Death and All of His Friends

Earlier today, the oldest and I were riding in a car to an appointment. He was having a rough morning of his own doing and I wanted him to get re-grounded before we set off on the day. So I plugged in my phone and I played the Coldplay song “Strawberry Swing.” I told him the story about how this was the song that his mom and I listened to when we brought him home from the hospital and it will always be one of my favorites because it reminds me of how lucky we are to have him. In the span of 4 minutes and 10 seconds, his entire demeanor brightened and we were ready to take on the day.

The song after that is “Death and All of His Friends.” It’s probably been a year or two since I’ve heard this song, but the escalating refrain at the end has been in my head all day long:

I don’t want to battle from beginning to end
I don’t want a cycle of recycled revenge
I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends

That declaration has always touched a nerve with me. And it feels increasingly defiant in today’s world. And, yeah, I know that defiance is often not associated with Coldplay (I will not apologize for liking Coldplay). But I feel like I’m living in a time where battles are raging and recycled revenge is being embraced with an unholy kiss. It’s in politics. It’s in our churches. It’s in our neighborhoods. Even the people who are trying to pull disparate factions together seem to have this undercurrent of animosity towards all parties involved. Everyone seems trapped in the vicious circle. It’s that last scene in Ingmar Bergman’s The Seventh Seal and Death is leading all of us on a leash.

“I don’t want to follow death and all of his friends.” That is a Christian statement if I’ve ever heard one. Obviously it is not one exclusive to my faith, but my understanding of Jesus is that he wanted us to follow him into the way of life rather than the way of death. He wanted us to forsake shadowing the hatred, selfishness, fear, apathy, greed, prejudice, and all of these other companions of death.

The way of Jesus, the way of God is a way of life. That way is good news for all people. You can hear it in the Beatitude blessings for all sorts who were trampled on by Death and his friends. You can see it in every action Jesus took throughout his life; every miracle and every interaction all the way up to when he entered into Death itself and overcame it. I don’t want to follow Death and all of his friends. I want to follow Jesus. I want to follow in the way of life. I want to follow a way of love, healing, and redemption.

Perhaps that is one of the simplest ways to figure out if our actions are following the Christian ethic. Is what I am doing following Jesus into life or is it following Death? Is it something that is going to lift up others or something that is going to destroy? Am I behaving in a way that works towards peace and reconciliation or am I just perpetuating a cycle of recycled revenge? Healing or brokenness? And does it only benefit people like me and make our lives comfortable? Because what purportedly brings life to the well off can be death for those less fortunate.

Those are simple questions but the answers aren’t always so easy. But I think it’s better to ask the questions rather than just blindly follow along with this combative, kill-or-be-killed, us versus them culture that has consumed so many people including the church. And asking those questions is difficult because they don’t necessarily bring us to places where we are all going to get along. People follow the cycles because they are safe, they are familiar, you don’t have to stick your neck out.

Trying to break the cycles—even as you try to break them up with love—is when people really get upset. All we can do in those moments when our convictions invite the wrath of others is to stand by them with firmness, gentleness, and respect. We will follow Jesus to the best of our ability. We will not back down, but we won’t dogmatically feed never-ending battle that some want to wage.

I played “Strawberry Swing” for Jim this morning because I saw a shadow of Death’s friends in his eyes. That’s not to be melodramatic. He was hurting and I love my son far too much to let that shadow stay there. I am painfully aware that there will be times when I can’t chase those shadows with a story and a song. But I am going to whatever I can because he has my heart.

Jesus asks that our neighbor would have our heart too. That is one of many defiant refrains in the gospel. It’s a lot easier to care deeply for our loved ones, but we’re asked to fiercely love everyone around us in the same way. We are called to do what we can to break up cycles of physical, emotional, relational, and spiritual violence. The world needs people who will not just blindly follow Death and all of his friends. May God grant us the courage and heart to do so.

This post originally appeared on Wilcomoore.

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