Non-violence

Funding Weapons & Expecting Peace

By J.C. Mitchell

I was mistaken for a Mexican. It was 1994, and I was living in Belfast, Northern Ireland. There was a group of college-age men I knew that were obsessed with American Westerns.  These young men had jokingly referred to those from the Free State (Ireland) as Mexicans.  It was not a derogatory term, for some I knew had close ties with the RA (The Irish Republican Army or IRA), but those brothers and sisters from “south of the borders,” were referred to in this group occasionally as “Mexicans,” because of their obsession of classic Western Films.  Because I picked up a mild brogue when I lived in Belfast, they just assumed I was from the Free State.  They were utterly confused I did not know much about Westerns, or cared. 

I was living there working on my Division III for my undergraduate degree from Hampshire College, which can be best explained as my senior thesis. I studied at Queen’s University and in the Public Houses, as most students would.  Students came from both the Loyalist and Republican enclaves, with a smattering of people from the mainland (UK) and the continent, and one American.  However, America was certainly present beyond just me—not only in the references to Westerns, but in the Chicago Style Pizzeria, (a shame they didn't get authentic Connecticut Pizza), and especially the funding of the RA by the Republican diaspora in New York and Boston throughout the decades before. 

Now the Troubles, the term used for the conflict, is very complicated.  It is both a very old conflict that goes back centuries, and during the 20th century it should be described as a civil rights conflict that happened because of colonization.  It is not unlike the conflict in the Middle East--everyone claims it is a religious conflict, but it is actually a conflict based on ethnicity, where those of privilege are supported by the state.  Actually the privileged were supported by an armed and ruthless police state, and in response, the oppressed have done the same, to fight back, making the analogy quite interesting.  Now for various reasons the peace process has progressed on the island my grandparents are from, but there seems to be no progress in Palestine/Israel.

I am not sure what the solution is, but I know one thing we can do in the USA: Stop funding weapons.  When the Irish diaspora stopped funding the IRA and began instead funding their Independent Retirement Accounts, and the United States also allowed Gerry Adams a visa and thus allowing criticism of the violence from the UK, the US finally got out of the way, and greater dialogue was encouraged. USA influence may have continued with television, movies and pizza, but it ended with the funding of weapons and lifting the censorship of the oppressed.  This helped lead to the Good Friday Accord, and the continued work of peace.  

So when I hear we are funding weapons in the Middle East, and we censor the voices of the oppressed, what are we expecting?  I am not suggesting simply being xenophobic and letting them figure it out, but if we call for peace and fund one side and essentially censor one side, what do we expect? 

We are not talking about just some money collected in bars in NYC and Boston; we are talking multi-million dollar funding of weapons.  May we not be known only as cowboys who only answer with the gun or hired gun, for we should know that violence never creates a peace that lasts.  

 


Putting a Stake in the Ground: Figuring Out Your Church's Identity

How the “Passing of the Peace” Became and Act of War

After the September 11 attacks in 2001, it occurred to me that we needed to call attention in worship to the cycle of violence, which I believed had surely been inaugurated. It wasn’t that violence was a new thing ushered into the world by planes that flew into buildings. But I was sure that the attacks of 9/11 would profoundly affect how most Americans experienced the world in some way.

On the other hand, with the saber-rattling I knew would come, I thought it important to draw attention to an important reality for Christians: Our identity as followers of Jesus is shaped by the realization that when Jesus was confronted with violence, he elected to absorb it rather than inflict it.

I knew people would be calling for somebody’s blood. How should those who follow Jesus respond? I struggled with that question.

How could the church continue to be a subversive counter-cultural alternative to the frantic calls for some kind of military vengeance that would come?

How might we embody within worship our resistance to the calls for violence?

I spoke at great length with the other minister at the church where I was serving at the time, and we decided that the most faithful and subversive liturgical act would be one that refused to allow violence to define us. We quickly decided that the Eucharist speaks most loudly about the relationship of Christians to violence.

But how could we observe it in such a way as to highlight the profoundly peaceful nature of the Lord’s Supper?

Peace.

Hey! How about we include the Passing of the Peace right smack dab in the middle of communion?

“There’s something,” we thought. “We could put the Passing of the Peace as the act that immediately precedes the approach to the table. We could say that as long as we’re still at war, as Christians we’ll defy conventional wisdom by offering one another the ‘peace of Christ’ as a prelude to our most sacred act.”

“I like it.”

“Done.”

And that’s just what we did. On the Sunday after 9/11 we passed the peace during communion. I explained why we were doing it, why historically the “Passing of the Peace” had been placed within the confines of the service of the table.

I made clear that we were following the historic lead of the dissenting voices that comprise Christian faithfulness when it comes to the issue of violence.

There was some grumbling. Of course, anytime you change worship, people will gripe. We figured that would happen.

What we didn’t expect was the intensity of some of the complaints.

So, on Monday after that first Sunday of eucharistic peace-passing, I was sitting in my office, when the phone rang.

“Hello, pastor?”

“Yes?”

“This is Gladys.”

“Hello, Gladys. What can I do for you?”

“Well, I wanted to talk to you about communion yesterday.”

“Ah, yes. The ‘Passing of the Peace?’”

“That’s right. I didn’t like it.”

“I see. What about it didn’t you like?”

“Communion is a quiet time. It’s my personal time. That thing we did yesterday was loud, and noisy. It was disruptive is what it was. And I want make sure that’s the last time we do that.”

“Well, as I explained yesterday, we’re going to keep doing it as long as we’re at war.”

“I don’t want to wait that long. You ruined communion for me yesterday. I want it to stop.”

“I understand why you might feel that way.”

“So, you’re going to quit?”

“No.”

“You mean you’re going to do it again next Sunday?”

“That’s pretty much it, yeah. We’re going to do it next Sunday, and the Sunday after that, and probably the Sunday after that.”

“So, you won’t be surprised when I get up in the middle of communion and walk out?”

“No. Now that you warned me, I guess not.”

“And if I leave, I’m never coming back.”

“I’m sorry to hear that. I know that must be a difficult decision to make. We’re going to miss you.”

“After all I’ve said, you’re still going to go through with it?”

“Of course. You wouldn’t respect me if I wasn’t as firmly committed to my principles as you are to yours. I think what we’re doing highlights a critical aspect of what it means to follow Jesus.”

Now, I’d like to say that the decision to keep passing the peace during communion made everyone else happy. It didn’t. Looking back, that was probably the beginning of the end for me at that particular congregation.

Even so, I thought (and continue to think) it was right to do it.

Being Who You Are, Not Who People Think You Should Be

Living in a market-based economy, we tend to think in terms of customer satisfaction. The utilitarian calculation about maximizing the greatest pleasure for the most people drives the economic engine of capitalism. Businesses become successful in a capitalist economy by figuring out what people want, then giving it to them.

There are any number of ways to do that, not least of which is the “customer survey.” I get untold number of solicitations to take surveys–via email, over the phones, walking in the mall, at the cash register in the restaurant.

Sometimes I’m even offered a premium in return (money, gift cards, to be put into a drawing for a chance at a new _____), so badly do companies want to know what I think.

Now, many of these surveys are merely trying to find out how I think the business is doing. Are they providing the service or product they advertise? Do I like the look, taste, texture, durability, hospitality for which I’ve paid?

I understand this kind of market research, and I think it’s probably in my best interest that businesses are trying to figure out how better to do what they do. If I consistently find toenails in my pot pie, the offending eatery presumably has a stake in possessing that information.

Being the kind of establishment that wants this information is a good thing for a business.

There are other kinds of market surveys, though, that seem to want me to tell the company who I think they should be. What should they be concentrating on? If I could pick from a list of core principles, which one do I think is most important?

This kind of market research I find troubling. My first thought is: “If you don’t know who you should be, why should I help you figure it out?”

Don’t get me wrong. Knowing who you are is important information to have. All I’m saying is that asking other people to give it to you is dangerous, and a possible signal that you should be doing something else.

The first kind of survey is designed to improve service, and is therefore almost always a good thing.

The second kind of survey is designed to provide identity, and, I would like to suggest, is a sign of organizational flailing.

Churches, in a market-based economy, are prone to imitating business practices. Surveys are no different. Churches often seek the kind of information found in surveys, whether formally or informally.

In the case of the first kind of survey–the “How are we doing?” survey–I think this kind of information can be extraordinarily helpful, something churches should want to know:

  • Were you greeted when you came in the door?
  • Did you find the signage sufficient?
  • Was the nursery inviting?
  • Do you prefer Charmin or Cottonelle in the bathrooms?

Or for Emergent communities:

  • Bock or Pale Ale?

In the case of the second kind of survey–the “Who do you think we should be?” survey–I think this demonstrates a lack of vision and purpose. It’s a sign of organizational flailing.

“Oh, come on! That doesn’t happen.”

Really?

Anytime you make decisions based not on who you are, but on who you think potential “customers” (in this case, that’s often code for, “young families”) want you to be, you’re turning over your most precious treasure (i.e., your identity) to the people who know the least about it.

“What kind of worship should we have?”

“Good worship.”

“No. I mean, if we want to grow, what kind of worship should we have?”

“Good worship.”

“You’re not understanding me. If we want to grow, should we try the whole praise teams and projectors thing? That huge church down the street does it, and the young people seem to like it.”

“What makes you think the young people like it?”

“Well, they have a lot of young people and they have that stuff. It doesn’t take a genius.”

“Actually, I’m not nearly so sure the young people like ‘that stuff’ so much, but whatever. I understand what you’re asking. You don’t understand what I’m answering.”

“Huh?”

“Look. What form of worship best expresses the majesty of God and the rigors of following Jesus, while at the same time represents the sensibilities of the congregation? Do that well and people will show up–or they won’t. But worship isn’t something you do to attract people; it’s something you do because God deserves it.”

The point is: You can’t look to other people to define you. Figure out who you are, and then make sure you do it excellently.

Ask people how you can make what you do better.

Don’t ask people to tell you who you are.

Do the work of reflection. Then put a stake in the ground.

But remember: It’s a stake, not a weathervane.

Watch What Happens

It's truly amazing to watch the Arab world struggling to throw its dictators out of power, one by one. Tunisia, Egypt, Libya, Bahrain, Palestine, Jordan, Yemen, Syria--this is what the Islamic concept of jihad is really about!

This all reminds me of the jihad we got to witness in the late 80's/early 90's across the Soviet Eastern Bloc, and then the USSR itself. One by one, people of every country stood up against those that oppressed them, as most often with the Arab countries, nonviolently (Libya right now is a grand exception), just taking to the streets (and even singing their resistance, in the Baltic states!), demanding an end to their oppressors' rule. Poland, Hungary, Romania, Bulgaria, Czecheslovakia, Germany (yeah, Germany!, remember the dismantling of the Berlin Wall? stunning....), on and on through what is now 14 countries. The culmination of which happened 20 years ago this month.

Some other truly impressive things also happened in other parts of the world at the same time--Tienanmen Square (April through June 1989), and Mandela's release (2/11/90) among them--but oh my, do you remember the failed Communist coup 20 years ago? The Great Saint Gorbachev taken "on vacation" by hardliners, and the Russian people refusing absolutely to allow another October Revolution. Thousands of people, just people!, refusing to let this happen. Even in the face of such potential violence, as we're seeing today in the Arab world, it is always stunning to watch people choose what could very likely be death for most of them, over the status quo continuing.

The barricades in Moscow held, and Soviet soldiers jumped out of their tanks to join the crowds. Boris Yeltsin held the resistance together (remember Yeltsin? how fun was that, to have him and Bill Clinton in power at the same time!?), and in just three days the oppressors' back was broken. It brought me to tears in those undergraduate years, to watch in real time what I could only imagine when reading the likes of Dorothy Day, Mohandas Gandhi, and Martin King. As we get ready to unveil this new national memorial to King this weekend, all of this is so important to bring to mind as we speak.

To butcher a famous phrase here, all that evil needs to survive is for good people to do nothing. Well, here's another constant truth in my meager experience: all people are good, and if they just do something, evil cannot survive. It may only take three days. It may take three generations. But when it happens....well, as a Christian, I proclaim that I see God's kin(g)dom come to earth, again!; that the Justice and Love Jesus embodies is incarnated in the lives of those who make these courageous stands; that the Spirit that always, constantly hovers over the earth and moves where She will surprises us yet again when we commit to true Peace. Please come find me when these things happen, and let's celebrate together!

Rev. Dennis Teall-Fleming is a Licensed Minister for The Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), and Pastor of Open Hearts Gathering, a Spirit-chew-all Experiment in Gastonia, NC.

Un-American in the Name of Jesus?

Un-American in the name of Jesus? By Christian Piatt (Originally printed in PULP)

I used to go to a lot of basketball games with my dad in Dallas. We have both been enthusiastic Mavericks fans for almost three decades, so you can imagine how excited I was when they won their first NBA championship this year.

YES!

Anyhow, before each game they go through the typical ritual of playing the Star Spangled Banner, and I would always stand up, face the flag and put my hand over my heart. But then a new announcer one year asked people to “please rise to honor God and America with the singing of our National Anthem.”

“That’s messed up,” I said.

“What?” said my dad, “They do the same thing every game.”

“Yeah but this new guy says that the Star Spangled Banner honors God,” I said, “but there’s nothing in the verse they sing at the games about God anywhere. It has nothing to do with God.”

My dad grumbled something about my lack of patriotism and turned back toward the flag. But ever since, that moment has stood out in my mind as a perfect example of one of my biggest annoyances with American culture: our tendency to comingle a Christian identity with national patriotism.

So I was particularly interested to hear that Goshen College, a relatively small Mennonite school in Indiana, had decided to no longer play the National Anthem before any sporting events sponsored by the college. The reasoning, offered in a public statement issued by the college, was as follows:

“Historically, playing the national anthem has not been among Goshen College’s practices because of our Christ-centered core value of compassionate peacemaking seeming to be in conflict with the anthem’s militaristic language.”

Unsurprisingly, the decision caused a ruckus, especially once news outlets such as Fox Radio got hold of it. But even local city councilmen decried the move, suggesting that those in charge were violating “the American way,” and should relocate to somewhere like Cuba or Iran for a while until they learned to appreciate what they have here at home.

I posted a link to this news story on my Facebook page and asked people to respond. Following are a handful of comments from the many I received:

“It’s such a hard issue because the song is both a symbol and a song … I agree with the college that it isn’t a very Christian tune. It is about war. However, to ban it is, I fear, short-sighted. The song is a symbol of American unity. To ban it risks saying ‘we don’t want to be a part of the nation.’ I’m not sure that’s what they want to say.” (From a lawyer)

“I support the ban, the choice and the school’s right to make their own decision independent of the city council or any other political body.” (From a minister)

Ashley Quinn: “I wonder where the whole tradition of the anthem at sporting events started anyways. Probably something to do with the whole combative, competitive nature of many sports. I don’t think it makes any sense for a group of people devoted to peacemaking to sing it before they do anything.” (From a bartender)

Carl Gregg: “For anyone who watched the Super Bowl, there is a breathtaking mix of sports, nationalism, and military imagery. Ultimately, Christianity is trans-national, seeking to build the Beloved Community irrespective of national borders. The school is making one small step against the massive idolatry that is ubiquitous in our society of putting biological family and nation before God.” (From another minister)

“In the article I noticed people calling this anti-American. I don’t see it that way at all. Americans are at our very best when we are tolerant of others. You know, that whole ‘land of the free’ verse.” (From a retired Marine)

I’ll gladly concede that my circle for friends doesn’t represent the full socio-political spectrum, but I found the comments generally encouraging. For most of my life, it’s been sold to me that being a good Christian also meant supporting our country, wars, death penalty and all. But I think we’d be doing both our faith and our patriotism a favor if we made clear in our own minds that not everyone who is a Christian, as grateful as we may be for the freedom we’re afforded here, agrees morally with how we got here.

Christian is the creator and editor of the BANNED QUESTIONS book series, which include BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT THE BIBLE and BANNED QUESTIONS ABOUT JESUS. He co-created and co-edits the “WTF: Where’s the Faith?” young adult series with Chalice Press, and he has a memoir on faith, family and parenting being published in early 2012 called PREGMANCY: A Dad, a Little Dude and a Due Date.

For more information about Christian, visit www.christianpiatt.com, or find him on Twitter or Facebook.

RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

In the course of time.....Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and .....Abel for his part brought of the firstlings of his flock, their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, .....but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his countenance fell.

The Lord said to Cain, ..........Why are you angry, and why has your countenance fallen? ..........If you do well, will you not be accepted? ..........And if you do not do well, ...............sin is lurking at the door; ...............its desire is for you, but you must master it.

Cain said to his brother Abel, ..........Let us go out to the field. And when they were in the field, .....Cain rose up against his brother Abel, ..........and killed him.

Then the Lord said to Cain, ..........Where is your brother Abel?

He said, ..........I do not know; ...............am I my brother’s keeper?

And the Lord said, ..........What have you done? ..........Listen; your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground! ..........And now you are cursed from the ground, ...............which has opened its mouth ...............to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. ..........When you till the ground, ...............it will no longer yield to you its strength; ...............you will be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth.

Cain said to the Lord, ..........My punishment is greater than I can bear! ..........Today you have driven me away from the soil, ...............and I shall be hidden from your face; ..........I shall be a fugitive and a wanderer on the earth, ...............and anyone who meets me may kill me.

Then the Lord said to him, ..........Not so! Whoever kills Cain will suffer a sevenfold vengeance. And the Lord put a mark on Cain, .....so that no one who came upon him would kill him. ............................................................................................( Genesis 4:3-15 )

By late 1996, my older son, Chad, was living with Shirley Newsom in her trailer on the west side of Indianapolis. Chad had convinced Shirley to steal drugs from her place of employment, a pharmaceutical warehouse. $1500 worth of drugs were placed on consignment with Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger. While returning with the drugs to Jasonville, Indiana, Frank Dennis was stopped by the Indiana State Police. Unknown to any of them involved in this illegal business, the DEA was already investigating their activities. The drugs were confiscated and Frank was neither arrested nor detained. Frank and Curtis were convinced that Chad had arranged for the loss of the drugs and therefore Chad owed them money. Chad was just as convinced that they owed him money.

On the night of January 21, at about 11:30 PM, the nieces and nephews of Shirley Newsom left the trailer to go home. A little after midnight, Frank Dennis, Curtis Holsinger and Curtis’ girl friend, Jessica Lopez, knocked on the door of the trailer and were admitted. Earlier in the day, Frank had been drinking beer and vodka and smoking marijuana. When Frank realized that Chad was not going to give them any money, he pulled a gun. Chad’s hands were bound and he was taken to a back bedroom. Shirley’s hands were bound and she was left in the living room. Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger went to the back bedroom. According to court testimony, Chad suffered 29 knife wounds over the entire length of his body. This included 7 stab wounds to the heart, 4 from the front, 3 from the back . Chad did not die quickly, quietly, or easily. Frank Dennis and Curtis Holsinger returned to the living room, Frank in blood-soaked clothes. Jessica Lopez, who had been sitting with Shirley Newsom, left the trailer with Curtis. As they left, they heard Shirley Newsom say, “Just do it.” Frank Dennis pressed the gun barrel against the pillow he held to Shirley's face and pulled the trigger. The bullet entered through her right eye and lodged in her brain. Having moved to stand behind her, Frank fired a second shot into the upper-back of her head. The bullet exited through her mouth and was found on the living room floor.

All this is from God, .....who reconciled us to himself through Christ, .....and has given us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ .....God was reconciling the world to himself, .....not counting their trespasses against them, .....and entrusting the message of reconciliation to us. ............................................................................................( 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 )

I oppose capital punishment. As far back as I can remember, opposing the death penalty has been as basic to my understanding of Christian ethics as following the Golden Rule or living in answer to the wristband question, “What Would Jesus Do?” Would I be writing this article were it not for the murder of Chad? His death opens doors and I must walk through them. His murder validates my right to oppose the death penalty. Without his death, all I would ever hear is “If it happened to you, you would feel different.” It has happened to me and I do not feel different - the death penalty is wrong.

I oppose capital punishment. The practice of capital punishment puts us in conflict with the work of God in the world. The work of God in the world is reconciliation. Our work in the world, given to us by God, is reconciliation. Reconciliation is the single lesson that binds together the entire Bible. The Bible is the record of a consistent and persistent God. The Bible is the record of the work, the teaching, the successes and failures, the continuous struggle of God to reconcile each and every child of God to God. The Old Testament is the record of God teaching the children of God their need for grace. The New Testament is the record of God proving that the grace of God is freely and constantly and abundantly available and is available to all without exception and without qualification. The work of reconciliation begins with forgiveness. Forgiveness is a process – a process of transformation because forgiveness is not something you do, forgiveness is something you become.

When people who are fighting injure a pregnant woman .....so that there is a miscarriage, .....and yet no further harm follows, .....the one responsible shall be fined what the woman’s husband demands, .....paying as much as the judges determine. If any harm follows, .....then you shall give ..........life for life, ..........eye for eye, ..........tooth for tooth, ..........hand for hand, ..........foot for foot, ..........burn for burn, ..........wound for wound, ..........stripe for stripe. ............................................................................................( Exodus 21:22-25 )

Anyone who kills a human being shall be put to death. Anyone who kills an animal shall make restitution for it, life for life. Anyone who maims another shall suffer the same injury in return: .....fracture for fracture, .....eye for eye, .....tooth for tooth; .....the injury inflicted is the injury to be suffered. One who kills an animal shall make restitution for it; but one who kills a human being shall be put to death. ............................................................................................( Leviticus 24:17-21 )

In the Old Testament are the Commandments and the Law. The law of “eye for eye” was a radical legal reform - punishment would be limited to being proportional to the severity of the crime and limited to the person who committed the crime. Prior justice had been that for a murder or violent assault, the entire family of the murderer or assailant could be slain ( Genesis 34 ). Within this radical reform of the law, we find the roots of individual responsibility and individual rights. Even among these most demanding of laws, forgiveness is offered. Forgiveness is available for sins committed through ignorance ( Leviticus 4; 5:14-19 ); for sins of failure to testify or of uncleanliness ( Leviticus 5:1-13 ); for sins of deception, fraud, robbery, conversion or false testimony ( Leviticus 6:1-7 ); and for sins of impurity ( Leviticus 19:19-22 ). These sins and others like them are sins of trespass. Often, as part of the offense, the offender incurs a debt to the person against whom they committed the offense. In the Lord’s Prayer, we say: .....forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors or we say: .....forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us or we say: .....forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us ............................................................................................( Matthew 6:9-13 )

Regardless of which words are used, the phrase has a much deeper, wider and richer meaning than any we attach to it today. Though the law of the Old Testament is one of the earliest recorded legal reforms, the reform of the law does not stop there. God continued and continues to call us forward to the heart of the law. The law is still here and will always be here while no longer serving as a code of judgment. THE LAW is now only the law. Because of the grace of God, the law is not the metric by which we define and measure and judge our relationship with God. Arising from the heart and essence of the law and transcending the law is the superior and controlling commandments of Love of God and Love of Neighbor as lived and preached by Jesus. The law only defines, measures, judges and spotlights our imperfections, our separation from God, our mortality. The Love of God and Love of Neighbor Commandments, through the life and the Good News message of Jesus, calls us forward from the confines and shackles of the law and onward towards the perfect sinlessness and immortality of God. We are called to be the Kingdom of God - starting here and starting now - and unrestricted by empire or culture or time or place. From a finite journey of inescapable sin and judgment and death, we are called to an infinite journey of love and forgiveness and reconciliation and community - to be the Kingdom of God.

Then Peter came and said to him, .....Lord, if another member of the church sins against me, ..........how often should I forgive? .....As many as seven times?

Jesus said to him, .....Not seven times, ..........but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.

For this reason the kingdom of heaven may be compared to a king .....who wished to settle accounts with his slaves. When he began the reckoning, .....one who owed him ten thousand talents .....was brought to him; and, .....as he could not pay, .....his lord ordered him to be sold, ..........together with his wife ..........and children ..........and all his possessions, ..........and payment to be made. So the slave fell on his knees before him, saying, .....Have patience with me, ..........and I will pay you everything. And out of pity for him, .....the lord of that slave .....released him and .....forgave him the debt.

But that same slave, .....as he went out, .....came upon one of his fellow slaves .....who owed him a hundred denarii; .....and seizing him by the throat, .....he said, ..........Pay what you owe.

Then his fellow slave fell down .....and pleaded with him, ..........Have patience with me, ...............and I will pay you. But he refused; .....then he went .....and threw him into prison .....until he would pay the debt.

When his fellow slaves saw what had happened, .....they were greatly distressed, .....and they went and reported to their lord .....all that had taken place.

Then his lord summoned him .....and said to him, ..........You wicked slave! ..........I forgave you all that debt ...............because you pleaded with me. ..........Should you not have had mercy on your fellow slave, ...............as I had mercy on you?’ And in anger .....his lord handed him over to be tortured .....until he would pay his entire debt.

So my heavenly Father will also do to every one of you, .....if you do not forgive your brother or sister from your heart. ............................................................................................( Matthew 18:21-35 )

Peter’s question might have been prompted by this passage from Leviticus:

You shall not render an unjust judgment; .....you shall not be partial to the poor or defer to the great: .....with justice you shall judge your neighbor. You shall not go around as a slanderer among your people, .....and you shall not profit by the blood of your neighbor: I am the Lord.

You shall not hate in your heart anyone of your kin; .....you shall reprove your neighbor, .....or you will incur guilt yourself.

You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against any of your people, .....but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord. ............................................................................................( Leviticus 19:15-18 )

Here, in the Law of the Old Testament – preceded by laws about how to worship and how to treat people with honesty and followed by laws about purity and atonement for sin - is a holy admonition for justice, righteous judgement, truth and reason. A holy admonition against vengeance and against even holding a grudge. A holy admonition to “love your neighbor as yourself.”

Never is this tested more harshly than when a loved one is murdered and the prosecutor is demonizing the murderer and demanding the death penalty. The survivors and family are told repeatedly that only the death penalty can provide closure. The death penalty is not closure because closure is not an event. Closure is a process – a process of transformation. Closure is a long, difficult, even tortuous process and journey. As such, closure can neither be granted nor initiated with a single event. Closure is a process that is never finished and so, no single event can complete closure. Embracing death and violence is never part of the closure process. Closure grows with an increasing personal dissociation and increasing distance away from death and violence. Closure comes from moving away from hate and vengeance, moving away from rage and retribution. And, at some point, closure can continue only with forgiveness and, if possible, reconciliation. With that comes the realization that we – who have been grievously hurt – also pay a price when the murderer is put to death. The closure journey, with enough time, always reaches the steep slope of forgiveness. Forgiveness itself is a process – a process of transformation because forgiveness is not something you do, forgiveness is something you become. The top of the steep slope of forgiveness is best reached with the face-to-face declaration, “I forgive you.” Capital punishment prevents us from being able to reach that goal. Bud Welch lost his daughter at Oklahoma City and he opposes the death penalty. Because of the execution of Timothy McVeigh, Bud Welch will never be able to have his healing and growth reach fruition. Bud Welch will never be able to face Timothy McVeigh and say, “I forgive you.” That moment would not have been for Timothy McVeigh, it would have been for Bud Welch. Abolishing the death penalty is not for the guilty, it is for the innocent who want to heal and need to reclaim their life and future.

There is no justice in listening to those in so much pain that in an effort to escape their pain they are willing to yank the trapdoor lever, pull the gun trigger, throw the electric switch, or push the syringe. Justice does not come from pain and anger. Justice is not about condemnation. Justice is about restoration. Justice comes from placing more value on life than on death, placing more value on rehabilitation than on retribution. Justice comes from placing more value on the lives of our loved ones than on their deaths. Justice comes from defiantly turning the other cheek in a demand to be treated as an equal. Justice comes from investing in the restoration of the lives of those who have hurt us. There is justice in a successful rehabilitation. Strangely enough, a successful rehabilitation means that the criminal personality has died and in its place is resurrected a new person - healed, restored, made whole and transformed. There is justice in a failed rehabilitation. A failed rehabilitation means that we have better protected the rights of the innocent by protecting the rights of the guilty. A failed rehabilitation means that we have found a better way than the evil and destruction of the crime, that instead of retribution and death, we have chosen rehabilitation and life. A failed rehabilitation means that we have been faithful to the call and grace of God and lived the Good News as the Kingdom of God.

You have heard that it was said, .....An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, .....turn the other also; and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, .....give your cloak as well; and if anyone forces you to go one mile, .....go also the second mile. Give to everyone who begs from you, .....and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

You have heard that it was said, .....You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, Love your enemies and .....pray for those who persecute you, .....so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; .....for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, .....and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, .....what reward do you have? .....Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, .....what more are you doing than others? .....Do not even the Gentiles do the same? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. ............................................................................................( Matthew 5:38-48 )

To some, that scripture from Matthew is a call for a passivity that will lead only to the suffering and death of a martyr.

We forget that martyr does not mean “sufferer.” It really means “witness.” Jesus did not suffer because he wanted to or because he could not help it. He suffered because he deliberately provoked the religious authorities to show their true selves. He succeeded. He forced them to reveal the truth about themselves, about their self-serving and limited conception of their holy task. In the process, he died. But in dying, he witnessed to the love and forgiveness of God even for those who killed him. For our sakes, he would not compromise that ultimate truth.

When suffering is the only possible means of witnessing effectively, we accept it as Christians. By the grace of God, it has proved very powerful over the ages. But for most of us most of the time, the best way to witness to the truth is not by suffering. The best way to witness is by standing up, holding up your head, telling what really happened, making a fuss, leaving an abusive situation, calling for justice.

Christian faith does have a commitment to martyrdom – martyrdom in its true meaning as “witnessing” to the love and truth of God. Martyrdom does not mean living like a doormat. There is nothing in the behavior or teaching of Jesus that encourages a life of complete passivity, a life that invites people to step on us. The life of forgiveness would be a strange and harmful kindness if it meant encouraging people in actions that are not good for themselves or for the people they harm.

Forgiveness is not about the past, it is about the future. Forgiveness is about the people doing the forgiving – who we are and who we are becoming. Forgiveness is about turning loose of the past so that we can live fully in the present while we build a new and surprising future with God and with one another. Forgiveness is about closing the door on the past and keeping open a door for future reconciliation and rebuilding. Forgiveness is more about being direct than being diplomatic. Forgiveness calls things by their true names. Forgiveness is not timid, it is fearless. Forgiveness is neither mealy-mouthed nor abusive, it is straightforward. Forgiveness does not seek to harm others by telling the truth. Neither does it refrain from telling the truth just because someone might be inconvenienced or their wrongs brought to light. Forgiveness is not a retreat from reality. To the contrary, it always looks outward. Forgiveness assumes a bold and engaged way of living. ..( excerpted from Forgiven and Forgiving, L. William Countryman, pp.70-71, 76-77 )

*** S P O I L E R *** *** A L E R T ***

This section reveals critical plot details and events of The Shack

If you have not read The Shack, then you might want to skip this section.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

GOD: (speaking to Mack about forgiving the man who kidnapped and murdered Mack's 6-year-old daughter and youngest child, Missy) This is not about shaming you. I don’t do humiliation, or guilt, or condemnation. They don’t produce one speck of wholeness or righteousness. ... Today we are on a healing trail to bring closure to this part of your journey - not just for you, but for others as well. Today, we are throwing a big rock into the lake, and the resulting ripples will reach places you would not expect. ... Son, you need to speak it, to name it. MACK: Papa, how can I ever forgive that son of a bitch who killed my Missy? If he were here today, I don't know what I would do. I know it isn't right, but I want him to hurt like he hurt me... If I can't get justice, I still want revenge. GOD: Mack, for you to forgive this man is for you to release him to me and allow me to redeem him. MACK: Redeem him? I don't want you to redeem him! I want you to hurt him, to punish him, to put him in hell... GOD: (Papa waited patiently for the emotions to ease.) MACK: I'm stuck, Papa. I can't just forget what he did, can I? GOD: Forgiveness is not about forgetting. It is about letting go of another person’s throat. MACK: But I thought you forgot our sins. GOD: Mack, I am God. I forgot nothing. I know everything. ... There is no law demanding that I bring your sins to mind. They are gone when it comes to you and me, and they run no interference in our relationship. MACK: But this man... GOD: But he too is my son. I want to redeem him. MACK: So what then? I just forgive him and everything is okay, and we become buddies? GOD: Forgiveness does not establish relationship. I have forgiven all humans for their sins against me, but only some choose relationship. Forgiveness is an incredible power – a power you share with [me], a power [I give] to all [I indwell] so that reconciliation can grow. MACK: I don't think I can do this. GOD: Forgiveness is first for you, the forgiver, to release you from something that will eat you alive, that will destroy your joy and your ability to love fully and openly. Do you think this man cares about the pain and torment you have gone through? If anything, he feeds on that knowledge. Don't you want to cut that off? And in doing so, you'll release him from a burden that he carries whether he knows it or not - acknowledges it or not. When you choose to forgive another, you love him well. MACK: I do not love him. GOD: Not today, you don’t. But I do, not for what he’s become, but for the broken child that has been twisted by his pain. I want to help you take on the nature that finds more power in love and forgiveness than hate. ... Forgiveness does not create a relationship. Unless people speak the truth about what they have done and change their minds and behavior, a relationship of trust is not possible. When you forgive someone you certainly release him from judgement, but without true change, no real relationship can be established. MACK: So forgiveness does not require me to pretend what he did never happened? GOD: How can you? But you can love him in the face of it. Forgiveness in no way requires that you trust the one you forgive. But should he finally confess and repent, you will discover a miracle in your own heart that allows you to reach out and begin to build between you a bridge of reconciliation. And sometimes – and this may seem incomprehensible to you right now – that road may even take you to the miracle of fully restored trust. Forgiveness does not excuse anything. Believe me, the last thing this man is, is free. And you have no duty to justice in this. I will handle that. MACK: Help me, Papa. Help me! What do I do? How do I forgive him? GOD: Tell him. Just say it out loud. There is power in what my children declare. MACK: I forgive you. I forgive you. I forgive you. GOD: Mackenzie, you are such a joy. MACK: So is it all right if I’m still angry? GOD: Absolutely! What he did was terrible. He caused incredible pain to many. It was wrong, and anger is the right response to something that is so wrong. But don’t let the anger and pain and loss you feel prevent you from forgiving him and removing your hands from around his neck. ...................................( excerpted from: The Shack, William Paul Young, pp. 225-229 )

Jesus does more than answer with words from the strict law of the Old Testament. Jesus lifts those words of love and forgiveness from the midst of the law and very plainly reveals to all of us that the words “You shall love the Lord your God” and “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” – these words are the very heart and essence of the law, these words are what the purpose of the law has always been.

God has a purpose for each one of us. The purpose of God for each one of us is reconciliation – reconciliation between each other and reconciliation between ourselves and God. God is engaged in a relentless search for the wayward children of God. God is the loving parent who never stops watching for the prodigal child ( Luke 15:11-32 ). God is the cleaning woman who never, never gives up searching for the one lost coin ( Luke 15:8-10 ). God is the good shepherd who never, never, never gives up searching for the one lost sheep ( Luke 15:3-7, Matthew 18:10-14 ). If God does not give up on us, then who are we to give up on each other?

In the play “All My Sons” by Tennessee Williams, a father, Joe Keller, is finally made to realize that he sold defective engines to the United States Air Force during World War II. The defective engines were responsible for several fatal plane crashes including the one that killed his own son. Late in the play, Joe Keller faces the hard reality of the conviction and condemnation of his own conscience and then tragically accepts through suicide that all the men who died in the place crashes for which he was directly responsible were indeed “all my sons.”

In the parable of the “Good Samaritan,” the victim is described only as “A certain man went down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and fell among thieves” ( Luke 10:25-37 ). Because of the location of his trip, we assume that he is Judean. Nothing is said about his race or marital status or family, his political or occupational or educational achievements, his economic status, his sexual preference, whether he has a criminal record, whether he is HIV or STD positive, whether he is a substance abuser - we know nothing about his goodness or badness or blandness. We know nothing of his character or history. His rescuer is a Samaritan and we are as ignorant of the Samaritan as we are of the Judean who was robbed and beaten. It is important to remember that at the time of the telling of this parable, Judah and Samaria were as cordial as present day Israel and Palestine. All we know is what happened to the Judean and how the Samaritan responded and that the response of the Samaritan was right and good and holy. The response of the Samaritan illustrates the Good News in action. In this parable, the response of the Samaritan portrays how we are to be the Kingdom of God - here and now - regardless of personal safety or blind assumptions, regardless of cultural expectations or dissuasions, regardless of empire requirements or restrictions.

Contrast these two views of the family of humanity. Tennessee Williams presents a narrow Old Testament view. We are bonded together through guilt and sin under the spiritual parentage of a wrathful God. The parable of the Good Samaritan presents a view that says each one of us is a child of God, resurrected by the grace of God, transformed by the love of God, and as children of God, we are reconciled and united by and for hospitality, generosity, justice and service.

Our mortal journey moves from life to death. Our faith journey moves from death to life. Our witness moves from retribution to rehabilitation, from vengeance to forgiveness. We will be free of the evil of the crime, the paralysis of the grief, the blindness of vengeance when we decide it is more important to celebrate with our lives the light of the lives of our lost loved ones instead of memorializing their loss by dwelling in the darkness of their death. We will be healed when we can say to the face of the wrong-doers, “Curtis Holsinger and Frank Dennis and Jessica Lopez, you are forgiven, you are forgiven, you are forgiven.” We will be reconciled and will have traveled well the forgiveness road when we can say that Curtis Holsinger and Frank Dennis and Jessica Lopez are children of God, the same as us, and we - the children of God - do not need abandonment or destruction or death. We, the children of God, need justice as a source of restoration. We, the children of God, need rehabilitation and forgiveness and reconciliation. We, the children of God, need grace and resurrection and transformation.

Justice is a righteous act. Justice is an act of righteousness, rehabilitation, restoration, and reconciliation. Justice can never be served or achieved with a wrongful act or with an act that makes justice impossible.

God does not call us to a life of war, violence, justice as condemnation and retribution, or hate - or to a nebulous life yet to be lived at some undefinable place at some unknowable time in an unpredictable future that is perpetually and uselessly beyond our grasp and existence.

God does call us to live - here and now - a  life of peace, a life of non-violence without vengeance, a life of forgiveness and reconciliation, a life of justice as rehabilitation and restoration, a life of hospitality, generosity, service and love. God does call us to live - here and now - the Good News. God does call us to be - here and now - the Kingdom of God.

Amen

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

Doug is a member of Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ), 4950 East Wabash Avenue, P.O. Box 3125, Terre Haute, IN 47803-0125 (812-877-9959). Central Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is an open and affirming congregation where Doug has served as Elder and Treasurer and enjoys his continuing membership in the choir as the lowest voiced bass. He graduated in 2009 with a M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction from Indiana State University and a BS in Management Information Systems from Ball State University in 1997. Since August 2005, he has been a member of the CIS Adjunct Faculty at the Terre Haute campus of Ivy Tech Community College of Indiana. He has been published in DisciplesWorld and Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons. Jason is a professional musician (oboe, flute, English horn, and piccolo) who is working on a Master's degree and licensure in Special Education.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

in sequence, the previous [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan: RECLAIMING CHURCH........still the #1 most-viewed article at [D]mergent and ...........................the lead article in a series calling for a radical Second Reformation ..................in Christian theology and in the structure of the institutional church and ..............in the family of faith - all to be considered as a way of living here and now. GOD IS......................................the #6 most-viewed article at [D]mergent. ....................More of an on-going participatory meditation than a finished definition. RECLAIMING GOD................a continuation of and response to GOD IS... RECLAIMING MIRACLES ...Miracles are prohibitively expensive. RECLAIMING NOT................now the #3 most-viewed article at [D]mergent and RECLAIMING NOT...................the controversial list of what is not the Good News. RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ...what is the Good News.

...with great love and appreciation, this article is dedicated to: Jason Sloan, my younger son, who continues to love me and has never given up on his imperfect earthly father, and Carol Sloan, my wife, whose steadfast love and loyalty is a blessing and a treasure beyond measure, worth, and words.

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -

It will be a few months before another article can be posted. It is time for me to return to the classroom as a member of the Ivy Tech CIS Adjunct Faculty. Speaking engagements can be arranged at: dcsloan128@msn.com.