Family Feuds

While driving to early services this morning, I hear news of the latest escalation of sectarian violence in the Middle East—bombings and sniper fire in Gaza; rocket attacks on Israel. Two Palestinian factions—Hamas and Fatah—are at each other’s throats. If the rockets attacks continue, the Israeli government is threatening to take more decisive action.

This brings to mind Mark Twain’s description of a family feud in Huckleberry Finn. In the passage, Buck explains it to Huck like this: “A feud is this way: A man has a quarrel with another man, and kills him; then that other man’s brother kills him; then the other brothers, on both sides, goes for one another; then the cousins chip in—and by and by everbody’s killed off, and there ain’t no more feud. But it’s kind of slow, and takes a long time.”

Indeed—sometimes millennia.

Last week’s New York Times Sunday magazine (May 13, 2007) carried a story about the millions of Iraqis that have fled the conflict in their country, only to incur continued violence as refugees—in many cases from infighting among themselves—Sunni and Shiite sects. Those who dare to extend a hand to help a fallen foe end up in the morgue, their bodies mutilated. In some cases, it’s a luxury for family members to locate the body of a missing loved one.

The following Sunday, Huck accompanies Buck’s family to church. Members of the other family attend the service as well. Huck reports that “the men took their guns along.” The preaching was “pretty ornery—all about brotherly love, and such-like tiresomeness; but everybody said it was a good sermon, and they all talked it over going home, and had such a powerful lot to say about faith and good works and free grace and preforeordestination, and I don’t know what all, that it did seem to me to be one of the roughest Sundays I had run across yet.”

Later, after Buck and his father and brothers are killed in a shoot out, Huck flees the scene and is reunited with Jim. The two escape by raft on the river. “I was powerful glad to get away from the feuds,” Huck admits. “You feel mighty free and easy and comfortable on a raft.”

I wish it were that easy to escape the daily reports of violence today. I can only take solace in the words of Dylan Thomas: “After the first death, there is no other.”

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