors when our children play war? When congress is in the midst of budget battles and still refuses to reduce the military budget, what does it say when we purchase military-style toys? When the nation uses drones to kill from a distance, what does it say when our children use a joystick to kill some enemy on a screen? Is it any wonder that children who are traumatized by violence are confused when they see their friends and family shooting each other with Nerf guns and Laser beams?
Numerous religious voices in our society are increasingly asking we Anabaptists to be a louder alternative voice. Our faith history has given us a unique perspective. Speak out! they say. Martyr’s Mirror is a testimony to the many who gave their lives for the Faith rather than kill someone to save themselves or another. And we can’t even tell a child “No,” let alone articulate why we need to be different? This great cloud of witnesses is around us wondering what happened to our witness.
It’s time for Mennonite parents to stop making excuses. It is time for Mennonite youth to stop trying to be like everyone else. It is time for Mennonite churches to stop watering down the peace and justice message under the illusion that it is somehow separate from the Gospel.
Play time is over. Violent play that is.
In twenty years, will the assimilation of the Mennonite church into mainstream Evangelicalism be complete? Or will a new generation have been raised up that is truly at peace with being peacemakers?
I don’t know. I’m just a blogger. But I hope so.
God, I hope so.
“But where you hear of a poor, simple, cast-off little flock, which is despised and rejected by the world, join them.” – Anna of Rotterdam , p. 453-454
“If you sin by not stepping up and offering yourself as a witness to something you’ve heard or seen in cases of wrongdoing, you’ll be held responsible.” Leviticus 5:1 (The Message)