peacemaking

A Benediction of Hope

BorderPrayerIn a world currently enduring so much violence, pain and trauma, it would be easy for us, the People of God, to stick our head in the sand of discouragement.

Instead, let’s pray this together:

May we daily submit ourselves first and foremost to the rule and reign of Jesus, praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

May we, the people of God, choose to live fueled by the hope Resurrection rather than held captive by the fear of death. 

May we, the people of God, choose to rightly place our allegiance in Jesus and his kingdom rather than become slaves to the kingdoms of this world.

May we, the people of God, choose to embrace the way of the Cross and freely give away power for the flourishing of others as we join God in the world he is making. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as our human family endures a season of trauma, may your image rise in each of us so that we can offer and receive love in the most unexpected people and places.  Amen

3 Barriers Hijacking Christian’s Ability to Love Our “Enemies”

EmpathyIn recent years, my family has navigated some rough patches; death, cancer treatments, open heart surgeries, chronic disease, etc. Now, I’m certain this isn’t everyone’s experience, but mine has been that in these times of trauma or tragedy, family comes together to stand with one another as we wrestle through life’s crap. We aren’t picking fights, we are crying on each other’s shoulders. 

In recent months, our human family has been enduring an especially rough patch. 

War. 

Racism. 

Suicide.

Deadly viruses.

Plane crashes.

Whether in remote villages or urban centers, few have been untouched (in some way) by the realities unfolding. 

As I observe our corporate response to tragedy as a human family, and evaluate my own response in the midst of it, I have noticed something disturbing unfold. Rather than rally together as a family navigating a season of trauma, we have used this moment to divide, stir hatred and misunderstanding, point fingers and more than anything, view those on the opposite side of an issue as less than human. 

Watching political pundits bark the party line or news anchors posture themselves as authority figures rather than conduits of curiosity, I find myself asking the question, “What keeps us from seeing others as human?”  

And by human, I mean, divine image bearers who have stories, families, pain, hopes, traditions and a unique interpretation of reality. 

Here are three barriers that are hijacking our ability to love our “enemies” and acknowledge our shared humanity: 

1. Fear

Those of us in the West (and I’m sure many others around the globe) live in a culture of fear. It is a reality of “What If?” What if the robber breaks into my house? What if all of our jobs are taken by immigrants who don’t deserve to be here? What if the terrorists strike my city? What if that person walking on the street (who looks different than me) tries to jump me? What if the stock market crashes and I lose all my investments? What if (insert name) gets elected and everything goes to hell?  

The Problem? We spend so much time trying to prepare for the “what if” that we completely miss out on the joy, beauty and opportunity right in front of us. Further, we project our fear on others and undeservedly make them the potential culprit. Because everyone is out to get us, we can no longer trust anyone and our worldview is largely pessimistic. 

The Cure? “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do…Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows…Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.” -- Jesus (Luke 12) 

In the end, if we truly believe Jesus is reigning, what do we have to fear?

2. Nationalism

Yes, we live in a country with unprecedented wealth, opportunity (for many) and infrastructure that has done remarkable things domestically and abroad. As I travel around the world, I don’t have to look far to run into people who dream to live in our country. There are so many reasons to be grateful to live here. With that said, it is deeply disturbing to me how inverse our allegiances have become within the Christian subculture. Many, out of reverence to our country, have placed their primary allegiance to the USA rather than to the Kingdom of God. 

The Problem? Nationalism is a form of idolatry that we must repent from. Healthy love of country isn’t what I’m referring to. Nationalism is the belief that our country is somehow set apart over and above all other countries which leads to unquestionable support of our nation’s policies and practices even if they come at the expense of innocent human beings on the other side of the globe. Further, we often place our hope in our elected officials rather than in Jesus (who reigns as king of the Kingdom that has come and is coming). It means we -- whether subconsciously or consciously -- see people who live outside of our borders as “less than.” We may not admit it, but it is certainly the case. If our war machines take the lives of those half way across the world it is somehow easier to justify than if it were the life of one of our own. 

The Cure? “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world. -- Jesus (John 18:36)

May we daily submit ourselves first and foremost to the rule and reign of Jesus, praying, “Your Kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”   

3. Power 

The growing distance between those with economic and political power creates a social distance that doesn’t allow us to share tables with those who have differing degrees of power. Often, those in power don’t KNOW the people who their power impacts which leads to decisions that negatively impact those on the underside of power. The flip side is that those without power are willing to dehumanize others as a way to ascend to power. If getting power means values and ethics are compromised (which inevitably has direct implications on human beings), then so be it. 

The Problem? Power is viewed as a commodity that can be acquired for our own advancement rather than gift to be given away for the flourishing of others. A utopian view would say everyone is born into an equal playing field of opportunity, but that simply isn’t the case. Those in power don’t plan to relinquish it and those without power will often choose unethical means to gain it.  

The Cure? “At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.  Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.  And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.’” -- Jesus (Matt 18) 

What if we took seriously Jesus’ words that the first shall be last and the last will be first?

A Prayer for the People of God and our Human Family 

May we, the people of God, choose to live fueled by the hope Resurrection rather than held captive by the fear of death. 

May we, the people of God, choose to rightly place our allegiance in Jesus and his kingdom rather than become slaves to the kingdoms of this world.

May we, the people of God, choose to embrace the way of the Cross and freely give away power for the flourishing of others as we join God in the world he is making. 

Father, Son and Holy Spirit, as our human family endures a season of trauma, may your image rise in each of us so that we can offer and receive love in the most unexpected people and places.  Amen

(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.

 

Left Behind, Failed Peace and the Human Implications of (bad) Theology

LordJimFlickrCreativeCommonsThrough my work with The Global Immersion Project, I have spent a significant amount of time over the years cultivating relationships among both Israelis and Palestinians as we partner together in cultivating a narrative of reconciliation. As is often the case when we approach a people or place with the hopes of being/bringing the needed change, I have been the one most changed by my friends and colleagues who reside in the Middle East. Behind so many of the subconscious stereotypes and prejudices I had acquired earlier in my life I began to experience the richness of friendship and brotherhood among people I had previously “known” only through the latest sound bite.

Something I have learned in the classroom of real life relationships with Jews, Christians and Muslims in the Holy Land is that our theology in the West has direct implications for the everyday lives of those in the Middle East. Often ignoring the remarkable movements of peacemaking, reconciliation and collaboration that are sprouting like mustard seeds of hope across the Holy Land, we often choose only to amplify of the violence, discord and disintegration of the region.

Why is that and what theology might we be allowing to consciously (or often subconsciously) own our perspective on the events in the Holy Land? In the wake of yet another failed peace negotiation between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and in front of the latest Left Behind movie about to hit theaters, this question is especially relevant. 

One Christian leader recently shared on Twitter: “Watching events in #Israel . All those hellbent on destroying Israel playing directly into Biblical prophecy. #almostcomical

There are few perspectives that have done more harm for the cause of Christ over centuries of Church history than the one expressed above. We could get into why this has significant theological holes that lead to a fatalistic mentality by discussing the role of Apocalyptic literature found in the second half of Daniel, Mark 13 and much of Revelation, but that is for another time and place (see notes for further resources).

Here is the question we must ask: As followers of Jesus, how does speculating about the eschaton (Final Things or “End Times”) help us live into our vocation as active participants in the restorative Mission of God? We are to be a people who are marked by our love of God and neighbor. Choosing to view violence apathetically (or worse, with excitement of what it may mean for the future!) is anti-Jesus and anti the mission he invites us to extend on his behalf.

If we look at the Middle East, specifically the Holy Land, primarily through the lens of “prophecy fulfillment” then we are unable to first and foremost look at its inhabitants as humans loved by Jesus. We reduce Image Bearers into pawns within a divine drama. Within Church history you will see “this is the end times!” being proclaimed dozens of times. These pronouncements are nothing new; at one point Napoleon Bonaparte was thought to be the anti-Christ. In the end, this theology fosters a loss of humanity both in those we condemn and in ourselves. We become less that human. 

What if instead of adhering to this fatalistic eschatology we choose to live into a realized eschatology? In other words, what if we understand the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus as eschatological events? In the Christ-event the end becomes now. In Jesus’ inauguration as King of the Kingdom, he sits enthroned as one who seeks to bring about restoration and reunion between God and the cosmos not through violent overthrow, but through suffering and self-sacrifice. When Jesus announces the in-breaking of the Kingdom in Mark 1, the end collides with today.

No, this doesn’t mean that everything is going to be bright and rosy, but it does mean that our future is one of hope that was already fully realized in Jesus. Our job isn’t to project how our world with decay before finally being restored, but to participate in the restoration God continues to bring about even (if not especially!) in the places we least expect.

Notes:

Fatalistic Theology -- Humans have no roll to play in God’s Mission other than to save disembodied souls for an otherworldly heaven. Things will get progressively worse and violent until Christ returns to save us from a fallen world. This is rooted in a rather new theology (late 1800’s, early 1900’s) propagated by John Nelson Darby, called dispensationalism.

Eschatology -- The study of the “End Times” or “Final Things.”

Realized Eschatology -- The view that the End Times aren’t only a distant event in the future, but that, in Jesus, the end becomes now. In other words, Jesus’ life, death and resurrection were decisive and his announcement of the Kingdom of God was actually a proclamation of God’s redemption unfolding in real time and space. With that said, I think it more accurate to say, “Partially Realized Eschatology” in that we clearly don’t live in a perfect world…only Christ’s return will make the redemption project fully realized.

Further Theological & Historical Resources -- My friend, Kurt Willems posted a recent blog with a list of great resources to consider as we move deeper into this. Many on his list have deeply informed my perspective as well.

This piece was first posted here on my friend, Tony Jones, blog.

Pentecost and the Freedom to be in All the Wrong Places

0This Sunday, the Church concludes the 50 day Easter season with Pentecost. Pentecost celebrates the giving of the Holy Spirit and reminds us that our story isn’t static, but dynamic, alive and unfolding. It reminds us that we are a people marked by both what has happened AND what is happening. It reminds us that our primary work isn’t to defend and isolate ourselves from the world around us, but to move into it as ambassadors of hope and reconciliation. In the same way that the disciples moved out from Jerusalem after Pentecost, we are to move out of our places of comfort and complacency as we join God in the world he is making.

We are no longer captive to fear, but enlivened by our freedom. Freedom to love the outcast. Freedom to listen to those we disagree with. Freedom share tables with those of different faith traditions. Freedom to encounter violence with creative alternatives. Freedom to love our enemies. 

We don’t have to fear what “bad” might rub off on us. Instead, we live in the freedom to move forward with both humility and confidence that the Holy Spirit does her best work when we intentionally move into the places she is already present. And often, those people and places don’t fit into any of our tidy categories. Whether hanging out with friends in my gay basketball league, discussing the reality of God around a backyard bonfire in the West Bank with a collection of Christians and Muslims working for peace, sharing an Iftar meal with my Muslim neighbors during Ramadan or helping my undocumented neighbor sort through my recycling, I am more convinced than ever that the Holy Spirit was already present…she just needed me, and the Church as a whole, to join in the work already underway.

If we are content sticking around the comfort and certainty of Jerusalem, our doctrine and dogma will suffice. If we take seriously our call to Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth, then we must embrace the glorious mystery of the Holy Spirit and join her in participating in the healing of a broken world. 

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