Friday, May 11, 2007

Can we please dispel from our midst the myth that being willing "to lay down one's life for one's friends" is the equivalent of being willing to fight and kill? Can we please renounce this godless sentiment which equates being a soldier to carrying a cross--and remember that it was the soldiers who nailed Christ and his faithful witnesses to their crosses?

It just makes my blood boil (yes, even pacifists get angry) when people claim that soldiery is justified by the Christian ideal of love--laying down one's life for one's friends. Whether you're a pacifist or not, you must recognize that "no poor bastard ever won a war by dying for his country; he won it by making the other poor dumb bastard die for his." (Gen. Patton's words, not mine) The point of fighting in war is not to lay down your life (notice that I'm not saying that the point of fighting in war is to live), and the side that suffers the highest ratio of casualties to population is generally accounted the loser, because they, having lost more manpower, are usually more likely to surrender (unless, of course, the political goals for the war are pretty much unattainable, such as in Vietnam and Iraq). The cross, on the other hand, is an intentional decision: you stand against the injustices and oppressions in your society, provoke the ire of the power brokers, and accept the punishment that your society inflicts upon you for threatening "law and order."

"Greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his friends." Lest we think that that can actually mean fighting in war, let us acknowledge that the model of love to which those words refer is Jesus.
"He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did not open his mouth; like a lamb that is led to the slaughter, and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth....They made his grave with the wicked and his tomb with the rich, although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth." (Isaiah 53:7,9)
"Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me. Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it." (Matthew 10:37-39; cf. Matthew 16:24-26, Mark 8:34-37, Luke 9:23-25)
"....if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. 'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.' When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the One who judges justly." (I Peter 2:20b-23)

Laying down one's life is intentionally giving it up; taking up one's cross cannot be seen as taking up arms for whatever cause; Christ the incarnate Word, the man of perfect love, is an example for us specifically in his suffering death, wherein he lifted neither finger nor sword nor .357 Magnum pistol nor M16 nor grenade launcher in his own defense. In "reconciling the world to God," Jesus went to a cross. We who are "the body of Christ" in our day have been given this "ministry of reconciliation"; we should expect that such a ministry will take the shape of a cross.

I know that there are those who disagree with me about pacifism, and I know that they outnumber the pacifists. But like I've said, whether you believe that violence/war is "sometimes necessary" or not, this is something that you ought to be able to recognize. "Laying down one's life for one's friends" cannot be seen as the equivalent of being willing to fight and kill. Being an American soldier cannot be seen as the equivalent of carrying the cross.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

So tonight at HBS we touched on the subject of the Christian relationship with wealth. Discussion was dominated, as usual, by Dr. Klein and Mr. Russell (and a couple of others who randomly piped up a couple times). I think Dr. Klein's concerns are well-founded (students trekking to a Christian college to position themselves to make more money?).

I don't know about Dr. Joe Pryor or Dr. Benson, two people who were pointed to as examples; I never met either man. The fundamental question of the evening stands on its own, though: whom or what is my master? Whom or what do I serve? Where is your treasure?

A slave serves his master whether he loves that master or not. He or she may love freedom more than master. One can always serve that for which one professes no love. We can only be bound to Christ by love, for it is only love that surrenders freedom for the sake of Master. Some masters Master can free us from, and some masters Master calls us to be freed from; but for such freedom he binds us to himself. "Take my yoke upon you and learn of me."

But turn the tables. Perhaps one pictures one's relationship to money from the other side; perhaps one thinks oneself the master, and the money is the servant. This is the approach advocated by the Rich Dad, Poor Dad series: let money work for you. So perhaps money can be our servant? It seems an admirable idea; one is assumed to be no longer "serving mammon." "But let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall." One who has such a servant may be even more dependent upon it for his well-being than the slave is upon his master. The reality is that you can't be master; you will find yourself in servitude to and dependent upon that which you thought was your servant. When the "servant" deserts you, you may realize just how much faith you placed in it. Your treasure gone, you will be completely poverty-stricken. If such poverty strikes you before you die, it may turn you to God. But "today if you will hear his voice, harden not your heart": where is your treasure?

Monday, October 16, 2006

I am in the midst of watching Steven Spielberg's Munich for the second time. At the risk of running the issues of peace and war and justice into the ground, I am struck by several things in this movie.

1.) Near the very beginning of the movie, Golda Meir (the Israeli Prime Minister in 1972) says to her generals concerning Israel's response to the Olympic hostage crisis, "Every society has to compromise even with its own values."

2.) When one of the Jewish men who is on the response team is interviewing one of the Palestinian supporters of Black September, the Palestinian and his wife insist upon pointing out the evils that have been perpetrated upon the Palestinians by Israel while barely shrugging at the heinous violence done by the terrorists in Munich.

At the heart of such violence is the insistence upon revenge--disguised as justice, of course. I punch you; you punch me right back. The sad thing is that when you punch me back, it doesn't make us even. Because you punched me, I will punch you again. And so on and so forth. The lex talionis ("An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth") always reminds me of the Mafia: a cycle of violence that will not be broken until someone refuses to hit the other back. "An eye for an eye" cannot produce justice, cannot lead to peace. And the first instinct is always to respond in kind.

"You have heard that it was said, 'An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth'; but I tell you, do not resist an evil man. If someone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him your left cheek also." I had someone tell me a couple of weeks ago that it was 'lunacy' to think that Christ renounced self-defense, for if he did, then God wants his people to be murdered. Yet what did Christ do in going to the Cross but refuse to defend himself? Are his disciples not called to the same cross, the same suffering? God doesn't want his people to be murdered; he wants us to be the firstfruits of the Kingdom that shall be consummated on a day when "they shall turn their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks, and will learn war no more." In incarnating that kingdom vision in our troubled times; in refusing to take revenge; in refusing to use evil means against evil men, Christ's disciples may face their Lord's fate. But won't those who are "faithful unto death" be crowned with life?

What shall we say to each other of these things? Shall we trust in the sword and the spear? Shall we finally acknowledge that the kingdom into which we have been translated shall not be destroyed by any craft or weapons of any enemy--nor men nor demons? What shall we say to each other of these things, you and I?

Thursday, October 12, 2006

"We have grasped the mystery of the atom and rejected the Sermon on the Mount. Ours is a world of nuclear giants and ethical infants. We know more about war than we do about peace - more about killing than we do about living."—WWII General Omar Bradley

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Blessed are....

"Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down to us from the Father of Lights...." (James 1:17)

I hear people talking about how God has blessed America all the time. We feel richly blessed--we live in a "land of plenty" in which certain freedoms are guaranteed. There's nothing wrong with being thankful for the "good gifts" God gives, of course, nor is there anything wrong with desiring God's blessing. Christians are told that "we are given every spiritual blessing in Christ" and we often remind each other that our God is the "fount of every blessing." But just what are the "good gifts" that God gives?

Israel always perceived that God had blessed the rich. So ingrained in Israelite culture was this idea that the common, poor, landless Jew of Jesus' day was completely oppressed: being poor and uneducated, he was completely dependent upon the Temple system for the blessing of God--and much of the Temple system was nothing but a forum for spiritual abuse.

Jesus saw the sickness. In his Sermon he turned the world of the Israelites on its head:
"Blessed are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you hungry, for you shall be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep, for you shall laugh. Blessed are you when men hate you, and ostracize you, and insult you, and scorn your name as evil, for the sake of the Son of Man. ...But woe to you rich, for you are receiving your comfort in full. Woe to you who are well-fed, for you shall be hungry. Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep. Woe to you when all men speak well of you, for their fathers used to treat the false prophets in the same way." (Luke 6:20-22, 24-26)

Our Lord and his disciples never speak of wealth as though it were a blessing--they seemed instead to think it perilous. This is hard teaching for us, who are rich. We think ourselves blessed with our riches and our freedoms--things our Lord never spoke of by way of blessing. Christ's message is consistently one of surprising grief for those who are wealthy and comfortable; he always seems to shock the poor and persecuted with hope, with a message of God's favor. It is precisely the people who are in the most dire of straits, whose backs are hardest against the wall, that our Lord calls "blessed."

Does Jesus overturn any of our tables when he pronounces as woes the very things we consider blessings? What does it say about who we are and what we value when we call our rich and free land "blessed"--though Jesus often seems to say the exact opposite? Perhaps God's "good gifts" are not what we thought, after all?

Behold; he turns the world upside-down!

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Faith, Faithfulness, Discipleship....

Faith is....?

Consider a tree. Its roots dig into the earthen ground. Its bole climbs up, up towards the sun; it throws its branches out into the free air.

As a disciple of Christ, I am a tree; at the root of who I am is my faith, which is "grounded" in Christ. The trunk and branches--all that you can visually see--are my life of discipleship, which grow up from the root of my faith. If my faith is strong and deep, the tree will not easily be moved. If my discipleship is strong, the tree will be tall and broad and fertile.

Authority in the Life of Faithful Discipleship

"All authority has been given to me in heaven and on earth; therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that I have commanded you. And lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age." (Matthew 28:18-20)

Faith, as I pointed out in the illustration above, is that which roots Christ's disciples in Christ. Discipleship is rooted in faith in Christ's authority to command. Of course, we believe that he has the authority to command because of the resurrection. But we do what he says because we believe that he had the authority to say it. Loving your enemy doesn't make sense; turning your head and offering your enemy your other cheek to slap doesn't make sense; giving more to those who would rob you than they ask for doesn't make sense; such suffering and "carrying your cross" doesn't make sense. Christ's commands don't make sense unless he has the authority to command.

Discipleship grows in the knowledge that Christ does not command us to do anything that he did not do himself. If he did not live what he taught (and thus show us how to do the same), then his commands to love your enemy, to turn the other cheek, or to carry your cross are absurd. But here is the man who loved even the Roman soldiers who put him on the cross, even Pilate (who gives a human face to the inhuman Roman Empire) who oppressed the Jews and massacred them when they attempted to protest peacefully, even the Jews who put the prophets to death with the sword and condemned him to the Romans though he was one of them; here is the man who "did no violence" (Isa. 53:9), who refused to defend himself or those of his own nation who did not know the ways of peace (Luke 13:34, 19:41-44); who did not protest the punishment to which the powers sentenced him, but took up his cross and died upon it. Behold the Man on the cross who "suffered as an example to us, that we might walk in his steps" (1 Peter 2:21-23)! The cross to which he calls us is not any and every kind of suffering, sickness, or tension; it is not inexplicable or unpredictable; it is not an inward wrestling with self and sin. The believer's cross is the end of a path freely chosen after counting the cost; it is the social reality of representing in an unwilling world the Order to come, and his people will experience in ways analogous to his own the hostility of the old order: "The servant is not greater than his master; if they have persecuted me they will persecute you." (John 15:20)

Note: For the last two sentences in particular I owe a tremendous debt to the work of the late J.H. Yoder in The Politics of Jesus.