Thursday, December 30, 2010

More about Peace Month

A few years ago journalists reported on a controversial story about rifle scopes used by US soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan. The gun sights were inscribed with Bible verse references - John 8:12, which reads: When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Here's a picture of the scope. (left)

A spokesperson for the manufacturer said, "Unless the equipment proves less effective, I don't see why we should stop using it." First of all, "less effective?" Does he mean less effective in killing people? Secondly, am I the only one who finds it more than a little disturbing that people would see no conflict in using Jesus' words as a way to promote violence and war. As if Jesus would be cheering us on in our pursuit of peace through violent means. As if Jesus doesn't want to turn our rifles into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4)

I'm going to include some really radical teaching from Luke 6. Take a look at it with fresh eyes and see what you think. Was Jesus a dreamer, an idealist, a fanatic, a schemer? Was this really his plan and hope for humanity? Doesn't he know what it's like to live in the real world? Does he really think this will "work?"

27“But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31Do to others as you would have them do to you.    32“If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full. 35But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. (Luke 6:27-36)

A few queries for relfection:
  • Could Jesus possibly expect me to organize my life around these teachings? Pause. Listen.
  • How do these teachings give us power? How do they make us powerless?
  • What would be the scariest thing about following these teachings? What would be most liberating?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Give Peace Month a Chance

“The first step to peace is to stand still in the light.” –George Fox

The Stats (according to TIME magazine): The US Military budget amounts to more than the next top 20 nations defense budgets combined. From 2001 ($316 Billion) to 2010, it has more than doubled ($693 Billion). In that same span of time incidents of terrorists attacks have risen. In the year 2000- 423. In the year 2009 - I10,999 (4,584 in Iraq and Afghanistan).

This January Boise Friends Church, along with many other churches in our Northwest Yearly Meeting, will be celebrating the second annual Peace Month. The *irony is that this is a topic that stirs up more controversy and conflict that perhaps any other in Quakerdom. I go into this year's "celebration" with some degree of fear and trepidation. Last year we explored peace in accordance with our Quaker roots as one of the Historic Peace Churches. We taught about our current and historic statements of nonviolence, peace, and justice. The feedback (that I heard) was mostly positive.

I heard from consciousness objectors and closet pacifists who joined the Friends Church because of our peace testimony and were encouraged to finally hear mention of it. Why the silence and near secrecy? Controversy. What do we say to the courageous men and women who have sacrificed and suffered and lost friends in combat? What do we say to those who have the unoriginal but challenging questions like: What if someone attacked your loved ones? What about Hitler? Check out this Article Five Questions Your Pacifist Friends Are Tired of Answering for some answers.

I find myself compromising in some ways. Like, to our veterans I honor their courage and sacrifice while still holding my position on nonviolence. Is that a cop-out? I recognize that I don't know what I would do to defend my family. Probably whatever it takes. I grant (reluctantly) that their may have been times in history when military action was unavoidable. But for each unavoidable military action are a dozen actions that we look back on and say why couldn't both sides find a nonviolent resolution. We look back and say, the violence wasn't worth it. In fact it has done more harm than good.

As I reflect on Jesus’ words and I look at the state of the world I am grieved and confused and challenged. What does it mean to love our enemies? To turn the other cheek? To go the extra mile? To be called a child of God for being a peacemaker? To hunger and thirst for justice and be filled? And maybe the strangest paradox of Jesus – to inherit the earth by being meek?

Friends, through the centuries, have been willing to take an unpopular position - the unwavering view that we should be willing to suffer for peace and justice, before we are willing to inflict suffering. Quakers through the centuries have been active and courageous in their peace-making efforts. They have been imprisoned and persecuted for their convictions and actions. They have put themselves in harm’s way to protect the innocent and to bring relief to those who are suffering in war time. They even won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1947 for their relief efforts. The presenter of this prestigious award had these words to offer during his speech:

The Quakers have shown us that it is possible to translate into action what lies deep in the hearts of many: compassion for others and the desire to help them - that rich expression of the sympathy between all men, regardless of nationality or race, which, transformed into deeds, must form the basis for lasting peace. For this reason alone the Quakers deserve to receive the Nobel Peace Prize today. But they have given us something more: they have shown us the strength to be derived from faith in the victory of the spirit over force.

I won’t pretend to have all the answers to our global or personal peace problems. But I do have a few guiding assumptions and convictions. #1. Violence often escalates to more violence. #2. Anger and violence always feel justified. #3. Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. #4. Jesus calls us to love our enemies. #5. Peacemaking requires courage and creativity. #6. It is easier to hold a grudge than to offer forgiveness. #7. A posture of peace and love and forgiveness is our greatest hope in this world for healing and reconciliation.

*Irony is not used here in the most accurate sense of the world.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Advent and Pregnancy

I had a conversation with a friend of mine yesterday about Advent. He was saying that he didn't think of Christmas as four weeks of celebration. He acknowledged that he might sound a bit Grinchy or that maybe he just wasn't a goood enough consumer. He explained, "For me Advent is more about waiting and longing. It is about recognizing the lack. It is about our sadness for not being able to touch God, our sadness at a broken and hurting world." (paraphrased). He said that his favorite Christmas songs are ones that acknowledge that melancholy hopefulness. The Israelites were longing and waiting for Messiah to come, longing and waiting for a Savior to save them.

I happen to agree. Every year, if we enter into a deep solidarity with the pain of the world and a deep celebration with the hope of Christmas, we participate in reliving that momentous occasion of Christ's invasion and rescue into this world. Jesus inaugurated the Kingdom of God and we are participants in the here-and-not-yet kingdom. It is "at hand" as Jesus said. It is hidden like a seed. It is the day of small beginnings. It is like yeast permeating and changing the whole loaf of bread. Can you hear the ache of Jesus prayer...Our Father, who art in Heaven, Hallowed be Your name, Your Kingdom Come, Your will be done...  And we hope for that final and complete restoration and resurrection of all things when Heaven and Earth will be one. Some Christian Theologians of described Jesus incarnation as the divine so uniting with the created that God got a foothold in creation so that the redemption of the cosmos could be completed.

Pregnancy is such a weird thing. You might know that my wife and I are "expecting" our third child. I mean what a beautiful, mysterious process. This here-and-not-yet sort of thing. When people ask me how many kids I have, what do I say? Two and a half? What a perfect metaphor for advent. I've included excerpts from Romans 8 (Message Translation) where Paul makes these connections. You might be surprised at Paul's theology :)

This resurrection life you received from God is not a timid, grave-tending life. It's adventurously expectant, greeting God with a childlike "What's next, Papa?" God's Spirit touches our spirits and confirms who we really are. We know who he is, and we know who we are: Father and children.

The created world itself can hardly wait for what's coming next. Everything in creation is being more or less held back. God reins it in until both creation and all the creatures are ready and can be released at the same moment into the glorious times ahead. Meanwhile, the joyful anticipation deepens.

All around us we observe a pregnant creation. The difficult times of pain throughout the world are simply birth pangs. But it's not only around us; it's within us. The Spirit of God is arousing us within. We're also feeling the birth pangs. These sterile and barren bodies of ours are yearning for full deliverance. That is why waiting does not diminish us, any more than waiting diminishes a pregnant mother. We are enlarged in the waiting. We, of course, don't see what is enlarging us. But the longer we wait, the larger we become, and the more joyful our expectancy.

Meanwhile, the moment we get tired in the waiting, God's Spirit is right alongside helping us along.
Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

-Apostle Paul (in a letter to the church in Rome, Chapter 8)