Suffering

A Prayer for Peace; in Syria and Around the World

TGIP13-6814-LToday’s of millions of people all around the world are committing to prayer and fasting for the peace of Syria. We know that the peace of Syria has direct implications for peace in other parts of our Global Village. The stakes are high. We must be on our knees. Further, we must arise with actions that lead to transformation. 

My friend, Brian McLaren, wrote this beautiful and profound prayer to center us on the things that matter most on this day of intercession. He offered it to be shared for the global community of God, so let’s each take five minutes and join hands with our brothers and sisters for the sake of a new day.  

“Living God, our world is broken-hearted by the atrocity of chemical weapons being used in Syria, killing children, women, and men indiscriminately. And our hearts grieve no less for the many tens of thousands killed and millions displaced by the civil war there.

We pray for peace, God of peace: not just the cessation of conflict, but a new day of reconciliation, civility, and collaboration for the common good … in the Middle East, and around the world.

We also pray for the United States, whose leaders are contemplating military strikes in retaliation for the atrocity, to punish those who ordered it, and to deter those who might plan similar atrocities in the future. We acknowledge that our leaders are trying to do what is needed and right, based on the understanding they have. But on this day, as millions of us around the world pray, we ask for greater wisdom, greater understanding, greater foresight, so that we can find new, better, and non-violent ways to achieve lasting and profound peace. 

We know from bitter experience that “our” violence promises to end “their” violence, but in the end, it only intensifies vicious cycles of offense and revenge. We also know from bitter experience that inaction and passivity also aid and abet evil. So on this day, we seek your wisdom, for a better way forward … a new way that we do not yet see.

We Americans sense that our nation is on the verge of rethinking its role in the world. In this moment of rethinking, we also pray for guidance. Help us learn from past mistakes, and help us imagine better possibilities for the future. In this time of political tension and turmoil -- not only between, but within our political parties -- may your Spirit move like the wind and give us a fresh vision of what can be, so that we do not repeat old, tired, and destructive cycles of what has been. May the wisdom and ways of Jesus, upon whom your Spirit descended like a dove, guide us now -- to a wise and responsible role as good neighbors in our world. Amen”

Today (Like Everyday), We Pray For Our Enemies

It is in times and tragedies like those that happened in Boston that our call to pray for our enemies is most difficult.  May we be faithful to pray for them despite our circumstances.

Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy on me, a sinner. Lord have mercy, Christ have mercy, on all of us, sinners.

Father, we don’t know who was behind the tragedies in Boston, but we do know that they were human.  And we know we are to pray for our enemies.

In Jesus we see humanities true identity as ones who are to be agents of life, not death. Jesus, as first of New Creation, invites all humanity to reflect and participate in New Creation. 

Despite humanities sacred identity, evil often reveals itself through humanity. We must return to what we were created to be. May those behind this event return to who they were created to be. 

We pray specifically that those involved in this violence return to their shared humanity as they confront the violence brought on fellow humans as a result of their actions.  We pray that we don’t lose ours in the midst of it all.

May we embrace our vocation as peacemakers who are to be agents of restoration and reconciliation rather than divisiveness, enmity and violence. 

We pray for a collective grieving that fuels our ability to live with compassion, generosity and wholeness.

We plead for your justice to reign as we announce and promote your Kingdom reign through our words and deeds.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, amen. 

 

What Ruth Tells Us About Living the Jesus’ Story Today

I was recently reading the book of Ruth and was struck by the insight it offers into our vocation as followers of Jesus today.  There is something sacred about an ancient narrative informing our modern narrative in ways that impact the way we live, love and lead.  I will highlight three themes in Ruth that paralleled the life of Jesus and the story he has called his people to live out and into.

The first theme is that of identity as is found in bloodline versus voluntary submission.  In versus 16 & 17 of chapter 1, Ruth gives up her identity as was found in her familial bloodline and exchanges it for a new familial identity in Naomi and the people of Israel.  Ruth embraces her new identity as her true identity and it is her faithfulness in that that has direct implications for the advance of God’s Story in Israel (see genealogy of David in 4:18-22).  In the same way that Ruth submitted herself to a new family and identity in Israel, followers of Jesus are to submit their identity found in family of origin to their identity as part of the Kingdom family.  Mark 3:31-35 tells of Jesus radical redefinition of family in light of Kingdom he inaugurated.  For followers of Jesus, identity can no longer be primarily found in bloodline, but in a voluntary submission to the Kingdom Family shaped around Jesus.

The second theme can be found in Ruth freely choosing the way of self-sacrifice and obedience for the sake of her family and neighbors.  Throughout the narrative, Ruth is consistently making decisions that are intended to support, encourage and advance the good of Naomi and her family line over her personal good.  From voluntarily remaining with Naomi when it wasn’t required of her (1:16/17), to heeding Naomi’s request for her to pursue a relationship with Boaz (3:2-4) to giving birth to a son that would carry on the family line (4:13), Ruth consistently put the good of others ahead of herself.   Similarly, Jesus calls his followers to embrace the cruciform life and freely choose to live in Christ for the sake of others.  Jesus argues that our primary vocation is to love God and to love others (Matt. 22:37-39).  In Mark 1, Jesus comes announcing the arrival of a new Kingdom that we later find out is marked by service of and selfless sacrifice to the point of death on a cross.

The final theme is that of Ruth’s faithfulness, which leads to the redemption of a whole family line.  It is important to note that Ruth’s individual actions don’t just impact her immediate surroundings, but influence the good of her adopted family and the people of Israel (4:13-17).  In other words, there is redemption and restoration of many that comes as a direct result of her faithfulness.  Similarly, it is our faithfulness to an identity and vocation rooted in Jesus that will be the means through which a watching world is invited into the redemption Story of God.  Jesus not only acted decisively as the redeemer of Israel and all the cosmos, but he extents this vocation to his followers in John 20:21 when he says, “As the Father has sent me, so I send you!”  Like Ruth, the way we live, love and lead has direct implications for the redemption and restoration of those around us.  God has chosen to tell his Story and advance his restoration project through his people.

 

How Should Christians Response to the Middle East Crisis?

The editors of Relevant Magazine asked to write a response to this question during the recent violence in Israel & Gaza.  I was especially encouraged by two things: 1. Relevant is inviting its readers to critically engage the Middle East conflict through the lens of Jesus. 2. The overwhelming response and engagement of readers on this specific piece.  For most, the conflict is easier to simply ignore, but these readers want to wrestle, think and live into a new reality.  

Here is an excerpt.  You can read the full article on Relevant Magazine’s website.  

As the conflict and many human lives hang in the balance, my heart is heavy.

Through 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. 

From Orthodox Jewish Rabbis to Christian Palestinian scholars to Muslim Palestinian leaders teaching the way of nonviolence, these are my friends, brothers, sisters and partners.  

When my social media outlets began filling up with messages of fear, bloodshed and mourning my heart broke not only for a war half way across the globe, but for my friends. My teachers. My partners.  

A Jewish Israeli friend wrote, “Siren in Tel Aviv. Just spoke to my father from the shelter.”

My Christian Palestinian brother shared multiple laments, “My friends in Gaza’s latest status update:  “My Lord! This is enough! What is this?” “Lord protect us. What is this? Terror terror.” “The land is shaking.”

While many of these individuals are currently in immediate physical threat, a greater pain for them is seeing the seeds of violence being sown in the soil that they have tireless turned over for the sake of reconciliation.  

Was all their work worth it or does this mean it was all-pointless and that there really is no hope?
 
My heart not only breaks for my friends in Israel and Palestine, but it breaks because of the hateful stereotyping, racism and violent response being disseminated by Christians as they watch the news unfold and enter the discussion.

As followers of the pro-people Jesus, is this best we can do?  Is that a reflection of the Christian hope that was brought about by and through the acts of the Suffering Servant?  Have we lost our imagination that leads to the participating in the restorative mission of God for the cosmos?
 
Friends, we can do better.  We must do better.  
 
How then shall we respond?

Go HERE to read in its entirety.  

Why I Went To A Sikh Temple Last Night

I wasn’t sure what to expect as we pulled into the parking lot of a local Sikh Temple (known as a gurudwara) last night, but I assumed it would be culturally enlightening and offer a glimpse into a worldview and religious tradition I have only sparingly engaged.  While yesterday was the National Day of Remembrance and Solidarity for the victims and mourners of the temple shooting in Wisconsin, I felt deeply compelled to stand with them in their pain as a follower of the Prince of Peace.

Walking into the gurudwara’a courtyard holding my two-year-old daughter’s hand, my wife and two friends were immediately greeted by the priest with a handshake and smile.  He thanked us for coming and invited us into the experience that included a short service in the gurudwara and vigil outside to remember the six worshipers who were shot by a man that had never met them.  I can only speculate, but if this man would have engaged these people on a relational level at any point, he certainly would have reconsidered his actions.  

Much like the response of the Amish after the horrific schoolhouse massacre in ’06, the Sikh community has intentionally chosen to respond to by offering radical love and forgiveness.  Although somber, they carried a deep conviction to embrace the way of peace as retaliation for the death of these innocent victims.  

Having been handed a head covering and a candle, we slowly walked by the pictures of the victims and read their stories.  One, a women who had come to the United State only five years ago, worked 11 hours a day in a factory to raise enough money to support her family.  She was known for staying late at the Temple to make food for those in need and regularly sat at the bed of the ill in a local hospital.  Another was an 84-year-old man who had recently lost his wife and would walk two miles each day to pray at the Temple and serve food to the hungry.  The stories went on and on…

As we read and looked into the eyes of these victims, our hearts broke and we were transported into the life of those who often are stereotyped, persecuted and isolated because of their adherence to a faith tradition that isn’t “normal” to many of us in the West.  It was tragic, angering and painful.  

Gathering to start the vigil, one of the congregants walked up to us and again thanked us for being there and invited us to stay after for a shared meal.  Lighting our candles, the vigil began with a prayer and was followed by six different children reading the story of each victim.  To close, the priest led us through one more prayer, and speaking against the blind stereotype and prejudice that is pervading our country, said, “As Americans, this is how we learn about each other.”

Friends, we don’t compromise the integrity of our faith and convictions by engaging and standing with those of other faiths.  In fact, it’s quite the opposite.  When we stand in solidarity with those of other faiths – especially in times of tragedy – we embody the very best of our faith, namely the pro-people heart of Jesus

So why did I go to a Sikh Temple last night?  Because as a follower of Jesus I am called to stand with the victimized, the oppressed and hurting.  It is what I’m here to do and the very essence of who I am as one “in Christ,” to quote the Apostle Paul.  The victims don’t have to fit into our box or adhere to the same belief system, faith or worldview.  No, those are not things we are to concern ourselves with, because in then end, we are all humans in need of community and love.  In standing with people in times like these we get a glimpse into the New Creation that was set forth in Jesus’ Resurrection.  We are to be Resurrection people who reflect what God has in mind of humanity.  These are opportunities for us to be fully human.   

May we be a people who repent from blind prejudice and stereotype by diving deep into relationships with people that are “different” than us.  May we humble ourselves to learn from those that teach us how to seek reconciliation and offer radical forgiveness.  And may we always choose to first see others through the eyes of a Jesus who invites all humanity to his Kingdom banquet. 

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