I Quit Carrying a Gun

Robert Powers - Los Angeles, California
As heard on The Bob Edwards Show, March 5, 2010
Robert Powers
Photo courtesy of the University of California Bancroft Library

Former Bakersfield, Calif., police chief Robert Powers struggled to make sense of what he saw in his years in law enforcement. He found comfort in the words of religious and mystic texts from around the world, and in his belief that God loves mankind.

Age Group: 50 - 65
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For many years I searched for someone who could answer my questions. I looked everywhere—in faces and books. Lawrence of Arabia had some of the answers, so I read and re-read his Seven Pillars of Wisdom as well as his letters.

Everything about Lawrence made him more than a hero to me. He was almost a prophet. There was only one flaw. His latter years distressed me. Why should one of his brilliance, courage, and integrity have had to end his life in obscurity—yes, and anguish—as an enlisted man in the British Air Force?

One day I found myself talking about Lawrence. You know how it is, when you get started and can’t stop? But finally, I ended with “Why, why did this have to happen to him?”

There was a long pause. Then a woman said, almost as if she were talking to herself, “His life among the Arabs—he must have known the Koran. There is a passage which Moslems believe are the words of God: ‘And we desire to show favor to those who were brought low in the land, and to make them spiritual leaders among men, and to make them our heirs.’”

My question was answered. I was no longer troubled. That was seven years ago, and since then I have looked for answers, directions, in the Holy Books of all religions.

In Judaism I found a reverence I’d never known before for Law. And there, too, I became aware of the dramatic effect on my life of the words: “The Lord our God, the Lord is One.”

Reading the Gospels with a new eye, I found the criterion—the reference point—for individual behavior and integrity. Whereas I had lived a violent life, I quit carrying a gun, accepting the relaxing concept of non-resistance. In the Koran I found the answers to group-living and the meaning of “Submission to the Will of God” in an active as well as a passive sense.

From the Zoroasterian writings—“Arise, ‘tis dawn! Who riseth first comest first to paradise”—I found new zest for work and living. From Hinduism, I learned to “renounce the fruits of labor.”

And from Baha’i—“The earth is but one country and mankind its citizens”—I became aware that my prejudices had always imprisoned, never protected me.

Thus, I came to believe that man is an impotent, confused creature, except when he develops awareness of the Supreme Being, which awareness expands into love; that power, guidance, and security come only through this love of man for God and God for man.

The universe is organized and orderly; yet every least atom is in motion. The very nature of life is movement. Consequently, there must be an organizer and a governor. When I lose my job, when my child is desperately ill, or when a friend turns against me, these incidents are not fortuitous. No, these happenings are, however painful, a significant pattern of life for me as an individual.

Once, as a child, I became tortured with the thought that my father might abandon me in a strange city. I told him. He said, “That’s impossible because of love. I couldn’t leave you, Rob, if I wanted to. Love is stronger than the trace chains on a twenty-mule team wagon.”

Man today is like that child of fifty years ago. He is terrified that God may abandon him. But if mere man’s love is as strong as steel trace chains, then God’s love is unbreakable. So man—and mankind—are safe. This I believe.

Robert B. Powers entered police work after serving as a cavalryman in World War I. He was a deputy sheriff in New Mexico and Arizona, and was chief of police for Bakersfield, California. Powers co-authored “A Guide to Race Relations for Police Officers.”