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Faith and Values: God’s love neutralizes perils of our ‘victimhood’

Paul Graves

The day after I decided the topic of this column, Shawn Vestal wrote an important commentary in The Spokesman-Review about the horrific killing of police officers in Dallas. He spoke eloquently about the negative way we “take sides.”

“Versus” is in our cultural DNA. I suspect that until “versus” and its abbreviated form “vs.” dwindle in our thinking, speaking and writing, our super-sized fears will not subside.

Nearly 14 years ago, I shared with readers my take on this unfortunate word. Since we have a hyperneurotic need to take sides, here I go again.

First, some word play. Latin and English both define “versus” as “turn against.” Another Latin word, “verus,” means “true.” Add one letter and “true” becomes “turn against.” Could we subconsciously turn against someone or something that is true, simply by a focus on “versus”? Hmm.

Additionally, we shorten “versus” to “vs.” I strongly believe that whenever “versus” either implies or expresses unhealthy attitudes, fear, paranoia, disrespect or violence, “vs.” is also short for “vericis subvertere” (truth subverted). I suggest that “vs.” also stands for “very stupid.”

Culturally and religiously, I see our country gripped by a serious degree of victimhood. By and large, when we feel victimized in any way, we most always blame someone or something else. We’re conditioned to deny responsibility!

Sometimes – like in the senseless shootings we’ve lived through or watched in horror – there are real victims. Sometimes, each of us has been a real victim – domestic violence, fraud, scams, all kinds of injustice. It’s easy to identify why we are victimized in some way.

It isn’t so easy for many of us, however, to respond to being a victim by choosing to not stay a victim. It is so easy to begin to see every action, even every person, as a “vs.,” as a threat against our own truth. That can seduce us into eventually thinking our view of “truth” is The Truth.

Maybe the only truth that we own is that we are in some kind of pain. The Rev. Richard Rohr says often that “spirituality is what you do with your pain.” I see so many people projecting anger and fear through the language of “versus” onto other people or institutions.

I can’t help but wonder what pain they’re trying to scrub from their souls. Whatever they have been victimized by, I wonder if they are also letting themselves be victimized by “versus.”

For people who try to be followers of Jesus, we recognize that Jesus was a victim of destructive governmental and religious power. How did he live out his victimhood? Rohr calls him the “forgiving victim.” Yes, he was.

In his daily meditation for July 4, Rohr says, “Jesus is the victim in an entirely new way because he receives our hatred and does not return it; nor does he play the victim for his own empowerment. He absorbs the mystery of human sin and transforms it rather than passing it on.”

So it wasn’t a cheap, super-pious forgiveness. No forgiveness born of love ever is. God’s depth of love for human beings yearns for no persons to be victimized by their pain, fear, anger, or an attitude of “versus.”

God’s unyielding love of every human being – every person – takes away any need to use our victimhood to manipulate others, to intimidate others, to stereotype others, to even create “the other side.” We no longer need to use our times of being victims like that.

Jesus followed God’s lead and overcame the “versus virus” and embraced a love-created forgiveness. He shows us the way!

The Rev. Paul Graves, a Sandpoint resident and retired United Methodist minister, is the founder of Elder Advocates. He can be contacted at

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