Following Jesus

How to Beat a Bully

July 20, 2021 by

These days, much is made of cyber-bullying, and of course it is a problem. But physical violence still exists, and the Bible still challenges us to be peacemakers. My father, Dick Wareham, was raised in the Church of the Brethren, one of the historic peace churches. As a depression-era schoolboy, he faced his share of bullies, and received his first lesson in peacemaking, courtesy of his father. In his own words:

School in the first through eighth grades brought many wonderful experiences. I lived about a block and a half from school. But within this block and a half I had my first lesson on pacifism. Two families in town were large poor families with many boys, and there was not much love to be had, or food or security. They were the Gates and the Butler boys. And they were fighters, tough as nails.

BullyEmbed"The Catch." Artwork by Norman Rockwell, 1919.

At one point in fourth or fifth grade, it fell to my lot to get beaten up by them on the way home from school so that I had a bloody nose, black eyes, cuts and bruises, and a terrible headache. When my father saw my condition, he went to the parents and reported the incident, in the hope that that would be the end of it. But the next day I was again attacked, and my brother, two years older, who was to walk home with me as a bodyguard, was wiped out also with a worse beating than I got the first day. When we appeared at home, we both looked like we had walked through a tornado.

My grandfather, a militant at heart, was ready to lead the Wareham clan down the street and into battle. But my father sat down with us (after our bruises and cuts were cared for) and helped us to work out a strategy for the next days. We were to come home a different way, waiting in school a bit longer before starting. But they still headed us off and proceeded to beat us up. By this time, we were pretty scared, and school wasn’t very interesting, because three o’clock was on our minds all day long. And we were reminded with grins and sneers from them in class that we were in for it again. My father reasoned that over the weekend it would cool off and that they would probably find someone else to give their attention to. He suggested that we try to outrun them, since we were quite fast runners.

So, on Monday we both headed for the door at bell time and took out full speed for the block and a half with the pack of six boys at our heels. They caught us by flinging stones, which we slowed down to dodge. So we lost again. The next day my brother and I decided to walk and fight. We walked slowly down the street and as they surrounded us and started in on us, we flew into them with full force. We got in some pretty good blows and put a few black eyes on other faces, but were overcome and beaten more than before.

When we got home and reported what we had done, my father was very sad. He said that we were wrong in fighting back, and that we would never find the answer that way. He then sent my two uncles along to walk home with us until it cooled off.

A week later or so I had a birthday, and my father said that the only boys I could have to come help celebrate my birthday were the Gates and Butler boys and that I should invite them at school. I was terribly scared, but I did invite them, and they even came – to my surprise. They ate like hungry wolves, and my father had all the ice cream and cakes and candies there to fill them up. He gave them each something to take home for their families. They really enjoyed that, because no one had ever invited them before. They were really outcasts in town.

That was the end of our beatings on the way home from school. My father never talked about it, but the next summer he especially invited those boys to come up to the park to play ball in the leagues that we had. They came, and were soon some of the best players, and felt wanted by all of us. I remember these incidents very well, but never thought about the lesson I learned from my father in this experience until I was older.


Kirk Wareham lives with his wife, Alice, at Woodcrest, a Bruderhof in Rifton, New York.

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