Tilting at Windmills

windmillI am one of those people who is deeply troubled by the violence that people do to one another. When I read news accounts about the sectarian wars in Syria, Egypt and other places all over our planet, I cannot help but feel hopelessly sad. I find power struggles at the expense of human lives completely senseless and unspeakably tragic.

When I hear about a family conflict gone horribly wrong,  people choosing to act out their hatred towards someone who doesn’t fit their model of acceptable,  or an individual turning on strangers as a means to deal with their own personal issues, I cannot help but want to weep.

When I hear or read some comments on these horrific tragedies, I have to wonder what in the hell is wrong with us. How can people be so callous about the unspeakable things we do to one another? How can we even think more violence will be the solution to an already violent situation? Why do we think that sending more weapons to a place already awash with them, or bombing villages to the ground in hopes of killing a suspected terrorist, is a solution for peace? Why do we have conversations, saying, “Well, if she hadn’t been wearing that, then he wouldn’t have…,”  or “Well if they weren’t this way then maybe people wouldn’t hate them”? Why is there a call for prayers and support to one religious minority in a country suffering from the result of war, while dismissing, ignoring or blaming people of other faiths who are also being killed or injured and just can’t get out of harms way?

I know that humanity does many things well—violence exceptionally so—so maybe it shouldn’t bother me, and I should just accept it and embrace callousness. Maybe people are right: that I’m too soft-hearted and too willing to see the good in everyone. Maybe I should change my ways and not care any more. After all, we’ve been a violent species for almost as long as we’ve been a species.

But I just can’t do it.

There is a song from the musical Man of La Mancha called “The Impossible Dream”.  The musical is an adaptation of the story of Don Quixote: a elderly man who has suddenly decided that he is a knight, his mission—to fight injustice. Part of the lyrics state:

To dream the impossible dream,
To fight the unbeatable foe,
To bear with unbearable sorrow
To run where the brave dare not go;

To right the unrightable wrong.
To love, pure and chaste, from afar,
To try, when your arms are too weary,
To reach the unreachable star!

Maybe this is my quest, my unreachable star: to not only feel compassion, and mourn the tragic results of sectarian, domestic, religious, cultural, sexual and politically driven violence, but to speak against it with a goal of trying to end it.  I know its impossible for me, one person to stop violence. I know I have no control over the decisions and actions of others. Having seen violence on an up close and too personal scale, I understand the helplessness, the inability to stop what another is doing to me.

But I still feel compelled to try. I hope my words, small as they are,  will maybe—just maybe—help others realize that they can no longer hear about violence-driven tragedy and not be saddened. Maybe, more of us will understand and put into to practice that oh-so-ancient rule of desiring that no harm to comes to our neighbors, just as we wish no harm to befall ourselves. Maybe, as we all come to the realization that the concept of neighbor is all of us—of every age, of every hue, of every faith, of every culture, of every unique configuration that makes us a beautifully diverse species—then, maybe, we can start achieving the ageless goal of true peace.

Yes, its tilting at windmills. It’s an impossible dream. But is it not worth dreaming?


4 Replies to “Tilting at Windmills”

  1. Good read, thank you.
    In the end, we are all broken, none of us is whole, we can’t be. And in the end, our brokenness leads us to do unspeakable things to one another. It will never be right.
    I will tilt at those same windmills with you, but in the end, we would do better to kneel at the cross. It’s the only place where we can deal with our brokenness.


    1. I disagree. I don’t believe that we are all broken, nor do I believe that being in a state of brokenness, is the excuse for why people do horrible things. To me that would mean that God made us purposely flawed, designed to fail, and the Christian cross is symbol of a cosmic recall shop where those flaws have to be fixed, and anyone who isn’t recalled is screwed. To me that doesn’t sound much like any God I will honor with my every breath.

      I see several problems there, first of with the theology of all us being broken. We are human, purposely made with every possible spectrum, of emotion, and potential. That isn’t brokenness, that is the awesomeness of a grace that gives us complete freedom, to explore, use and even exploit emotion and potential. That some choose to use it to cause harm, and purposely so, doesn’t mean we all do. In fact many, if not most, in every spectrum of humanity, try to do the opposite.

      Second I just can’t buy the theory that only Christian theology offers the only pathway to god and I am a Christian, albeit a happily unorthodox one. I happen to believe that the divine is not contained within only one of our paltry understandings, doctrine or ideals. To me the idea of “kneeling at the cross” is doing nothing. The cross is only a symbol that can have many different meanings, but its just that. God is not the cross, God is not at the cross.

      God is not a Christian, God just is. God is with us, within us, who for a reason I cannot fathom loves us with a capacity beyond our scope of measurement. God has instilled in all of us, whether Christian or Jew or Buddhist or Agnostic the same things–an inherent sense of what we should and should not do, a capacity to love on a grand scale, a sense of self-preservation, and a desire for purpose…among other things. It is in the what we choose to do with what we’ve been gifted, that matters. Our faith doesn’t make us better or worse at being good at the art of compassion. Sometimes religion can suck all the compassion right out of us, if we aren’t careful.

      We can choose to break, or to ignore others that have been broken by another, or to try to do what we can to restore.


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