Reconciliation

Tearing Down Walls

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By Dr. Mark Poindexter 

In the spring of 2010, due to the gracious generosity of the congregation I am part of, I was given the opportunity to spend twelve days in Israel and Jordan.  It was an amazing experience spending time in the place that I have spent much of my life learning about.  I rode in a boat on the Sea of Galilee and I floated in the Dead Sea.  I stood on top of Mt. Nebo and gazed, just as Moses did, into the land of promise.  I placed a prayer in the Western Wall of the Temple, walked the streets of Old Jerusalem and spent a day in the town of Bethlehem.  We celebrated communion on the Road to Emmaus, plunged ourselves into the Jordan River, and stood quietly next to the hill known as “The Place of a Skull.” It was a most memorable trip.

The most moving part of the experience, however, was not in visiting any of the historical places that play such a central role in my faith.  It was instead visiting the Palestinian Children’s Hospital in Jerusalem.  There Palestinian children, like the young girl pictured above, received care for chronic illnesses or were treated because of accidental injuries.  We were graciously received by the head doctor of the hospital, by the nurses and the social workers, and by the children as well.  One aspect of this hospital trip that was deeply disconcerting for me, however, was the near complete absence of the fathers of these children. Though mothers were everywhere to be seen, there was hardly a father anywhere.  I asked if this was because the fathers were at work. I was told for a very few that was the case, but for most their absence was the result of the family being from Bethlehem and it being nearly impossible for young adult males to get beyond the wall that Israel had put up in a proposed effort to stop suicide bombers.

I had seen the wall the day before when my group went to Bethlehem.  The wall is 468 miles of 25 foot high concrete slabs.  Israel calls it a security barrier. Others call it an Apartheid Wall.  What I call it is ugly.  The true extent of its ugliness became clear to me as I heard that it was keeping fathers from being with their hospitalized children.  To go to Israel is to go to a land of deep division.  Division between Palestinians and Israelis, along with division between Christian, Jew and Muslim.  Even the church of the Nativity in Bethlehem is divided up among the Roman Catholics, the Greek Orthodox and the Armenian Apostolic Church with each having a section of the church that they are responsible for. We hear a lot in the news about these divisions and the strife that results from it; along with the political, ethnic and religious reasons for it.  I know the matter is historically very complex.  But on the day that I visited the Palestinian Children’s Hospital the only division that mattered to me was that a father wasn’t allowed to be with their child.  It made me deeply sad and very angry.

You see, I have a daughter with a chronic illness.   Her illness resulted in one long stay in a children’s hospital and now she is required to go back every two months for treatment.  Along with my wife, I was with my daughter during her hospitalization and have accompanied her on many of her follow-up treatments.  The thought that I could not be with her during that time is a very difficult one to fathom.  History, religion, politics be damned . . . you keep me from my daughter then you and I have got a big problem.  One whose only correction is to let me be with my child.

I suppose the reason I tell this story is because behind the historical and political landscape through which we often hear the stories of other places are the very human stories of  children and parents, brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, neighbors and friends.  People who, in more ways than not, are just like us. They laugh, they cry, they play, they work, they try to provide for their families and they worry about their children.  After visiting the Palestinian Children’s Hospital, I was continually haunted by the thought of living in a place where a father would not be allowed to be present with his ill child – not because he was in jail or had done anything wrong, but simply because of who he was, a Palestinian man.

Of course, I do live in such a place for I live as a part of this world. As do all of us. Whatever our race, whatever our nation of origin, whatever our language, whatever religion we might practice, whatever political system we might be part of,  we all live together in this place. And we need to find a way to tear down the ugly walls that we too quickly and too often erect between each other.  We need to try and understand that we have much more in common with one other than we realize.  There will always be voices who say the walls, literal and figurative walls, are necessary for safety and security and to establish one’s own sense of identity. I fervently believe they are wrong.  All those walls ultimately do is continue to breed anger and hatred and, thus, perpetuate the cycle of violence. 

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For those of us who happen to be Christian, we have been given, according to the scriptures, the ministry of reconciliation . . . the ministry of tearing down the walls of hostility that exist between people (Ephesians 2:14).  It is our work.  It is the heart of the gospel.  And we need to be about our work with great diligence.  This is so for many reasons, but one I know of personally is that there are some young Palestinian children and their fathers who need the opportunity to be together.       

Father's Day Dreams of Dance

I have so many dreams for my son: theologian and New Testament scholar are on the list as well as swimmer and ballet dancer.  The first two are because that’s the family business, since my wife and I are both ministers.  The swimmer is because he loves the water and he has flippers for feet.  The dancer is because he loves music and loves to dance, and spends hours in front of his reflection trying to get the choreography (sometimes his own) just right.  To be completely honest, I am also a very big fan of the ballet, not that I ever was a dancer, but I like to dance.

I was pondering these dreams for my son as I rode my motorcycle to a clergy gathering, and then pondered how the ballet dancer has something to say about the role of clergy.  As an ordained minister I am constantly reading and discussing the Bible and theology-- it is my vocation, just as a dancer lives and breathes dance.  Good dancers train and have great discipline, as do good clergy.

I want to be clear that the art form of ballet is not the same mission as the church.  It is quite different, yet the art of dance is something we all should do in some form.  We do have professionals that give their whole life for the performances.  Many of are influenced by music and great themes within humanity, and some even by the Bible.  To this day, my favorite interpretation of Luke 15:11-32, “The Forgiving Father” was created by George Balanchine with the music by Sergei Prokofiev and titled the “The Prodigal Son.”

As a fan that is moved by such powerful performances by the dancers and choreographers, I am influenced to dance in my own life as well, to read body language and to move to the music, all of which is important to life.  I would be so proud if my son became a ballet dancer.

Without these professional artists we would not have the great performances that remind us of the great beauty of the human body and music.  That is one role of the clergy.  We are to demonstrate the beauty of the divine--but I do not simply mean during worship, as if it is a performance.  While I am pretty proud of my latest sermon and worship service, my greatest work last week was being with a woman who died with her family and friends surrounding her.

I was present and demonstrated love of God, mainly with the help of the Spirit, but my words and stance help me open to the Spirit: it is a dance. I must admit these pastoral moments are very emotional and very difficult, and the more I experience and even practice for such events the more graceful I become.

I think of the dancer’s pointe shoes.  The first time, she (or he, but usually a woman) wears pointe shoes, the pain is probably the only thing she feels.  Slowly it becomes part of them and they are able to dance and experience the grace and movement greater than the pain.

As ministers (laity and ordained) we are called to demonstrate the Grace of God despite the pain of life and death. I can picture the “Father” God of Luke 15 dancing to his son, the same God at the table where everyone is invited. Our ministry must be on pointe, that we need to show grace and affirmation to everyone, which includes the LGBTIQ community, for the church has caused much pain, stayed silent to many deaths.  We need to move beyond casually observing to actively participating in the dance, and to participate means to include everyone.   It may be painful for the clergy to say this (we may be afraid of losing membership, financial contributions, or other fears) but we must lead the church to the Grace of the Table, now.

My dream is to see my son dance.

Ashes, Ashes, we all fall down... or we can all find hope

Lent begins today, the traditional 40 days (not including Sundays) of repentance and reflection.  We hear the familiar words: journeying towards the cross, giving up something for Lent to help us draw closer to God, repenting where we have gone wrong, etc. Lent can be dark and depressing. But Lent can also be refreshing, a time for self-reflection, a time to deepen one’s faith.  Many churches have turned away from the dreary darkness of Lent and the self-denial towards a brighter outlook—preparing for the resurrection, taking on a spiritual practice to deepen one’s relationship.  Lent can be almost a joyous time, as the days get brighter and warmer and Easter approaches.

This year, Lent falls in the heat of the election cycle.  The language is getting more intense, the attacks have become personal, to the point of attacking our president’s own religious beliefs by make assumptions and declarations based simply on the fact that the president has a different viewpoint on an issue than a candidate.  In our own local politics, at times we hear that real Christians vote with one political party and not the other.  It is enough to make one’s head explode with rage or make my stomach turn over.

However you look at Lent, it has traditionally been a time of self-introspection.  As the political climate has become volatile, perhaps this year we might take the time of Lent to look inward.  Do I allow my own anger and rage to consume my thoughts and actions?  Do I take cheap shots and aim at others with the eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth mentality?  Do I determine that all those who differ from me are truly evil, greedy, selfish and ignorant?  Do I become the very thing that I detest in others?

And maybe it’s time to look outward: how can I best model the life and ministry of Christ in my own actions?  How can I stand up for the poor, the sick and uninsured, the immigrant, the suicidal teen, the imprisoned, the oppressed, without taking on the attributes of those who make my blood boil?

This season of Lent, I hope that those of us who claim Christ and the name of Christian might look at how we are engaging the political sphere as followers and witnesses of Jesus.  How can we uphold the inherit worth and dignity of all persons, even those who would not include us in the faith?  How can we speak out on matters of justice authentically without taking on the rage and insults that often accompany political discussion?

It is hard to be authentic and be consistent with our faith and action.  The disciples couldn’t cut it.  Peter followed Jesus throughout his ministry only to draw a sword in the garden and then desert Jesus when he was arrested.  So we shouldn’t feel too awful when we fail to follow through all the time.  But we should strive to minister in the way Christ ministered to others—to be concerned about people more than issues, doing right more than “being right,” and proclaiming the Good News (the Gospel) instead of judgment and condemnation.

And this Lent, as the political rhetoric at times makes me want to vomit, I am reminded that beyond the cross is the Resurrection.  We will get through this.  We will make it to the promised hope.  We will see the New Life promised by Christ.  And we have this promise now—it is up to us to live into that New Life here on earth.  It does us no good to become just like those we disagree with when their actions don't follow up to how Jesus ministered, but in following Jesus, we are shown the better Way.  We can either live in the darkness and ashes, or we can do our part to live into the resurrection.

Judgment Day (or Thanksgiving Day)

I was thinking about Mary and Martha the other day as I was preparing my Thanksgiving sermon.  I recognized the struggle to prepare for guests as I speedily cleaned my house in preparation for my mother-in-law’s visit this week.  But as I reflected on Martha and her reaction that so many of us are familiar with, I thought of something I hadn’t before: She actually tries to guilt-trip Jesus!  “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to do all the work by myself?”  Lord, do you not care? And I thought about the times I have tried to guilt-trip God.  The times I have felt that I was treated unjustly and wanted God to do something about it.  Rather, I wanted God to put that other person in their place.  I feel like this mainly while driving and another driver cuts me off or flips me the finger.  I want them to get what they deserve.

I am like Martha.  I am worried and distracted by many things and I want the other to be punished for what they have done.  I will waste time stewing over something that has no meaning in the rest of the world whatsoever but that this person has cut me off in traffic.  I will keep my anger rather than let it go, and will imagine a day when they learn what they did was wrong.  And I want God to make sure that happens.

I want karma, not justice.  And God doesn’t work that way.

In Ezekiel 34:16, God declares his judgment: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.”  At first, it sounds like God is going to destroy those that have been in the wrong.  But God says he will feed them with justice.

God’s justice is not retributive, but restorative.  God does not desire punishment but restoration.  The lost and the stray are brought in, the injured are cared for, the weak given strength.  Those that have been oppressors, instead of punishment, are fed justice.  The sins of desire and greed are defeated and destroyed.

For all of us have our shortcomings and failures.  All of us at time become oppressors.  All of us, if we have been the skinny sheep that Ezekiel talks about, have also been the fat sheep, focused on our own self-righteousness, that we are right and others are wrong and deserve to be punished.

Thank God that God doesn’t work that way!

So what does this have to do with Thanksgiving?

I was thinking of Mary and Martha and how many Thanksgiving dinners have been served by “Martha’s” frustrated with the “Mary’s” in their lives.  But most of the time, the “Mary’s” are not really like Mary, sitting at the feet of Jesus.  Rather, the others are sitting in front of the TV watching the parade or watching football.  Or the others are those not allowed in the kitchen by the “Martha’s” who have to have everything perfect.  The truth is few of us are really “Mary’s,” who sit in the presence of another simply to be present with them.   Most of us are “Martha’s.”  Either we’re too busy and distracted by all the things that have to be done or too busy and distracted by all the other things that occupy our time, instead of being present with each other.

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be present with one another, to give thanks for all we have.  Thanksgiving is the perfect time to be in each other’s presence and simply be glad for the opportunity God has given us to be present with each other.

And Thanksgiving is the perfect time to remember that God’s justice is not karma, but God’s justice is restorative.  It’s about reconciliation, healing, forgiveness, and love.  God’s justice is about restoration.  Maybe there is a family member who rubs you the wrong way.  Maybe a brother-in-law still owes you money from something way-back-when.  Maybe your daughter-in-law’s criticisms that you overheard still sting.  It’s easy to want, even ask God for, judgment against them.  It’s easy to want them to feel the pain you have felt, to suffer as you have suffered.  But it’s not God’s way.

So this Thanksgiving, in the words of Ezekiel, feed on God’s justice.  In the midst of the struggles and strife going on in our country and in our world, as much as we may want one person or one group to get what’s coming to them, that’s not what God wants for them, or for us.  God does not desire punishment.  God desires reconciliation.  Thanks be to God.

Saving the "Saved" language

Language is a complex concept to begin with.  Add in culture, another complex concept—with regional, ethnic and socio-economic facets—and then generational understandings, speaking to another person even in technically the same language may result in garbled nonsense when trying to have a dialogue.  Then throw in theological language with all those understandings and facets and you begin to understand why two Christians of the same denomination, even the same church, can sometimes believe that they believe in two different Gods, or two different Jesus’. Even though I grew up in a liberal mainline small congregation, in my high school and college years I got very concerned with “being saved,” and with others “being saved.”  Now I have to explain: for some “being saved” means being saved from hell and going to heaven.  For me, “being saved” meant being acceptable to God because somehow I believed in my original state—in other words, who I was—was somehow not good enough for God.  I grasped on to this concept of “being saved” through the end-of-the-week altar calls at church camp, summer after summer.  In college, this manifested itself in the Campus Crusade for Christ meetings and other such gatherings where, most of the time, older men told us that the things we were doing as typical teens and young adults were sinful, that we were separated from God and therefore unworthy.  To make matters worse, often young, charismatic adults were recruited in these gatherings to reach out to us to tell us how we needed to “be saved.”

So nevermind the teachings of my church.  Nevermind the feeling I had when I was thirteen of God moving in me that someday I would be a minister.  Nevermind that I had been baptized when I was thirteen.  I still needed to be saved.  And more than once.  It seemed like I was never good enough for God when all these people kept telling me I needed to be saved.  And I felt that I wasn’t doing my part because I wasn’t out trying to save others all the time (actually, I did try, and I strained a few friendships because of it—people who still to this day won’t set foot in a church, and I played my part).

During my junior year of college when I took a course titled “Fundamentals of Sociology” I began to understand the complexity of social structures, culture, and other layers of our communities.  Even though I am quite certain my professor wanted nothing ever to do with Christianity or religion for that matter (except to study it in research), I credit her with my understanding of systemic sin.  Through that course I began to understand the role of power and patriarchy at play in the Christian church tradition in general.  I began to see how the systems and structures in place in our world kept the power out of the hands of the poor and oppressed.  And I began to see how this power play was at work in the very language of my faith.

I abandoned the term “saved” at that time.  I wanted nothing to do with being saved.  I was definitely a follower of Jesus but I was no longer trying to coerce others to think and believe the way I wanted to.  I stopped using much of the language of the Christian youth gatherings I had been a part of.   I stopped singing the praise songs about redemption and sacrifice.  I stopped going to any gathering where crying would be part of the worship experience.  I wanted to get away from anything that was emotionally charged, where power played on the fears of others, where emotions were manipulated to get us to commit to a relationship we already had with God.  I refused to use the word “saved.”

Even in seminary I avoided the term “saved.”  I argued with my field education supervisor who told me that there may be times when I need to “speak the language” that I still could not bring myself to use a word that had been used in such a manipulative, even abusive, way.  I would not ever make someone feel that they were not good enough for God.  I would not ever use a word that had made me feel that I was hopeless, helpless, and unworthy, the way I had perceived others telling me I needed to be “saved.”

Then it happened.  A family started coming to my church, a blended family with unmarried parents.  One of the parents came to me and asked me about what they needed to do to be “saved.”  I was taken aback.  At first I tried to explain that God desires relationship with us and that we can be in relationship with God and others, but as we talked, I realized she was very concerned about wanting to be in heaven.  She needed the reassurance.  She needed the hope.  And I realized I could not have a different conversation about Christ without her having the assurance first that she was “saved.”  So I did something I hadn’t done in years.  We prayed a salvation prayer, similar to the ones I had learned in my conservative youth group days.

But the difference this time was that the journey didn’t end there.  This was the beginning.  We were able to continue to meet, dialogue, and pray together, and her understanding of relationship with God through Jesus developed far beyond just a doorway into heaven.

I’m still not a fan of saying one needs to “be saved” or “get saved” in terms of talking about my own faith journey.  But I recognize that while for me, that language seemed damaging and hurtful, for others, it is familiar and comforting.  And having known people coming out of addiction or out of prison, people who have been able to come out of the darkness of depression—sometimes, people really are “saved” by Christ, in the real sense of the word: without relationship with Christ, they would have been lost, dead.

There is a danger, and I know I am guilty of this, in allowing language to be co-opted by another group, to the point one refuses to use it anymore.  In the liberal/mainline church, we have begun to abandon the language of our tradition and have allowed it to be used and misused by others.  Evangelical basically means “eager to share the Gospel.”  The Good News of Jesus the Christ.  But we have allowed evangelical to mean a particular theological/political slant.  We have abandoned the language of redemption and salvation at times to leave behind blood atonement theologies that don’t work for us, choosing a friendlier language for Jesus (remember “Buddy Jesus” from Dogma?) as if Jesus went smiling to the cross, instead of suffering, and dying.

Language matters.  And sometimes we in the liberal/mainline church have given over the language of our tradition to the point that our language cannot cross social-cultural boundaries.  We cannot reach out to those looking for a more progressive church home who still value their faith in Jesus, who understand their Savior as one who has really saved them from a life of sin, or from a life without meaning, or from hell itself.

As our 21st century church cultures continue to shift and transform, I think we will find many more who have grown up in the evangelical or fundamentalist churches looking for congregations that are welcoming and affirming of GLBTQ folk, congregations committed to social justice, congregations truly trying to make a difference in the world around them, here and now.  But can we learn their language and even have a conversation, or do we assume that they are abandoning their concept of relationship with Jesus as Savior as they abandon the prejudices their old churches may have held?  Can we speak the language of “being saved” by Christ, and understand our own faith journey in a language that we have once shed?  Can we share our language in a way that is not condescending or judgmental of the variety of theological backgrounds we come from?

Kegger at Jesus'!

When I was in high school, I lived for someone's parents to leave and for the house party to go off. I was part of that group that played the music or threw the parties. I was not musically inclined outside of the random hardcore and punk groups I got to front. I was a really big fella. So, I got to bounce all the parties. When someone's parents were planning that weekend getaway, we were playing that weekend's kegger.

I get butterflies just writing about it now. So and so would inform someone that their parents were going out of town and that they would be left 'home alone!" That someone would call another person and soon the bands were organized, the kegs procured and the buzz spread. This was how our emerging suburban Los Angeles scene flowed.

That Friday after school we would show up to the "abandoned" house with sound equipment. We would set up and do a sort of silent sound check. Folks would arrive with the kegs (The funny part is that we used to buy Near Beer cause it was cheaper and we made more money from it. Nobody knew the difference.) The kegs would be iced and we would set a perimeter for security.

Then as evening approached the car loads of teenage boys and girls would park and walk up to the party. I would collect money from them and mark their hands with a marker. We could make a couple thousand of dollars from the five-buck admission we charged for Near Beer and "decent" angry youth music. Every once and a while I would let a cute girl in, hoping that would better my chance of her thinking I was cool and I could ask her out.

The backyard would fill up. Every nook and cranny would be filled and they all awaited the stage to light up and the band to play. We were kings of our little fiefdom fueled by punk and hardcore, all of us looking for something to be angry about or someone to listen to our anger.

The band would take the stage and unleash a massive wave of shock and awe upon the Near Beer soaked crowd of kissy-faced teens and macho shirtless, mohawked man-boys. We would storm our anger in to the pit and smash each others faces as we fought the changing world around us. Gone was the safety of Big Wheels and comic books. This was the post-Reagan era in an area roughed up by cuts to the Military Industrial Complex. We knew a few of us had a future; we just were not sure of who those few were. Our dream was to graduate high school and maybe get a job at SEARS fixing washer and dryers. We might be considering college as a way to escape the uncertainty but tonight we had the "pit."

Then, just as we really started getting in to it and that cute girl I let in for free was going to give me her number the COPS showed up. A neighbor had called the police and demanded they break up the party. There was a mass exodus from the backyard. Sweaty mohawked teens jumped fences carrying their teenaged angst with them. The "drunken" teen girls sat dazed and confused, only to be pulled up by their friends and make a mad dash to the other door. The police, almost lovingly, flashed their flashlights on the exiting crowds making sure they dumped out the beers and walked home.

The band tried to pack up really quickly so their gear would not get confiscated. The someone whose house it was cried inside as they saw their social life waver. I was gone when we saw the police pull up and shouted out to the others, "POLICE!" We were already a block over before the mohawked kids jumped the fence.

The parents are called and the someone is reprimanded. That someone has the potential to be legend. The parental fears are stoked and they never go on another vacation again.

I fear that the church looks at the younger generations with this kind of dread. "If we leave, they will mess it all up." True, we are excited and do not look at the world with the same kind of eyes. We are uniquely ourselves. We have different values. We have different priorities. We have different dreams and hopes for our lives. We have different pressures and woes. We are different.

Almost 20 years later, if left with an empty house I am more likely to got to bed early than throw a kegger. My youth is fleeting. I am nearer to 40 than I am to 30. In my youthful sunset I hear "We need young families/young adults/youth in the church" a lot. It seems to be all over the church profiles out there.

Every church is looking for a 30-something pastor. He is white, tall with a nice build. He has a beautiful wife that studied music in college and they have three lovely, well behaved children that angelically glide around church without a sound.

He is great with youth, can preach like Craddock, tell stories like Hemingway, is the best counselor, can fundraise blood from a turnip and will get butts in the seats to continue the ministry of the church just as it always has been.

The problem is that that guy no longer exists. No one can do everything.

There are countless folks out there searching for a place to serve. Every year we graduate another class of hopeful ministers in to a system with no room for them to serve. As the church wrestles with what to do many creative, young ministers leave ministry for "a job." They leave the church.

These are folks that our institutions have invested time, money and hope over a three to four year period. We have encouraged them to follow a discernment process towards a vocation that may or may not be able to embrace them. Our system is broken.

The brokenness of our church institutions and the slow moving process towards change has disabled our efforts to be the pioneering voice we once were. We exist primarily for ourselves. If your operating budget exceeds your mission budget you are inward focused. Jesus calls us to go out in to the world and make Disciples.

Have we abandoned this work? I hear "I love your ideas but we don't have any money." as much as I hear "We need to do something." What are we going to do? The angry, punker inside me demands more for this community I have aligned myself with.

You promised to walk with me in community and support when I took my vows of ordination. When I was baptized you as the church promised to raise me in the ways of Christ. I am weary of the inward focus. Who will stand up and be evangelized by the Millennials? Who will answer the call to receive the missionaries from Gen X?

There is a better way to be "church" in this world. The brick and mortar spaces we lovingly tend to may be hedging us in. How do we liberate ourselves from yesterday that we may die and be born again for tomorrow?

Who will join the party? Our parents are out of town and there is a raging party set to go off! Who is going to be there? All are invited. All are welcome. You just have to show up, be willing to rage and clean up afterwards.

Love Wins: A God of grace for all

Love Wins: A God of grace for all by Christian Piatt

I was psyched when Jarrod McKenna, one of the contributors to the forthcoming BANNED QUESTIONS book series, told me her had an interview of Rob Bell appearing on ABC Australia's news site about Rob's new book, LOVE WINS: Heaven, Hell and the Fate of Every Person who Ever Lived.

My initial excitement had to do with Jarrod's citation of a passage from BANNED QUESTIONS toward the end of the piece, but the central message of the interview, and apparently of the book, is far more significant than I expected.

Rather than paraphrase what Jarrod and Rob have already said so well, I'll just quote Rob from his book:

"Bell addresses one of the most controversial issues of faith - the afterlife - arguing that a loving God would never sentence human souls to eternal suffering. With searing insight, Bell puts hell on trial, and his message is decidedly optimistic - eternal life doesn't start when we die; it starts right now. And ultimately, Love Wins."

Did you hear that? It's the sound of thousands of conservative evangelicals closing their mental doors on Rob Bell in unison.

For some within mainline Christian circles, the prospect of "universal salvation," or the idea that God ultimately reconciles all of us into God's presence, regardless of our worthiness of such grace, may not be a real shock. But even the suggestion of what I consider "Christian Universalism" within evangelical circles is sure to send seismic ripples throughout the church.

And his claim has done just that.

Neo-Calvinist John Piper led the charge, bidding farewell en masse to Bell and his message of non-exclusive salvation. What, after all, do many Christians have to offer the world if not the key to unlock the gates of hell from the inside?

While Jonathan Edwards showed us, with his "Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God" sermon, that fear can galvanize a congregation, Bell's message is that love - and more specifically God's love - is bigger than the sum total of our fears, sins, and other shortcomings is a call in a growing chorus. This, in the truest sense of the word, is Gospel: Good News!

Chalice Press is offering a special promotion through ABC Australia of 40% off pre-orders of BANNED QUESTIONS books. Order in March through the Chalice Press site and enter the code "BANNEDQ1" at checkout.

REFORMATION II

REFORMATION II

The Second Reformation Sunday, October 31, 2010 on the 493rd anniversary of the posting of the Thesis of Martin Luther

Reclaiming the Fundamentals of The Way

by Douglas C. Sloan

The Way is to...

* live the sacred life - here and now - of the one universal Good News message as the Kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has never been, at any time for any reason, a capricious God of death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, only one culture, only one race or portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths or censorship – and who has never behaved as a Greco-Roman or narcissistic deity.

* worship God, who is singular, solitary, nonmaterial, immanent, transcendent – the sacred and ultimate reality, the divine mystery, the more – and who has always been a consistent God of life, peace, creation, truth, healing, rehabilitation, restoration, forgiveness, reconciliation, inclusion, participation, diversity, liberation, justice, resurrection, transformation, love and grace. There are neither multiple nor opposing divine forces or entities or identities or personalities. There is only God.

* know the grace of God to be unconditional and boundless – my acceptance by God requires nothing of me.

* know the love of God... .........to be unrelenting and unlimited; .........makes no exceptions and has no qualifications; .........to be the constant inviting presence of God; and .........to be the unconditional acceptance by God of me in my entirety as a gift.

* worship God, whose will is and who has always yearned for us to... .........be free and independent; .........think; .........be curious; .........be intelligent and wise; .........value knowledge over ignorance and compassion over knowledge; .........be creative; .........grow and mature; .........live long healthy satisfying lives; .........live non-violently without vengeance; .........be generous; .........be hospitable; .........be compassionate; .........do no harm; .........heal and rehabilitate and restore; .........forgive and reconcile and include all and have all participate; .........be good stewards of all resources; .........live here and now as one family; .........live in a loving intimate relationship with God; .........be transformed through resurrection; and .........be the kingdom of God.

* worship God, who has always been the same and whose character does not change and who is not capricious or abusive or narcissistic. God performs neither miracles nor acts of retribution. God neither saves nor condemns. God has never required and never accepted a sacrifice by anyone for any reason. God desires worship as relationship, not praise or euphoria. God does not preplan or predestine or interfere with the course or end of my life.

* reject as components or identifying characteristics or requirements of faith and worship and church and Christianity and life and God and Jesus and the Good News message and the Kingdom of God: death, war, murder, destruction, violence, abuse, vengeance, hate, fear, lies, slavery, systemic injustice, oppression, conditional acceptance, exclusion, segregation, discrimination, shunning, ostracism, eternal condemnation, eternal punishment, retribution, sacrifices, patriarchy, matriarchy, empire, nationalism, the superiority of one culture or one race or some portion of the population, parochialism, sectarianism, dogma, creeds, pledges, oaths, censorship, the valuation of thoughts or beliefs or praise or euphoria over justice and service and relationships, and any consideration of post-mortal existence.

* read scripture... .........as a sacrament for the experience and presence of God; .........for inspiration and motivation and contemplation and meditation and .........spiritual truth and insight and illumination about .........how God is a presence and influence in my life and .........to better understand the love and grace of God and .........to discern how God is calling me forward and .........beyond my previous understanding of God .........to a better and more complete and more mature understanding of God and .........how God is calling me forward .........to a more loving relationship with others and with God.

* know the best understanding of scripture requires... .........a scholarly knowledge of the original languages of the scripture and .........the linguistic devices used in the scripture .........(cultural assumptions, coded language, humor, sarcasm, hyperbole, .........poetic metaphor, etc.), .........of the cultural and historical environment in which the scripture was written, .........and .........of the people of that time by whom and for whom the scripture was written.

* know scripture as the metaphorical and narrative and thoughtful writings by the ancestors of my faith, who recorded their contemporary and historical, personal and cultural perception and understanding of the presence and influence of God in their lives and in the life of their community. While, at most, it can be persuasive or instructional, the scripture is not controlling.

* know the community of followers of The Way and worship and living the Good News message as the Kingdom of God to be more important than dogma and creeds and land and structures and debt and continuing expenses and material abundance and wealth accumulation and to be more important than pledges and oaths and empire and nationalism and patriotism and citizenship and civic religion and patriarchy and matriarchy and parochialism and sectarianism and political influence and social standing and financial clout.

* know largess to be more important than largeness and to hold that generosity and hospitality to all is a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God.

* know compassionate service to those who are hurt or lost or oppressed as a fundamental element of the Good News message and a defining characteristic of the Kingdom of God. Service requires partnership between the server and the served. Holy and wholesome service requires that the server be competent and healthy. Service is not slavery, not some form of enforceable servitude, and not an opportunity or a justification for the server to be oppressed or abused.

* know that as the children of God, we are one family in one place. There are no races, no tribes, no indigenous peoples, no ethnic groups, no castes, no nations, no royalty, no aristocracy, no social classes, no economic classes, no genders, no sexual orientations, no geography, no religions, no denominations, no sects, no churches, no elite, no privileged, no saved, no unsaved, no slaves, no outcasts, no untouchables – none of these are a consideration or a barrier or a limitation to the possession and development and utilization of time and effort and gifts and talents for service to others or participation in the Kingdom of God – there is no “us” and no “them”, no “here” and no “there”, no families other than the one family of all people together in one place as the children of God.

* know Jesus as: an intelligent compassionate Jewish mystic who had a strong persistent connection to and participation in and understanding of God; who could explain the reality of God to others and introduce them to a personal experience of God and a personal relationship with God; a messenger of the Good News and an example of the Kingdom of God. Because Jesus was effective as a messenger and successful as an example, he was killed. Both in message and self-understanding, Jesus was non-messianic and non-eschatological.

* know an experience of “the resurrected Jesus” or any other positive divine experience as an experience of the immediate and tangible presence of God, to know with confidence the reality of being and being in and of the Kingdom of God.

* not regard Jesus as divine or as a sacrifice or atonement or ransom or a substitute for me. The Good News message and the Kingdom of God and the presence and experience of God are what are divine in mortal life. Because of the love and grace of God, sacrifice and atonement and ransom and substitution on my behalf are not required for me to be accepted by God and to participate fully in and as the Kingdom of God.

* know the reemergence and revitalization of the disciples after the death of Jesus: ......–– as the first followers of The Way; ......–– as the first Good News resurrection and transformation; ......–– as the first example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation do exist and ......–– do not require death as a precedent; ......–– as example and witness that ......–– resurrection and transformation are available to all; and ......–– as example and witness that ......–– the Kingdom of God is here and now and active.

* know baptism, regardless of the method used, as a public act of private intent – to commit to living as a follower of the Good News message by being the Kingdom of God. Other followers are to provide the new follower with tolerance (ideally, acceptance) and the safety of time in a place devoid of condemnation and retribution which is necessary for the new follower to put behind and to put away a past life, to let the previous life die and in its place resurrect a new transformed life and person.

* know communion, regardless of the frequency it is shared or what elements are used, as a public act of universal unity. We gather at an open table where, without exception and without qualification, all are invited. At an open table, we celebrate and affirm the ever-present life of the Good News message and the ever-present all-inclusive unifying love of the Kingdom of God.

* proclaim “Jesus is Lord” and mean that I have no other Lord, that no person of any social or political or religious position has dominion over my life. To proclaim “Jesus is Lord” is to take a moral and spiritual stance and to commit an act of radical counter-cultural non-violent defiance of the oppression and systemic injustice committed by empire and civic religion and by individuals who are more interested in power over others than in service to others. My faith is personal. My faith is not a matter of proxy or the authority of others.

* know that the Good News message is not a loss of my freedom or independence, indeed, it is a much fuller realization of my freedom and independence; is not a forsaking of intelligence or wisdom or knowledge or the search for new knowledge or learning or finding new ways to see reality, or new insights into the workings and purposes of reality, or discovering or creating new visions of what reality could be; is not to forsake seeking or questioning or doubting or examination or reexamination or analysis or reanalysis. The Good News is dynamic, not static; is life, not death, not after death; is growth, not stunted development; is moving forward and moving beyond my current existence and is moving forward and moving beyond my current understanding of my existence and of God.

* be guided and instructed by the Good News message, which is: ......–– God is unconditional boundless grace and unlimited unrestrained love ......–– and always has been;

......–– God wants to have a loving intimate relationship with each of us ......–– without exception and without qualification;

......–– seek justice as healing and rehabilitation and restoration;

......–– seek universal reconciliation and inclusion and participation;

......–– in healthy partnership, ......–– compassionately serve all who are hurt or lost or oppressed;

......–– be generous and hospitable to all;

......–– live non-violently without vengeance and ......–– with a cheerful fearlessness of death and worldly powers; and

......–– be – here and now – the Kingdom of God.

Whatever we do – Whatever we are – Wherever we are – – can never separate us from the love and grace and the surrounding and inviting and welcoming and inclusive presence of God.

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REFORMATION II - letter size --- 8.5" x 11", 6 pages (appropriate size for copying and sharing)

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BIOGRAPHY 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. In the summer of 2010, Doug became a contributor to [D]mergent. Of the 7 articles he wrote, 5 are in the top 10 most-viewed articles at [D]mergent. Doug is married to Carol, a First Grade teacher, and is the father of two sons.

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STUDY RESOURCES To better understand the theology of Reformation II, please read the previous seven [D]mergent articles by Doug Sloan, listed here in order of publication: ..........RECLAIMING CHURCH ..........GOD IS... ..........RECLAIMING GOD ..........RECLAIMING MIRACLES ..........RECLAIMING NOT ..........RECLAIMING the GOOD NEWS - an epistle ..........RECLAIMING FORGIVENESS - it's personal

THESIS OF MARTIN LUTHER - in English

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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.