Archives For pacifism

brianzahndmainbookThis week on the podcast we’ve got Brian Zahnd, author and the founding pastor of Word of Life Church in Missouri.

About a decade ago, Brian had an epiphany/spiritual crisis that eventually led him away from his previously held evangelical, word-faith Christianity and into a rediscovery of the sacramental faith of the ancient Church.

The result, in my opinion, is that Brian preaches the most theologically robust sermons of any preacher in America, rooted in the faith and understanding of the ancient Church Fathers and Mothers.

Because his is a pre-Western vision of Christianity, I think it’s one perfectly-suited for the post-Christian West.

Like me, Brian is a huge fan of David Bentley Hart, Bob Dylan, the National.

Like me, he’s a literature and art snob and I even get him to confess it.

The author of Beauty Will Save the World and Unconditional– both of which I highly recommend- Brian’s upcoming book is A Farewell to Mars: An Evangelical Pastor’s Toward the Biblical Gospel of Peace.  51t1N+J6DgL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_

Check it out.

Here’s the interview.

My underling left God’s work to go work for THE MAN so until I learn how to splice and dice you’ll have to listen sans the cute cue music.

You can also download it in iTunes or, better yet, download the free mobile app, which you can use to listen to old installments of the podcast and look for future ones.

#notbugsplat

Jason Micheli —  April 9, 2014 — Leave a comment

jr_kpk_fullOnce the Roman Empire ‘became’ ‘Christian’ for all intents and purposes war became Christian too.

Whereas in the original centuries of the Church’s history conversion to discipleship required the renunciation of violence and participation in war, after Constantine established Christianity as the imperial religion theological justification reflection became required for the Church.

Credited to St. Augustine of Hippo, what developed over the centuries was a set of criteria for determining when it is appropriate for those in authority to go to war (just ad bellum) and what moral restraint should be shown in the waging of war (jus in bello)– what’s known today as the Just War Tradition.

While I would argue, along with many in the military, that the President’s program of drone warfare violates jus ad bellum, I think it’s a clearer case for how drone warfare exemplifies exactly the sort of violence  jus in bello is meant to avoid.

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The two traditional criteria for jus in bello are “discrimination” and “proportionality.”

War is moral, says the Christian tradition, only if civilians are never intentionally targeted.

Extreme care must be taken even to avoid “accidental” civilian deaths, what in contemporary parlance was once euphemistically called “collateral damage” but now in the age of drones called “bugsplat.”

Proportionality in this context points to the just war claim that even in a justified war fought discriminately, one should use only the level of force necessary only to achieve one’s legitimate objectives.  Restraint should be shown not just to civilians; even enemy soldiers are neighbors who must not be killed unnecessarily.

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Behind the jus in bello criteria then are two fundamental convictions rooted in the Christian faith:

1. Because war is a sin- even when it’s necessary and just- then it is better to die than to kill wrongly.

2. Because it’s better to suffer or die than to cause unjust suffering or death, any warfare that is executed invisibly or secretly is inherently immoral.

Citizens must know the sacrifice what we ask our fellow citizen soldiers to make in our name, and we must also know who is sacrificed in the name of justice, peace, security…you name it.

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Because we believe we’ve seen God in the face of Christ, Christians must always insist to see the faces of our enemies killed in war because, even there, God takes flesh.

Indeed any person who worships in the name of one who himself was an innocent victim of the State should feel solidarity with all innocent victims of violence.

I bring all this up because A) it’s almost Holy Week and B) I came across an art installation that is thoroughly Christian in sentiment if not conviction. It perfectly shows how prophetic art can be and Christians should be.

This is from the website:

In military slang, Predator drone operators often refer to kills as ‘bug splats’, since viewing the body through a grainy video image gives the sense of an insect being crushed.

To challenge this insensitivity as well as raise awareness of civilian casualties, an artist collective installed a massive portrait facing up in the heavily bombed Khyber Pukhtoonkhwa region of Pakistan, where drone attacks regularly occur. Now, when viewed by a drone camera, what an operator sees on his screen is not an anonymous dot on the landscape, but an innocent child victim’s face. 

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The installation is also designed to be captured by satellites in order to make it a permanent part of the landscape on online mapping sites.

The project is a collaboration of artists who made use of the French artist JR’s ‘Inside Out’ movement. Reprieve/Foundation for Fundamental Rights helped launch the effort which has been released with the hashtag #NotABugSplat

The child featured in the poster is nameless, but according to FFR, lost both her parents and two young siblings in a drone attack. 

The group of artists traveled inside KPK province and, with the assistance of highly enthusiastic locals, unrolled the poster amongst mud huts and farms. It is their hope that this will create empathy and introspection amongst drone operators, and will create dialogue amongst policy makers, eventually leading to decisions that will save innocent lives.

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barth-and-luther-king-1962It was a wake-up call for me when, a few years ago, my sponge-of-a-student son seemed not to know that Martin Luther King was, like his Dad, a clergyman.

A preacher.

(Here he is pictured with Karl Barth, who also always thought of himself firstly as a preacher.)

Not only is Martin Luther King’s vocation largely ignored so is the message he preached at the end of his- as opposed to the one that occupied the height of his fame.

Martin Luther King Day  died preaching not simply civil rights- as we tell our children- but Christian nonviolence.

He died a martyr for the message of the non-violent love of the Cross.

It seems appropriate on Martin Luther King Day to pass this article on the persecution of Christians today around the world:

You can read the full article here.

The concept of Christian martyrdom may seem like something from a bygone, uncivilized era when believers were mercilessly thrown to the lions. Not so. This week, Open Doors, a non-denominational group supporting persecuted Christians worldwide, reported that Christian martyrdom has grown into a pervasive and horrifying human rights crisis.

In their annual report of the worst 50 countries for Christian persecution, Open Doors found that Christian martyr deaths around the globe doubled in 2013.  Their report documented 2,123 killings, compared with 1,201 in 2012. In Syria alone, there were 1,213 such deaths last year. In addition to losing their lives, Christians around the world continue to suffer discrimination, imprisonment, harassment, sexual assaults, and expulsion from countries merely for practicing their faith.

Once again, the worst persecutor of Christians is North Korea, where an estimated 50,000 to 70,000 followers of Jesus are suffering in prison camps for “crimes” such as owning a Bible, going to church, or sharing their faith.  In November 2013, it was reported that 80 prisoners were publicly executed, many for possessing Bibles. Last year, North Korea sentenced an American missionary, Kenneth Bae to 15 years of hard labor in a prison camp.  The U.S. State Department has lobbied unsuccessfully for his release.

Prisoners are packed into 40’x38’ metal shipping containers, normally used for transporting cargo.

Christians are obviously not the only North Koreans in prison camps.  But former captives have reported that they often attract the worst treatment because the regime is particularly enraged by the worship of any other being than the Supreme Leader, who forces North Koreans to treat him as a deity.

It’s chilling to imagine worse treatment than what the average North Korean prisoner has reported, including a mother forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, and tales of subsisting on nothing more than rats andinsects. According to first-hand accounts from former prisoners reported by Amnesty International, “every former inmate at one camp had witnessed a public execution, one child was held for eight months in a cube-like cell so small he couldn’t move his body and an estimated 40% of inmates die from malnutrition.

Syria, ranked as the third-worst country by Open Doors, has devolved in the last year to a horror show for Christians. The Hudson Institute’s Nina Shea noted in December 2013 a message she received from a contact in Syria who reported, “Kidnapping, killings, ransom, rape . . . 2013 is a tragedy for Christians in Syria. All Syrians have endured great suffering and distress. The Christians, however, often had to pay with their lives for their faith. Our bishops and nuns have been kidnapped, our political leader killed by torture. After our Christian villages have been occupied, our churches have been destroyed and even mass graves were found in Saddad. [T]he Islamists have put [to] the Christians the alternative: Islam or death. Why [is] the West justwatching?

Some of the most harrowing stories about how Christians are persecuted have come from the African country of Eritrea, which Open Doors lists as the twelfth worst country in the world for Christian persecution.  In his 2013 book, The Global War on Christians, reporter John L. Allen Jr., writes that in Eritrea, Christians are sent to the Me’eter military camp and prison, which he describes as a “concentration camp for Christians.” It is believed to house thousands being punished for their religious beliefs.

Prisoners are packed into 40’x38’ metal shipping containers, normally used for transporting cargo. It is so cramped that it’s impossible to lie down and difficult even to find a place to sit. “The metal exacerbates the desert temperatures, which means bone chilling cold at night and wilting heat during the day….believed to reach 115 degrees Fahrenheit or higher,” Allen writes.  One former inmate…described [it] as “giant ovens baking people alive.”  Prisoners are given next to nothing to drink so “they sometimes end up drinking their own scant sweat and urine to stay alive.”  The prisoners are tortured, sexually abused, and have no contact with the outside world.  One survivor of the prison described witnessing a fellow female inmate “who had been beaten so badly her uterus was actually hanging outside her body.  The survivor desperately tried to push the uterus back in” but couldn’t prevent the inmate’s excruciating death.

At a December 2013 speech to a conference organized by Georgetown’s Religious Freedom Project, Allen told the audience, “I always ask Christians in countries [where persecution occurs], what can we do for you?  The number one thing they say is, “Don’t forget about us.”

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“Look, I know that I’m a shitty wife and I’m not winning any Mother of the Year awards, but I you to know that not for one second do I think there is malice in your heart. You’re not a killer, and I know that. I know that, so – so do whatever you have to do to keep this group safe. And do it with a quick conscience.”

– Lori Grimes to Rick Grimes, Walking Dead: Season 3

“There is no way from us to God — not even via negativa not even a via dialectica nor paradoxa. The god who stood at the end of some human way — even of this way — would not be God.”

– Karl Barth

I’ve been on both a Karl Barth and a The Walking Dead binge the past couple of nights. One might imagine that the drudgery of the former would militate against the insomnia provoked by the latter but I’m here to report that this has not been the case.

No, the past few nights I’ve dipped back into §1.14 of Barth’s Church Dogmatics and then, very much awake, have turned to Netflix to watch the most recent season of The The Walking Dead.

Today, bleary-eyed with only a few hours of sleep, I’m nearly caught up in both my Barth and my Grimes.

Happy accidents happen when Barth’s ‘strange new world of the bible’ elides into the wasteland of the zombie apocalypse.

Just last night, I was underlining phrases and sentences concerning Barth’s understanding of revelation, in which Barth refuses to countenance any culturally palatable ‘low’ Christology; that is, for Barth Jesus is no mere human teacher of (humanly-deduced) divine wisdom.

No, Barth insists that, in Jesus Christ, God entered history.

The infinite entered the finite.

For Barth, ‘revelation’ names the once for all, decisive interruption of time by God. Better yet:

Revelation = Jesus Christ = The Eruption within Time of God. Barth Homeboy

The incarnation, Barth argues, is the first dawn of New Creation, the light, as John says, shining in the darkness.

The cross, meanwhile, is the perfect sacrifice for sin.

The world changed on Good Friday, 33 AD.

For all time.

Redemption, we profess, has been accomplished by God. In Christ. At Golgotha.

And we know that for certain, we confess.

Through the empty tomb.

And we are to live now as though that were true.

Or, as the Barthian Stanley Hauerwas writes, we are to live in such a way that makes no sense if Christ has not been raised from the dead.

Or, as Barth’s student and Hauerwas’ mentor writes, we are to live in the confidence that people who bear crosses for mercy’s sake work with the grain of the universe.

Now, I admit the above can sound like so much abstract theologizing- just one more example of an esoteric, impracticable intellectual.

Except when you follow your Barth with a zombie chaser.

Because when applied to the deracinated world of Rick Grimes, it suddenly becomes clear just how radically cruciform is Barth’s insistence on living as though the New Age has dawned.

In its macabre exaggeration, the world of The Walking Dead brings to the fore the paradox of faith that is only latent in our ‘civilized’ world:

“…the Christian is the incomprehensibly daring man, who affirms in an unredeemed world that its redemption has been accomplished…”

Unlike our present world perhaps, a world crawling-swarming- with walkers/biters/zombies is pretty obviously an unredeemed one. And it’s “unredemption” both necessitates and justifies actions that are rarely redemptive.

The unredeemed world of The Walking Dead excuses any action necessary to insure the survival of its characters.

In Season 3 of the Walking Dead the primary cast seek refuge in a state prison where only a few convicts survive.

Lori, the unfaithful wife of the hero Rick, tells her husband:

“Look, I know that I’m a shitty wife and I’m not winning any Mother of the Year awards, but I you to know that not for one second do I think there is malice in your heart. You’re not a killer, and I know that. I know that, so – so do whatever you have to do to keep this group safe. And do it with a quick conscience.”

Pep talk finished, Rick goes into the bowels of the prison and offs not just zombies but the members of the ‘other’ group, the ‘unredeemed’ world driving him to do what he never would’ve done before.

There’s an unmistakable sense in which the title of the graphic novel and the show refer not to the zombies but to the survivors of the zombie apocalypse.

Rick, for one, is walking dead in the sense that with each action justified and taken by the world’s unredemption he becomes less and less human.

The impractical challenge of the Barthian insistence that we live as though the cross has initiated the New Creation in which Christ is King is further demonstrated in how the WD’s characters refuse to see the zombie ‘other’ as people. Or former people, which is to say victims.

The a-Barthian way Rich Grimes et al treat the ‘walkers’ is an unmistakable echo of the a-Christ-like way we treat those so neatly categorized as ‘collateral damage.’

How the danger posed to us determines and declares just what we do to others.

Indeed, for someone who enjoyed irony and paradox, I suspect Barth would revel in how the only character in The Walking Dead who persists in seeing zombies as people is “The Governor,” the villain of the storyline, who surreptitiously locks his ‘biter’ daughter in his apartment because he can’t bring himself to dispose of her.

No matter how ‘other’ she appears, he can’t treat her as though she were anything but human. Anything but redeemed.

Read in isolation, sometimes Barth can seem abstract. Irrelevant even.

Read in tandem with Rick Grimes, however, it becomes obvious how the world of The Walking Dead is but a raggedy approximation of our own- a world where abandoning the way of Jesus for necessity’s sake makes a hero like Rich less and less human and where clinging to the way of Jesus makes the Governor a barbarian.

 

 

matthias-grunewald-947266Mark Tooley, at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, had this post recently, in which he wildly caricatures Christian pacifists, like Stanley Hauerwas.

First, Tooley lobs the, predictable, Nieburian charge that Christian pacifism is ‘unrealistic.’ (It’s appropriately ironic that Reinhold Niebuhr’s theology is passe to every one but Mark Tooley and Barack Obama.

Secondly, Tooley goes a step further and discounts Christian pacifism as even a legitimate form of Christian witness, which will come as a surprise to Mennonites who for half a millenia have seen no other conclusion to draw from the story of the Cross.

And Mennonites are not liberal.

If you make your own clothes but DON’T sell them on Etsy or post them on Pintarest– you’re not a lefty.

To the second charge, that Christian nonviolence is not a legitimate form of witness to the faith.

Pacifism refers to the rejection of all war or participation in war- by Christians.

Radical? Leftist? Utopian? Unrealistic?

Who would, in good conscience with the injustices of the world all around, support such a way of life?

The first Christians, that’s who.

Like the first 3 centuries of them.

As in, the followers of Christ most proximate to Christ himself.

Like Jesus’ brother, who like his elder, went non-violently to his death having been condemned unjustly by the Sanhedrin.

While there is evidence to suggest the early Christians recognized the legitimacy of war as an instrument of the state, they assumed their primary citizenship (the Kingdom of God) barred their own participation.

There were a variety of reasons for this pacifism.

For some, they had the expectation that Jesus would soon return and history as we know it would quickly be at an end. There is no need even to participate in attempts to preserve order and justice if a new order is about to be inaugurated.

As well, participation in the Roman Army—the primary option for early Christians—involved pledging allegiance to Caesar (a god) which Christians refused to do.

Not to mention, of course, the Roman Army was often involved in violent persecution of Christianity. Obviously, there was little incentive for participation in the Roman Army, and Christians were hardly welcome in it.

Nonetheless, above all these factors, it was the abiding sense that it was impossible to obey and follow Jesus- who’d taught his followers to love their enemies, turn the other cheek, carry their own crosses and who’d died on a cross himself rather than kill- and participate in state-sanctioned killing.

While the commitment to pacifism did not last beyond the first three of centuries (once the Empire was ‘Christian’ it was easy to baptize any cause or action taken up by the Empire) there has always been a significant minority of Christians who have regard participation in war as inappropriate.

There have always been some Christians who refuse to go to war in obedience to Jesus’ teaching and example and as a witness to Christian convictions and hopes.

Other Christians have justified pacifism by also insisting that non-violent means are effective as instruments of justice and order, more effective, indeed, than violence and war, which sow seeds of hatred and disorder that only contribute to an ongoing cycle of discord.

If that sounds unrealistic, consider how the Christian pacifist Martin Luther King, Jr. is now the only non-President on the National Mall.

That is-

Not too far from where the IRD issues its a-theological screeds against Christian non-violence is a hulking huge monument to the transformative power of exactly what the IRD asserts lacks both persuasive power and biblical warrant.

And, to make the point, MLK’s monument will presumably endure much longer than the IRD.

As will the theological legacy of Stanley Hauerwas.

As King himself taught, what Jesus taught was not passivity or acquiescence to injustice, evil, or abuse, but creative non-violent resistance that affirms and expresses the dignity of those who are oppressed.

Jesus’ third way, between violence and inaction or passivity.

Early Christian commitment to pacifism was related to the Roman imperial context in which the early church existed.

A significant body of contemporary scholarship has lifted up the way in which Christian faith and life was understood as a conscious and explicit resistance to Roman imperialism and the theological claims which were used to justify Roman authority.

For example, the earliest Christian affirmation of faith, “Jesus is Lord,” was intended as a repudiation of the claim that “Caesar is Lord.”

Now, to the first charge.

To call Hauerwas’ pacifism unrealistic is to miss (willfully I can only guess, for no one can be that philosophically dense) the radically Christocentric, and thus deeply realistic, character of Hauerwas’ vision.

As JR Daniel Kirk puts it:

The earliest Christians were not naïve about how power worked. They were not blind to the brutal realities of tyranny and the need to stand against it.

That’s precisely why the earliest followers of Jesus lived in eager anticipation of the time when Jesus would overthrow their Roman overlords. That’s precisely why they literally could not hear Jesus’ promise that he was going to die as messiah. That’s precisely why they wanted to call down fire from heaven on those who rejected them. That’s precisely why they thought Jesus a failure after he was crucified.

“But we had thought he was the one who was going to redeem Israel?”

The temptation didn’t go away. The temptation to imagine that true peace, true freedom, could only be had if someone came who acted like Rome but out Romed Rome–better deployment of troops, better handling of swords.

The next generation of Jesus followers faced it to.

That’s what Mark 13 is about: false Christs will arise saying, “I’m the guy!” What’s the context? The time when Jerusalem’s stones will be thrown down. The time when Rome executes its next devastating act of military victory over Judea in AD 70.

The time when Christians are not to get carried away, thinking that the way to the reign of God, of peace, of justice upon the earth is to be had by way of the sword.

The temptation didn’t go away.

The idea that the transformation of the economy of power in the world might happen by something other than the sword has never caught on. Rome’s been gone for over a thousand years, Jesus is still proclaimed as Lord long after such an acclamation has ever been given to a Caesar, but still we do not believe it.

The innocence of the dove alludes us, even as we call ourselves Christians.

The subversive alternative of the Dove to the Eagle alludes us, despite its descent upon Jesus at his anointing to his messianic office

While I don’t insist the witness of Mennonites is the necessary form of faith for all Christians, I do not think it legitimate.

You would be outraged, wouldn’t you, if I said you must concur with the Mennonite vision to be a true Christian, serious about both the Gospel and the world?

You should be so outraged when someone like Tooley insists on the very same thing but in the opposite direction.

Brian_-_September_30__2008Pope Francis has called for today to be a day of prayer and fasting for peace in Syria. Catholic or not, at a time when Christians are diffused over so many different communions and traditions, Pope Francis offers a helpful singular voice of faith, a Christ-like perspective that transcends national and cultural distinctions.

There’s absolutely no defensible Christian reason not to do exactly what Francis calls Christians to do. I’ve now been at my present congregation long enough that youth I once saw dressed awkwardly for their confirmation are now wearing uniforms. I don’t want to see them wearing flags, as palls. As for their parents, this is more than an academic, theological question for me.

Francis’ is the loudest Christian voice reflecting on the Church’s vocation in times of war.

Popular author, Rachel Held Evans, has this piece in which she also counsels prayer and fasting.

Mark Tooley, at the Institute on Religion and Democracy, has this one, in which he concedes more than counsels that Christians can pray for peace.

Meanwhile, Brian Zahnd, a pastor and author in Missouri, has this post, essentially urging Christians to be a prayer for the world.

The distinction is important.

While I can’t say I’m a fan of Rachel Held Evans, I do admire the openness with which she wrestles the Christianity of her upbringing. My lack of fandom probably owes only to the fact that, unlike her, I grew up neither Southern nor Evangelical. I’m also aware that minus Fleming Rutledge there’s a paucity of female theologians referenced on this blog so I feel badly that I’m being critical now.

Nonetheless…in her post, ‘When It’s Too Big,’ RHE commends prayer because the Syrian issue is too complex and the right ‘solution’ too elusive. Because it’s ambiguous what Christians should do, the least they can do is pray.

I’m likewise reticent to critique Tooley’s post because I don’t want to be excoriated on the IRD blog the same way Rachel herself was a time ago. Still, reading ‘Syrian War and Churches’ you’d conclude Tooley thought Christians were just foolish people except that he’s one himself.

‘Syrian War and Churches’ lauds the Archbishop of Cantebury’s support of Syrian intervention because it meets Just War criteria, which, in its lack of any defined, measurable goal, it most definitely does not.

Let’s never mind the inconvenient truth that Just War Theory has NEVER prevented Christians from engaging in war. That it hasn’t suggests Just War Theory is less about discerning how Christians should navigate their dual commitments to State and Church and is more about providing a logical pretense for doing what you were going to do anyway- whatever the State wants you.

The sweeping way Tooley dismisses non-violence as a legitimate form of Christian witness is a post for another day, as is the way in which his defense of Just War Theory is replete with the fingerprints of Consequentialism.

Like in RHE’s post, Tooley allows for the role of prayer but scolds that Christians should not keep their faith from being serious about the solutions that may or may not be necessary when it comes to war.

Though they’d never want to share the company, Tooley and RHE both share the assumption that its the calling of Christians to find the right solution and contribute towards it.

Clearer put, they assume its the job of Christians to make the world come out right.

Brian Zahnd, on the other hand, gets right what I think both Tooley and RHE get wrong.

To the charge, which echoes Tooley’s post, ‘We have to be realistic’ Zahnd writes:

Being “realistic” does not exempt us from faithfulness to Christ. If we tell ourselves that Jesus has called us to “change the world” then we quickly find ways to justify our violent means. But Jesus doesn’t call us to change the world — he calls us to be faithful to his ways of peace. If in our faithfulness to Jesus we happen to change the world, fine, but our first call is to remain faithful. Jesus calls us to love our enemies, not because this is an “effective tactic,” but because this is what God is like.

To the counter that sometimes violence is necessary, Zahnd replies:

If we think violence is a viable option you can be sure we will resort to it. If violence is on the table, imagination is out the window. First century Jerusalem could not imagine any other way than violent revolution against the Romans. Jesus could. Jesus not only imagined the alternative, he embodied it. On the cross. And he calls us to follow him. If we don’t know (or refuse to know) the things that make for peace, we march blindly toward another fiery Gehenna.

Zahnd’s internal monologue goes on:

“You’re not being practical.”

No, I am not.

“You’re being foolish.”

It depends on whose lens you’re looking through. I grant that there are ways of looking at what I’m saying as foolishness. But I also insist that to live Christlike in a Caesar-like world is to risk being called a fool or worse.

What Zahnd gets right that others miss is that Christians are not called to solve the world’s problems, to offer solutions as though with our worldly wisdom and worldly ways we can bring the Kingdom of God ourselves.

Rather, as Jesus said right before he ascended to the Father, we’re called to witness to the Kingdom.

That’s a very different proposition.

When Jesus leads his disciples up to the Mt of Olives in Matthew 25, they ask Jesus: When will temple be destroyed and what will be the sign of the coming age?

Rather then answer them directly, Jesus responds with a series of parables about what kind of people his People should be in order to anticipate the coming age.

And the setting for all of this is the Mt of Olives, the place where Jews believed God would begin to usher in the new age (Zechariah 14.1-5).

Jesus predicts destruction, he takes them up to this mountain that’s loaded with symbolism- so why wouldn’t the disciples ask: ‘What will be the sign?’

Because the setting is the place where Jews believed God would end this age, to read the parable that follows rightly you have to go all the way back to the very beginning of scripture, to God’s original design, and God’s promise for a New Creation.

The Hebrew word for that harmony is ‘shalom,’ a word the New Testament translates as ‘peace.’ But it’s not just a sentiment or a feeling of tranquility. It’s restoration. Throughout scripture God’s judgment is against those who work against shalom.

Shalom is not just an abstract theme of scripture; it takes tangible form in the Torah where God lays out Israel’s special charge to care for the stranger, the orphan, the widow, the sick, the poor- whether they’re on the inside of community or the outside of the community because, as Leviticus says, ‘they’re just like you’ (19).

Implied in the Jewish Law is the reality that the stranger and the widow and the orphan and the poor lack an advocate in this world. They are a sign of what’s broken in creation; therefore, God intervenes for them by calling Israel to labor with him in establishing God’s shalom.

This partnership between God and God’s People- this is how God puts creation back together again. This is what the Old Testament is about.

Then, in the New, God becomes incarnate in Jesus Christ to model shalom for us. Until God brings forth the New Heaven and the New Earth he calls the believing community to embody in every aspect of their lives the shalom that is made flesh in Jesus Christ.

The works of mercy listed in Jesus’ parable- they’re not just a simple list of good deeds.

It’s a summary of what God’s shalom looks like.

This parable isn’t a superficial reminder to do good to others. It’s a description of Israel’s vocation, a vocation taken on by and made flesh in Jesus Christ.

This parable is Jesus’ final teaching moment before his passion begins. It’s the equivalent of the end of John’s Gospel where Jesus breathes on his disciples and says: ‘My shalom I give you.’

The point is not that we will be judged according to our good deeds per se.

The point is that we will be judged by the extent to which we embody Christ’s life.

The point is not that our faith or beliefs in Jesus have nothing to do with how we will be judged.

The point is we will be judged by the extent to which our faith in Christ has allowed us to conform our lives to witness to his way of life- which is the life God desired for all of us before Sin entered the world.

Ask yourself: who is it that welcomes the stranger, loves their enemy, feeds the hungry, heals the sick, brings good news to the prisoner?

This is a description of Jesus’ life.

The sheep in Matthew 25 are saved not because of their good deeds.

The sheep are saved because they’ve dared to witness to the life that redeems the world.

The sign of the new age that the disciples were asking about?

The sign of that new age are a people bold enough to embody the life of Christ. That’s why Jesus tells this story.

When we say that Jesus is the only way to the Father, we don’t just mean our belief in Jesus is the only way to the Father.

We also mean Jesus’ way of life is the only way we get to the Father’s love.

Scripture doesn’t teach that after we welcome them the stranger will cease being strange to us or that our differences are insignificant.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by loving our enemies our enemies will cease to be our enemies.

Scripture doesn’t teach that by visiting the prisoner we’ll convince the prisoner to swear off crime.

Scripture doesn’t teach that in feeding the hungry the hungry will show appreciation to us or that in caring for the needy we won’t find the needy a burden to us.

The Christian life isn’t being ‘realistic’ as the world defines it, and it’s not about solutions to creation’s problems.

It’s about witness to a different reality; it’s about a witness that anticipates and ever so slightly contributes towards the New Creation.

In a world of violence and injustice and poverty and loneliness Jesus has called us to be a people who welcome strangers and love enemies and refuse the sword and bring good news to prisoners, feed and cloth the poor and care for those who have no one.

An alternative.

Not a solution.

And so Zahnd and Francis are absolutely, urgently right. Prayer isn’t what you do when the realistic solutions are elusive and its not what you do after you’ve gone about realistically solving the world’s problems.

If God raised Jesus from the dead, the prayer of an alternative community is the most realistic thing there can be.

 

09battle-pic-articleLargeThis rant cum historical excursion has been brought to you by the article I read today in the NY Times, The Holy Grail of Battle Re-enactments. 

Being in church work, I’ve gone paint-balling a few times.

Truth be told, I’m not a half-bad paint-baller. I’m not much of a strategist and I’ve got subpar aim but that’s ameliorated by my base desire to win and my rather high threshold for a hot pain that comes in the form hickey marks.

I never considered joining the military but paintballing confirms the USA lost out on an at least one gutsy commando.

On one hand at least, paint-balling with church folk is instructive.

It gives you a brief, if pretend, glimpse into which members of your flock just might be willing to lay their lives down for another.

It shows you which church people need only a momentary whiff of the chum of victory to go bat-ass crazy on an erstwhile friend.

And it reveals- or confirms- which of your would be Jesus followers are actually cheaters in Flanders’ clothes.

We’ve actually had to kick adult chaperones out of the game for cheating against children.

And shooting said children (sometimes their own children) after the whistle.

At close range.

In the face.

Or close to the border of their huevos.

(I know adults are constantly trying to recover their youth, and while the fountain of youth remains elusive, I do know paintballing is where adult men go to recover their juvenile adolescence.)

So religiopaintballing is not with out its edifying uses- I forgot to mention its ability to make an ordinary pastor look, if not cool, legit.

Nevertheless, on each occasion I left the ‘arena’ feeling infected with a low-grade moral confusion about this vicar of Christ’s participation in and de facto affirmation of faux bloodletting.

Each time and every time I’ve left feeling that paintballing is not a little like pretending to beat your wife or kick your dog. For a small fee and ammunition cost.

“Put your sword away!”
-Jesus addressing Peter in the Garden of Gethsamane

The conundrum:

If violence is counter to the way of Christ then does paintballing mock the One who would have us turn the other cheek?

Or, if Christ would have us put away the sword does pulling out an air-powered paint gun that cannot kill constitute an acceptable alternative?

Almost like Guerrilla Theater?

I’ve always felt a similar but more urgent strand of this moral quandary when it comes to war reenactments.

It’s one thing to usurp God’s sovereignty and ignore Christ’s cross (the sacrifice to end all sacrifices- Hebrews) to participate in the taking of human life when society deems it necessary, just and a last resort. But it strikes me as odd to reenact- with glee and outlandish seriousness- battles our forebears likely wished they didn’t have to fight.

civil_war_soldiers-union_confederateThis winter I even attended a parade for Stonewall Jackson’s birthday so my son could get first rate material for his report on the Confederate hero.

Confederate flags, uniforms, tearful tributes, drums and period authentic artillery were everywhere. When asked, on my iPhone camera, about Stonewall Jackson a costumed reenacter began:

‘Well, you’ve got to remember Stonewall Jackson loved the blacks…’

Like the elder Dr. Jones to Indy when they sneak about in Berlin in The Last Crusade, I said to Alexander: ‘We’re in the belly of the beast, son.’ BerlinRally

Celebrating our forebears’ selfless sacrifice is one thing.

To celebrate by simulation the very they thing regretted having to do is another. I’ve met plenty of folks who participate in reenactments (I’m from southern Richmond after all) and I can say with a modicum of authority that war reenactments have all the moral seriousness of my boys’ playing with their plastic, bloodless, lifeless GI Joe figures.

 

On the other hand, the men and women I’ve known who’ve actually served in a real, honest to goodness war are nothing if not morally serious about what we ask of and from them. We ask them not just to give their lives potentially but to sacrifice their God-given reluctance to kill. For us.

“Pilate deserves our sympathies, not because he was a good though tragically misunderstood man, but because we are not much better. We may believe in Jesus, but we do not believe in his ideas, at least not his ideas about violence, truth and justice.”

-Miroslav Volf, Exclusion and Embrace

Across the spectrum of history, Christians have nearly always held war to fall somewhere between ‘always an evil’ (Christian Pacifism) and ‘sometimes a necessary and tragic evil in which we do not glory‘ (Christian Just War Perspective).

I know, everyone likes to cite the Crusades as though that’s the eternal, definitive manifestation of Christian praxis.

It’s interesting how the Crusades get blamed on the evil institution that is the Church when every other war in history would suggest political and economic concerns agitated the Crusades…and Christians went- or were taken- along for the ride.

Speaking of the Crusades:

It’s not the golden egg of an argument people assume because even after having battled the infidels, Christian soldiers were required to do penance when they returned home. After all, even if it was a ‘holy‘ war, by taking another’s life they’d still committed sin.

The NY Times, The Holy Grail of Battle Re-enactments. details the experience, motives and COST (!!!!) behind the peopled participating in the holy grail of war reenactments. This battle simulates, down to loose teeth and concussions, the warfare of Medieval Europe, a time to which I’m sure we’d all like to return. Not.

I’ve gone paintballing enough to know that most of these folks are probably like the hardcore wannabes who show up to paint ball with their own custom weapons, bedecked in expensive gear, and armed with a nickname inspired by Deerhunter. The same guys who don’t realize Deerhunter is meant to be a tragic, critique of the war, movie. images

AKA: Guys without girlfriends.

And sadly, we all know that most fallen soldiers did have girlfriends. Or more.

Here’s the article:

Inside Craig Ivey’s travel bag are objects reminiscent of the Middle Ages.

He has a steel, rounded shield; a five-sided, wooden shield; a red, white and blue surcoat; a protective vest; a wraparound helmet, pockmarked with dents; steel pads to hide his forearms, knees, legs and hands; and a blunt-edged sword designed to inflict pain but not cut. His collection cost about $4,000.

Ivey, a fitness trainer in Atlanta, will use all 60 pounds of the equipment Thursday at an outdoor arena in Aigues-Mortes, in the south of France. He will compete in his first Battle of the Nations, a modern-day, medieval-like combat involving national teams of fighters.

“Everybody thinks I’m a little crazy,” Ivey said, without refuting the perception.

Ivey, 34, is among an estimated 500 participants from 22 countries entered in the four-day event.

Full-contact armored fighting events grew out of participation in historical re-enactments, which are largely theatrical and tame. More common re-enactment fighting involves wooden weapons in the United States. The Battle of the Nations, in its fourth year, is the first international full-contact competition of this scale that uses steel armor — a heightened risk factor that has attracted a certain breed of fighters. It has been won by Russia every year.

Many fighters are intrigued by a time when differences were settled by sword fights to the death.

“I’ve always been interested in history and war,” Ivey said. “To be able to get my mind around what it was like back then, I look at it from this perspective: If I lose the fight, that would be me dying out there.”

The Battle of the Nations consists of four fighting formats: 1 on 1; 5 on 5; 21 on 21; and all against all, in which some opposing squads join forces. Winners of each match are decided by which side has the last fighter, or fighters, standing. A combatant bows out when three body parts, which include the feet, are touching the ground. Matches involving fewer fighters are usually over within a couple minutes, while the all-versus-all match can last up to 10 minutes.

Elements of the competition have been borrowed from other sports. The referee, called the knight marshal, issues soccer-style yellow and red cards for rule infractions. Fighters are assigned positions similar to those in American football, like center, guard and flanker.

Jaye Brooks, 47, executive officer of the United States team, described the game strategy partly as keeping adversaries from getting behind a team’s players, similar to hockey and soccer.

Brooks, a senior project manager in Nashua, N.H., recruited a team of 50 fighters, including himself and his son Catlin, 25, for the event. Last year, Brooks said, participants needed to meet only two qualifications to make the squad: paying for a trip to Poland and “having the guts to do this.”

The United States finished fourth of 14 teams in its international debut last year, and 18 of the 29 members from that team returned. The average age of this year’s American players is 37. And while no woman has competed for the United States squad, Brooks said, a women’s division is being considered.

Ivey’s motivation to compete is similar to that of others who are willing to fight, with an understanding that injuries are possible. He described his mind-set as being like that of a soldier.

“If you get hurt, you get hurt,” he said.

A military background is common for the participants. At least a quarter of this year’s United States fighters have served in the military, Brooks said.

Not everyone, including friends and family members, appreciates such enthusiasm for this niche style of martial arts.

“They think I’m a little bizarre,” said Brooks, whose sports background includes football. “But if everyone was the same, the world would be an awfully boring place.”

Brooks’s teammate Bryan Cannata, 42, an information technology specialist in Augusta, Ga., regards armored combat fighting as a natural extension of his interest in the medieval period.

“It’s not something I want to do,” Cannata said. “It’s something I have to do.”

There are rules to the game, but not ones that are restrictive enough to eliminate serious injuries.

Unlike in traditional sports, equipment is inspected to ensure it conforms to a period in history that the particular competition is commemorating, based on historic findings and evidence.

Weapons must be blunted. Stabbing or thrusting, which Brooks defined as repeatedly delivering excess force to the same point of contact, is not allowed. Fighters can hit any region in the “kill zone,” which excludes the feet, back of knees, groin, back of neck and base of skull. Vertical strikes to the spine and horizontal strikes to the back of the neck are forbidden.

Injuries have included dislodged teeth and broken or severed fingers. In the United States, the athletes also undergo baseline testing to check for the possibility of concussions.

This year’s United States team will be accompanied by a support staff of 50 members, including a physician, a psychologist specialized in head trauma, cooks, armorers, knight marshals, squires and a masseuse.

But injury precautions and preventive measures can only do so much. Cannata, who has a background in fencing and martial arts, said, “The potential for life-altering injury is very serious.”

Brooks, who has torn knee muscles competing, will take any punishment that comes with recreating a period in history.

“This is the perfect sport for someone who wishes to participate in one of the roughest sports on earth, has a love of armor and weapons and Western martial arts, and a desire to be as close to being a knight of old as is possible in this modern age,” he said. “Most of us doing this sport dreamt as children of being a knight one day. Who knew we could make that dream a reality?”

 

Stanley Hauerwas, one of the most significant theological influences in my life, is a self-professed militant pacifist. He’s someone who believes passionately that nonviolent love is at the heart of the gospel and what it means to follow Jesus.
That said, Hauerwas expresses admiration for the military and for the skills the military possesses that the Church has lost. Namely, the military understands that virtues are learned and acquired through habit, practice and the mentoring of master to apprentice. The military understands that concepts such as honor, sacrifice, and commitment to others over commitment to self are not easily or automatically learned. They can’t simply be agreed to or believed rationally. They must be habituated through practices passed down from one with wisdom and authority. They must be habituated so that they become embodied, reflexive and at the core one’s identity.

In other words, the military, Hauerwas says, are often better at making disciples than the Church. Most churches act as though one can be a Christian without training, conversion, or apprenticeship. Just by believing in Jesus and leaving it at that. No one in the military has ever believed you can be a soldier just by wanting to be one, without the purgative and formative experience of basic training etc.

So on Veterans Day maybe that’s the appreciative nod the Church can offer our armed forces: they know how to form character and we in the Church could learn from their wisdom.