One of my very favorite stories in the world is “The War Prayer” by Mark Twain. Twain wrote it, and then had his daughter read it. When she finished, she warned her father that they (meaning the world in general) would crucify him for it because it was a truth no one wanted to hear.
Twain then said, “Only dead men tell the truth. Publish it after I’m dead.”
I can’t wait that long. So, here goes.
The Conversation –
I was in Wal-Mart with a police officer friend of mine. He was wearing a soft cap which had his department name on it, and I’m wearing my old Military Police cap.
We were looking at recently released DVDs when an older man approached us. He greeted us, and then asked my friend a question.
I’m glad he directed the question to my friend. I’d have told him to go to Hell.
“As a police officer, how many people have you killed?” The question was dripping with disdain towards us. He had a smirk on his face and he’d said it loudly enough that several people turned to look in out direction. The man was pushing something, and like I said, I’m so glad my friend handled it.
My friend smiled. “I’ll answer your question,” he said, “but I need you to humor me for a second.”
He held up his hand. There was a long two inch scar between his thumb and index finger. “See that? I was called to a home one night where a man was beating his wife. We ended up having to arrest him because he’d beat her so badly. In the course of putting the handcuffs on him, his wife attacks me with a knife. The scar there is what we call a defensive wound. I threw up my hand to protect myself, and the knife went into my hand. My partner arrested her as I, still bleeding, finished cuffing her husband. Then we got them jail, and only then did I get to the hospital.
“She said she stabbed me because I was a police officer and I was arresting her husband. The funny part is she’s still in prison and he’s out there still abusing other women.”
He then pointed at a scar on his wrist. “See that? I got that by reaching into a car where a baby was left in it’s car seat in the middle of summer at a busy shopping center. Someone saw it, called us, and I busted out the window to save the child. Doctors said if another five minutes had passed, the child might have died. The parent tried suing us for breaking out the window on the car.”
Then he pointed to his side, in that space between his liver and his rib cage. “See that?”
“Sorry, I’d have to take my shirt off the show you. The folks here in the store might not appreciate it. There’s a bullet wound there. A violent man, fresh out of prison, stole a pistol and went looking for his ex-wife. He was out to kill her. We got there first. He shot at me, and I took the bullet. When we went to return fire he threw the gun away and put up his hands.
“His ex is still alive and he’s back in prison. But he’s still alive.”
Then he pointed at his head. “See that?”
“No. And what does that have to do with my question?”
“Like I said, humor me. Those are the scars you’ll never see. One of them is a deceased gang member. He and his friends had a throw down with a rival gang. He was left dying in the street. I knelt beside him, and prayed with him, and held his hand as he died. He professed Jesus as he did. Otherwise, he’d have died alone and without hope.
“There’s a thousand more up there just like it. The abused wives, the drunks drivers who killed someone because they didn’t know when to quit or to call a cab. Those are the scars you won’t see.
“Now, maybe the question you should have asked is how many people are alive because I was there? There was the child I took out of the car. There was the older man who I did CPR on. There’s the ex-wife I took a bullet for. There’s a lot more, just like them.
“In all the years I’ve been an officer, I’ve tried very hard not to hurt anyone. I, just like so many of us, don’t enjoy hurting people. Yes, there are stupid people out there. There are officers who are racists. There are officers who have no respect for anyone.
“But for everyone who falls into that category, there’s hundreds of us that aren’t. We do the job because we want to help people, not hurt them.”
“But what about . . .?”
“Floyd? Was I there? Did I have anything to do with that? How about the officers who have been hurt and killed in the riots afterwards? We’re they there? Did they do that? That was the act of some very stupid people, and none of us were there. If we’d been there, it would never have happened!”
“But . . .”
My friend was on a roll, and went on.
“You’re labeling me because of who and what I am. What does that sound like to you?
“Now let me ask you a question. Answer it and I’ll answer yours. Do you know that a black ancestor of mine ended up on the wrong end of a rope because another black man is alleged to have raped a white woman? He had nothing to do with it, yet they hung him. Turns out she lied about it, but he’s still dead.
“Another of my ancestors left everything she owned and barely got out of Europe one step ahead of the Nazis who wanted her dead simply because she was Jewish.
“Those men listened to what others said about a group of people. They condemned them for the acts, real or imagined, of a few.
“Now, I’m finishing up and then I’ll give you my answer. But Jesus once told a group of men that if they looked a woman with lust in their hearts, they’ve committed adultery.
“He also applied that to hate. He said ‘Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.’
“That means if you hate anyone, you’re guilty. Fail to pray for any of our leaders, no matter which wide of the aisle they’re on just because you hate their politics, then you’re guilty. If you hate me because of my profession, you’re guilty of murder. Hate is what causes murder. It’s killed hundreds of millions of people.
“I ask you. When does it stop?”
The man stared at my friend. I don’t know if he was angry or what, but my friend continued to speak. Everyone was listening.
“I wish I lived in a world where you didn’t need people like me,” my friend went on. “I wish I lived in a world where we didn’t need standing armies or stare down the barrel of atomic war. I wish I lived in a world where husbands didn’t beat there wives, or parents didn’t leave a child in a car, or people knew better and didn’t drink and drive and kill people.
“We don’t. Until we get better people, we’ll always have to have people like me.
“So I ask you. What are you defending? What are you attacking? Are you acting out of love or out of hate? What are your motives?
“Maybe, if you want to judge someone guilty, start with yourself.
“Now, to answer your question. By the criteria Jesus laid out, I’ve killed a lot fewer people than you have.”
The man walked away muttering that my friend was a fool.