Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Today's Verse & Voice from Sojourners

You must not distort justice; you must not show partiality; and you must not accept bribes, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and subverts the cause of those who are in the right.

- Deuteronomy 16:19

Instead of hating the people you think are war-makers, hate the appetites and disorder in your own soul, which are the causes of war. If you love peace, then hate injustice, hate tyranny, hate greed - but hate these things in yourself, not in another.

- Thomas Merton,

New Seeds of Contemplation

Plateaus Suck

So I have officially entered into my first plateau since I started losing weight. As you can see from the chart below (click on it to enlarge), nearly the last three weeks have been stuck in the same 5 pound range just going up and down (there was also a time in April where I didn't lose much, but that was because I was sick). it doesn't seem to matter how little I eat or how much I exercise, it is stuck in some cycle. I knew that I would hit one at some point, but it makes it no less frustrating.

I am trying to push through it, and am meeting with one of the people at the Y this weekend to run through the weight machines. I usually am ok on machines, but I never know where to start so I have been putting it off. Hopefully that will be the kind of change my body needs to work out of this rut.

My diet has been completely vegetarian for about 6-7 weeks now, and I stay away from almost all junk food, with the occasional indulgence. I have read that another thing which could help is actually eating a couple hundred more calories a day for a while. There are honestly too many "solutions" out there to make much sense of them, as they all have conflicting advice.

Perhaps I just need to be patient and all of a sudden it will start trending back down again. I am still pretty happy with the loss that has happened so far. Losing 25-30 lbs is nothing to scoff at. Yet I am now only back to what was for a long time my normal weight range. I am probably more frustrated because it seems like breaking out of the 240s has always been a struggle and I am afraid I am going to stay here again.

Anyway, I will keep plugging away. I know that I have made the right changes to my diet and lifestyle that should have long-term results, but in the midst of it I still struggle with the nitty gritty.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Goodbye Solo

Sometimes I go to see random movies I know very little about. This past Sunday I decided to see what was playing at The Esquire here in Cincinnati. There was a mix of things I recognized and had never heard of. Goodbye Solo is one that I knew nothing about. I looked it up on Rotten Tomatoes to find that it had a score in the 90s which is usually a good sign. After reading the synopsis I thought that I may not enjoy it, but it was a movie worth checking out. In the end it was a movie I thoroughly enjoyed and would like to revisit after taking some time to think about it more.

For now, here are some thoughts. Mild Spoilers to follow.

The movie is about a taxi driver in Winston-Salem who is a Senegalese immigrant (Solo)and one of his passengers. At the start of the movie we find that an old, grizzled, Southern white man has asked Solo if he is willing to take on a job for him. In ten days, he would like to be driven up to a place called Blowing Rock, but does not need a return trip. The trip itself would normally cost 200 dollars, but he is willing to pay a full $1000.

Solo is perplexed, and is not able to get much else out of the man, suspecting that the man is contemplating suicide. What follows in the next 90 minutes is a parable of two equal and opposing forces, at least as this movie seems to frame it. Roger Ebert, in his review, says that "
It is about the desire to help and the desire to not be helped." This is the theme of the movie in a nutshell.

Solo is a relentless pursuer of friendship with William. He begins to work it out so that whenever William calls in for his regular trip to the movie theaters, it is Solo who ends up picking him up. This is much to the consternation of William. He wants nothing to do with anybody. He wants to seal up his life in a fortress that is impenetrable to the kindness of others.

As the movie goes on we learn that (unsurprisingly) William has had some bad things happen in his life, but the movie is less concerned with all of the specifics of these things than it is with the interaction of these two men. When William sells his apartment, Solo finds him a hotel, only to show up at Williams door a couple of days later needing a place to stay after his wife has kicked him out.

Whereas William is a source of draining joylessness, Solo is a fountain of joy. He is constantly upbeat, and enthusiastic in his pursuit of William. He continually refers to William as "Big Dog" and gets a little too enthusiastic when William shares he used to ride Harleys, eager to learn more about this man's past.

He is not terribly happy with his job, but is studying to become a flight attendant. He has an interview/test coming up and we get to see how much preparation goes into that. He is not this way with William alone, and we get to see his relationships with friends, ex-girlfriends and his step-daughter too.

As I said, it is a movie about two opposing forces. As eager as Solo may be, William is just as vehement about detachment. We never fully get a glimpse inside his head to see what is wrong, but we do understand that he comes with loneliness, regret, and sorrow.

Ramin Bahrani is an Iranian-American and I have found nothing on his faith, so what follows is less about him and more about me.

What struck me about this relationship is that it can be viewed in two similar ways from within the church.

The first is it reminds me of evangelism. When God calls us to pursue a relationship, I think he calls us to act in similar ways Solo does throughout the movie, although he does overstep some boundaries. Overall though, Solo is a source of unconditional love for someone who consistently rejects it. We must be sensitive to the people we seek to serve, and we may never get any positive feedback from them, but if we are acting in genuine love, we can continue to seek ways to serve them. The danger of course, is that we make it about what we are doing for them, and take a prideful stance on the matter. This is something that can only be guarded against through humble prayer.

The second thing it reminds me of is the human will. I believe that God issues a call to all humanity to follow him in loving submission, and then provides room for the human will to respond. If this is true, then the human will can reject him. William is a perfect example of this rejection. Solo has done nothing but shower him with kindness, and yet William will not allow himself to be loved in this way. There are brief moments hinting that there is some sort of friendship there, but ultimately Solo's advances are not successful. So too, I think God is constantly pursuing his creation, but in the end, we still can resist that love. We have been giving the option to say no, so that we may freely make the choice to say yes.

Going back to the idea of evangelism and personal relationships, we must keep this aspect of the human will in mind with any of them. Not all of the people we want to be friends with, want to be friends with us. Not all of the people we love, want to be loved by us. Part of caring for them in a manner suited to Christ is recognizing that and loving them anyway. But loving them in as non-manipulative a way as we can.

Whenever we try to manipulate someone's thoughts or feelings, we are only fooling ourselves. Even if they were to allow themselves to be manipulated, what we have done is no longer love, but selfishness. This will be worked out in a million different ways depending on the people involved. Not every relationship should get the same intensity of a chase as Solo has given to William. Listening to the Holy Spirit in prayer and in the counsel of others is a good way to determine how to go about things.

One other lesson from Solo, is that I never felt like he treated william as a pet project; he sought him out with a genuine desire for William's well being, and out of charity. This is where I think a lot of personal evangelism runs into the ground. Christ did not send us out to fix people. We are not mini-saviors going around working miracles. We are witnessess. Witnesses can only point to the thing witnessed. We witness to a life-changing Gospel, but we ourselves are not the Gospel.

I will not speak on the finale of the film, as it is best experienced for what it is. But I will say that once the film was over, I sat there for a few minutes trying to make sense of what I had just seen in the last hour and a half. I felt extremely conflicted by the hope of Solo and the despair of William that permeated the entire film. Nonetheless it is a conflict I am comfortable staying in. Much like the film, I feel it is a conflict that need not be reconciled in reality as well.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Regina Spektor- Laughing With

There is a new Regina Spektor Album out today. It is called Far (Album). I listened to some of it on the way into work. One song in particular caught my attention, and apparently it has actually been around for about a month.

While she is not writing this from a Christian perspective, she certainly hits on some things that we in the Church can learn from. I am struck much less by the verses as I am with the Chorus. The god she sings about in the chorus is more of a caricature than what I believe the bible teaches us about God. Nonetheless it is a pretty good description of the god that has been preached and presented over and over by many in the Western Church.

The challenge we face is to preach the living and true God, and live our lives in and by his Spirit. Only when the Church is doing this will the caricature begin to fade and the reality come back into the foreground. This is no easy task, because as with all things Christ-related, it means we must allow ourselves to die and be given new life in Christ. It means that some of the ways we do things "because that is how they have always been done" must be abandoned or altered.

I make no claims to know what these things are, even if I have my opinions. I am also a big fan of Church Tradition, it means a lot to me. But tradition for tradition's sake means nothing to me. As the church learns to be the Bride of Christ, it must continually seek out what the Holy Spirit is doing in this world and then participate in that. Traditions and habits can be very edifiying to the Church and the world, but only when they are God-centered.

Here are the lyrics to Laughing With:

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God when they're starving or freezing or so very poor

No one laughs at God when the doctor calls after some routine tests
No one's laughing at God when it's gotten real late and their kid's not back from that party yet

No one laughs at God when their airplane starts to uncontrollably shake
No one's laughing at God when they see the one they love hand in hand with someone else and they hope that they're mistaken
No one laughs at God when the cops knock on their door and they say "We've got some bad new, sir,"
No one's laughing at God when there's a famine, fire or flood

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party while listening to a good God-themed joke or
Or when the crazies say he hates us and they get so red in the head you think that they're about to choke

God can be funny
When told he'll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie
Who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus

God can be so hilarious
Ha ha
Ha ha

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war
No one's laughing at God when they've lost all they got and they don't know what for

No one laughs at God on the day they realize that the last sight they'll ever see is a pair of hateful eyes
No one's laughing at God when they're saying their goodbyes

But God can be funny
At a cocktail party while listening to a good God-themed joke or
Or when the crazies say he hates us and they get so red in the head you think that they're about to choke

God can be funny
When told he'll give you money if you just pray the right way
And when presented like a genie
Who does magic like Houdini
Or grants wishes like Jiminy Cricket and Santa Claus

God can be so hilarious

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war

No one laughs at God in a hospital
No one laughs at God in a war

No one's laughing at God in a hospital
No one's laughing at God in a war

No one's laughing at God when they're starving or freezing or so very poor

No one's laughing at God
No one's laughing at God
No one's laughing at God
We're all laughing with God

Monday, June 22, 2009

Excerpt from the Epistle of Discretion

Please forgive the Elizabethan English. It makes it much harder to wade through for sure. The full epistle can be found at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library It is an anonymous work found in a collection called The Cell of Self-Knowledge: Seven Early English Mystical Treatises which was published in 1521.

It speaks a reminder that is pretty consistent in all that I have been reading on contemplative prayer lately, but applies to things much more broadly than that. In all that we do, it is God who must be our pursuit. When we make it a pursuit of prayer for the sake of prayer, or fellowship for the sake of fellowship, we are crudely extracting God from the equation.

When we are pursuing God with all of our being in truth and love, all of those external things like prayer, service, devotion and study can find a fruitful and meaningful place in our spiritual life. If God is not at the center of these endeavors, then we are deceived in thinking they will make us more holy or better people.

Of course the reality is that we are constantly trying to do those things without God at the center. We mean well, and we may try very hard to keep that focus. Sooner or later though, we will shift that focus away from him. In those cases we can be thankful that the Holy Spirit has come to guide us back to the way, truth and life that is found in God alone.

But now thou askest me, what is that thing. I shall tell thee what I mean that it is: It is God; for whom thou shouldest be still, if thou shouldest be still; and for whom thou shouldest speak if thou shouldest speak; and for whom thou shouldest fast, if thou shouldest fast; and for whom thou shouldest eat, if thou shouldest eat; and for whom thou shouldest be only, if thou shouldest be only; and for whom thou shouldest be in company, if thou shouldest be in company. And so forth of all the remenant, what so they be.

For silence is not God, nor speaking is not God; fasting is not God, nor eating is not God; onliness is not God, nor company is not God; nor yet any of all the other such two contraries. He is hid between them, and may not be found by any work of thy soul, but all only by love of thine heart. He may not be known by reason, He may not be gotten by thought, nor concluded by understanding; but He may be loved and chosen with the true lovely will of thine heart.

Choose thee Him, and thou art silently speaking, and speakingly silent, fastingly eating, and eatingly fasting, and so forth of all the remenant. Such a lovely choosing of God, thus wisely lesinge and seeking Him out with the true will of a clean heart, between all such two leaving them both, when they come and proffer them to be the point and the prick of our ghostly beholding, is the worthiest tracing and seeking of God that may be gotten or learned in this life.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Busy Lives Do Not Exempt Us From Prayer

I finished my latest Merton book last night and have a stack of various things waiting for me to pick from now. One of them is a collection of sayings from Mother Teresa on prayer.

Lately I have been trying to be very intentional in allowing God's presence to show itself to me throughout the day, so this quote has particularly stood out to me.

Setting aside proper time for prayer is terribly hard in today's society. It is something that I believe is important, but there are always days where I seem to have woken up later than I had planned, or that quiet time I scheduled in my head never came around because I got lost in the internet etc. These are all the sorts of things I try to tell myself when I simply don't feel like sacrificing some of my free time to pray. What she has to say here is important for those days because it reminds us that we always have opportunities to be prayerful. This is a lot like Brother Lawrence's little book Practicing the Presence of God.

Mother Teresa:

There are some people who, in order not to pray, use as an excuse the fact that life is so hectic that it prevents them from praying.

This cannot be.

Prayer does not demand that we interrupt our work, but that we continue working as if it were a prayer.

It is not necessary to always be meditating, nor to consciously experience the sensation that we are talking to God, no matter how nice this would be. What matters is being with him, living in him, in his will.

Friday, June 19, 2009

Prayer of St. Teresa of Avila

Let nothing trouble you.
Let nothing make you afraid.
All things pass away.
God never changes.
Patience obtains everything.
God alone is enough.

– St. Teresa of Avila

Thursday, June 18, 2009

The Emptiness of Love

photo courtesy of jbelluch

To the surprise of no one who has been reading this blog lately, here is another Merton quote. Every time I post something from him, I tell myself it will be the last one, but then he goes and writes something that jumps off the page and attacks me with its profundity, and then leaves me stuck pondering it over and over in my mind.

In this section of his book, Contemplative Prayer, he has been addressing the paradox of emptiness in contemplation. It is a terribly confusing section in which (as best I can understand it) he argues that being emptied of all things in prayer leaves you anything but empty in the end. In contrast, one can actually pursue emptiness in such a way as to fill them self up in a bloated egotistical quest for emptiness, and completely miss the fact that it is God who brings emptiness about so that he may fill us with himself through his Spirit.

Like I said, confusing. I am not even convinced my above interpretation is quite right.

I do however believe that the following excerpt is a much more easily grasped. He is no longer explaining what emptiness is not, but rather what it is.

But true emptiness is that which transcends all things, and yet is immanent in all. For what seems to be emptiness in this case is pure being. Or at least a philosopher might so describe it. But to the contemplative it is other than that. It is not this, not that. Whatever you say of it, it is other than what you say. The character of emptiness, at least for a Christian contemplative, is pure love, pure freedom. Love that is free of everything, not determined by any thing, or held down by any special relationship. It is love for love's sake. It is a sharing, through the Holy Spirit, in the infinite charity of God. And so when Jesus told his disciples to love, he told them to love as universally as the Father who sends his rain alike on the just and the unjust. "Be ye perfect as your Heavenly Father is perfect." This purity, freedom and indeterminateness of love is the very essence of Christianity.
It is to this above all that monastic prayer aspires."

While this excerpt is directed at the concept of contemplative prayer, I think (much like most of the book) it shows how contemplative prayer is not a static thing. It is not simply something that stays in one place of our spiritual growth while the actions we make in faith stay in a different place. The line is blurred.

This presence of pure love and freedom might start in contemplation, but it spills over, and out of the thirst quenching cup of prayer, and into the active love we can only hope to manifest toward are neighbors. He calls it a sharing in the "infinite charity of God," Others might call it "inhabiting the cruciform God." Still others might call it "mere christianty" or simply "discipleship." Whatever we call it though, I believe it is the living participation in the Kingdom of God which James reminds us is essential to the Christian life in James 2:14-25.

What began in faith, in the emptiness of prayer (love), if it is in true faith, has no other option but to come to life! In our faith, we are crucified with Christ; our outer egotistical self is killed and then the inner self (the self that reflects God's image as it was intended) is raised up into active love towards the world around us.

This means that complacency, selfishness, hatred, unforgiveness, and plenty of other things no longer can have top billing in our attitudes and actions. These are not things we can simply remove on our own. And this brings us back to prayer. Prayer is our access to the living water of Christ. We no longer have need for the empty and cracked cisterns we have made for ourselves.

Finally, this active life, the deeds that James talks about are found in everything we do. These are not characterized by grandiose actions. God may indeed call us to take bold steps in following him and loving our neighbors and his creation. Focusing on these as the "ideal" will get us nowhere though, because this is the ego at work again, obscuring our true identities.

These deeds are the deeds we do in any given situation. These are the deeds we do in public, but also the ones we do in private. They are the deeds we do toward our family members, friends, roommates, acquaintances. They are also the deeds we do towards those we have never met before, those towards which we have great animosity as well as those who quite frankly just annoy the heck out of us.

Every encounter is an opportunity to become Christ to someone- the just and unjust alike. This can only ever take place if we are led by the Holy Spirit. And self-emptying, love-filled prayer is one way in which our relationship with the Holy Spirit can grow and open up those future opportunities.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Self-sacrifice, Prayer and 2 Corinthians 6:6-10

This is a paraphrase by Merton found in his book Contemplative Prayer. He is addressing the idea of "interior freedom" through self sacrifice and denial.

It means detachment and freedom with regard to inordinate cares, so that we are able to use the good things of life and able to do without them for the sake of higher ends. It means the ability to use or to sacrifices all created things in the interests of love. In St. Paul's words: "We have to be pure-minded, enlightened, forgiving and gracious to others; we have to rely on the Holy Spirit, on unaffected love, on the truth of our message, on the power off God. To the right and left we must be armed with innocence, now honored, now slighted, now traduced, now flattered. They call us deceivers and we tell the truth; unknown and we are freely acknowledged; dying men, and see we live; punished, yes, but not doomed to die; sad men that rejoice continually; beggars that bring riches to many; disinherited, and the world is ours."

He goes on later to say:

Our ability to sacrifice ourselves in a mature and generous spirit may well prove to be one of the tests of our interior prayer. Prayer and sacrifice work together. Where there is no sacrifice, there will eventually turn out to be no prayer, and vice versa. When sacrifice is an infantile self-dramatization, prayer will also be false and operatic self-display, or maudlin self-pitying introspection. Serious and humble prayer, united with mature love will unconsciously and spontaneously manifest itself in a habitual spirit of sacrifice and concern for others that is unfailingly generous, though perhaps we may not be aware of the fact. Such a union of prayer and sacrifice is easier to evaluate in others than in ourselves, and when we become aware of this we no longer try to gauge our own progress in the matter.

Monday, June 15, 2009

Redemption, by So Elated

I keep coming back to this band. Their self titled album has quickly become one of my favorites and I appreciate their lyrics more and more with each fresh listen. Here is one of the better songs from the album.

So Elated


I’ve got melody
runnin’ through my veins
And the blood I bleed was transfused by you
All the air that you breathed first
And the water that quenches thirst
Everything I need was redeemed by you

And the work of your redemption blankets every fear we know
And the song of your redemption blares above the radio
And the hand of your redemption carries everybody home

We are the redemption

Every war torn state
Every child born with AIDS
Every broke down mixed-up place is being fixed by you
Every political view
Every Christian, Muslim, Jew
Is being recreated new and fixed by Jesus

And the work of your redemption blankets every fear we know
And the song of your redemption blares above the radio
And the hand of your redemption carries everybody home

We are the redemption

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

A Hymn From Wesley

Image courtesy Br3nda's photostream on flickr.

1 JESUS, the needy sinner's friend,
Command the crowd to sit,
Who hungry still on thee attend,
And nothing have to eat;
They hear the word thy lips have said,
Low at thy feet they bow,
Distribute now the heavenly bread,
And feed their spirits now.

2 O'er-whelmed with blessings from above,
Father, before we taste
These freshest tokens of thy love,
We thank thee for the past;
Our eyes and hearts to heaven we lift,
And, taught by Jesus, own
That every grace and every gift
Descends from thee alone.

3 The gospel by our Saviour blessed
Doth efficacious prove,
The loaves a thousand-fold increased
Communicate his love;
We banquet on the heavenly bread,
When Christ himself imparts,
By his disciples' hands conveyed
To all believing hearts.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Merton's Prayer


I have no idea where I am going.

I do not see the road ahead of me.

I cannot know for certain where it will end.

Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.

But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.

And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.

I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.

And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.

Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.

I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

- Thomas Merton, "Thoughts in Solitude"
© Abbey of Gethsemani

Saturday, June 06, 2009

Linkfest 06/06/09

Here are some of the links that have kept me busy this week:

Zach Galifianakis was profiled in the NYT.

Ben Witherington tackles NT Wright's new book on Justification with some thoughts of his own, and an interview with the Bishop himself.

I did not see the MTV Movie awards, but this song certainly made me laugh like a bowl full of jelly.

iMonk offers a reasoned response to one man's walking away from the faith.

The always entertaining zombie killing coop Left 4 Dead is getting a sequel!

There is a new Star Wars MMO coming out. I am not sure what to think of that, but I do know that this trailer is a Jedi Sith extravaganza.

In other Star Wars news- Someone did a very cool mashup of Magnum PI and Star Wars, creating Han Solo PI

The Dirty Projectors have a new album coming out next week and it is streaming on NPR until then. It very well could be my favorite album of 2009 so far.

Richard Ayoade of the IT Crowd has directed a strange video for the Yeah Yeah Yeahs.

Greg Boyd explains what is wrong with the American Patriot's Bible in two parts: One, Two.

Why Nonviolence? Part VI

Today marks my last post on nonviolence, and I hope that if you have been following along, that some fruit has been born out of it, or at the very least that some questions have come out of it.

This last post is going to be a bit all over and will serve as some observations of how my views are working themselves out in my own life.

For starters, I am no longer able to justify Christian support for the military of either America or any other nation. The bible teaches us that these things will continue to exist beside the church, but I do not see them as a place of anything that reflects the Kingdom of God so long as military force continues to amass weapons to destroy “the enemy.” Armed combat merely begets more fantastical weaponry. Our defense budget is proof of this. We are constantly looking to the next super weapon and defense system. If 9-11 proved anything, it is that these things don’t stop death and carnage.

Also, on the recent scandal involving soldiers who were proselytizing in Afghanistan I can only wonder how effective it is to alternatively hunt down Afghan citizens to death with one hand and then declare Christ to them with the other. I can think of no more contrary message than that.

I am also unable to do anything but pray God’s blessings and love on anyone involved in military combat. Not because they are doing the will of God, but because we are called to refuse setting up walls to separate us, and instead to pray for our neighbors and enemies alike. I can only ask God that his will would be done, and trust that he will work out what that means.

I must recognize my own sins in the midst of it all. I must always pray and ask the Holy Spirit to reveal to me how my actions my directly or indirectly lead to violence. I recognize that many of the liberties and comforts that I enjoy in this world are a result of military action and/or protections. My actions are a part of the cycle of violence, even indirectly. There is no way around this, and while i may seek ways to minimize this, I will never be able to wash my hands of the whole thing. I must try to purge as much of that from who I am and my actions, but I must also recognize that in this world there is no way of avoiding sin and this is no less true on issues of nonviolence. Nonetheless I must still take up my cross daily to be crucified and repent from my sins.

I am compelled to seek out ways to confront violence with love in my own setting. This means I have been seeking out organizations within the greater Cincinnati area which have similar goals and opportunities for me to serve God in this way, whatever that may entail. It also means that while my job search has been very broad, I have been paying more attention to the non-profit job sector in the hopes that I may find a job which allows me to put my beliefs into practice until I am officially seeking ordination.

I am no more able to accept the death penalty than I am able to accept abortion. Both are contrary to God’s will. We can argue over what that may mean politically, but theologically, I see no room for either in the Kingdom of God.

I am not sure utter pacifism is the correct response, in so far as nonviolence is something that can be actively advocated without resorting to violent means of doing so. The Holy Spirit will lead us to action, not blind passivity. I hope that this series of posts is one step in that direction for me.

While I am wholeheartedly embracing the notion of nonviolence, I am still but a babe in the arena of the theological issues surrounding it. I must be humble in learning more and in how I deal with those who disagree. It would be blasphemy for me to set myself upon the judgment seat of God and declare others unclean. Any of my statements here have not been intended to comment on anyone else’s salvation or standing before God. But I have been compelled to point towards the kind of thinking that I see as resonating with Christ’s Kingdom and calling to the Church.

Friday, June 05, 2009

Why Nonviolence? Part V

I started off this series with two versions of common objections to complete nonviolence from a Christian perspective. One asked how a Christian could sit by idly while someone attacked a loved one, and the other asked a similar question regarding Hitler and how any Christian could sit by and let him kill so many people without taking action.

These bring up the practicality of a nonviolent life. I want to preface this discussion with a very important reminder of God’s grace and human depravity. We are not in the ne w heavens and the new earth yet. We are not perfect beings either. We will fail. Even with the Holy Spirit guiding us, we may fail. But that doesn’t mean we can abandon the path of Jesus for an easier, comfier one. I know that where I am in my journey of faith is a place where I would hope to refrain from violence and anger, however I am not so sure I am capable of such things yet. If I were in the hypothetical “loved one scenario” I am not so sure I would be able to stop myself from opposing the assailant in a violent manner (despite my general wussitude). I am thankful that I have never been in that situation.

We are conditioned to think in terms of just wars and that the ends justify the means. I don’t see the bible as supporting either of these ways of thinking though. The first three centuries of Christianity were marked by martyrdom, and the turning of the cheek. Christians literally watched as their families were killed in front of them. This only shifted once Constantine turned things on their head by making Christianity the official religion of the state. Once Christians got a taste of power and special standing among others, the views of violence towards others began to gain some acceptance. Christians, after all, are still fallen as much as anyone else.

We then began to dig new and different cisterns which outlined our guidelines for acceptable violence. These were not God’s guidelines, but human ones, and as such I don’t think they reflected the image of God and his kingdom.

If I did find myself in a “loved one scenario,” I would certainly look for nonviolent alternatives to defend my loved one. It is true that these may not be enough, and I clearly would have much to work through with God following the incident. If I did use violent force, then whatever the outcome, I recognize that this would be something I would seek forgiveness for and repent. I know this sounds crazy to many people, but in my experience Jesus rarely makes sense as we think he should.

In the Hitler scenario I think there is actually a lot to be said for what could have been done from a nonviolent perspective. But again there are many things going on in situations like that. For one, you have believers and non believers working together, and I would no more expect a non believer to emulate Jesus than I have the right to judge him. But for believers we can ask all sorts of hypothetical questions ourselves. What if Christians had gone en masse to the battlefields and countries involved in the conflict and showed sacrificial love and solidarity with the Jews and others caught in the crossfire? Asking hypothetical quesitons is not very helpful for changing the past however. Instead we need to look towards asking the questions that will enable us to make the right choices in the future.

Another example that has really had an impact on me recently was the Pirate kidnapping of an American captain. On Easter Sunday of this year, Americans celebrated the fact that one man’s life was saved, while ignoring the fact that 3 Somalians died in order for him to live. This is not the Kingdom at work, this is the world. I believe that God wept over those three men just as much as he would have for the Captain had he lost his life. And this was the alternative to sending the money they requested. Of coure this was justified because if we gave them the money then they would just keep on doing what they do and exhorting us for money. We would rather kill than part with our precious money. Again, this was a decision by the state, and not the church, but many Christians were touting that as a victory for this country as well, not least of all, our President and his administration.

As this post is getting long, I will have one more follow up tomorrow on how I think this goes into the practical realm of my own life and beliefs.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

Michael J. Gorman on "A Missional Hermeneutic"

I recently read Inhabiting the Cruciform God: Kenosis, Justification, and Theosis in Paul's Narrative Soteriology, by Michael J. Gorman. Along with NT Wright's Justification: God's Plan and Paul's Vision, it is one of the best books out there taking a look at Paul's understanding of justification. In particular Gorman's focus is on theosis, which he defines as the "transformative participation in the kenotic, cruciform character of God through Spirit-enabled conformity to the incarnate, crucified, and resurrected/glorified Christ" His own summaries of the book can be found here, here, and here.

Today on his blog, Gorman has begun a series on having a Missional Hermeneutic, which looks to be very interesting. Below is an excerpt in which he outlines some key definers of what Mission is and isn't. I am not sure how long he will be spending with the topic, but it looks to be pretty promising.

1. Mission is not a part of the church’s life (represented locally by a small line item in the budget) but the whole, the essence of the church’s existence; mission is comprehensive.

2. Mission is not the church’s initiative but its response, its participation in God’s mission; mission is derivative.

3. Mission is not an extension of Western (or any other) power, culture, and values; rather, it is specifically participation in the coming of the kingdom of God. It is therefore critical of all attempts to coerce Christian mission for implicit or explicit political purposes other than the “politics” of the reign of God—the realities of new life, peace, and justice (shalom) promised by the prophets, inaugurated by Jesus, and first spread to the world by the apostles. For Christians in the West, it is crucial that they recognize the failure of Christendom as something to be welcomed, and that they see the church appropriately and biblically as a distinctive subculture within a larger, non-Christian culture. Mission is theo- and Christocentric.

4. Mission is not unidirectional (e.g., West to East) but reciprocal.

5. Mission must become the governing framework within which all biblical interpretation takes place; mission is hermeneutical.

Why Nonviolence? Part IV

I have a feeling that this post will be shorter than some of the previous posts, and for that I must again point to my own shortcomings. The issue of “holy” violence in the Old Testament is one which has frustrated Christianity for centuries. How can the New Testament point to one solution while the Old Testament shows that violence was implemented over and over by both the people of God, and at God’s own hand?

  Again, my answer is incomplete, but I feel like I might have an answer which can point in the right direction.  The corollary to me is slavery. Slavery is an issue which I think teaches us a lot about how God deals with a broken and fallen humanity.

  As I see it, slavery was clearly seen as a negative and oppressive thing in the life of the Israelites while they were in Egypt, and later while they were in exile. It was also taken for granted as a way of life. God delivered the Israelites out of slavery, which I think gives us the first clue that it is not a part of his plan.

  Slavery was also a large part of society when Christianity was in its beginnings and both Jews and Greeks were brought into the family of God. Paul handles the issue with an interesting juxtaposition of concepts though. In Galatians 3:28 he makes his famous declaration that human boundaries crumble in light of the Kingdom. The kingdom refuses to recognize delineations between male & female, Jew & Greek, and slave & master. Instead, entry into the Kingdom is open to all, who become one in Jesus Christ. Philemon is another example of Paul pointing towards the fact that Slavery is not a part of God’s Kingdom.

  But then we turn over to Colossians and we hear Paul entreat slaves to remain under their masters. Why does he do this?  I think not only is this because we are meant to yield to others in submission and service, but also because at this point in time, human oppression of others has not been banished yet. Paul recognizes that the reality is that we live in a time when humans are pitted against one another in efforts to seek power. As Christians called to serve all others out of love, we submit to their will, even at the sake of receiving violence.

  Now, I think we can turn back to the Old Testament. God works with us as we are, and in ways which the world will recognize. While Jesus would come to be the first step towards the Kingdom of Peace, God did indeed utilize violence in the time before him. I will not explain it away as not having come from him. I will say that God is the only being who has the authority to judge its rightness or wrongness.

I believe Karl Barth is a man who was against war almost exclusively. I say almost, because he had to allow that since God is something completely outside of human experience (except for when he chooses to bring his revelation to us), the door had to be left open that God could call us to arms some day. I think this is very unlikely, but I do appreciate the notion that God could call us to anything, including things we may find contrary to what we know about him.

 Despite all of the violence in the Old Testament, I think the prophets do teach us that God is pointing even then to a time of peace and nonviolence. One need not go very far into Isaiah (2:4) before we learn that

4     He shall judge between the nations,

and shall arbitrate for many peoples;

they shall beat their swords into plowshares,

and their spears into pruning hooks;

nation shall not lift up sword against nation,

neither shall they learn war any more.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

The Tiller Murder, and Moral Consistency

I am not usually a fan of what happens in the comments of blogs or in forums because they tend to degrade into flame wars pretty quickly. Halden Doerge's Blog Inhabitatio Dei tends to be a pretty lively yet civil place however. He has two recent posts on the Abortion Doctor killing which have very good discussions going on in the comments.

They can be found here and here.

He raises the issue of moral consistency in the pro-life movement. The question he poses is "if abortion really is the mass murder of innocent human beings, can we really say that Roeder was wrong for taking action?"

As I understand it, the idea behind the question is that only a pacifist position is able to condemn both abortion, and the killing of a very fringe abortion doctor (Tiller was one of only a handful of doctors who would perform late-term abortions). Added to this, what is the right response when the government fails to execute justice on its own?

There is certainly a lot more going on in the comments, with a variety of views cropping up. I highly recommend them if you have time.

As this week should be showing, I have moved to a place of total nonviolence in my understanding of what it means to live as citizens of the Kingdom of God. So, that question does hold some weight with me. Personally I am not sure that we can ever have a truly consistent moral ethic, but we are meant to strive for one which is as consistent with the example of Jesus and scripture as is possible until the time of new creation.

I am still processing much on the issue of nonviolence and peace, so my understanding of it is bound to change with time and the conversations which grow out of real life events and tragedies like these are important to that process.

Why Nonviolence? Part III

As I said earlier, the next place I wanted to look at was the time before the fall, as well as the coming time of new creation following the resurrection of the dead at Jesus’ return.

To start with, when we read the opening chapter’s of Genesis it is clear that violence was not a part of life in the Garden. I don’t think it is any small coincidence that the very first story following Adam and Eve’s banishment from the garden is one of murder and violence toward another.  One great explanation of the fall is Jeremiah 2:13 – “for my people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living water, and dug out cisterns for themselves, cracked cisterns that can hold no water.” The evidence is in Cain’s actions toward Abel. Humanity has fractured their relationship with the giver of life in such a way as to seek their own paths of authority and justice. Adam and Eve did it in listening to the serpent and acting on his advice. Soon, violence became woven into the fabric of how humans relate to one another, but I will leave that for the next post.

I do not believe that what is waiting for us is a place in the Garden exactly as it was in the beginning, but I do think God is preparing a place for us that will reflect the Garden in many aspects. We learn about this future through the life and works of Jesus. In the last post we saw that the Kingdom of God bears a mark of nonviolence in an unambiguous manner. We also learn of this in revelation. Here we get a peek into that future.

In particular, it is chapter 21 which is most helpful on this topic. Here are verses 3-8:

3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying,

“See, the home  of God is among mortals.

He will dwell with them as their God;

they will be his peoples, 

and God himself will be with them;

4     he will wipe every tear from their eyes.

Death will be no more;

mourning and crying and pain will be no more,

for the first things have passed away.”

 5 And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give water as a gift from the spring of the water of life. 7 Those who conquer will inherit these things, and I will be their God and they will be my children. 8 But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

  What I would like to point out from this passage is that in the New Heavens and New Earth, death is no longer around. One reason for this of course is that death was defeated in Jesus through his own death and subsequent resurrection. But I think another reason is that God eliminates the need for us to dig our own cisterns by dwelling among us.  When we are in him, and he is in us, we will no longer thirst for anything because we will have been quenched with the water of life. Where life reigns, death is no more. Where death is no more, violence fades away.


The last verse of that passage is one which I must leave standing as it is for now. The question of what happens to those who resist God’s reign is one that I am nowhere near having made up my mind about.  I am not inclined to take verses referencing fire and sulfur as literal, but I will say that whatever it is, it does include a permanent separation from God, and is no pleasant thing. It is however a very violent image of course, and one I don’t want to simply dismiss, I just don’t have a full thought on it currently.

  I bring up the Garden and the New Heavens and New Earth as an example of God’s grand plan for humanity. I trust that this is where he wanted us to be at the start, and that it is where he is ultimately taking us. We are not currently there, but we are striving for it. The Holy Spirit is what can empower us to see glimpses of it in our own lives in the present time. This is what is usually referred to as the already and the not yet of the Kingdom of God. We are a people caught between ages. We will not always be successful at peace, just as we are not always successful at sexual relations or with money. The important thing is that God grants us grace and mercy as we move in the direction of his Kingdom. He will lead us step by step, giving us no more than we can handle (1 Cor 10:13).

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Why Nonviolence? Part II

Yesterday I made the case that Jesus was to serve as our major guide on the issue of nonviolence, and today I hope to explore some of the issues surrounding his teachings and actions. 

Two common objections to Jesus as a complete example of nonviolence are his actions during the cleansing of the temple, as well as the fact that he never rebukes Centurions for serving in an army. If Jesus was violent during the temple incident and didn’t rebuke soldiers, then it must be ok for us to exercise violence in certain cases as well right?

Not really. Even if he did approve of them fighting in the Roman Army, or if he did strike someone with a whip, we are still at the disadvantage of not having the mind of God to determine what constitutes a “just” violent action. But we do not need to rest our whole argument on that alone. With regard to the cleansing of the Temple, it is true that the Gospel of John does mention that Jesus had a whip (The other Gospels make no mention of the whip). What the gospel does not mention however is whether he used that whip on any person. Using this passage alone, we can no more read into it that Jesus whipped people, than we can definitively say that he did not. Thankfully however, we have many more instances of nonviolent action by Jesus to make it probable that he did not use the whip on any individuals that day.

As for the centurions, we are again reading more into the text than is there when we say that by Jesus’ lack of condemnation of the centurions; he is somehow implying that their actions as soldiers were representative of his Kingdom. What these passages show to me on the other hand, is that the Kingdom is not closed to anyone, no matter what their life is like when they come in contact with Jesus.  In fact, I think Jesus is deliberately using them as a contrast with the Pharisees of the day. He is essentially saying “Hey! This guy is a pagan and he gets what I am about better than you guys do! What gives?” In Richard Hay’s survey of nonviolence in the NT, he points out that Jesus’ non-condemnation of their violence is the closest argument that anyone could make to saying Jesus found violence an acceptable thing in the Kingdom, but that it comes up short as any defining guide on the matter.

Instead we hear calls from Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount to not only reject violence towards others, but to even reject angry thoughts towards them. If someone were to strike us, he teaches that our response is not to lash out in retaliation, but to suffer it. Is this fair? Absolutely not in the way we understand the world. But then- when did our sense of fairness ever bear the image of God’s understanding of justice? We are taught to pray for our enemies, to love them and not to retaliate in the violent tit-for-tat that the rest of the world espouses.

We also see in the Gospels that Jesus brought healing and freedom to people. He gave life, he didn’t take it away.

The above examples already are pointing in the direction of peaceful actions; however it is the actual passion of Christ which takes us into the world of nonviolence for good. There is not a single example of Jesus even hinting that the correct response to his treatment would involve the use of violence. Most notably, when Peter uses a sword to slice of the ear of one of the high priest’s slaves, Jesus does not respond with a “Well done good and faithful servant!” Instead he performs a life giving miracle. The ear that was violently torn from his head is returned to its healthy state.

In Matthew, Jesus also points out that of all the people in the world, he was the only one who could rightfully do something to save himself. He could have called upon the angels to save him. This was the temptation he faced in the desert. As he rejected it then, he rejects it here too. The example is not one of power over others (whether physical, mental, or spiritual), but one of power under others. Jesus was constantly yielding to others, he was compromising his divinity. Not because this was a sign of weakness, but because it was only by submitting himself to death that he was able to be what Israel couldn’t be on its own: the redeemer of the world.

We could follow the story to the moment when it is finished, but I think enough has been said for now. The life of Jesus and his teachings leave little ground for any person empowered by his spirit to claim that violence is the way of Christ.

Monday, June 01, 2009

I Agree with Sarah Palin 100% in this Statement.

This statement by Sarah Palin is one I can back fully. If you are reading this you know I have not always had the highest regard for her, but that is precicely why I must give her credit where it is due. Surely this statement was crafted with politics in mind, but I will giver her the benefit of the doubt that this is a hint that she does see the sanctity of life as something that spreads out beyond the issue of abortion. I am not aware of her stance on the death penalty, but this at least strikes me with the right sensibilities and points to Christ's concern for all.

"I feel sorrow for the Tiller family. I respect the sanctity of life and the tragedy that took place today in Kansas clearly violates respect for life. This murder also damages the positive message of life, for the unborn, and for those living. Ask yourself, 'What will those who have not yet decided personally where they stand on this issue take away from today's event in Kansas?'

Regardless of my strong objection to Dr. Tiller's abortion practices, violence is never an answer in advancing the pro-life message."

Governor Sarah Palin

Merton Again- On the Personhood of Others.

This was in an email i received this morning. It sums up a train of thought that has worked its way into my life during the last year. It squares nicely with some of what NT Wright had to say in Surprised by Hope, which I read last summer. Since then I have (not always very successfully) strived to recognize the humanness of others and to avoid dehumanizing them as a way to justify my sins against them.

Persons are known not by the intellect alone, nor by principles alone, but only by love. It is when we love the other, the enemy, that we obtain from God the key to an understanding of who he is and who we are. It is only this realization that can open to us the real nature of our duty, and of right action.

To shut out the person and to refuse to consider him as a person, as another self, we resort to the impersonal "law" and "nature." That is to say we block off the reality of the other, we cut the intercommunication of our nature and his nature, and we consider only our own nature with its rights, its claims, its demands. In effect, however, we are considering our nature in the concrete and his nature in the abstract. And we justify the evil we do to our brother because he is no longer a brother, he is merely an adversary, an accused, an evil being.

To restore communication, to see our oneness of nature with him, and to respect his personal rights, integrity, his worthiness of love, we have to see ourselves as accused along with him, condemned to death along with him, sinking into the abyss with him, and needing, with him, the ineffable gift of grace and mercy to be saved.

Thomas Merton. Seeds of Destruction (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1961): 254-255.

Why Nonviolence? Part I

This topic is not necessarily such a new theme in my thought and experience, but it has certainly come to a head in recent months.

I am now convinced that there are few things found in the bible as explicit as the path to nonviolent action in the Christian life. This is a pretty bold statement, I know. All sorts of questions start to come up. The most famous of which is “What if someone attacked a loved one? Surely you would defend them! It would be a sin not to defend them!” or similarly “What about Hitler? Bonhoeffer said that the Christian thing to do would be to get a madman driver off of the road to prevent him from killing any more innocents.”

Before getting to these questions I would like to start with looking at a couple of issues. First I want to look at the teachings and actions of Jesus. Next we will look at the vision of the Garden before the fall, and the vision of the New Heavens and New Earth after the final resurrection. Thirdly I want to address the issues of violence in the Old Testament before finally returning to the above questions as mini case studies.

Today we will start with Jesus however. As we are all descendants of the original Adam, and are in bondage to sin, so we will one day bear the true image of the second Adam, the one in whom there is no sin. In the meantime we are attempting to bear as much of that image in this life as the Spirit will allow, in anticipation of being clothed in our new bodies at the resurrection. In other words, we strive to be like Jesus. The life of Jesus as depicted in the Gospels and reflected in the teachings of Paul and the other apostles is not merely some hopeless ideal which we can never attain. Well, it would be only that had the Holy Spirit not been given to us as a gift in order to facilitate the Kingdom life.

It is not an ideal because when the Spirit lives in us, and we serve through it and act out God’s will it has become reality. We are acting as Christ towards others in those instances. Christ is truly present in that kind of human exchange. Living for ideals is not empowered by the Spirit and is therefore death. Living for Christ is life.

If what I have said is true, then we must look to his example set forth in the bible to teach us what his will might look like in a Kingdom oriented life. This is where I see no ambiguity about violence. Jesus rejects violence at every turn.