No Man’s Land
by Harry Banks
This week I wrote an evaluation for the CEO of a nonprofit agency which serves as a safety net for our community. As I was poring through the minutes, reports, financials and other documents, I ran across a line from our Chief Executive's annual report in November.
A Little Background
As part of this agency's outreach it offers the only nationally certified emergency domestic violence shelter in our state. In addition they have several related services which offer interventions for batterers and domestic violence prevention for men and women. In speaking of these services he said that we were building a bridge through “No Man’s Land” for victims … A bridge to “support, productivity, strong relationships and self-respect.”
No Man's Land
As I have watched some of the conflict reported in some of the articles and comments in Adventist Today, and watched the conflict in my home church and conference, it seems that we may be experiencing our own kind of “no man’s land.”
I once had two friends. (Some of my acquaintances might ask me how I got that many. You notice I didn’t call those acquaintances "friends.") I once had two friends who found themselves at extreme odds with each other. Since the environment for our friendship had been a clinical supervision course and I had managed to reach advanced standing in the certification process … (Hmm, but let's not digress.) my two friends decided that I should mediate their issues. I should probably mention that one of these two individuals was the clinical supervisor for the program.
Talk about a “No Man’s Land.” I felt like I was out in no man’s land while they lobbed charges, counter charges, accusations, and general vitriol at each other. I was thinking, I could lose both friends at one stroke! Yeah! Somehow it all worked out.
"A bridge through no man’s land" got me to thinking. What kind of bridges am I building for the people who have been placed in my life? I teach at a college and this spring I saw students graduate who had overcome severe odds, complex impediments to success. And one with the most impediments graduated with honors! One day one of the business staff came charging into my office and announced with direct firmness, “You are changing lives.” She went on to document the indications of success that were appearing in the life of one of my students. Hmm … Had I built some kind of bridge? But compared to a bridge from domestic violence, maybe not so much.
Another friend of mine is a nurse for the Department of Corrections. I often think that he has an opportunity to build bridges through no man’s land. Yet another friend carries out a prison ministry and reports some of the purest faith he has seen anywhere is found in his time spent with prisoners. That sure sounds like a bridge being built.
So I guess my question is this; What no man’s land is God asking you and me to venture into? And no matter what no man’s land we find ourselves in, what kind of bridges are we to build?
Some of my students and coworkers have experienced domestic violence first hand. When I did my advanced degree work, I interviewed people who sat at the business end of a rifle for years until their arm went numb or others who endured domestic stress until they physically lost their sight. One of my friends told me that during a certain period in her life whenever her children heard her and her husband start to argue, her son would start packing a pillow case because he knew they would be leaving home in state custody. As I get to know these friends better they gradually let me know how difficult it is for them to develop trust. They tell me how important it is to be very cautious and careful to avoid any appearance or tone of coercion.
One of the most haunting pieces of Scripture for me is from Isaiah 42 where “my servant” is being described. Most preachers seem to like to preach from the “cry aloud” verses, but this passage also says, “He shall not cry, nor lift up, nor cause his voice to be heard in the street.” (Verse 2) And then comes the haunting part … “A bruised reed shall he not break, and the smoking flax shall he not quench: he shall bring forth judgment unto truth.” (Verse 3)
It's that “smoking flax shall he not quench” that gets me. Really!? Here in Alaska we camped for a year or so while we started construction on a log home. In some of those early weeks we felt so uptown when we had a tarp overhead to protect our fire from the rain. Some days a smoking flax would have never had a chance. Poof … Snuff … Done … Out!
When I see all the attempts at spiritual coercion, the spiritual violence that we practice on each other, I think, How can we not help but crush, snuff out smoldering faith?
And what is “my servant” in Isaiah about? Isaiah says “my Servant” is given for a light to the Gentiles; “To open the blind eyes, to bring out the prisoners from the prison, and them that sit in darkness out of the prison house.” (Verse 7)
Nearly every time I sit with this Isaiah 42 passage it seems there is a Divine grace that cares for victims, with such gentleness, such deliberateness that any spark of faith will not be crushed, or quenched.
So What Am I Looking For?
First of all, I’m not sure. I’m not sure why it seems important to share this. Maybe it’s because it gives me hope. Hope that when I feel beat up, about ready to give up hope, there is this vision of even a smoking flax surviving because of the care of the Servant in Isaiah. And he seems to want to build bridges from blindness, from prison … to freedom, to fulfillment, to healing.
So what am I looking for in this piece? I’d like to hear about bridges through no man’s land that are being built. I’d like to hear about victims that are emerging into a land of support, faith, and redemption (personal and spiritual). Tell me there is something beyond “no man’s land.”