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Archive for August, 2010

In a Pair of Corduroys

I began reading this book titled, Where God Happens: Discovering Christ in One Another by Rowan Williams. I must admit that upon first reading it, nothing was really sticking to me. I was really struggling to continue reading. I’m not sure whether it was the style, my setting, or the topic of desert fathers and mothers that really was connecting to me. I eventually put the book back on the shelf after one chapter. However, later this evening I picked it back up. I began to find that the topic covered was interesting in that I haven’t really thought or developed much concerning sin.

Now let me state that I believe that Sin is ultimately some kind of violence. Not always physical violence, but also emotional, relational, spiritual and so on. This means I also believe that sin is something communal (as all things are human).

In this first chapter there was a lot that interested me (the second time I looked at it). Two things kind of stuck out to me. First is that Sin is something that only  the individual can recognize and reconcile and second Sin is a way of building solidarity and connection with our neighbors.

In the beginning of the chapter Williams explains how how experience with the Divine is always dependent or related to our experience with others. “The actual substance of our relation with eternal truth and love is bound up with how we manage the proximity of these human neighbors” (12). In a way it is appropriate to say that Sin separates us from God, because ultimately Sin separates us from our neighbors. This is related to the idea that Worship always has a simultaneous experience with the people around us and with God. You cannot experience, relate, worship God without a community around you. (Now the idea of an inner community always being present within ones identity is something to be discussed later).

“We love to think that we know more of God than others; we find it comfortable and comforting to try to control the access of others to God” (15). This connects with sin because it seems that when we talk about it, we often talk about other people. Sins that aren’t necessarily gripping us. However, what Williams leads me to see is that we need to focus on our on experiences of Sin. Williams includes a quote by Poemen, “If you have sin enough in your own life and your own home, you have no need to go searching for it elsewhere” (22). Often what I hear people say when talking about Sin (specifically in someone else’s life) is that they recognize some of their own faults, but that the faults of another are far more worse. What I find ironic is that this finding fault in another seems to be an action that causes some kind of skewing of relationship (sin?). Could it be the fact that when we judge another, finding a speck in their eye, we fail to recognize that in doing so we have just plunged a log in our own?

Here are a few stories that Williams includes from the desert fathers:

“There was a brother at Scetis who had committed a fault. So they called a meeting and invited Abba Moses. He refused to go. The priest sent someone to say to him, “They’re all waiting for you.” So Moses got up and set off; he took a leaky jug and filled it with water and took it with him. The others came out to meet him and said, “What is this, father?” The old man said to them, “My sins run out behind me and I cannot see them, yet here I am coming to sit in judgment on the mistakes of somebody else.” When they hear this, they called of the meeting” (20).

“A brother who had sinned was turned out of the church by the priest. Abba Bessarion got up and followed him out; he said, ‘I too am a sinner'” (21).

“A brother questioned Abba Poemen, saying, ‘If I see my brother sinning, should I hide the fact?’ The old man said, ‘At the moment when we hide a brother’s fault, God hides our own. At the moment when we reveal a brother’s fault, God reveals our own'” (21).

In the first story, what I interpret is that sin happens. We make mistakes. We hurt people. It’s sad but it happens. I don’t think that is what matters. If we really think about it, it happens to all of us. It’s nothing new. What matters is the reconciliation that takes place. Even more, our experience with damaged relationships, hurt, and pain, allow us to see others with compassion and gentleness.

Now one might begin to think that this understanding minimizes Sin. Williams addresses this by saying that when we focus on our own sins, we recognize the cost in ourselves. He states that, “If it can’t be addressed by you in terms of your own needs it can’t be addressed anywhere however seductive it is to say, “I know how to deal with this problem in your life – and never mind about mine” (20).

I think something beautiful happens when we begin to recognize our own frailty. Our own ability to mess things up. Our own weaknesses and vulnerabilities. I think this beauty happens only when we express this with another. It creates some kind of deep connection where hope can truly be experienced.

Now we realize that through Christ we have already been reconciled to God. There is nothing we can do about that. It’s already been given.

“They are not, in their tears and penances, trying to make up their debt to God. They know as well as any Christian that this is paid once and for all by the mercy that arrives in advance of all our repentance. They simple want to be sure that this assurance of mercy does not make them deceive themselves and others. If they continue with this awareness of the sinful and needy self, it is so that they will understand the tears and self-hatred of others and know how to bring them to Christ by their unqualified acceptance and gentleness” (30).

Now like in suffering, I am in no way trying to justify sin, or explain it, or make everything good about it. Sin is something that happens, we become separated from our neighbors, which separates us from God, but as we recognize our own frailness we feel compelled to connect with others.

I think that as we focus on and recognize our own failures, it changes the way we interact with others.

As I write this, I get the feeling that this is incomplete and maybe in a way too optimistic. We rate sins. We see some as more severe than others (though again this is a focus on others). And it is here that I am stuck. I’m stuck because I’m not sure how this all fits with such experiences of extreme pain, death and so on. But if we begin to develop communities where forgiveness, reconciliation and vulnerability is key, then it is possible that quite miraculous things could result.

“A healthy church is one in which we seek to stay connected with God by seeking to connect others with God, one in which we “win God” by converting one another, and convert one another by our truthful awareness of frailty. And a church that is living in such a way is the only church that will have anything different to say to the world; how deeply depressing if all the church offered were new and better ways to succeed at the expense of others, reinstating the scapegoat mechanisms that the cross of Christ should have exploded once and for all” (27).

This is very prophetic what Williams is stating here, because in a sense, we are still scapegoating others. Blaming others for issues and problems that we are very much a part of. We still make ourselves feel better by pointing out the faults, or perceived faults of another. “At least I’m not like him” or “Have you seen what she has done” are replaced. To be honest it sucks that the Church is often a community where these statements are most often heard. These statements, though they make us feel better about ourselves for a brief moment, have no purpose in advancing the reconciling and healing work of God that we are called to participate in.

My hope is that we in turn develop communities where we include everyone. To not include everyone means that we fear that God is not in control and the Spirit is not at work. This leads to the fact that often we force people to conform to our image, rather than let the healing work of the Spirit to conform the person into the image that God has created him or her to be.

I get really frustrated in the way that most of the Church has been discussing issues of immigration, same-sex relationships, and Muslims (“Mosque at Ground Zero”). It seems that the way we have been interacting with these topics is often out of fear. Fear ultimately means that we doubt that the Spirit is at work. Overcoming this fear is what lead to the inclusion of Gentiles in Acts. However, currently instead of moving with love, we move with fear. If we choose to be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to become angry (by recognizing our own failures) then we will begin to see the Spirit working and respond with “It seems good to the Holy Spirit and to us.”

“We love with God when and only when we are the conduit for God’s reconciling presence with the person next to us. It is as we connect the other with the source of life that we come to stand in the place of life, the place cleared and occupied for us by Christ” (35).

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Shalom. Peace. This word should ring true to all of us here. It is a word that is familiar to us here in the church and beyond. Peace. This is something we all desire. We all fall into the Miss America trite statement of, “I support world peace.” Well, who doesn’t?

In the book Shalom, by Perry Yoder, he writes, “At the entrance to McConnel Air Force Base, Wichita, Kansas, stands a large sign which says, “Peace Is Our Profession.” Others would say that war, not peace, is the work of people who have command over ICBMs poised to wipe out entire Russian cities. And President Reagan has dubbed a new MX missile system peacekeeper. Clearly, the use of peace to refer to weapons intended to kill millions of civilians is opposed by those who picket military bases or who work to halt the building of nuclear arms. Missiles: peacekeepers or threats to peace? The answer depends on how you define peace” (10).

Perry leads us to question as christians, followers of Christ, what kind of peace ought we work for?

Matthew 5

An Eye for an Eye

38“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[g] 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

Love for Enemies

43“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor[h] and hate your enemy.’ 44But I tell you: Love your enemies[i] and pray for those who persecute you, 45that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

In these passages we see a call to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors. This sounds awfully strange and naive, especially in our culture today. It seems that Jesus is inviting us to be walked over, having no control, or not doing anything about things we just know are wrong. Things we know we should do something about, anything!

Let us first look at verses 43-48. What Jesus is doing here is setting up a new interpretation, when he says “you have heard it said but I say to you”. It was common sense that one should love their neighbor and hate their enemy. Actually the idea of neighbor in that time was used to describe someone who is like you. So for Jews, others other Jews would be neighbors. However, Jesus extends this love to our enemies. Why? Well in the story of the Good Samaritan, the man asks Jesus who is my neighbor. There Jesus states a different definition of neighbor, expanding it to include those Samaritans who were not like the Jewish people. Jesus in a way enlarges neighborhood.

Here in the Sermon on the Mount, though, we see Jesus calling his followers to love their enemies and pray for their persecutors. Why would Jesus do this? Well the thing is Jesus calls us to do it because he has already done it. We see in Paul’s letters that while we were still sinners Christ extended love to us. We were God’s enemies, and yet God extended grace, mercy and reconciliation to us. We were first strangers to God, and yet God extended hospitality to us, inviting us to the table.

We are called to imitate Christ, and as Christ first loved his enemies, even up to his death on the cross, so too are we called to love those around us. Our Enemies, Our Strangers, Our Foreigners.

Now we are challenged further, to pray for our persecutors. Why do we pray for them? Do we think that God is going to change the situation. Doesn’t God already know what is going to happen? Isn’t God already in control?

If anything, Prayer changes our situations because prayer changes us. When we pray for our persecutors, it begins to change our perception of them. We begin to see them as truly loved by God. As we pray, we begin to see our encounters with these “others” through God’s eyes. These eyes that cause the sun to rise on everyone and the rain to fall on everyone.

In these verses we are challenged to not be like the world, only extending love, hospitality, life to those we like, or those who make us comfortable.

Because by doing so we end up looking just like the world. No. We are called as Christians to stand apart, to be different; we are called to extend that love to everyone, to those we see as different, dangerous, and those who could ultimately kill us.

Now as we wrestle with this idea of radical love, let us turn to look at ways in which we see Jesus offering ideas on challenging systems of oppression and injustice.

In verses 38-42 8“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’[g] 39But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.

It may seem that this scripture is describing to us how when we are in a situation of injustice that we should contribute even more to our own suffering. I mean if I get punched in the cheek why would I want to get punched in the other?

However, what Jesus is doing here is offering us a third way. When confronted with a situation of conflict often there are two responses, flight or fight. As Christians we recognize the tension between both. We realize that to run away from a situation seems weak and does nothing to correct this system of injustice. On the other hand, we also recognize that we aren’t called to fight back, and that often fighting back increases the violence. What are we left to do?

Well let me explain why these responses are seen as a third way.

In the first response of someone striking a person on the right cheek, she or he must turn the other also. This is important to note. In the hebrew culture during that time the left hand was seen as unclean, and so often when a person wished to insult another he would slap the person with the back of his right hand. This was demeaning to be slapped with the back of the hand. It made the person getting slapped feel inferior. This is often how one would slap a slave or servant. However, after a person would be slapped, what Jesus is saying is that by turning one’s cheek the opponent would be forced to slap with his palm.

You might be wondering why or how this is different. Well

this would assert the persons dignity, because to be slapped with the palm was to establish equality between the two people. Now understand in this situation the person would be getting slapped quite a bit, but they are not participating in the violence, nor are they letting the situation of injustice continue. They are asserting their status as an equal without fighting back or running away.

In the second example Jesus offers we see a person getting sued for their tunic. This is also seen as a situation of injustice. In that culture it was shameful for a person to cause another to be naked or to take all their possessions in court. So this is another example of a person experiencing injustice and taking a third way to reassert their equality. The person being sued would expose this injustice by offering their cloak along with their tunic.

The last example that is given eludes to government affairs and the military. Surprising isn’t it? First off you may be wondering why anyone would force you to go one mile with them or what that means. This culture was primarily ruled over by the roman government. So it was common to be walking down the road and see roman soldiers. At that time it was legal for a soldier to ask a citizen to carry the soldier’s bag for one mile. No more. What Jesus is saying here is an act of resistance against the military, the idea of going two miles put the citizen back into a position of equality with the soldier, which would have made the soldier very uncomfortable because it was unlawful for a citizen to carry the equipment more than one mile.

These three examples shows how Christ invites us to be creative in situations of violence and injustice. Challenging us to not be violent or allow oppression.

If we begin to view our world, the people we interact with, the strangers we bump into, the enemies we are in contact with, with the eyes of Christ, the labels that we assign to each other should begin to fade away, and be replaced with the label of God’s beloved. Iraqis, Illegal Immigrants, Liberals, Conservatives, Muslims, Terrorists….fade and become God’s beloved. When we see each other as God’s beloved, as God’s creation, as people who God unconditionally loves, how can we move to harm them in anyway?

Biblical peace, Shalom is deeper than just absence of conflict. It is a movement of restoration, of reconciliation, of all things, relationships. A fulfillment of the hope we experience in the body of Christ.

We are called to be peacemakers. As disciples of Christ, we learn how we can interact in this world, with these people that God has created.

As peacemakers we work against systems of injustice, against hatred, resentment, and violence in all forms. To participate in these systems, systems of violence, or war, or oppression means that we do not have faith in God.

In the book, What about Hitler? Scholar Robert Brimlow wrestles with Christ’s call to nonviolence in the face of such evil’s like Hitler. He describe’s violence as “the expression of the arrogance of selfhood…Ultimately, violence comes from power, the ability to act the way one wills. If I can act as if I were alone to act upon the universe, I have the power of God and I am God. That is the sin of violence” (134). He continues, “War, then, is the expression of an egotistical violence performed in the name of a group that has made itself God” (135).

Being a peacemaker means having faith in God. If we have difficulty seeing God’s creation, God’s beloved in the people around us, seeing past these labels of enemy, terrorist, muslim, hispanic, illegal alien…then whose standards are we following? If we wage war upon others, or if we allow our palestinian brothers and Afghan sisters to be constantly under oppression and conflict whose borders are we recognizing?

Does the church have borders? Don’t we serve a church where the borders transcend nationalities? Ethnicities? That is why we are called to peace. Our Church is too vast and we do not know everyone’s stories. We are not God.

You might be wondering how Brimlow finally answers that question. What about Hitler?

“We must live faithfully; we must be humble in our faith and truthful in what we say and do; we must repay evil with good; and we must be peacemakers. This may also mean as a result that the evildoers will kill us. Then, we shall also die. That’s it…We are called to live the kingdom as he proclaimed it and be his disciples, come what may.”

He does include though, that if the church acted as the church should before hitler we would not have that question. If the church, stood up for justice and peace after world war I, it would not have allowed for vengeance and unfair retribution to happen to germany, setting it up for as a despondent country.

The Church does not look like the world. It is inefficient, naive, and cares for the underdog. The Church is meant to be scandalized. Taken advantage of. Martyred. Even as it continues to offer forgiveness, hospitality and love in the face of evil.

This naive church is where Mennonites have their ground. The early anabaptists were killed and murdered because they believed so much that God ultimately was in control. They believed so much in the physical resurrection, that death was something that did not scare them.  The early anabaptist loved their enemies, even to the point of their own death because they would rather die in the comfort of their God then kill someone who has yet to experience God’s love. An example that comes to mind is Dirk Willems. He is a somewhat famous martyr in the Mennonite world. He escaped from prison where he was held because of his anabaptist beliefs, and while he was running away these men were following him, ordered to catch Dirk. As Dirk was running he ran across this frozen river and made it across just fine. His pursuer on the other hand did not and fell through the ice. Immediantly Dirk turned around and helped this man out, saving his life. Dirk was caught and returned to prison where he was later executed.  This is where our martyr stories play such an important role, they teach us how in the face of death and suffering, love triumphs. Love always wins. Resurrection defeats Death.

So as followers of Christ we are called to love like Christ. Challenging systems of oppression and injustice using creative means, but also gaining a new perspective on how we view others. Trading our worldly perspective with the lens of Christ, which allows us to see others as God’s beloved. And as we fall deeply in love with others, our enemies, our persecutors, may our hearts find comfort in the resurrection. That in the end Life beats Death. Love triumphs over hatred. Resurrection defeats the Cross.

2 Corinthians 4.7-12;5.14-18.

But we hold this treasure in pots of earthenware, so that the immensity of the power is God’s and not our own. We are subjected to every kind of hardship, but never distressed; we see no way out but we never despair; we are pursued but never cut off; knocked down, but still have some life in us; always we carry with us in our body the death of Jesus so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our body. Indeed, while we are still alive, we are continually being handed over to death, for the sake of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus, too, may be visible in our mortal flesh. In us, then, death is at work; in you, life…For the love of Christ overwhelms us when we consider that if one man died for all, then all have died; his purpose in dying for all humanity was that those who live should live not any more for themselves, but for him who died and was raised to life for them.

From now onwards, then, we will not consider anyone by human standards: even if we were once familiar with Christ according to human standards, we do not know him in that way any longer. So for anyone who is in Christ, there is a new creation: the old order is gone and a new being is there to see. It is all God’s work; he reconciled us to himself through Christ and he gave us the ministry of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 4.7-12;5.14-18.

May you join in the reconciling work of God through Christ. Seeing Peace, shalom, as more than just absence of violence, but as a fulfillment of life and justice. May we embrace and love those around us as Christ loves them. Opening our hearts, our minds, our hands to their needs. Let us allow ourselves to love our enemies and pray for our persecutors and let that prayer challenge us to not view others with labels that world gives. Terrorist. Illegal Immigrant. Liberal. Conservative. Enemy. And So on, but embrace the label that God gives, that we are ultimately God’s creation, truly loved by the Creator who makes the sun shine on the righteous and unrighteous and the rain to fall on everyone. May the peace of Christ, that transcends all understanding dwell in you. Amen. Go in Peace.

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delicious.It’s due time that I write up another blog. The weather seems to be echoing this as it is a rainy/dreary Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately I have nothing too pressing on my mind that I wish to share, but because I enjoy having a blog and I enjoy expressing ideas I’m going to try and give a little blurbs about some things I have been thinking about. So with no real agenda, I proceed…and of course with coffee in hand.

My hope is that my blog becomes more of a conversation between you and I and that other person who is reading. I invite feedback, questions, recommendations (both books and ideas), and the likes. Also the following are just some ideas that I would enjoy expanding on further…

One thing on my mind, and has been, is the seemingly Christian obsession with families. Now I think families are great, and I think family is a wonderful metaphor for talking about Church. The thing is the Bible seems to be somewhat anti-family. We see instances where Jesus says that he hasn’t come to bring peace but a sword that separates even familial ties or another where someone comes running to Jesus and tells him that his mother and brother are waiting/ wanting to seem him…and what does he do? He responds saying, “who is my mother and brother and sisters? These are my mothers, brothers and sisters.” And he points to those around him. To be honest I think it would be tough to have Jesus as a son or a brother and hear him say that. What did Mary think?

“I GAVE birth to you, of course I’m your mother.” I think Jesus’ words might have cut pretty deep. I think what Jesus does often is maybe no so anti-family…but ultra family…including everyone! Along with this whole family thing, marriage concomitantly follows. So for both family and marriage, Christians seem to hold such strong traditional feelings that aren’t necessarily reflected in the scriptures. We see often that Jesus, Paul and other leaders hold pretty radical ideas of what it means to be in relationship with others that reflect equality, intimacy, and (pick your own third word…too many to choose from even though phrases like that come in threes. Compassion?)

The other thing I’ve been pondering was something that I thought about earlier this year, but has resurfaced from a reading of one of my friends blogs. My friend Brent wrote a tremendously well thought out blog about interacting with other people and how to love them well. I would want to encourage Brent to maybe rethink how he talks about sin and the language he uses. When we say something about sin, we say something about God.

So if either of these things interests you and you would like me to reflect more on them feel free to comment.

On a side note I have finished a fantastic book titled A Canticle for Lebowitz. It describes the life after a nuclear war ravaged most of the earth and a group of monks have come together and keep scientific papers and ideas safe, although most don’t understand them. What I found wonderfully strange about this book is the reverse relation to science that is seen by this Christian community. The book covers a long span of time, and different lives. It is prophetic, heartbreaking and challenging.

Right now I’m moving to reading the book The Sparrow, which I feel will be just as challenging as Lebowitz.

Another way for you to influence my blogging is choosing which non-fiction book I will read next. I have three choices in mind (but am not exclusive to just these), but they include: Kierkegaard ‘s Works of Love, Bonhoeffer’s The Cost of Discipleship, Marilynne Robinson’s Absence of Mind. I will most likely read all of these at some point, but as far as the order goes you can help me decide.

So just a brief update and and an invitation to conversation.

Namaste.

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