27 March 2007

Ministry of Reconciliation -- Part 2

A couple of posts ago, I discussed the meaning of the ministry of reconciliation. And the conclusion was that it means, 'To work through actions and words as a servant (of God) in restoring the harmony between God and creation to form one connected whole.' I like this definition. I like it a lot. But now comes the hard part -- how do we do it? That is what these series of posts are about. How do we do the ministry of reconciliation? Before we get into that I think I should be clear on what has happened.


At one time, God and creation were in harmony with each other and creation was in harmony with itself. Then people rebelled against God and all of creation was thrown into turmoil (Genesis 1-3; Romans 8). But since that time, God has put in place various things (people, laws, etc.) to bring unity back to everything.


Let's look at a couple of passages that will help us see what God has done to accomplish this. Again, 2Corinthians:
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

2Corinthians 5.17-21, NRSV



The Greek text for verse 17 is literally, 'If anyone in Christ new creation'. The idea here is that not only is the person a 'new creation' but that those 'in Christ' are part of the New Creation Project that started when Jesus was raised from the dead. Since that moment, God's New Creation Project has been going on! And it is found 'in Christ'. Today's New International Version translates it this way, 'Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!' In this passage, Paul seems to indicate that outside Christ is the 'old creation' -- that is, the way things have been since after the great treason of people (Genesis 3). This makes complete sense given the stories Jesus told about the 'Kingdom of God'. (The 'Kingdom of God' was a first century understanding of God ruling the world. It's like a code phrase. It has a lot of layers that we won't go into right now.) Over and over Jesus told stories about how the 'Kingdom of God' was like a seed or yeast or something like that. It started small but eventually took over the whole thing. I think what most people miss about those stories is that, for example, the yeast gets placed within existing dough and actually changes it. Not from the outside (like the heat from the oven) but from within it. Jesus was saying in those stories that God's rule would start in creation, in the middle of history, and it would permeate and change the whole cosmos. That is a radical concept. And each time a person is 'reconciled to God' or 'come[s] back to God', a little bit more of the cosmos has changed. That was Paul's meaning in 2Corinthians. The New Creation was thought to start at the 'end' of the 'old creation'. But, like the stories that Jesus told, Paul wrote that the New Creation started in the middle of the 'old creation' and that every time a person trusts in Jesus, the New Creation grows.

Then next part is a little more astonishing. In fact, I don't think it is emphasized enough. Notice what Paul wrote, 'God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them' (verse 19). What was God doing in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus? He was 'reconciling the world to himself'. And he did that by 'no longer counting people's sins against them'. Can you believe that?!? In Colossians, Paul put it this way:
For God in all his fullness was pleased to live in [Jesus], and through him God reconciled everything to himself. He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth by means of [Jesus'] blood on the cross.

Colossians 1.19-20



Like in 2Corinthians, Paul stated that through the cross of Jesus, God 'reconciled everything to himself...made peace with everything'. That is astounding! Have you ever heard that? Has your pastor ever made such a bold statement from the pulpit? I know I haven't ever heard it. It is way too shocking. Paul has stated very plainly that God made peace with everything. Everything! Take a moment to ponder that. How fantastic!

It is right at this point that some people start calling me a Universalist. Let me go on record as stating that I am not a universalist in their meaning of the term (which means that everyone, no matter what they believe, will 'go to heaven when they die' -- whatever that means). If their meaning of universalism is true, then the Great Commission falls flat. It would make no sense for Jesus to tell the disciples to 'go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit' if everyone is 'going to heaven when they die'. What would be the reason for baptizing 'all peoples' if everyone could just believe what they want? It makes no sense. However, I believe that the Bible is very clear that the love of God is for everyone and everything -- that it is 'universal'. That is what we just read -- God is at peace with everything...no longer counting people’s sins against them.

But...

You knew that was coming, didn't you.

If God is at peace with everything (including people), then why is there still so much chaos in the world? Well, to be blunt, we still need to reconcile our side. We still need to 'make peace with everything'. This includes three areas: God, people, and creation. You see, for reconciliation to work, both sides have to be involved. The Bible tells us that God has done his part. It is now up to us. We have to do our part to... To...? To what? 'Be reconciled to God'! 'Come back to God'! Now we can see how and why the Great Commission makes sense. We are to go and 'show and tell' people all over the world that they have been forgiven. That they must now 'repent and believe'.

'Whoa. Waitaminute. What's all this crap about "repent and believe"? Can't we just continue on like we are?'

Obviously not. Behaving like most of us are now is what got us in this mess in the first place. People not caring about others, putting the blame on someone else for their own mistakes, not following simple rules. (Btw, in the beginning, there was only one. Now there are only two.) Or, if you are more poetically inclined, the problem with people is: Extravagance (later it became 'lust'), gluttony, greed, sloth, wrath, envy, and pride. Each and every one of the human race is tainted with those 'seven deadly sins'. And if you don't believe me, just watch the news! Before we can even think about being reconciled to others or to the world, we need to repent. To turn from our way of being human and accept a different way. We need to look at Jesus and see in him what true humanity really looks like. Do you know what the greatest part is? We can be like Jesus. We can accept the 'Good News' that '[Jesus] died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and he was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said' (1Corinthians 15.3-4). Why did he do that? What was the purpose? It was so that God could 'make peace with everything'! So that God could 'forgive us our sins'! So that those 'seven deadly sins' can be removed from us forever! That is why we must 'repent and believe'. If we wish to be truly human, that is the only way to go about it.

'I knew it. Exclusivity. "We are right and everyone else is wrong".'

Well, this isn't really the time to address this fully, but I will just say this. C. S. Lewis put it this way:
If you are a Christian, you are free to think that all these religions, even the queerest ones, contain at least some hint of the truth. When I was an atheist I had to try and persuade myself that the whole human race were pretty good fools until about one hundred years ago; when I became a Christian I was able to take a more liberal view. But, of course, being a Christian does mean thinking that where Christianity differs from other religions, Christianity is right and they are wrong. Like in arithmetic -- there's only one right answer to a sum, and all other answers are wrong: but some of the wrong answers are much nearer being right than others.

The Case for Christianity, Part II, page 31.



I completely agree. I often explain it like a maze. There are many paths in a maze. The object is to reach the goal -- whether to the center or out the other side. Some paths in the maze lead you the opposite way while others lead you almost there but not quite. However -- and this is something that a lot of 'religious' people don't seem to realize -- all of the paths are in the maze. But only one leads you to the end.

You see, some (most) people are in the maze. Yet others don't even know that they can join us. The 'Great Commission' is about that very thing. The 'Great Commission' lets other people know that they can join in the maze. But, it is going to cost them. To play in the maze you are going to have to want to play in it. And you have to want to play by the rules. It doesn't do any good to have some who want to cheat by cutting her or his own path to the goal -- or burning down the entire thing. No, this game is for all of us. And for all of us to be able to enjoy the maze, we have to follow the simple rules. And the simplest rule is to leave behind the way we want to do things. So people have to decide. And that decision may be painful. It might mean that you leave family and friends outside the maze because they don't want to play. It might mean that I have to throw away my flame-thrower. Yes, it may even mean that we have to humbly ask for directions and respect the answers we get. To put away our pride (and its six siblings) and actually confess that we don't know it all. Heck, if we are really honest we would say that we don't know anything, really. 'But we are willing to learn.' And by doing that, well...

Let the game begin!

Peace be with you.

+ OD

<-- Go to Part 1 or Go to Part 3 -->

20 March 2007

Happy Anniversary!

Me and my sweetums!


Today marks my and Mahina's 19th wedding anniversary. Can you believe it? Nineteen years. Who woulda thunk it? We have had a lot of great times and a few rather scary ones. In fact, today marks the end of a very dark and almost hopeless time. It marks the dawn of a New Beginning. Of our New Beginning. We chose the Spring Equinox because of what it represents in the world around us. We wanted to renew our vows but instead we just started over. Nothing fancy, just some good friends and family, good food and music. We shared some words and asked God to bless us on this New Beginning. If you were one of the lucky ones who could attend, you should listen to the music CD we passed out with all of those wonderful songs and relive that joyous occasion with us. That is what I'm listening to today -- all day long. If you are so inclined, you can head over to my Public Box and look at the pictures that were taken from that very special day.

There is something so special about this time of year. The dullness of winter is past and new life is creeping up all around us. There are little flowers popping up all over the place. A pair of cardinals are making a nest in some Wisteria in our backyard. We have peas, garlic, and onions starting to come up in the garden. The song birds are singing again. It is just a wonderful time. And our love is reflected with every new flower that opens its petals.

Happy Anniversary, Mahina.

I love you deeply.

16 March 2007

Ministry of Reconciliation

Last night at our men's Bible study group, we read from one of my favorite passages, 2Corinthians 5.17-21.
So if anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. So we are ambassadors for Christ, since God is making his appeal through us; we entreat you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God. For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

New Revised Standard Version



The idea of verse 17 is that God's New Creation isn't a sudden event at the end of history. It is a Project that started in the middle of history at the resurrection of Jesus and continues on with each person who is 'reconciled to God'. But the New Creation Project isn't just about people. As I have stated over and over on this blog, New Creation is about the whole cosmos. Paul wrote in Romans 8 that the created order itself is groaning in severe pain yearning to be renewed (Romans 8.18-28). In everything we do, therefore, we should have that image of renewed creation in front of us. We should have that ultimate goal in mind and find ways of implementing it now.

However, we didn't even talk about that last night. We talked about ministry. Specifically, the 'ministry of reconciliation'. I have to admit I didn't have my 'A-Game on'. I fumbled over words, ideas, concepts. Recently I read a quote from Mr. Rogers (yes, that Mr. Rogers) about communication, 'Simple is better' he said. I know he's right. However, sometimes, some concepts or ideas are hard for me to simplify. I mean, we were asked such (supposedly) simple questions as 'What is the Gospel?', 'What does "reconciliation" mean?', and the one that had me fumbling for the right words, 'What does "ministry" mean?' And I just couldn't communicate it very simply.

I also remember something Bishop Tom Wright said (and this plays against my hopes of simplifying). He made the statement about the length of his book, The Resurrection of the Son of God. He said (and I'm paraphrasing here), 'The reason that book is so long is that in scholarly work, you have to cover everything. If you don't address some text or objection or whatever, you will be written off. "Oh, he didn't address such and such, therefore it can't be worth my time."' I would add that this isn't only true within scholarly work. It happens in every day conversations, too. My 'problem' is trying to put these two ideas together -- keep it simple but cover everything. And last night I didn't do so well.

I also admit that I wasn't the only one muddled. The other men at this study were also stumbling for the right words. Perhaps the coffee was too strong. I'm not sure. I told the facilitator that I would be pondering over this. 'Good,' he told me. 'You need to. You want to be a minister. Seminary is all about figuring that out.'

When I got home, I told my family how it went. The meeting was fine. We had some wonderful discussions. I was just having difficulty putting my thoughts into words. 'That's weird', was my wife's comment. So this blog is about defining the concept of 'ministry of reconciliation'.

According to Webster (1913), 'ministry' means, 'The act of service'. 'Minister' means, 'To act as a servant, attendant, or agent; to attend and serve; to perform service in any office, sacred or secular.'

Therefore, ministry would be 'service'. And a 'minister' would be someone through whom that service is accomplished. So what does that mean, 'to serve'? Again, Webster (1913): 'To work for; to labor in behalf of; to exert one's self continuously or statedly for the benefit of; to do service for; to be in the employment of, as an inferior, domestic, serf, slave, hired assistant, official helper, etc.; specifically, in a religious sense, to obey and worship.'

So, to 'serve' means to 'continuously' 'work for' 'the benefit of' someone else. To be the 'slave' of someone else. Well, this makes perfect sense. We see over and over in the Bible how people like Jesus or Paul were 'servants' or 'slaves' to God. We are even told that before Christ came we were 'slaves to sin'. But now, because of the blood of Jesus, we are 'slaves to God.' So, we are to be in service to God. Therefore, we are ministers -- people who serve.

But what is that 'ministry', that service? How are we to serve? And whom are we to serve? Obviously, we are to act like servants of God, since we are servants of God. And just as obvious, we should not be servants of sin. How can we be? We died to sin when we were baptized. And on the other side of that 'death' we were given 'life' -- not to serve ourselves, but to serve God, the giver of The Life (Romans 6).

But we are not just to serve God. We are to serve creation as well. And by that I mean, yes, of course, the Earth and all of its wonders. But also we are to serve people -- all people; even our enemies. That is why there is some dramatic, subversive teaching about this in the gospels, especially Matthew (you know, the whole 'Sermon on the Mount' thing). What I find fascinating about that passage is the people are servants who go beyond what they are told to do. 'If a soldier demands that you carry his gear for a mile', Jesus said, 'carry it for two'. The message here is to go beyond what you have been asked to do. And in doing that you will be showing the powers that be that you are 'revolting' against them. You will be participating in a non-violent resistance movement against their power and authority. This is seen, not only in what Jesus did but, in that sermon -- go the extra mile, turn to the other cheek, when someone asks for your coat, give them your shirt as well, etc. Each of those statements are to be seen as ways of speaking to power, of working against power, by using non-violence as the key. When we serve our enemies like that, it changes the rules of the game. It shows that we are willing servants. It shows that we are truly the ones with the power. Isn't this just like the life of Christ? Didn't he say, 'No one takes my life. I give it freely?' At any moment, he could have had the whole 'army of heaven' at his disposal to destroy his enemies. But that would make his kingdom just like theirs. But Jesus had a bigger plan than that. If he followed his contemporaries in their way of 'doing kingdom', that is, through violence, then the whole thing was over. And he would have lost. He was actually practicing what he preached! Imagine that! Someone actually did what they told others to do. And in doing that he demonstrated the way of being truly human. And the key to being truly human is being a servant.

We are all called to do likewise. And not only with our 'enemies' but also with our brothers and sisters. As the New Testament puts it, especially with them! In other words, if we are instructed to give generously to our enemies, how much more are we to give to our brothers and sisters? 'Your love for one another', Jesus said, 'will prove to the world that you are my disciples' (John 13.35).

So, we see that to serve is to give of ourselves in all that we do for the benefit of others -- at home, abroad, to friends and foes. By doing that we are truly 'ministers'. We are serving others. That is our 'ministry'.

Rather, that is a part of our ministry. We still have 'reconciliation'. What does this mean? According to Webster, 'reconcile' means 'to bring together, to unite.' Reconciliation, therefore means, 'restoration (to bring back) to harmony'. The idea then is that there are (at least) two parties that were at odds with one another. Perhaps one party was in the right and the other in the wrong. Perhaps one party, even though in the right, somehow 'hurt' the other party. In any case, the two parties that were at one time in harmony with each other are now in conflict.

In the case of the Creator God, YHWH, and creation, well, everything was fine. At first. Then people got it in their heads that they wanted to do things their way (I think the first people actually wrote the famous Sinatra song '(I Did It) My Way'.). And because of this rebellion, this treason, the entire created order was thrown into turmoil.

Now, one of the best parts of last nights discussion came in right at this point. I bring it up now to help explain this a little better. We talked about pottery. When a potter makes a pot, sometimes everything looks great until it goes through the fire. Then, once it comes out of kiln, there will be a crack in the pot. The way to fix this pot is to grind it down and start over. To recreate it. And, so I was told, the pot is better than before.

In case you miss the imagery -- people (actually all of creation but especially people) are the pot and God is the Potter. When people went 'through the fire' of following God or following their own way and came out the other side, they were flawed. They were cracked. And the severity of the crack did not just effect them. It effected the entire created order. Again, Romans 8 states that the whole creation was subjected to God’s curse because of the rebellion of people (Romans 8.20). And just like the potter in our illustration, God has been going about creating ways to fix the problem. And the climax of the first stage of that New Project was the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

I think a key to understanding the depth of the situation is the word 'harmony'. Harmony is such a great word. I love this definition, 'Things intended to form a connected whole. Unity.' Because of the great treason, the great rebellion, and the subsequent curse upon the created order, everything has been broken apart. It has been forced into disunity. But because of the faithfulness of the Potter, the first stage of the New Creation Project has been finished! The Project is to restore that harmony, that unity. It is to rejoin that which was separated and to 'form a connected whole'! That is what we see in the Old Testament prophecies and chapters 21 and 22 of the Book of Revelation -- God joining 'heaven' and 'earth' into one connected whole. Right now, there are little places of interlocking and overlapping, of harmony, where the Grace of God is working, all over the world. And people can be a part of that. That is what is so important about the first part of this post. Every time a person places their trust in Jesus of Nazareth, he or she becomes a part of that harmony! He or she becomes part of the New Creation Project!

But it doesn't stop there. Like Paul and his companions, we are given the 'ministry of reconciliation'. We are to show people by our actions and tell people with our words that God has reconciled them! That 'in Christ, God reconciled the world to himself', that God has forgiven their sins. We are to show them by our actions, our love for them, that they have been brought back into harmony with God. And not just people. We are to show and tell that all of creation is reconciled to God. That is why how we live is so important. Are our actions moving creation to that ultimate goal? Are our words full of that great message, 'Be reconciled to God'? My prayer is that we keep that in mind when we speak to people and we conduct our lives. We must be angled mirrors so that we can reflect God's love and grace back into creation.

So, what does 'ministry of reconciliation' mean? To me it means, 'To work through actions and words as a servant in restoring the harmony between God and creation to form one connected whole.'

And may it start with me.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

Go to Part 2 -->

15 March 2007

'Christian' Violence

Of late, I have been a part of a couple of great blogs -- Craven VII and Jesus Community. Recently, the discussion has turned to questions of Christians and violence. There have been good points on all sides. And I mean that honestly. As I stated elsewhere on those blogs, these issues are secondary. That is, this is an issue that should not divide. We can debate this issue, but it shouldn't divide us.

I think, also, that we are talking about two different things -- war and violence against individuals. These are important distinctions (however, in war, violence is done to individuals but the context is different). Some great questions have been raised regarding soldiers within the military in the first century. Basically, the position is that since neither Jesus nor the apostles ever told someone in the military to get out of the military, that must mean that it is alright to continue in that duty. But, and I'm sure we all see this, this is an argument from silence. As has been pointed out, there is (supposedly) nothing within the Scriptures that state owning slaves is wrong. However, it was because of the biblical texts, because of his trying to be an honest follower of Jesus, that William Wilberforce 'fought' for the disbanding of the slave trade in England. Would any of us today have been on the other side of that issue? Would we have stated, 'Neither Jesus nor the apostles ever told a slave owner to stop owning slaves'? This is an important point. And something else we need to keep in mind -- context. That is, the people of the Bible were living in different times than we are today. We have to be as faithful as we can to what has gone on before us on issues that are not addressed in the Bible. I will use slavery to illustrate this.

Essentially, slavery was a necessary (evil) part of society for a long, long time. It is what kept society going. Without slaves, society would have fallen apart. So, we can see why there would be no instructions about getting rid of slaves. They didn't know what would happen to society if they were removed. But, the question to ask is, would the future consummated Kingdom of God have slaves? In looking at uncharted waters (and that is what a world without slaves was) you have to keep in your minds eye some crucial passages of Scripture, mostly, the prophecies in the Old Testament that speak of that ultimate future. And with that, the image of God's grace through the blood of Christ who 'reconciled the world to himself'. That is what Wilberforce did. He looked at the ultimate future of God's 'very good' creation and sought ways of implementing that future now. And you know what happened? Society, for a long time, did fall apart. But that was okay. The world is a better place because of it.

My position on war (and violence) is the same. I am looking at those passages that speak of God's ultimate future for his creation. In that future, there will be 'no more war', there will be 'no more death', there, the people will take their weapons of war and transform them into farming utensils. We have to look at all people and see them, whether we want to or not, as brothers and sisters in Christ now or realize that they will be in the future. As an Episcopalian, I am asked a number of questions during Baptism and Confirmation. These are (obviously) based on our understanding of Scripture. Three questions that are critical in this conversation are:
Will you proclaim by word and example the Good News of God in Christ?

Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbor as yourself?

Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?

That question about 'seek[ing] Christ in all persons reminds me of what Paul wrote about his conversion.  He stated that 'God revealed Christ in me' (Galatians 1.15-17). Not 'to me' but 'in me'. That is quite a difference. Furthermore, Paul wrote that God 'reconciled (past tense) the world to himself' through the blood of Jesus and this included all of the enemies of God and his people, both seen and unseen. Do we look at our 'enemies' in that way? Can we see that this is why Jesus told us to 'love our enemies'? He knew that through his death and resurrection they -- the enemy -- would be reconciled to God.

Furthermore, the leadership of the church is supposed to be gentle and not violent (1Timothy 3). I believe that this also refers to the support of violence. And why is this important? We, the people, the ministers of the Gospel, are to look to our leaders for guidance, for examples on how to live and conduct our lives (Philippians 3.17; Hebrews 6.12, 13.7; etc.). And we are all to follow Jesus and he was not a violent person. He taught us over and over again not to be violent. Now think about this. The leaders of the church are to follow Christ. They are to be gentle and not violent. We are to follow them as they follow Christ. Therefore, it stands to reason that we too are to be gentle and not violent. Further, we are also to be followers of Christ. So, it seems clear that we are not to be violent or support violence.

When we look at the life of Jesus and his followers in the Gospels, we must realize that violent revolt was an option to bring about the kingdom or rule or 'nation' of God. But again and again, Jesus did and said things that sometimes hinted and sometimes stated plainly that his 'kingdom', his 'rule', his 'nation' would not be like the kingdoms of the world -- and the inference there was that it would not be a kingdom or rule or nation that used violence either militarily or otherwise. This is crucial to my understanding of the issue.
But as he came closer to Jerusalem and saw the city ahead, he began to weep. 'How I wish today that you of all people would understand the way to peace. But now it is too late, and peace is hidden from your eyes. Before long your enemies will build ramparts against your walls and encircle you and close in on you from every side. They will crush you into the ground, and your children with you. Your enemies will not leave a single stone in place, because you did not accept your opportunity for salvation.'

Luke 19.41-44.



Let's look at the context of this passage. Israel was an occupied country. They were occupied by the Romans -- the 'pagans'. As I stated above, one of the ways of resistance was that of violence. Some people saw no choice but to use violence. I'm sure that this was not the first option. I'm sure that, like so many of us, it was a last ditch effort to end the oppression of an occupying nation. After all, the Israelites just wanted to be left alone and live their lives. But some saw no other option than violence. It was the only thing that would bring about relief from the pagans. And let's be clear -- the Romans were not a nice bunch of guys. They were brutal. They used whatever means they deemed necessary to force allegiance. Rape, murder, extortion, whatever, to terrorize the people into 'following' Caesar. Now, if we were in the same situation today, I'm sure that many Christians would be just like the 'zealots' of Jesus' day. But what was Jesus' response to the situation? He wept. He wept because the people of YHWH had become the people of the 'world'. That is, they had decided to use the means of the world to 'fight' the world. And because of that, they would be crushed. The 'salvation' mentioned here is not eternal life. It is salvation from the Romans. It is deliverance from the occupying forces. And his fellow Hebrews would not hear of it. They didn't want to do it God's way. They wanted blood. Jesus was saying that they did not 'understand the way to peace.' Do we 'understand the way of peace'?

Also, someone has brought up the idea of God using (or sanctioning) the use of military violence in the Old Testament. God also sanctioned a lot of things that changed when Jesus rose from the dead. Something happened cosmically. The world changed. Do we go back to those times? Do we go back to 'putting the women' outside society when they are menstruating? I hope not. And I hope you see my point here. The world is moving toward a fixed goal. That fixed goal is a world redeemed! A world that is at peace with all things. The question we must ask ourselves is does war move us toward that goal or away from it?

Violence gives birth to more violence. In the immediate context, the people involved know what is going on. But what about those who come after the war is over? Or those who are effected personally because of it? Will the 'enemies' children see that their fathers were part of the 'axis of evil' and 'deserved' to be punished? Or will they just see the blood of their ancestors being slaughtered at the hand of the 'infidels'? I can guarantee that it will be the latter. This shows us that even in times of war, violence has individual casualties. And we must never forget those who are abused, raped, and murdered during war. We are kidding ourselves if we think that this does not go on. 'We don't do those things.' Well, as a nation, we might not approve of them, but we are being represented by others that have no problem in doing those things. And the nation will suffer for it.

And with that, I must ask with trembling, where does our fidelity lie -- to the <insert your country here> or with the King of kings and Lord of lords (and I could add, the President of presidents or the Monarch of monarchs)? We are members of a different nation. We are not Americans or Brits or whatever. Sure, we reside in those countries but we are ambassadors of another country, another nation. And another way of living. Our lives should reflect, not the position of our respected countries in which we reside. Our lives should reflect our true home. We must look at that country, at our Father and reflect that self-giving love to the country in which we reside.

Now, switching to 'personal' violence. There was a scene in the movie 'Daredevil' that paints my position clearly.
Daredevil, a costumed super hero, hears a 'thug', an enforcer, for the Kingpin (a crime boss) beating up someone. He springs to action. As the thug stands up from beating the man into unconsciousness, he sees that shadow of Daredevil on the wall. He takes off running! Daredevil pursues. After a long chase, the thug believes to have given Daredevil the slip. He goes to his apartment building and walks down the hall toward his apartment. Just then Daredevil comes crashing through the window! A fight breaks out. The thud keeps swearing at Daredevil and taunting him, 'You don't own this town. It belongs to the Kingpin'. Daredevil beats the man unconscious. As Daredevil stands over the thug, he hears a small cry coming from the corner. It is a small child huddled up crying. 'Don't hurt me', the child cries. 'Please don't hurt me.' 'I'm not the bad guy kid', Daredevil responded.

Now, I know this is kind of silly but it is germane to my point. In the eyes of the audience, we know that Daredevil is a 'good guy'. That he has sworn to protect the 'innocent' and 'punish' the guilty with 'justice' (he states a lot that 'justice has been / will be served'). But what about in the eyes of the child? What does the child see? He sees one guy beating the snot out of another guy. Period. For all practical purposes, Daredevil was the 'bad guy' to that child. And that is my point. We might have 'righteous indignation' and feel that it is our 'duty' to bring 'justice' to the 'bad guys' but in the eyes of their children and grandchildren, we will be monsters. We are to show a better way. Jesus said, '“If you love only those who love you, why should you get credit for that? Even sinners love those who love them! And if you do good only to those who do good to you, why should you get credit? Even sinners do that much! And if you lend money only to those who can repay you, why should you get credit? Even sinners will lend to other sinners for a full return. Love your enemies! Do good to them. Lend to them without expecting to be repaid. Then your reward from heaven will be very great, and you will truly be acting as children of the Most High, for he is kind to those who are unthankful and wicked. You must be compassionate, just as your Father is compassionate' (Luke 6.32-36, NLT). In other words, we are to be different. We are to be 'acting as children of the Most High'. We are to be 'kind to those who are unthankful and wicked' because he is. If we follow the way the world does things, how are we any different than they?

As an aside, but an important aside, I must say something about 'justice'. We use that term so loosely. What we mean by justice is vengeance, plain and simple. Would we discipline our children with that type of 'justice'? I hope not. And so does the world. That would fall under child abuse laws and we would be punished. How is it any different when we do the same thing to adults? It is still abuse. We must use our imaginations and come up with better ways of dealing with the bullies both locally and globally.

I understand that these are tough issues. I also understand that they are personal issues. These things are to be struggled through -- to be wrestled with. I also know that my decision to be a pacifist was and is a very difficult one. It has cost me personally. But I want it to go on record -- I do not think people who hold to an opposing view are any less Christian. I fully understand that my brothers and sisters can have differing opinions about these issues. I am fully aware of how we can take different passages and use them to support our views. But we must ask ourselves, does our position help bring about the ultimate goal for the cosmos -- of a world renewed? Or does it move us in the other direction? Jesus said, 'God blesses those who work for peace, for they will be called the children of God.' In another place, Jesus said, 'So now I am giving you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other. Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.' And again, 'Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you.' Do our lives reflect a 'work[ing] for peace'? Do our actions 'prove to the world' that we are the disciples of Jesus? Do our lives reflect Christ's peace?

For those so inclined, here are a couple of articles for further reading:

A Practicle Christian Pacifism

Biblical Pacifism
Eternal God, in whose perfect kingdom no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love: So mightily spread abroad your Spirit, that all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father; to whom be dominion and glory, now and for ever. Amen.

Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

O God, the Father of all, whose Son commanded us to love our enemies: Lead them and us from prejudice to truth: deliver them and us from hatred, cruelty, and revenge; and in your good time enable us all to stand reconciled before you, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Peace be with you.

+ OD

14 March 2007

Confirmed!

On March 11, 2007, I was confirmed in the Episcopal church.  This means that I was admitted, by the laying on of hands from the Bishop (as well as our priest and other leaders and my family and friends), to full privileges of the church.  This is the first step in a long journey toward ordination.  It is from here that I can move more in the right direction of my calling.  I am so excited about this.  I am part of a great local community and an exciting and wonderful (if not sometimes tumultuous) tradition that goes back a long time.

The door is wide open now.  And I have walked through it into a whole new world of possibilities.  Please pray that I will listen to the voice of our Father and follow wherever the Spirit is leading me.

Peace be with you.

+OD