Tag Archives: peace

Pursue it with a hobble; that’s OK.

I have been pretty much hobbled this week, so I decided to replay a very old blog post that just a few of you read a long time ago. It seems appropriate, as I have spent much of the week with Gwen in the hospital; I had to miss the funeral of my dear friend’s mother; I endured a cyclone bomb of snow and cold; and I did not manage to get all the important work done for our important cause. Yet, as I was writing this, that wonderful old feeling of peace was again given by God. I hope you can enjoy it with me.

Now may the God of peace make you holy in every way, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless until our Lord Jesus Christ comes again. God will make this happen, for he who calls you is faithful.  — 1 Thess. 5:23-4 , New Living Translation

Yesterday I woke up and my back felt a little better. I am slowly getting over my bidecadal back thing. So I felt a little foolish as I hobbled across the street, looking like some old dwarf from Middle Earth, to drop off my keys at my mechanic’s house — he had graciously offered to take my car in himself. Only I had not been to his house in so long that the wrong address I wrote down seemed plausible and I put the keys through the neighbor’s mail slot! We discerned this via cell phone when my trolley was about to descend underground.

So yesterday my body was not working so well and my inner workings seemed a tad whacked, too! So what is Paul telling me in the scripture above?

For in thing, he is reminding me that my trials are rather insignificant compared to those of others. My friends have chronic illnesses. They can’t get their weight down. They are locked in immoral sexual relationships. They have been betrayed or abused by people they love. They can’t find a job. Their dreams have been overrun by faithless comrades. Their cells aren’t as vibrant as they’d hoped. They’ve been sent into war. They can’t get along. Their refrigerator died and their Bubba Burgers spoiled.

Whatever Paul might be saying, they are having a hard time hearing anything but the alarm system in their mind going off.

I don’t know what God might be saying to them, for sure, or whether my friends will be listening at all. But I am hearing two further, important things from what Paul is saying:

1) The first is about God. God is the God of peace. God is our Lord, Jesus. God is faithful. God can and will make me holy and whole, Jesus will come again. God is taking a lot of initiative.

2) The second is about my situation. Peace is a possibility. I am set apart for something good. All of me, inside and out, has a destiny because of what Jesus did and does and will do, not because I work that well. I can trust him in the middle of the mess.

And there is just a lot of mess. The leaders of the church felt knee-deep in it last night. It was interesting. I think that the more we talked about what a mess we were and everyone else, too, the better we felt. At the end of the conversation, I think we all realized that our backs were aching and our keys were locked up in the neighbor’s foyer — either God saves us, or we’re dead.

That’s realistic. And you know what? The more realistic we got the more courageous we felt, the more truth we told, and the more our laughter was freed up.

My body and mind feel a little better this morning. But I’m not sure that is the point. God will make what needs to happen happen. If I have to pursue it with a hobble; that’s OK.

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Don’t just worship Jesus, follow Him.

At the General Conference of the Brethren in Christ we were led, part of the time, by a talented team of young people fronted by Bishop Aner’s family. I think they are great. But I finally stopped singing with them. I just could not sing another rendition of the same skewed song. While it was a bit painful to come to this realization, I think I am pretty much over songs based on what I would call a triumphalistic mentality. Christian worship needs to be larger than the nation-focused worship of many psalms, and it needs to be smaller than the power-based assumptions of an empire. The King of kings is a suffering servant. Worship includes following him, not just worshiping him.

Worship the king

Their music was all about being granted the favors of a king. The songs kept repeating this, so they helped me focus on a tendency I had been noticing elsewhere. I decided to do some research, so I entered “worship the king” on Google. The first entry was for a worship team. They published a video. They had a cool backdrop, a drum screen, a word screen in the back, a lead singer in skinny pants, and even a white-haired woman doing the Pentecostal “jump” in the crowd. Corey Voss was trying to sell his new generic song on iTunes. It was the kind of music used at the conference. And yes, we were encouraged to jump there, too.

I think Voss’s song is nice. He could be alluding to Matthew 21:1-17 where Jesus presents himself as king. He could be thinking of Jesus as the kind of king he appears there, and on the cross, and not fast forwarding to the kind of king he will appear as when he comes a second time. There is a difference. Because the nature of Jesus’ kingship now is creating a season of salvation in world history during which people can still switch sides. There is still time for everyone to accept the amnesty that King Jesus holds out, and renounce allegiance to self, or country, or prosperity or whatever else rules more than Jesus. Or the emphasis on Jesus as king might be skewed from an empire viewpoint and it is all about getting power, defeating enemies, staying safe, and staying out of trouble with an overlord.

I love to worship and can generously use all sorts of music. But I have this terrible feeling that with a lot of songs Christians are using these days, Jesus has been transmuted back into the Psalms rather than the Psalms looking ahead to Him. All this king and kingdom worship makes Jesus an all-powerful emperor, in the image of Constantine (d. 337) or the latest strongman, rather than the suffering servant riding into town in a very humble, human way. You recall that his goal was not to be king of the world, even though people wanted him to be. Jesus is still washing feet through his people.

Jesus comparison

The Post-Constantine shift

I fear that we are still committed to the shift Christianity took very early on. A book I am reading (and recommending) talks about an inappropriate and unbiblical shift in the way Christians see Jesus. Here is a small summary quote: “The Christendom era has bequeathed a form of Christianity that has marginalized, spiritualized, domesticated and [diminished] Jesus. The teaching of Jesus is watered down, privatized, and explained away. Jesus is worshiped as a remote kingly figure or a romanticized personal savior. In many churches (especially those emerging from the Reformation), Paul’s writings are prioritized over the Gospel accounts of the life of Jesus. And in many Christian traditions, ethical guidelines derived from the Old Testament or pagan philosophy trump Jesus’ call to discipleship.” – The Naked Anabaptist, p. 55

I think I can can see this shift hanging on in the worship of millennials like Corey Voss. Maybe we can see the shift represented in the fact that four out of five Evangelicals say they will vote for Donald Trump, despite Hillary Clinton’s much more developed and demonstrated faith. That is not an endorsement of Hillary, since I can find a lot to doubt about her, but it is an interesting reaction. I think they may want Jesus the ruler rather than Jesus the servant. I think they may want to worship Jesus, not follow him. Perhaps they have come to like God, but they cannot tolerate the suffering, morally demanding, take-up-your-cross-and-follow-me Jesus. It seems to me that their cross is a sign of triumph, empty of Jesus and empty of themselves, a sign of victory over sin, but also over opponents, a cross jauntily held over their shoulder as a weapon like the imperial Jesus on the right above.

The life and teaching of Jesus is central to our faith. Circle of Hope has twenty years of experience in following Jesus as well as worshiping Him. Right now Daily Prayer :: WIND is exploring Jesus in the New Testament. I recommend it as a means to stay conscious in this mind-and-heart-numbing context in which we live.

 

 

Peacemaking will make your faith stronger — even if it endangers it

Back in the mid-80’s I was lured out of my Protestant practices into Lent by an unlikely connection. We discovered the Lenten Desert Experience. Ever since then, I have been pondering all the things we learned from dipping our toes into protesting the ocean of violent work of the U. S. Empire.

nuclear testMaybe one of my readers will remind me how we got connected. I suspect it came from hanging around with our beloved Franciscans. However it happened, we got wind of a group now called the Nevada Desert Experience who were inventively protesting the ongoing testing of nuclear weapons in the huge Nevada Test Site north of Las Vegas. We could not resist going out there to see what was happening; we had to do something! Before long it was an annual event. Gwen even appeared in the local paper sporting plastic handcuffs.

George H.W. Bush ended full-scale nuclear testing in 1992 which felt like a surprising victory. His son, however, added the beefed up drone base at nearby Creech AFB and started less-invasive testing. We managed to stick our cocktail swords into the belly of the beast for a few years, but that monster has amazing recuperative capacity! That’s why we need a Savior.

Lenten Desert Experience in peacemaking

For those interested, here is a short history from the Nevada Desert Experience site. The rest of you can skip to my point after it.

The Lenten Desert Experience (LDE) began in the early spring of 1982 to honor St. Francis of Asissi’s love of nature, peacefulness, and opposition to governmental violence. The primarily Christian prayer-activists came to the Nevada National Security Site daily for six weeks between Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, just prior to Easter 1982. This was an obvious, creative, and bold peaceful witness against nuclear weapons testing in Newe Sogobia. Soon these experiences in the Nevada desert were drawing more participants, of a greater variety in faith traditions and spiritual paths. The folks who organized the first LDE continued to help facilitate other events in the region near Las Vegas, NV as part of a larger movement. The people coming annually for LDE formally organized themselves into a group known as Nevada Desert Experience (NDE) and this group remains steadily organizing nuclear abolition events to carry on the peaceful witness against nuclear destruction. Participants joining the NDE and other abolitionist events care sincerely about protecting the air, water, soil and earthlings, and against the spiritual sickness of mega-violence in the history of the world. In 1991 Dom Helder Camara commentedin a way that challenges North Americans to use our spiritual power to put an end to the Department of Energy’s destructivity: “This is the scene of the greatest violence on Earth. It should be the place of the greatest greatest acts of nonviolence on the Earth.”

The Lenten Desert Experience was my first experience of witnessing for peace with the very diverse groups who make up the peacemaking movement. We were chanting with monks, keening with Quakers and dancing with Shoshones, none of whom we had ever really rubbed shoulders with. I began to form my rationale for sitting in holding tanks with people who might give Jesus a bad name if you met them without handcuffs. I based my thinking by stretching a saying from Jesus in Mark 9:

“Teacher,” said John, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”

“Do not stop him,” Jesus said. “For no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us.

What Jesus is actually saying is that “People who are with me, John, might not be part of your group.” That is always a good thing for divided-up Christians to remember. He didn’t mean to say, “People who do good things aren’t against me enough to overlook their lack of allegiance.”

Peace is too important to get it right

But I like the generosity of the latter interpretation, too. When it comes to the peace movement and many other social action movements, I make “unholy” alliances with people who are on my general wavelength, even though I might need to hold their spiritual direction at arm’s length. I let them know I am coming in the name of Jesus and sometimes that makes them hold my spiritual direction at arm’s length. But then we can get down to the business of sticking our cocktail swords into the belly of the beast together. They can meet Jesus on their own time schedule. For the time being, there is a monster to confront.

soa 2010The Circle of Peacemakers core team was discussing this the other day, since we are committed to providing a list of the comrades and acquaintances we have developed over the years. We want to give twentysomethings, in particular, a chance to do something before they crystallize into non-activist adults like most of the population. We would like to give parents options for interesting vacations with the kids! In the past, we have sent people to the SOA vigil at Fort Benning, GA (pic above), to the Migrant Trail protest in the Sonora Desert, to Christian Peacemaker Teams actions and a lot more (check out the new website). Sometimes the participants spend more time wondering about the other participants than they do focusing on the action! It might be the first time they ever rubbed shoulders with the likes of these radicals! Sometimes they understand where the unbelievers in the crowd are coming from better than they understand the Christians. Even with local allies like Heeding God’s Call and the Brandywine Peace Community, who are faith-based, you have to wonder how to walk with Jesus and them at the same time, especially when you run in to the little power squabbles of little groups of activists. Our team was worried about recommending faith-damaging relationships!

Forget your judgment and make peace

I go back to my interpretation of Jesus’ teaching. I think we can risk walking in love with people whether we agree with them or even understand them. If they are not against the cause of peace and the dismantling of the economy of violence, they are for us.  It is very tempting to begin with judgment instead of keeping our eyes on the goal. If we waited to sort out every potential bad influence from among the myriad or people and organizations we meet, it would be a full-time occupation! And for many of us, our faith is just that full-time occupation – we are judgers by nature, not peacemakers. That’s not right. I think being a proactive peacemaker, just like the Prince of Peace, will strengthen your faith much more than  avoiding potential bad influences will.

If we gave too much attention to judging the validity of our peacemaking allies, our suspicion and reticence could allow the U.S. government to make the traditional Shoshone nation in Nevada the most bombed place on the planet and make us overlook the Pentagon supplying excess war-making material to village police in Missouri!  We don’t have time for that. I don’t think Jesus wanted his disciples to become the judges of people trying to get it right. He did not want them to have a lack of discernment and miss following His heart, either! But the main focus of the Lord’s mission has a generous, reconciling mentality. We don’t know the exact right way to go on our journey through this desert, but we certainly have to keep going and we definitely need to love our fellow travelers.

Lowest Common Denominator Assumptions

I still remember the time, a few years ago, when fifty people came to our meeting about making a covenant.

Joshua Grace and I led most of it. Nate Hulfish got in there, too, even though he came with a fever and could barely talk! It was January, and everyone had to venture out over treacherously icy roads to a church basement in Camden. One intrepid person even found a way to get there by public transpo from Philly — he apologized for being late because he had to wait twenty minutes for one tardy bus in 28 degree weather!

It was heartening. It was encouraging to find out that we were still meeting people who would do unusual things as if they were usual. Ten of our cell leaders were there, bringing cell mates with them – they’d been to the meeting before and they were going to lead other meetings that week, so you might have thought it was “beyond the call of duty” to show up.  One of them said, “The church is not in the meetings, it is a 24/7 reality.” One of them was upstairs caring for her cell mates’ children so they could enjoy the meeting! Like I said, it was pretty amazing.

Lowest Common Denominator -- Jaako Mattila
Lowest Common Denominator — Jaako Mattila

The meeting was even more amazing to me because I compared what my friends were actually like to what some denomination leaders thought they were probably like.  I had just come back from a conference in which I discerned some attitudes in “higher up” church leaders about what people could tolerate when it came to living out a commitment to Jesus. They didn’t expect much. I probably shot my mouth off a bit too much (as I am wont to do), but they were talking about the BIC doctrine about peacemaking, which is so close to my heart. They didn’t expect people to make peace much.

The Brethren in Christ list peacemaking among their collection of ten “core values.” We say we are all about:

Pursuing Peace: We value all human life and promote forgiveness, understanding, reconciliation, and non-violent resolution of conflict.

 That is not a radical statement. But it is right there among our top ten values!

In the Articles of Faith and Doctrine we say:

Christ loved His enemies and He calls us as His disciples to love our enemies. We follow our Lord in being people of peace and reconciliation, called to suffer and not to fight. While respecting those who hold other interpretations, we believe that preparation for or participation in war is inconsistent with the teachings of Christ. Similarly, we reject all other acts of violence which devalue human life. Rather, we affirm active peacemaking, sacrificial service to others, as well as the pursuit of justice for the poor and the oppressed in the name of Christ.

That is a straightforward statement.  It is worthy of people who will get out in 28 degree weather to investigate how to form an authentic church! Yet when I called on my leader to promote a “prophetic” expression of our stated doctrine, he publicly worried that others would not take too kindly to such aggressive behavior (whoever these “others” are, I don’t know). It seemed to me that he was managing for the lowest common denominator, or working on a non-violent resolution to conflict by avoiding conflict altogether!

So it was encouraging to meet up with the next set of Circle of Hope (BIC) covenant-makers who are, basically, brave enough to do something that other people might assume is just too much to ask. I will always wonder, I guess, about what the big deal is about following Jesus. If you’re going to do it, do it! Why doctor up his clear teachings and example to fit into the lowest common denominator that can pass for Christianity?

It is such an honor to be sought and called by Jesus! It is not like he is “asking too much of me” when he gives me life and assumes I’d like to live it! I have rarely been disappointed when I was “presumptuous” enough to assume that Jesus has impressed others in exactly the same way. We’re glad to follow Jesus! Put me in coach!

I expect to keep finding those kind of people and doing what I can to form a covenant community with them. After all, thirty more people than one might expect could pile into the basement at any moment.