death

Lament and the 4 Kids Who Will Never See Their Mother Again

unnamedLast night, friends from around our neighborhood gathered to hold a vigil of lament for the Charleston tragedy. 

We shared our confusion, our sadness, our anger and our pain.  

We read a liturgy of solidarity and empathy seeking to simply sit in the pain alongside our black sisters and brothers impacted not only by this tragedy, but by the “spoiled meat of racism” that manifests itself everyday. 

We then walked around the room looking into the eyes of each of the victims as their pictures and bio’s hauntingly and beautifully hung on the walls of the room. 

What a remarkable collective of people giving themselves to God and neighbor. No doubt, a collective of people God was and is using to bring about the world he is making. 

But the pain of this tragedy runs deep. We must lament. We must wail. We must sit in the disorienting pain of our sisters and brothers seeking to understand rather than to be understood.

unnamedIt was the beautiful face and story of DePayne Middleton Doctor that broke me. A mother of four daughters who day in and day out lived a remarkable life of love and care. Four daughters who will never hear the soothing voice or experience the warm hug of their mother again.  

As a father of four kids, this is an unfathomable reality that I can’t pretend to understanding…but I can weep.  

Weep over the missed birthday parties, graduations, weddings and grandkids. 

Weep over the deepened feelings of vulnerability and isolation.

Weep over the injustice of a death fueled by an ideology that was given birth by a busted history and system of inequality.  

We trust that the stories of those killed did not end last week, but is just beginning as their witness is now amplified around the world to shed light on an infection debilitating our nation. 

We closed by reading the wise words of Martin Luther King Jr. spoken after four girls were killed in a Birmingham church in an act of terror similar to last weeks.

“They did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. History has proven over and over again that unmerited suffering is redemptive. The innocent blood of these little girls may well serve as the redemptive force that will bring new light to this dark city.”

While we pray this to be true, for now, we must weep. 

(de)Escalating Violence and the Human Story in Israel/Palestine

Jerusalem-Day3-145I was sitting in the airport the other day listening to yet another account of the current events unfolding in Israel and Palestine. Almost mechanically, the lips of the news anchor spilled out words like terrorists, extremist, escalating violence, detention, kidnapping, hatred, protest, etc. 

It was as though they were telling a story of some otherworldly reality that had virtually no human implications. It was all the stuff we are supposed to hear about the Middle East, so it successfully affirmed stereotypes, assumptions and prejudice.  

In hearing all this, I was deeply troubled and saddened. Since the most recent violence flared up with the kidnapping of three young Israeli’s a few weeks ago, I have been in touch with my friends who actually live, work and play in the midst of this reality that is so often spoken of in the callused, mechanical way of the news anchor. 

In the context of genuine relationship, I asked one Christian Palestinian couple how they are holding up in light of everything. They said it has been horribly difficult as many of those around them experience so much pain and injustice in the form of detentions, home invasions and even death. It is becoming hard not to hate. 

Continuing, “But we know that if we turn to hate, we will lose our soul.” After quoting their morning reading of Martin Luther King Jr and the words of Jesus in Matthew describing their call to love their enemies and forgive those who persecute them, they closed with the request, “Just keep praying.”

Another friend, a Jewish Rabbi, was recently on a bus with his family when the windows shattered and a molotov cocktail was thrown inside. Thankfully, no one was hurt. Rather than pursue the myth of redemptive violence, his “revenge” took the form assembling an interfaith prayer gathering in Jerusalem for the peace of the city. 

My friend, John Moyle, recently described an interaction between an Israeli and Palestinian family who have lost loved ones in the conflict:

Earlier today, two Palestinian friends of Oakbrook Church joined five Israeli friends of Oakbrook in a visit with the family of Naftali Fraenkel, one of the three Jewish students who was murdered in the West Bank a few weeks ago. A circle of chairs was arranged so that the group could speak together in a more intimate setting. Hundreds of other people waiting to greet the family circled around this gathering to listen in on the conversation. Many people were significantly moved by both the sincere gesture of sorrow by the Palestinians and their warm reception by the bereaved Jewish family. 

On the way out, the aged grandfather came out to shake their hands, and a couple of lines about hope for peace were exchanged. The grandfather asked, “Do you have hope for peace?” One Palestinian responded, “I lost my brother in this conflict. I got shot by a settler … and I dream of peace. If we lose our hope we lose the chance to live.” The grandfather listened, his eyes welling up with tears, and he swayed closer and closer towards his Palestinian guest. A sparkle of light, a place where two hearts touched. A very powerful moment. 

In the midst of conflict, the prophetic presence of peacemakers is stronger than ever. Within the Just Peacemaking paradigm (developed by a mentor of mine, the late Glen Stassen), the only way to slow the building cycle of violence is to choose practices of de-escalation. In other words, until someone is willing to respond to an act of violence with a lesser degree of violence (or none at all!), things will continue to get worse. 

This is why, in the face of building violence, there is no more radical, prophetic or heroic action than that of choosing not to get even, but getting creative in love. When people have every right to be angry and seek revenge violently, choosing to deescalate violence through creative initiatives for peace tells us that another world is possible. A world with a King who was enthroned not through violent revenge, but through taking violence upon himself for the flourishing of others.  

What are the implications?

You may lose the war. You may not get the results you want. You may get killed.

But as my friends said, you will keep your soul. And, maybe, just maybe, this will lead the “enemy” to de-escalate as well. There are plenty of historical examples of mutual de-escalation not only on an individual level, but on a national level in times of war.   

As the cycle of violence builds in Israel/Palestine through acts of revenge and retaliation, we must shine a light on those who are intentionally choosing to put their lives on the line through actions of de-escalation. We know that hate breeds hate and violence breeds violence, but we trust that the seeds of love returned in the face of hate and violence will root deep into the soil of renewed relationship.

In the end, we trust that Jesus, the peacemaker, is still at work. In fact, I believe he is speaking louder than ever to the world through the faith of committed peacemakers embedded in this conflict. In a world that magnifies the acts of hatred, violence and division, we must acknowledge their faithfulness and celebrate the redemptive work that is unfolding as a result.

Together, let’s pray for the peacemakers. And pray against the myth of redemptive violence and it’s destructive ends. Most importantly, let’s choose to act like these remarkable people in the conflicts we find ourselves in right here at home.   

RESOURCES:

This is a moment where those of us in the West have the responsibility to expose ourselves to diverse media outlets. There are major agendas at play and we must be savvy in how we construct reality. Here are a few articles that offer some nuance and hope in the midst of a difficult reality. 

Best overview of the current crisis I’ve read. “As a Jew Living In America, the Past Week Has Changed Me Forever.”

The most beautiful interaction that has come out of this crisis. “Slain Israeli teen’s uncle consoles murdered Palestinian’s father.”

Another remarkable interaction. “Families of Slain Israeli and Palestinian Teens Turn to Each Other for Comfort.”

Short video of the mother describing her reaction to her son, a U.S. Citizen, being detained and beaten without conviction by the IDF.

 

My Dad, Grief and Groans of New Creation

10485921_10203840097473557_4389962877608429835_nI’m sitting in my dad’s hospital room as a write this. Having just endured open-heart surgery, I have never seen or experienced him in this current state. Last night, as my sisters and I stood with him in the ICU singing, praying and telling him stories of his grandchildren, the only form of communication he could muster was a pained groan. He could hear us and was mentally strong, but to those with whom he loves most in the world, he could only offer a groan. Albeit, even a groan was a heroic effort on his part.  

Anyone that knows my pop, knows a man who is physically strong and extremely healthy. When he got out of surgery, one of my best buddies joked, “He’ll be hunting elk by morning. I’ll bet he’d bag one and carry it six miles in a blinding snow storm too.” 

As I watched him struggle for each breathe and squirm in pain from the torment his body had just endured, I thought to myself, “Surely, this is not the way creation was intended to function.” My dad, the one who is always the strong (yet compassionate) rock for his family, friends and coworkers is reduced to a groan? Really? If ever I thought there was something wrong with the world in its current iteration, it is this moment.  

And then I was reminded of something the Apostle Paul said some 2000 years ago. After Jesus had come to bring about a whole new reality (kingdom) as was embodied in his life, death and resurrection, Paul describes this reality as New Creation (II Corinthians 5). While the rightly ordered Creation was undone in Eden (and the following cast of characters in the Genesis story), it was re-ordered in Jesus. Jesus is the first born of this New Creation (rightly ordered world) and we not only anticipate what is to come, but begin to catch glimpses of it in the here and now (see note at bottom of post). 

Back to the Apostle Paul. He described this anticipation as a “groan” (II Cor 5). Not only are individuals “groaning” to be healed and restored, but the whole of creation is “groaning” to be rightly ordered back to its original design. 

Indeed, creation is not fully functioning in the way it was originally created to function. We don’t have to look far for this reality to be made real. 

Broken families.

War.  

Natural disasters. 

Economic inequality.

Individual and systemic racism. 

…my dad lying on an operation table. 

But, the story isn’t over. In fact, it is just beginning. 

And in the meantime, we groan. We groan for families to be reconciled. We groan for wars to end around conference tables rather than battlefields. We groan for the earth and its systems to be restored. We groan for all children to have an equal opportunity for employment. We groan for the day when diversity is seen as an asset rather than a liability.  

For us, we listen to my dad groan and imagine a day where his grandchildren cover him like a blanket. We groan for his physical strength to once again match his emotional, mental and spiritual strength. We groan for the making of many more memories that remind us of who we are and who we are becoming as we join God in healing a broken world. 

In our groaning, no niceties or clichés will do. Groaning is painful. It is deep. It is real. It is not about creating false assurances. It is about pouring out our guts in the hope of what is to come. It is about looking for signposts of a new reality. A reality where tears are wiped away and hope is found. 

Until then, we groan and trust that the New Creation brought about in Jesus will be the New Creation we begin to see, taste and experience today. 

——

NOTE: A better interpretation of “New Creation” in the New Testament is “Renewed Creation.” In the same way that Jesus body was not destroyed and resurrected as some other worldly creature, Creation will not be destroyed and replaced with something different. What we see now is what heaven/New Creation will look like. But in this reality, all the busted and broken realties will be renewed to their original form. 

3 Steps to Becoming the Most (un)Successful Person in the World

monastery2I spent yesterday morning at a local monastery seeking to create some space to not only clear my mind and heart, but to listen to the voice of the Creator. As life produces more and more “noise,” these times are hard to come by, but remarkably significant. I can’t imagine a better, yet more challenging way to begin a new week. 

Much of my time was spent reflecting on something a mentor of mine recently said, “God’s will is not success, but peace.” 

What does this mean? And if it means what I think it might, the implications seem pretty high.

What is “Success?”

In our culture, success has been defined primarily by how well we produce X that leads to wealth, power or reputation. Our identity is rooted far more in what we do (and how well we do it) than it is in who we are. And, to be honest, most of us don’t even know who we are. For me, it often feels like a daily struggle. 

How Do We Define God’s Will As Peace?

It is the restoration of all things back to Himself. It is wrong things being made right. It is a humanity that is reconciled to God and to one another. It is knowing that our identity is not informed by what we produce, but by who we are as sons and daughters of the Father.

What would my life look like if I spent my best energy towards peace rather than the building of “success?”

When I pursue culturally constructed versions of success, my image bearing neighbors (near and far) become means to my end rather than ends in and of themselves. Not only do I fail to acknowledge their humanity, I lose my own. If success is anything other than about the love of other, then it will be destructive. 

I don’t have to look far for examples of this. No, I simply have to look inward. This definition of success has infected my DNA as much as the next guy/girl. It is a daily reality that requires daily repentance and realignment. 

To trust that God’s will is peace changes everything about how I live, love and lead. Rather than seeking to climb every ladder to stand over people, I begin to choose to pick up my cross and lift other people up. I become more concerned about living into who I am as a son of the Father than who I am perceived to be by those I seek to impress. I am free to love God and others selflessly, because self no longer takes center stage.

I become fully human again.

I have so much to learn and so many areas to grow.

I finished the day by walking the way of the cross. It was profound. In fact, it reminded me that walking the way of the cross isn’t a once a month spiritual disciple, but an everyday choice to follow the one who suffered so we might find life.

  

Our Obsession with Violence & the Stories You’re Not Supposed to Hear

Banksy ArtUpon my recent return from the Middle East (with The Global Immersion Project), I was struck more than ever before at our Western infatuation around military aggression, violence and division. Not only are these the primary narratives we are fed through our major media outlets, they are the narratives we subconsciously embrace through the latest bestseller, box office hit or video game.  Violence, death and division have become normative. We are becoming numb to the very things that we – as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation – are to turn from as Resurrection People.  It is as though there is a strangle hold on our on our ability to see and participate in the stories of healing and new life.  

As surprising as this may be, embedded in the midst of these conflicts are endless stories of hope that never make the latest headline or sound bite.  And in the times I’ve followed Jesus INTO these places of conflict, I continue to encounter stories of peace and hope that embody the gospel message, stories by real people, happening right now, in places usually known only for conflict, violence and death. 

Meet Shaul, a Jewish Israeli who lives in a settlement in the West Bank.  When a group of young men from his town threw a Molotov cocktail in a taxi filled with a Palestinian family from a neighboring Arab Village, he chose to go to the hospital where they were being cared for.  He sat with the family, apologized for the incident and took responsibility for the terrible act because as a member of the community at fault, he considered himself complicit in the violence. 

Meet Milad & Manar, a Christian Palestinian couple who live in a small Muslim town in the West Bank. Seeing a narrative of violence and division taking hold of many of the youth in their town, they started an organization that teaches peace and reconciliation through art and vocational training.  They are now a bright beacon of hope among their neighbors who not only support and encourage their work, but do anything they can to get their kids into this program. These former hotel room cleaners are now not only running an organization that is radically changing the tide of their town, they are finishing their master’s degrees in reconciliation and non-violence.  

Meet Roni & Moira, a Jewish Israeli and Muslim Palestinian who have both lost loved ones in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Rather than demonizing a whole people group as a result of the loss they endured, they choose to sit and mourn with those who are supposed to be their “enemy” because it is in that space that they experience the most healing.  It is in the midst of shared grieving that reconciliation is taking place and a movement towards a shared future is bursting forth.  

We do grave harm to these regions and the people within them when we fail to highlight these gritty, subversive and everyday movements of hope in the midst of conflict.  As followers of the great Reconciler, we are to be ambassadors of hope.  

We have a responsibility to tell THESE stories.  

In fact, when we don’t -- and instead spend the majority of our time fueling the escalation of fear and division -- we not only fail our heroic brothers and sisters working for peace in these regions, we fail to reflect the Christian hope we have been entrusted to advance. 

Now back at home, I am again blanketed by news that only tells one fraction of reality, but thankfully I know there is much, much more to be told. I think of my friends, my role models, my teachers who are living out the most redeeming faith in the very places we often deem as irredeemable.

May we begin a new movement.  A movement marked by hope.  A movement that humanizes people rather than demonizes. A movement marked by God’s continued presence in and among the cosmos, rather than his removal from them.  A movement that is rooted in reality, which sparks our divine imagination for what God desires for the world. 

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