Monthly Archives: February 2009

A different way of thinking

I’m finding myself being challenged in different areas of my life on a nearly daily basis. There have been numerous times over the last few months where there have been so many things coming at me, challenging my way of thinking, and causing me to take pause and reflect on what I’ve been told over the years. This is one of those times.

I began posting some of these thoughts last week, with my note regarding the letter written by Christian/writer/activist Shane Claiborne. While there were specific reasons for my posting that last week, I have felt the need to expound on it just a bit, from a more personal perspective. I want to have a dialogue, open and honest, but shared in love and respect. And I have to be honest……I don’t have it figured out. Not even close. I’m searching, trying to land where I believe Christ wants me to land, knowing that He is personal and He cares about me, and wants nothing but the best for me.

So let me be clear again – I DON’T have it figured out. I’m searching for answers, wading through a myriad of feelings and emotions, and trying my best to come out of the experience wiser as a result. I may get it wrong, but at least I’m searching. I might miss the mark, but it won’t be due to a lack of effort. I see far too many who are far too stagnant and arthritic in their thinking, so bent on a certain ideal or thought that they refuse to acknowledge the existence of another perspective. I refuse to accept that (even thought I am die hard about those things which are the absolutes of Scripture).

So if this comes off too confrontational, or too out-of-left-field, please forgive me. Call it my experiment. I will lay myself bare and expose some of the questions in my mind that are nagging and, dare I say, tormenting my former way of thinking, and if you, me, or anyone else looks back on this 5 years from now and says, “man, THAT was a bunch of crazy-talk”, well, than at least I took the chance of asking the questions, and at least we dialogued intelligently regardless.

My questions have arisen in regards to peace through violent means. More directly, what Shane Claiborne called the “myth of redemptive violence”.

I’ve never considered myself to be a pacifist. In fact, I used to argue quite vehemently with those who walked under that banner, as they waged a war of words on those who embraced conflict for the greater good. I have always been a peaceful person; in fact, the meaning of my name is exactly that: Peaceful. I’ve only been in a handful of fistfights in my life (a few of which probably wouldn’t even technically qualify as such), and I’ve always been one who has, for the most part, supported conflict when its reasoning was for the freedom of a people or the liberation of the oppressed. That’s where I found myself up to about a month ago. No one likes war, but if we needed to go, I was ok with that.

Something went off in my head though.

I found myself, the more I read Jesus’ words, and the more I heard and talked to people about those words, landing in a different spot than before. But this wasn’t overnight, and it wasn’t a black-or-white transformation for me. It was slow, gradual shift in thinking that occurred. It has culminated in the last few days, and it has me at a crossroads. The thought is this:

We speak of being in the world, and not of the world, but yet we will use Scripture to justify and rationalize the actions of secular society.

War and the Bible. The Kingdom of Heaven, and the kingdoms of this world.

These things should be mutually exclusive.

Most who know me, know that my support of this war was waning from the first hours of the invasion of Iraq. I’ve always taken issue with America’s role of “big brother”, dating back decades. That’s no surprise for most. Even now though, I have a hard time saying that dethroning Saddam wasn’t a good idea, unless it is framed within the same context of our President giving up the search for Bin Laden, and instead going after the proverbial “easier target” of Hussein (which I wholeheartedly believe, and still stand by as being one of the biggest mistakes of the last 8 years). Even still, I find myself wondering what Jesus thinks of all this.

I have heard a number of things as of late that eat at me more and more. When Palestine and Israel were dropping missles in each others backyards, I heard someone get asked what their “take” on Israel’s actions of the previous few days was. Without hesitation, the response came, “Bomb ’em (Palestinians). You don’t mess with God’s people (Israel)”. Only problem is, it was just reported on the news that day about the dozens of innocent men, women, and children who died when Israel lobbed those bombs over their borders, and to be sure, the same thing was happening on Israel’s side of the fence. But a token response like that begs a few crucial questions in my mind, in light of all this.

1) are we just to think of the innocent as “collateral damage”, nothing more?
2) Israel is God’s chosen people, to be sure. The Bible tells us as much. But doesn’t Paul also say in the New Testament that with Christ’s death and resurrection, we (Gentiles, if you’re using Biblespeak) have been “grafted into the vine”, and that as such, we are ALL God’s people?

See, for me, that puts a new twist on it. It tells me that just because Israel is God’s chosen people, that doesn’t give them open justification to bomb another country that they haven’t gotten along with for 6000 years (and vice versa), all because they are “God’s people”. I may be my father’s son, but if I do wrong, I get punished for it. It makes me no less his son, but it also makes my actions no more right. Yet, there’s a thought in fundamental Christendom today that anything Israel does is ok, just because they’re God’s people. That doesn’t jive with me, especially when you read in the Old Testament about their disobedience, and the exile, slavery, and despair they endured as a result.

But enough about Israel, let’s bring it closer to home.

I’ve heard argument after argument, time after time, of Christians using Scripture to justify the current occupation of Iraq, and the wars we wage in general. Every verse you’ve probably already thought of while reading this has come up in the discussions, from rationale through the wars waged by God on Israel’s enemies in the Old Testament, to Matthew 10:34-36, where Jesus Himself says,

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law. A man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.

But was Jesus even talking about the natural, or was He speaking in spritual terms? Thing is, I never remember reading Jesus talking about the Kingdom of Heaven in natural terms, unless He was using a parable to get a point across. Yet I’ve heard this very passage quoted as justification for violence. The same justification that ignores when Jesus said,

Blessed are the peacemakers.
Turn the other cheek.
All who live by the sword will die by the sword.

Things like this are what started stirring in my spirit, causing me to question where my allegiance really lies. We can talk about loving America all we want, and that’s fine. We can celebrate our independance, and salute the American flag as the Star Spangled Banner is sung. But if all of that……ALL of it, is not trumped by us preceding our love for country with our love for Christ, then it is in vain. If we cannot seperate what we think is right because our president “claims” to be a Christian, with the words of our Heavenly Father, what good are we?

Why is it we equate loving country with standing behind what it does in going to war (justified or not), or supporting the troops who do so, but we cannot seperate ourselves from that and realize that, as Christians, as followers of Christ, we have a much greater call? It’s as if we feel like we HAVE to support our country’s actions, because 200+ years ago a group of Christians and Dieists decided to insert the words “Under God” into the manuscripts of a nation, and we decided to label ourselves as “Christian”.

I fear what we have done is blurred the seperation between following God, and loyalty to country, when the two aren’t necessarily synonomous. Our primary concern, if you will forgive the near-cliche’, should be, “What Would Jesus Think?” Would Jesus give justifications for innocent people dying, who had nothing to do with an evil regime, and say that it was one of the unfortunate “aspects of war”? Would Jesus condone pre-emptive strikes on a nation, because of an evil dictator? Turn the tables……what if those bombs dropped in your backyard? Would you still think war was ok? Would it still be acceptable? Or would you think, hope, and pray that there was a better way….a different way?

We should remind ourselves that when Jesus walked this earth, in the very land He walked, ministered, healed, and preached in, there was another evil regime, the Roman Empire, who was oppressing people and mindlessly killing on a daily basis. Yet, Jesus, living in that time, under that same oppressive rule, never condoned action against people by violent means. Never, not once. Why? Because His kingdom, His ways, were not of this world. And that is the same thing He calls us to, is it not??

And even beyond that, would it matter if we hoped for a secular nation, and people of our nation, as well as others, who prescribed to our way of thinking? Or should we live as Christ lived, act as Christ acted, and prescribe to another way that says, “he who lives by the sword, dies by the sword, so I am not going to live by that sword, or support those who do”? I mean, we say we want to live like Christ, that we want to be Christ-like, and we’re even commanded to do as much in the Bible, but are we stopping short on issues like this, because it would just be way too uncomfortable to have that drastic a paradigm shift in our way of thinking?

I hope not. I hope none of us are so stuck in our thinking, as to refuse to acknowledge that maybe, just maybe, there is a better way, that doesn’t attach itself to a flag, an anthem, or a government instituted by man. I hope we can all acknowledge that while change is difficult, sometimes change is good, even if the process is painful. I don’t know exactly where I’m going to land in all of this, but I do know that the way of thinking I’ve known for so long is something I can never go back to.


To Iraq

This was written by Shane Claiborne. He wrote this in 2003, just before he traveled to Iraq, and just after the US invaded. I pray that, even if we disagree, and even this doesn’t change our minds, we at least consider the words said in hopes of seeing a different perspective of our role as Christians, and being “in the world, but not of the world”.

I am going to Iraq because I believe in a God of scandalous grace. If I believed terrorists were beyond redemption, I would need to rip out half of my New Testament Scriptures, for they were written by a converted terrorist. I have pledged Allegiance to a King that loved evildoers so much He died for them (and of course the people of Iraq are no more evil or more holy than the people of the US), teaching us that there is something worth dying for but nothing worth killing for. While the terrorists were nailing Him to the cross, my Jesus pleaded that they be shown mercy for they know not what they were doing. We are all wretched, and we are all beautiful. No one is beyond redemption and no one is beyond repute. May we see in the hands of the oppressors our own hands, and in the faces of the oppressed our own faces. We are made of the same dust, and we cry the same salty tears.

I am going to Iraq in the footsteps of an executed and risen God. I follow a Jesus who rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey at Passover, knowing full well what He was walking into. This Jesus of the margins suffered an imperial execution by an oppressive regime of wealthy and pious elites. And now He dares me and woos me, come and follow, take my cross, lose my life to find it…with a promise that life is more powerful than health, and that it is more courageous to love our enemies than to kill them.

I am going to Iraq to stop terrorism. There are Muslim extremists and Christian extremists who kill in the name of their gods. Their leaders are millionaires who live in comfort while their citizens die neglected in the streets. I believe in another Kingdom that belongs to the poor and to the peacemakers. I believe in a safe world, and I know this world will never be safe as long as the masses live in poverty so that handful of people can live as they wish. Nor will the world be safe as long as we try to use violence to drive out violence. Violence only begets the very thing it seeks to destroy. My King warned His followers, “If we pick up the sword we will die by the sword.” How true this has proved to be throughout history. We armed Saddam in the conflict against Iran, and we armed Bin Ladin in the struggle against the Soviet Union. Timothy McVeigh, the most terrifying domestic terrorist in US history, was trained in the Gulf Was where he said he turned into “an animal.”

I am going to Iraq to stand in the way of war. Thousands of soldiers have gone to Iraq, willing to kill people they do not know because of a political allegiance. I go willing to die for people I do not know because of a spiritual allegiance. The soldiers have incredible courage, courage enough to die for something they believe in. I pray that Christians would have that same courage. The command of the soldiers is handed down, rank after rank, from a human commander in chief clinging to the myth of redemptive violence. My mandate is straight from the mouth of my heavenly King, through the lips of the Prince of Peace – to love my enemy, and yet I still falter. May we cling to the Truth that every human is created in the image of God. Do we believe the children of Iraq are just as precious as the children of New York? A love for our own people is not a bad thing, but why should love stop at the border? We, the people of Rebirth, have an allegiance that runs much deeper than nationalism.

I am going to Iraq as a missionary. In an age of omnipresent war, it is my hope that Christian Peacemaking becomes the new face of global missions. May we stand by those who face the impending wrath of Empire and whisper: “God loves you, I love you, and if my country bombs your country, I will be right here with you.” Otherwise, our gospel has little integrity. As one of the saints said, “If they come for the innocent and do not pass over our bodies , then cursed be our religion.” May our lives interrupt terrorism and war, in small ways, in large ways, in moments of crisis and in everyday rhythms. These are extreme times. And I go to Iraq as an extremist for Love.

The other day I was on an airline flight where I settled in next to 2 strangers. They began talking to each other, only to discover that they had much in common, namely political affiliation. They cracked some jokes against the liberals, and boasted of the military presence in Iraq. I tried to read, tried to sleep, tried to resist the temptation of starting an intense debate which would make for a long plane ride. Finally, I got out some homemade cookies and randomly offered them to my neighbors. They continued talking about how much they traveled, all the places they’ve been, and then they turned to me. “Where’s your next trip to?” on of them asked me curiously. I got a lump in my throat (since the correct answer was “Iraq”). I paused. “Well, next week I plan to go to Baghdad.” Their jaws dropped. Puzzled, one man asked, “With the military?” I giggled (for those who don’t know me, I don’t exactly fit the military prototype, with my dreadlocks and all). “No,” I replied, “I will be going as a Christian Peacemaker to be with the families there and voice opposition to the war.”

I was amazed to see that they did NOT start arguing with me. They were intrigued that I believed in something so much that I would risk my life for it. We actually had a nice talk. And I will never forget what they said as we parted. These 2 people whom I had just met told me with great drama how “glued” they would be to the TV as they worried about me, wondering if would make it back safely. I stood in awe, knowing that this is the great tragedy – we see no face in war. Degrees of separation allow us to destroy human beings we do not know except as “enemy”, as if Iraq was filled with millions of Saddams or Osamas, and no children. So in one hour, the walls came down a little. I thought of how powerful it was to have a face in Iraq, albeit a face these two had only met for a couple of hours on a plane. But now they hesitate as they hear the drums of war. And in the moment of hesitation, Truth is birthed. Granted, I would like for my two new friends to oppose the war because of the families in Iraq but if they oppose the war because of some goofball they met for an hour on a plane, that’ll work for now.

“And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing that will happened to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:22-24