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Step Four

Parent Message

To make a fearless moral inventory of ourselves.

Hannah left home when she was sixteen because her father was a drunk and would sometimes lash out. By the time she was twenty, she and her two year old, Billy, lived in a small apartment in a working class neighborhood in Portland, Oregon. After a brief romance, Charlie joined them.

The way she thought about it, Hannah took Charlie to be very different from her father. Though he sometimes drank and would swing between sweetness and verbal abuse, he, she said, only hit her twice during the five years they were together. Their relationship was volatile, to be sure, and Billy would sometimes hide in the closet or under his bed when the adults would fight. But Charlie seemed to love the kid, and Billy definitely loved Charlie. Then one morning after a particularly angry night, Charlie split. No warning. No note. Never to return.

Through the years of his childhood, the volatility of Hannah and Charlie continued between Hannah and Billy. Billy idealized Charlie and blamed his mother for his disappearance. He was skillful with his rage, knew exactly how to push his mother’s buttons. She in turn spewed poison about his beloved Charlie and sometimes slapped him when all her efforts to control him came to naught.

Billy loved slasher movies and violent video games, and for a while Hannah attributed his rage to his emotional immaturity and the vile culture of his peers. It was only when he tried to burn down the neighbor’s garage that Hannah became fearless with the questions of her role in raising a violent boy.

"It was the hardest thing I ever did, looking at how I hurt my boy the way my daddy hurt me. Everything was sour at that time –- alone with my son and us always fighting, struggling hard not to hit him, scared for him, confused, and bitter that Charlie left us like he did. I had clutched to Charlie, thinking I’d drown if I let go, and I kept clutching even when things were getting ugly. I sacrificed my son ‘cause I was so scared of being alone."
Hannah knew humiliation and violence through her father, her lover and then her boy (though he always retained the stubborn dignity of never answering her violence with his own). When she thought about her father’s mother, she could trace violence across generations and sometimes felt completely trapped in a story not of her making but one she was nonetheless responsible for.

While Step Three conjured the sacred community within which we surrender to God’s will, Step Four involves the solitary wrestling with our own conscience. "Fearlessness" says it well, but we have been prepared for there is little more frightening than yielding to God and the Divine imperative that we make peace.
How are we, like Hannah, implicated in the violence that comes our way?

Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld tells us that the war against terrorism might last fifty years. "Think the unthinkable," he says. Let’s try.

In many ways the unthinkable has already happened; not our response unfurling into an inconceivable future but the horrible reality of September 11th itself — the fire, smoke, stench of corpses thick for weeks over the streets of Manhattan. Until then, such was unthinkable on American soil. But isn’t September 11, 1973 also unthinkable? The U.S. engineers a coup in Chile: the presidential palace bombed; the President killed; and for a generation, a dictatorship that tortured its citizens and "disappeared" any who dared oppose the state. The perverse gift of September 11th opens the possibility of empathizing with those who have been our victims. This is where a moral inventory gets real, digs in to the possibility of cutting through the lies that uphold a violent order.

Or the hell, truly unthinkable, that we’ve visited on the citizens of Iraq. In a country of 20 million people, 500,000 children dead from the U.S. embargo. A six hundred percent increase in leukemia and a plethora of birth defects proves that depleted uranium has all the "advantages" of nuclear warfare without the public outcry.

Think of it. What if something like that happened to our children? Mass destruction justified by the desire to rid our former ally of weapons of mass destruction; then Secretary of State Albright actually affirmed on Sixty Minutes that it was "worth it."

How would we feel about such an enemy?

But no need even to use the weapons we’ve accumulated — sufficient the violence of pouring our wealth into their creation. Eisenhower: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired, signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed."

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