Counting Coup - wednesday 2005-08-10 1512 last modified 2005-08-20 1507
Categories: Christianity
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Some Native Americans tribes practiced counting coup during battle. Different acts of courage were ranked according to the bravery required to execute them: to kill an enemy over long distances with an arrow counted for nothing (you can imagine how a musket would rank in that system), but to touch an enemy with your hand or a coup stick was the highest form. It is the penultimate form of meekness and bravery to not kill an enemy even though you have all the power to do so. Presumably battle was engaged at the same time fighters were looking to count coup, else war would have descended into a tickling match; but the presumption may be wrong.

Warriors were awarded eagle feathers for counting coup and eventually created warbonnets from them. If historical accounts of cultural mores as detailed by public education are to be believed, then it would perhaps make sense that societies without need for complex economic systems, ones that treated property as a divine privilege rather than real estate, ones in which monies and trade goods could be created by hand, would have less need for slaying one another. Which is not to say that there weren't other reasons to enter into battle, just that traditional large scale wars of recent history are largely comprised of economic motivations, especially land grabs.

I am not an expert on the practice or the people, and I hope my interpretation is close in spirit, else the analogy I'm about to draw will be worthless. I would appreciate correction on nuances or larger conceptual swaths I've missed.

What must it have been like to propose this to your mates. "Hey guys, instead of killing our enemies, let's see who can touch the most. Try not to die while doing it."

Sounds a bit like Jesus to these Jesus-biased ears. It sounds a bit like his followers, too. The ultimate form of meekness is to die for your enemy's sake, to give up your life even though you could have taken theirs. But while we may wait our whole lives to become martyrs, it seems better in the meantime to look at 'battles' as opportunities to touch our 'enemies.' It is tempting to take an oppositional stance as a Christian, to take on an attitude of us versus them; but those first coup counting warriors knew something, that a touch from behind with the hand instead of the expected pain of a death blow would speak volumes.

Take a step beyond the black and white world of Axis and Allies. It isn't our goal to defeat an enemy. We can be right and still do wrong by them. Our goal is to begin to relate. And it all starts with a touch.

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