Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Student Debt Crisis: It’s Time for a Jubilee

Dissent Magazine / Op-Ed
Published: Tuesday 31 July 2012

“With soaring tuition, poor job prospects, and loans that take decades to pay off, there’s no question that students need a year of jubilee. ”

Organizations that usually demand cancellation of the crippling debts owed by impoverished countries in the global South are now calling for debt forgiveness for a different group of borrowers: U.S. students.

With soaring tuition, poor job prospects, and loans that take decades to pay off, there’s no question that students need a year of jubilee. Yet, the idea that groups accustomed to running international solidarity campaigns have taken up their cause is an unexpected twist.

I’ve always liked the Jubilee debt campaign. For a couple of decades now, it has been an impressive and truly international drive, with strong leadership from the global South. In this country, the Jubilee USA Network has done a great job doing interfaith organizing and bringing in non-religious allies as well. Also, importantly, the campaign has been winning.

One of the great accomplishments of the global justice movement that exploded internationally around the year 2000 was to convince the world that onerous debts owed by poor countries were an unjust and prohibitive barrier to sustainable development. In many cases such debts were accumulated by dictators that had since been overthrown; moreover, developing countries had already paid back more than the original amounts of the loans. Belief in the injustice of this, as well as the idea that wealthy creditor countries and international financial institutions should cancel debts, represented radical fringe ideas in the first half of the 1990s. But Jubilee folks were dogged. They lobbied, educated, and protested. I remember many thousands of people turning out for a Jubilee march in Seattle, just before the main day of action against the World Trade Organization’s 1999 ministerial meeting. It was a rainy night, and it would have been easy to stay home; instead the packed protest foreshadowed what would become a historic week of action.

Pundits often accuse social movements—especially ones driven by highly visible protests—of emerging from nowhere and then disappearing without impact. Sometimes it is true that momentum-driven movements have short life cycles. But just as often, a “here today, gone tomorrow” analysis reflects the ignorance of a mainstream media commentator more than anything else. If you don’t bother to follow social movements until they’re too loud to ignore, and then you promptly resume disregarding them once they’re no longer making top headlines, it’s no surprise that you’ll miss the precedents and the legacies. “Flash in the pan” becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

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In the case of globalization activism, this was a common charge. But Jubilee’s steady track record provides a critical counterpoint. I tracked the Jubilee movement through some of its major wins of the past decade, and I responded to critics on the left who misread some victories as defeats. When G8 leaders signed a breakthrough debt relief agreement at the 2005 Gleneagles conference, Rebecca Solnit also wrote a nice essay crediting the Jubilee movement for its persistence:

In ‘98, I had gone to Birmingham to hang out with Reclaim the Streets (RTS), the raucous, wildly creative British movement that shifted the tone and tactics of direct action in many parts of the world and demonstrated early the power of the Internet for creating simultaneous demonstrations in many countries. At the same moment, Jubilee 2000 (now Jubilee Research) formed a vast human chain around the G8 and much of central Birmingham. RTS condemned the G8’s very existence; Jubilee 2000 asked it for something specific. At the time, I have to admit, the jubilee group made little impression on me, and their “Cancel the Debt” message seemed hopeful but remote.

Remote then, it has arrived now, as both a transnational awareness of the causes and costs of the loans forced on poor nations and as the recent debt cancellations. It is impressive to measure the migration of the idea of debt cancellation (and so, of the rich world’s role in creating poverty) as it traveled from outside the walls of Birmingham into Gleneagles to become the unavoidable topic. No less impressive is the way the early champions of debt relief took up such a complex, unglamorous idea and stuck with it for so long- long enough to matter, long enough to change the world.

Since then, Jubilee has continued to make forward progress, highlighting the misdeeds of “vulture funds,” among other things.

The intriguing question now being raised is, can the campaign translate its past penchant for success on the international scene into debt cancellation for U.S. students?

Jubilee USA wrote recently about how it came upon student debt as a new area of focus:

As the debt crisis continues to spread from the Global South to the North, we began hearing increasingly from our regional chapters, faith communities and individual supporters that we must also address issues around debt and lending in the US. As we continue to work on international responsible lending and borrowing and on the impact of debts in the developing world, we also are making connections to student loans in the US. The sense of austerity that has wreaked havoc on the poorest is also challenging too many of us at home.

A variety of commentators have noted the Biblical precedent of having a “Year of Jubilee” for debtors, and they have argued that students would be worthy beneficiariesof such a break. Groups such as the Backbone Campaign and Roots Action have taken up the cause. And relief of student debt has been a popular demand within the youth-heavy Occupy movement.

In June, Jubilee activists pushed members of Congress to extend a low interest rate on student loans. The extension passed in early July, giving students at least a temporary reprieve from having rates double.

It’s still a long road to a serious program of debt cancellation for students. I suspect this fight will have to be waged largely under the radar and sustained for years if it is to prevail. But if there’s ground for confidence, it’s that Jubilee and its allies have done that before.

Pumla Gobodo-Madikizela: Forgiveness is possible


Even after the worst atrocities, forgiveness is possible, says a South African psychologist and researcher. At its core lies empathy, the turning point where people encounter and recognize each other as human beings.

Gobodo-Madikizela joined South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in 1996, everything she had ever read about the aftermath of mass atrocities told her that forgiveness was not possible.

But as a coordinator for the commission, Gobodo-Madikizela repeatedly saw forgiveness happen between victims and perpetrators of atrocities committed during South Africa’s apartheid regime.

Prompted by that experience, she set out to understand what she had observed. A psychologist and researcher on trauma and healing, she wanted to know what happens deep in the process of forgiveness.

Her conclusion after years of research: forgiveness is possible even in the aftermath of mass atrocity. It happens unexpectedly in the encounter between victim and perpetrator, in the moment when they recognize each other as human beings.
“At the core of these encounters lies empathy,” she said.

Gobodo-Madikizela is a senior research professor on trauma, forgiveness and reconciliation at the University of the Free State, Bloemfontein, South Africa, and former professor of psychology at the University of Cape Town. Her book “A Human Being Died That Night: A South African Story of Forgiveness” won the Alan Paton Award in South Africa and the Christopher Award in the United States.

Gobodo-Madikizela recently spoke with Faith & Leadership while at Duke Divinity School for the Center for Reconciliation’s 2012 Summer Institute. The following is an edited transcript.

Q: Tell us about your work with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

I was a coordinator for the commission’s Human Rights Violations Committee and organized the victims’ hearings in the Western Cape Region in Cape Town.
Part of that work was facilitating and chairing the public hearings and leading the encounters between victims and perpetrators. Sometimes family members of victims wanted to meet the people who had committed the atrocities -- the murders or disappearances of their loved ones.

They requested us to bring them together in private, so sometimes I presided over those processes. There were not many, but those that did take place often were the source of some of the greatest insights into what is possible in such encounters.

Q: How did that experience shape you and your subsequent work?

It revealed to me something that I had never discovered in my own research. Until then, what I knew about the possibilities after atrocities had to do with revenge -- about how much anger and resentment atrocities lead to for generations.

Hannah Arendt, for example, who wrote about the Holocaust and the trial of Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem, concluded that you cannot forgive evil, that radical evil acts are unforgivable. You cannot even apologize for them. And it shaped her perspective of the possibilities, that those possibilities had a limit.

And then enter the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and it disrupts all that we had read about what is forgivable or unforgivable. And that was an invitation for me to look deeper into these issues.

Q: Tell us about your research.

My research focuses on the role of forgiveness in healing traumas. I’m interested in unearthing and understanding what lies deep within these processes of forgiveness.
In addition to working with victims’ family members who expressed forgiveness, I’ve also spoken with their children and grandchildren, looking at the consequences of the past on the second generation.

They were too young then, but now they are the next generation, and they’re asking questions about how their grandparents could forgive. They’re asking questions about why they were not given a voice, and so on.

The transgenerational transmission of trauma has long been studied, but what I’m learning in this work is that actually there is also the transgenerational transmission of guilt and of shame on people who were not the doers of the deed.
By association, through their parents or their family members, it gets passed on to them as well. And the consequences are quite debilitating emotionally for many of these people.

Q: What are you learning about forgiveness? What are the overarching lessons from your research?

One is that forgiveness is a possibility, even in the aftermath of mass atrocity.
The second lesson is that when people engage and encounter one another and recognize one another as human beings, that becomes the moment, the turning point, where people can reach out to one another and make that connection.

The third thing is that forgiveness, the importance of forgiveness, actually rises up or emerges in many cases as an unexpected outcome of these encounters.

Often, people don’t come to these meetings with their former enemies with an idea that, “Now I want to forgive this person.”

But they encounter the other, the person who has done them great, irreparable harm, and recognize their humanity.

How does the other present their humanity? Through remorse. Remorse is a truly human phenomenon. Remorse cannot be evil.

When family members encounter the remorse of the perpetrator, they encounter the perpetrator as a human being.

It is in that encounter, that connection, that really brings out and makes forgiveness possible in ways that are unexpected.

And at the core of these encounters lies empathy, that it is the perpetrator’s remorse is actually rooted in their capacity for empathy. The victim’s forgiveness, on the other hand, is equally rooted in their capacity for empathy, for human empathy.

Sometimes the word “forgiveness” sounds inadequate to capture for us that movement toward the other, that movement of connecting with the other at the very deep core of their humanness.

“Empathy,” it seems to me, is a more stronger word that elaborates for us, or illuminates for us, what the process of engagement is, and why forgiveness becomes possible.

It is why a perpetrator can rise beyond guilt and shame to touch that place of remorse, which is a very vulnerable place. There, a perpetrator has to recognize their own brokenness, because for them to have violated and dehumanized a victim, they had to dehumanize the self first. They rendered themselves inhuman in order to conduct their terrible deeds.

So remorse is a recognition of deep human brokenness, and it is also the possibility -- the place where it becomes possible for the perpetrator to reclaim their rights to belonging in the realm of moral humanity.

Q: So people didn’t come to these meetings necessarily seeking forgiveness? My guess is they probably wanted to scream at somebody.

Absolutely. In fact, for so many, that is exactly how they start the engagement. They express a lot of anger. I showed a video clip in my seminar yesterday where a group of mothers faces a perpetrator, calling him a wolf dressed in sheepskin because he was a black collaborator with the apartheid police.

Here is a man sitting on the other side of these mothers. He killed their children, and he’s sitting right there and they’re having this conversation. And there’s a moment when the mothers realize that he is a broken man. He feels remorse deeply, and there is a turning point from that anger to where they reach out to him with a profound sense of forgiveness.

So yes, the starting point is often anger, but there is something in the recognition of the other as a human other that invites them to that place of forgiveness.
Q: In your work, you write about a process you call “empathic repair.” Is that what you’re describing here?

Empathic repair is the notion that you are repairing the brokenness. When a perpetrator goes to that place of remorse, they are reaching out to the victim’s family with the possibility of repair through empathy.

It is the victim’s sense of empathy that enables him or her to begin on the road toward repairing their brokenness from the trauma. That’s why I call it empathic repair.

The interesting thing about this is that these encounters are really about rebuilding broken relationships. The healing and the repair are not only for the victim or the victim’s family; it’s also for the perpetrator.

For the perpetrator, it is also an opportunity to grasp at repair. In this encounter lies the hope for them as well that they can start a new life by entering this realm of moral humanity. It is a reparative moment for them, too.

Empathy is stepping into the shoes of the other and feeling with the other. The process is a kind of reciprocal mutual engagement. Psychology scholars talk about the significance of recognition. Other scholars talk about responsibility for the other, this idea of recognizing the other, noticing the humanity of the other.

So many people are always chasing the other and being angry at the other, because that defines their identity. When we realize that the other is actually the self, then that becomes the moment of repair.

Q: You’re also doing some work with the University of Cologne, working with second- and third-generation descendants of Holocaust victims and those of the perpetrators.
What are you finding?

These people in Germany are in their late 50s and 60s. One group is children of Nazi perpetrators. Their fathers and mothers served in the concentration camps.

They have been in dialogue for more than 10 years with a group of adult children of Holocaust survivors, people whose parents survived the camps.

The group was established by a well-known psychoanalytic scholar of large groups, Vamik Volkan, who studies the importance of naming these histories and talking about them. He helped these two groups to begin dialogue about these transgenerational effects of this past.

They’re learning about the complexity of empathy and of engaging history. While there is always a desire to understand and know the other, the story is more complex than, “We’ve now connected. We love each other. There’s peace.”

It’s so much more complicated, because of the kind of memories that intrude into these relationships.

What I’m studying with these groups is what empathic engagement looks like. How can we plant seeds of transgenerational transmission of empathy, instead of transgenerational transmission of hatred, and of shame, and of guilt?

Q: Are they finding empathy and forgiveness possible?

Very much. The language of forgiveness was never part of the Holocaust, so different language is beginning to emerge. They eschew the language of forgiveness, because it’s loaded.

The scholarly conversation among those who study the Holocaust or forgiveness after trauma is that the living have no right to forgive on behalf of the dead.
It’s an important perspective, but one that I think needs revision. If, as we have found, these hatreds and violence are passed on intergenerationally, then we may well want the generations to begin forgiving.

The living may have no right to forgive for their departed, but you’re not really forgiving on their behalf. You are forgiving on your behalf, because now you are the one carrying this memory into the future. That’s where the violence and the potential for hatred lies, so that’s what you interrupt.

Q: What is your response to people who say it’s better just to forget and move on?

You can say the word “forget,” but the reality is that it is never forgotten. This stuff is deeply carried. It’s carried in deep stories within.

These are narratives that people identify with over generations. They define who they are. The history of oppression is part of the identity of the people who have been oppressed.

They are released from it once they face that history and embrace a new life, but that doesn’t happen automatically. It happens because it is faced. It has to be faced, acknowledged and named.

Some people are lucky. They have strategies of pushing back and saying that, “I am who I am now. I’m not defining myself according to that history.”

But many people, unfortunately, cannot do that, because either their lives have not changed or the wounds are very deep. And for people to say, “Move on; forget the past” is another stab in the wound, another re-traumatization.

Q: What’s the role for the church in this? And how well is it performing that role?

Churches have a very important role to play. The church already has a group of people who are ready to receive the good news. And the good news is not only biblical good news; it is also doing the work to make sure that people live in a spirit of good news.

The good news is the news of love -- of loving and caring for our neighbors, putting ourselves in the shoes of our neighbors. That is the good news.

If churches can embrace that message and know how to live it, then the fight for peace will be achieved in so many parts of the world.

But we find that churches are not doing that work.

There was a time in my country where churches fought to play the role that churches are supposed to play, and they did it magnificently. The churches and people in the church like Archbishop Tutu and the Rev. Peter Storey spoke truth to power and lived the truth by example.

And that is what is needed, and that is what is missing, even in my country today. Having had that magnificent, shining history, churches today have just withdrawn. It’s almost as if the Truth Commission came, the evildoers confessed, and now we’re supposed to just go on as if nothing is wrong with our society.

That is a mistake that so many church organizations and institutions have made in South Africa, by letting go and not continuing to fight the fight of building peace, spreading the word of love and making Christians understand that they’re in the world to live the example of Christ, of loving the neighbor. And the leadership in the church has not stepped up at all in recent times, unfortunately, and that’s what is so much needed today.

Q: Speak some to that. What is the role of leadership in forgiveness and reconciliation?

Leadership is so important, not only within churches but in all institutions. We need leaders who understand the importance of compassionate relationships and who know what it means to be a compassionate leader.

That is at the core of this work of reconciliation -- recognizing the humanity of and showing compassion for the other. That is the starting point of leadership in all institutions.

Monday, July 30, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 18th Ordinary (Day 2)

Psalm 51:1-12

1 Have mercy on me, God, according to your faithful love!
Wipe away my wrongdoings according to your great compassion!
2 Wash me completely clean of my guilt;
purify me from my sin!
3 Because I know my wrongdoings,
my sin is always right in front of me.
4 I’ve sinned against you—you alone.
I’ve committed evil in your sight.
That’s why you are justified when you render your verdict,
completely correct when you issue your judgment.
5 Yes, I was born in guilt, in sin,
from the moment my mother conceived me.
6 And yes, you want truth in the most hidden places;
you teach me wisdom in the most secret space.[a]
7 Purify me with hyssop and I will be clean;
wash me and I will be whiter than snow.
8 Let me hear joy and celebration again;
let the bones you crushed rejoice once more.
9 Hide your face from my sins;
wipe away all my guilty deeds!
10 Create a clean heart for me, God;
put a new, faithful spirit deep inside me!
11 Please don’t throw me out of your presence;
please don’t take your holy spirit away from me.
12 Return the joy of your salvation to me
and sustain me with a willing spirit.

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 18th Ordinary (Day 1)

2 Sam. 11:26–12:13a

26 When Uriah’s wife heard that her husband Uriah was dead, she mourned for her husband. 27 After the time of mourning was over, David sent for her and brought her back to his house. She became his wife and bore him a son.
But what David had done was evil in the LORD’s eyes.
12 So the LORD sent Nathan to David. When Nathan arrived he said, “There were two men in the same city, one rich, one poor. 2 The rich man had a lot of sheep and cattle, 3 but the poor man had nothing—just one small ewe lamb that he had bought. He raised that lamb, and it grew up with him and his children. It would eat from his food and drink from his cup—even sleep in his arms! It was like a daughter to him.
4 “Now a traveler came to visit the rich man, but he wasn’t willing to take anything from his own flock or herd to prepare for the guest who had arrived. Instead, he took the poor man’s ewe lamb and prepared it for the visitor.”
5 David got very angry at the man, and he said to Nathan, “As surely as the LORD lives, the one who did this is demonic! 6 He must restore the ewe lamb seven times over because he did this and because he had no compassion.”
7 “You are that man!” Nathan told David. “This is what the LORD God of Israel says: I anointed you king over Israel and delivered you from Saul’s power. 8 I gave your master’s house to you, and gave his wives into your embrace. I gave you the house of Israel and Judah. If that was too little, I would have given even more. 9 Why have you despised the LORD’s word by doing what is evil in his eyes? You have struck down Uriah the Hittite with the sword and taken his wife as your own. You used the Ammonites to kill him. 10 Because of that, because you despised me and took the wife of Uriah the Hittite as your own, the sword will never leave your own house.
11 “This is what the LORD says: I am making trouble come against you from inside your own family. Before your very eyes I will take your wives away and give them to your friend, and he will have sex with your wives in broad daylight. 12 You did what you did secretly, but I will do what I am doing before all Israel in the light of day.”
13 “I’ve sinned against the LORD!” David said to Nathan.
“The LORD has removed your sin,” Nathan replied to David. “You won’t die.

David screwed up royally. His royal screw up was made painfully clear to him by the skillful self-accusatory parable of the prophet Nathan. Even though YHWH “removed (David’s) sin” (12:13), the terrible consequences of that sin remained to torture the royal family throughout its days.

Forgiveness is given a “thick” profile in this story. This thick description sets up our consideration of Psalm 51, our lectionary psalm for this week, tomorrow.

First, all sins, King David’s and our own, are royal screw ups. That is, created and called to be God’s royal representatives who protect and care for his creation and reflect his character throughout it, sin is a failure to live out this mandate.

Instead of representing and reflecting God in this world, we seek to be God in “our” world. We overreach (as David did) or underreach (as do many whose voices have been silenced and marginalized). In either case, we fail to be the genuine “royalty” God has called us to be and languish in the debris of our efforts to be “divine” on our own terms!

Second, there is no such sin as “personal” sin, if by personal we mean private – just between us and God. Sin always ripples out and engulfs other in its consequences, even if we imagine otherwise or cannot see these consequences. David only recognizes his sin against YHWH when its consequences are played out in front of his eyes (12:13). Our sin always implicates the community and, indeed, the world in its reach!

Thirdly, sin can be forgiven but its consequences cannot be forgone. We never simply “get away” with it. Confessing our sin and claiming God’s forgiveness is but the beginning not the end of the matter. God transforms us “through” the consequences of our sin rather than saving us “from” them. How we deal with such consequences is the stuff of our sanctification. Repairing relationships damaged by sin is among the most excruciating and difficult tasks we ever have to face. Yet it is the one crucible we pass through that more than any other can make us look more and more like Jesus Christ (Romans 8:29).

“The Lord has removed your sin,” Nathan told David. He will live as a result. Yet the pain of living with and through the consequences of his bedding Bathsheba might well have made him wish the Lord had killed him then and there. But live he did and somehow, by the mysterious alchemy of grace, through the maelstrom of his family life and the rigors of his rule over Israel, he became the man Israel remembered above all others as “the man after God’s own heart.”

May such be true for us as well!

Sunday, July 29, 2012

The end of the church as we know it


While the institutional church is in decline, possibilities abound for new ways of producing faithful followers of Jesus Christ.

By Amy Butler

Has anybody out there noticed that church attendance has been lower lately? The church budget is stretched thin because fewer people are giving? You can’t get a commitment out of people who are so busy they are already making summer plans -- for next summer? Welcome to the reality of church decline.

There has been quite a bit in the media lately about the trending decline of the institutional church and ongoing conversation about what strategy might ensure its sustainability. Countless observers of American religious life have noted that the church, all versions, is struggling. What they mean by decline is that fewer people are attending church, churches and denominational entities are getting organizationally smaller and there’s less money to go around.

This decline is not a suggestion or a guess but a fact. Even with the occasional mega church on the corner or some communities where these symptoms of decline don’t seem to be readily evident, they are there, just beneath the surface, or they are coming soon.

As a result, some church professionals are feeling a growing panic. What do we do with a church that looks different than it did, say, 50 years ago? It looks smaller and less popular. It has less influence on society as a whole. It seems to have lost its place at the center of most peoples’ lives. And we don’t know what to do.

If we churchy folk think like our society does, then results like money, growth, membership and buildings are measures of the quality, and maybe even the godliness, of our work. So, if our strategy is to keep measuring success by those markers, we find ourselves with two options:

We can keep going as we are, determined that a significant measure of good luck -- or, alternatively, shutting our eyes really tightly to the reality around us -- will keep our heads above water in the long run. (At least until we can pass the church keys along to the next generation and let them deal with the problems we’re beginning to see.)

Or, we can paddle as hard as we can, applying and reapplying common best practices as frantically as possible, hoping that somehow we can stem the tide of decline, avoid the waterfall, plug the hole in the boat. This could work, for a little while, at least.

While “How can we fix this?” is the logical question to ask in response to the realization of church decline, I am just not so sure that it is the right question. There may be a deeper question before us, a spiritual question, something like: “How do we make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ?”

Our work is not to control the trends of society or to prop up a comfortable model we’ve become accustomed to. Our work is to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ: to bring the gospel to the world, to nurture people in their faith, to live as good stewards of what we’ve been given and to bring justice and peace to a society desperately in need.

We’ve done all these things with varying degrees of success for years and years with members, money, programs and buildings. Now, with this new reality confronting us, how can we continue to make faithful disciples of Jesus Christ?

I think it’s an exciting time for the church. Society has handed us a reality we’d hoped we’d misread, but instead of lamenting our plight or struggling to get things back to the way they used to be, think of all the possibilities that await us.

The church as we know it is in decline, it’s true. And we anticipate the future with the assurance that God, most certainly, is not.

Fareed on Guns

From CNN:

Most of the pundits have concluded that the main cause of this calamity is the dark, strange behavior of the gunman. Talking about anything else, they say, is silly. The New York Times’ usually extremely wise columnist, David Brooks,explains that this is a problem of psychology, not sociology.

At one level, this makes sense, of course, as the proximate cause. But really, it’s questionable analysis. Think about this: are there more lonely people in America compared with other countries? Are there, say, fewer depressed people in Asia and Europe? So why do they all have so much less gun violence than we do?

The United States stands out from the rest of the world not because it has more nutcases – I think we can assume that those people are sprinkled throughout every society equally –but because it has more guns.

Look at the map below. It shows the average number of firearms per 100 people. Most of the world is shaded light green – those are the countries where there are between zero and 10 guns per 100 citizens. In dark brown, you have the countries with more than 70 guns per 100 people. The U.S. is the only country in that category. In fact, the last global Small Arms Survey showed there are 88 guns for every 100 Americans. Yemen is second at 54. Serbia and Iraq are among the other countries in the top 10.

We have 5 percent of the world’s population and 50 percent of the guns.

But the sheer number of guns isn’t an isolated statistic. The data shows we compare badly on fatalities, too. The U.S has three gun homicides per 100,000 people. That’s four times as many as Switzerland, ten times as many as India, 20 times as many as Australia and England.

Whatever you think of gun rights and gun control, the numbers don’t flatter America.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Skilled Christianity

Posted on 7.27.2012

I've been blogging for over six years, and if you've been with me from the beginning you may have detected a change in the tone and tenor of this blog.

In the early years this blog seemed much more doubt-filled. But over time it has seemed to some of my friends that the blog has grown more faithful and apologetical. In the early years my tone toward Christianity was more aggressive and attacking, the voice of an outsider (though coming from an insider). In recent years my tone is more insider trying to show how Christianity might be "held together." I've been trading in criticism for something more constructive. And I have to admit that my faith over the last six years has been bolstered by a variety of things. Some highlights:

My rediscovery of prayer in The Book of Common Prayer.

Reading the bible with the damned (to borrow Bob Ekblad's phrase) in my experiences with Freedom Fellowship and the prison bible study I lead.

My discovery of theologians and saints over the last six years who have helped me reconfigure my theology (e.g., during the last sis years I discovered--or seriously engaged with--Rene Girard, William Stringfellow, Dorothy Day, Therese of Lisieux, James Alison, Orthodox theology, Arthur McGill, Christus Victor, Walter Wink, Christian anarchism, J├╝rgen Moltmann, Miroslav Volf, Walter Brueggemann, Thomas Talbott, N.T. Wright, John Howard Yoder, Stanley Hauerwas, Karl Barth, Reinhold Niebuhr and Rowan Williams. I've also reconnected with influences like George MacDonald and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.)
Because of all this, I am increasingly able to "give an account" of Christianity.

But am I more faith filled?

I don't think so. I'm more faithful, perhaps, but not more faith-filled.

I'm still heterodox. I'm still wrestling with the problem of horrific suffering. I'm still struggling with doubts. I don't think any of that has changed in the background. And these things continue to shape the content of the blog. I don't think anyone would describe this blog as conservative or particularly orthodox. Day in and day out this blog is going to be unsettling to most Christians. Some things haven't much changed.

So what has changed?

I'd describe the change this way: I'm not necessarily a more faith-filled Christian, but I am a more skilled Christian.

And those two things look a whole lot alike. In fact, given how I see things, I think skill and faith should be taken as synonyms in many cases.

I don't know if I believe more, but I am more skilled in the faith. And blogging has been a big part of developing that skill.

What is this skill?

To borrow from Hauerwas, it's the skill of description. Here is how George Lindbeck describes it in his book The Nature of Doctrine:
To become a Christian involves learning the story of Israel and of Jesus well enough to interpret and experience oneself and one’s world in its terms.
The skill is the ability to describe my world as a Christian. The skill is the ability to use Christianity to make meaning of my experience, a uniquely Christian meaning and a meaning that gives me life and life to those with whom I come into contact. It is the skill in describing my world to allow me to experience resurrection in the midst of death's works. (And that last sentence is a perfect example of what I'm talking about.) It is the skill in using my faith to become more human and humane.

Let me give a recent example. If you are a regular reader you know I've been experimenting a great deal with the language of the demonic. In the last year or so I've talked a lot about things like demonic possession and exorcism. Which would have seemed crazy six years ago when my tone was more "scientific." But I've been experimenting with description along these lines. And some of these experiments have been pretty creative. For example, my post about the demonic in Scooby-Doo. What I've been doing in these sorts posts is experimenting with the language of the demonic in describing my experience, in making meaning of my life and as a way to find life. Similar and parallel experiments are happening with my recent interest in Christus Victor theology.

So that's what you've been noticing, for those who have noticed, over the last of six years.

My talents of description have been growing, by leaps and bounds. My faith journey is still riddled with doubt, and that still comes through. But over the years I have become increasingly more skilled in my faith.

Neither The Joker Nor Godlessness Drove Batman Shooting

By Jeffrey Scholes

Jeffrey Scholes is an Assistant Professor of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado, Colorado Springs, and Director for the Center for Religious Diversity and Public Life, UCCS.

When men don't fear God, they give themselves to evil. This was clearly the case in the latest mass murder. – Ray Comfort

As many of us are struggling to find a reason or reasons for the Aurora, Colorado theater shootings in the early morning of Friday, July 20, there is no shortage of pundits offering their own explanations. Maybe the alleged shooter, James Holmes, was depressed after scoring low on exams in his PhD program at the University of Colorado. Or he must have had a rough upbringing. Or the common refrain: he’s simply psychotic, and no verifiable reason for the shooting will ever be discovered.

The responses from religious commentators, scholars, and pastors have a similar range. Shootings like this will continue because of our increasing desensitization to violent images, one Patheos blogger argued, while another evangelical commentator believes that this act was simply evil. According to a guest on an American Family Association radio program, if Holmes had accepted Christ into his life he would have never committed such a crime. Meanwhile, Vision America Action President Dr. Rick Scarborough claimed that it is the removal of God from the public square that has left God no choice but to lower the divine “hedge of protection” of innocents at a movie theater. According to Scarborough, God mercifully (though in theologically suspect manner) chose to intervene only after 12 moviegoers were killed.

Yet any of these explanations could be applied to Columbine, Virginia Tech, the Gabby Giffords shooting, and Ft. Hood, which raised additional religious concerns. Perhaps the most distinguishing feature of this recent mass shooting is its association with popular culture. We know that a theater playing the latest Batman movie, The Dark Knight Rises, was chosen as the site of the massacre by Holmes and that he responded to police shortly after being apprehended by proclaiming, “I’m the Joker.”

While only speculating at this point, the likely Joker that inspired Holmes is the one played by Heath Ledger in the first of the The Dark Knight series released in 2008. At that time, John-Henry Westen of lifesitenews.com wrote the following prescient passage (reposted shortly after the Aurora shootings) about Ledger’s particularly dark, violent, and psychotic portrayal of the Joker:

Are there going to be imitators of the Joker portrayed in The Dark Knight? There already are. Just look on YouTube for the number of videos where teens are dressing up as and imitating the lines of the Joker. Even more seriously, however, there have been crimes committed since the film’s release where the criminals have dressed in Joker makeup.

The film would likely not be dangerous for those well-grounded in morality; but for the many in today’s world who have not received the moral training that would allow them to clearly distinguish between good and evil, Joker character and philosophy of “anything goes” presents an all-too-appealing alternative way of attaining power and recognition.

Westen would no doubt find, in Holmes’ statement to the police, evidence of a copy-cat crime that discloses a lack of “moral training” in Holmes’ background. This argument is a corollary to the general stance that taking God out of the public square leads to moral relativism, and finally to a Machiavellian power grab. But wouldn’t all bad guys in the movies furnish the morally untrained with the temptation of mimicry? And, mental illness aside, don’t all mass murderers suffer from some sense of moral relativism?

He Floats Above History

Perhaps a more precise way to connect Holmes to Ledger’s Joker, if in fact we can do this at all, is by way of the source for their respective actions. Ledger’s Joker is different from his predecessors’ in that the former does not seem to have a personal narrative or a telos (purpose) that could help guide predictable action, much less the moral kind. In the Batman comic book series the Joker’s wife and child are accidentally killed, after which he falls into a vat of chemical waste that disfigures him. These narrative elements help explain the Joker’s insanity, which in turn drives him to commit maniacal and sadistic crimes in the city of Gotham.
Skipping to Jack Nicholson’s Joker in Tim Burton’s Batman from 1989, we get essentially the same origin narrative, though here his disfigurement follows an earlier set of events where we find Jack Napier (later the Joker) killing Bruce Wayne’s (later Batman) parents. In both of these Jokers we find a history, a narrative, and a stable (relatively speaking) identity; there is a method to their madness.

Ledger’s Joker on the other hand seems to have no personal biography at all—or at least one that he uses to justify his crimes. He gives radically different stories about his disfigurement and, after his capture, no record of his fingerprints, dental records, or DNA can be found. He floats above history, so when he lands and wreaks havoc, it seems random, senseless, and destructive for destruction’s sake. Or as some would define it, evil.

This may be one way to understand James Holmes’ identification with the Joker. From what we know so far, he was a loner, far from home, and when asked about the kid they used to know, friends have only been able to manage brief and generic descriptions such as, “quiet, kept to himself.” Admittedly, the same can be said for most of the mass murderers over the last 15 years. However, all of Holmes’ predecessors left behind either notes, confessions to friends, Facebook postings, or blog entries that attempted to justify their future act or simply notify the public of it. These stand as clues to a telos, however twisted.

Holmes seems to have left behind no online fingerprint aside from a cryptic message on an adult dating website. And instead of a note or manifesto, as in the case of the Unabomber, he left a booby-trapped death chamber for anyone who attempted to enter his apartment and for those living in his building. More destruction to “explain” destruction leaves nothing in his wake.

Rather than attributing Holmes’ and the Joker’s nonexistent moral compass (and
neither seems to have one) to an absence of moral training that would be there if prayer were back in public schools, we may need to look at their apparent lack of a self-conscious narrative as a more telling source.

Scottish philosopher Alasdair MacIntyre reminds us that the human being is a,
teller of stories that aspire to truth. But the key question for men [sic.] is not about their own authoriship; “I can only answer the question, ‘What am I to do?’ if I can answer the prior question, ‘Of what story or stories do I find myself a part?’”
Moral relativism can be held by those who have a detailed and rich personal story, and most who have no such story do not commit heinous crimes. However, it is a narrative, whether religious or not, that locates past actions and channels future ones, whether moral or not. We may never know what story James Holmes found himself a part of—or if there even is one. But if Holmes has no story, no self-conscious telos in his life, then we may be able to unravel a part of his tragic association with Ledger’s rendition of the Joker without having to use this unbelievable tragedy as yet another weapon in a culture war.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ideas on Saving the World

Empire Remixed

Posted: 26 Jul 2012 09:57 AM PDT

During a recent episode of CBC’s Ideas, Political Theologian William T. Cavanaugh shared:

The world has had enough of well-meaning American undergraduates going out and trying to change the world. Please don’t go out and try to change the world. Go back home to your little town in Minnesota and find your identity and your life in a place where you can be planted and take root.

Smalltown Minnesota never felt so small.

Maybe he’d been having a bad day. Maybe Cavanaugh had recently overdosed on Wendell Berry. It can happen to the best of us.

But move back to my hometown? The University adventure was all about getting out and moving up. It was about expanding my mind and my experience. It was about making connections and becoming my own person.

To go back now would be a betrayal of everything I’ve aspired towards. To go back now would be an end to that dream. How can you live that dream, that deep-rooted American dream in your small town when it’s all about New! York!

Back in the day, perhaps even before I was born, that dream might have meant something to some people.

There might even have been some value to some version of the American dream, no matter what Arthur Miller, or my anti-imperial friend Brian Walsh would have us believe. And yet, if there is any value to such a dream, should it not be built on integrity?

What is integrity if it isn’t fiercely loyal, fiercely principled, and yes, fiercely rooted in place?

Rosanne Cash, daughter of Johnny, put it this way in an interview with Q’s Jian Ghomeshi:

My sense is that in my father’s generation, you wanted success and material wealth. You wanted a comfortable life, but that the way to achieve that was through commitment and a strong work ethic and personal integrity.

But these days, Cash goes on to say:

Sometimes some people want all of those things, but they want to get there no matter what.

This is all at the expense of integrity. Personal integrity (as if that means anything anymore), the integrity of our communities, and the integrity of the earth are laid waste at the feet of unbridled desires for acquisition.

Acquisition of new experiences, of new things, more, more, more.

Perhaps this is what Cavanaugh is getting at. When he writes books entitled “Torture and Eucharist,” or “Being Consumed,” it appears as though there might be something weighing heavily on his mind.

Whether it’s the broad application of the Chicago School Friedmanite economics in Pinochet’s Chile, or our own consumptive dis-integration in the west, Cavanaugh is pointing to the extreme disconnect between the cross of Christ, the Eucharistic feast and our exploitative behaviour.

Even the exploitative behaviour of changing the world.

We’re often taught, in our institutes of higher learning that we can change the world. That we should change the world. All too often, those unbridled ambitions are more about us, and our own fulfilment, than they are about the world.

Recreate the world in your own image. Find ways to change the world to your way of thinking, being, doing.

How often are we taught to live in the world with integrity? To seek the integrity of all of our relationships, with God, one another, and the world in which we live?

Throw in doses of that disruptive, prophetic imagination, sure. But do it with a deep sense of place. Do it as a member of a community. Recognise that relationships take time. That your ability to change the world (for good and for ill)

It all may be a bunch of melodramatic bullshit, but what if we took that to heart? What if we committed to the integrity of the place where we lived, rather than jumping from country to country, city to city, in pursuit of the next project? What if we invested in the integrity of our relationships with this place, right here?

I know that this isn’t easy. I no longer live where I grew up. I live on the opposite side of the country, in fact. I sense the loss of relationships with friends and family. I sense the loss of relationships with my neighbourhood, and all of its dynamics. And yet, I sense the opportunity to invest deeply in this new city.

And I’m hopeful. Hopeful that my relationships in Vancouver, with the people of this city, my neighbourhood, will bear fruit. I feel settled here. I feel as though this is the place I will put down roots, even as I struggle with the hubris of thinking I can change the world.

The Song of Lamech is Not the Song of the Lamb

Posted on 7.26.2012

Recently, I made the argument that Jesus's response to Peter about forgiving "seventy times seven" was a reference to the Jubilee. More specifically, the Jubilee of Jubilees. (That post can be found here.)

I'd like to extend that analysis by connecting Jesus's instruction on forgiveness to the very first reference of "seventy times seven" or "seventy seven" in the bible--Lamech's Song of the Sword.

The Song comes after the sin of Cain and Cain's exile. From there the descendents of Cain are named and among them is Lamech. In the middle of this, without any real context, Lamech gives what has been called the Song of the Sword:

Genesis 4.23-24
Lamech said to his wives, “Adah and Zillah, listen to me; wives of Lamech, hear my words:

I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times. ”

Again, we don't know any of the background here. We don't know who the young man was or why Lamech killed him. But what we do know is that this is a song of vengeance. More, it's a song of "shock and awe" vengeance.

There's the normal tit for tat vengeance.

Then there's Cain-level vengeance--vengeance times seven.

And then there is Lamech-level vengeance--vengeance seventy-seven times.

Again, this is the very first reference in the bible to seventy-seven (or seventy times seven). And we note here that this number is associated with vengeance, with a Song of the Sword.

In light of that, I wonder if Jesus's teachings on forgiveness are not directly addressing the ethic of Lamech and the hold it has upon our imaginations. Is not Jesus explicitly rejecting the Song of the Sword and the world it creates?

Matthew 18. 21-22
Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

Also note the sword-theme in the arrest at Gethsemane. Swords are everywhere:

Matthew 26.47-56
While he was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people. Now the betrayer had arranged a signal with them: “The one I kiss is the man; arrest him.” Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, “Greetings, Rabbi!” and kissed him.

Jesus replied, “Do what you came for, friend.”

Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him. With that, one of Jesus’ companions reached for his sword, drew it out and struck the servant of the high priest, cutting off his ear.

“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels? But how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen in this way?”

In that hour Jesus said to the crowd, “Am I leading a rebellion, that you have come out with swords and clubs to capture me? Every day I sat in the temple courts teaching, and you did not arrest me. But this has all taken place that the writings of the prophets might be fulfilled.” Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.

(BTW, given this conversation I think it's noteworthy that Jesus calls his betrayer "friend.")

Everyone in this scene is working with the imagination of Lamech. The Song of the Sword is the ethic of everyone in the scene. Everyone, that is, but Jesus.

The men coming for Jesus are carrying swords. And Jesus chides them for their mistake. He basically says, "What ever gave you the idea that you'd need a sword to arrest me? When did I ever carry or call for swords?"

Jesus is in effect saying, "When did you ever hear me sing the song of Lamech?"

And Jesus's followers are just as confused. They are still singing the song of Lamech. The swords are met with swords.

But Jesus says, put your sword away.

We have a new understanding of seventy-seven.

The Song of Lamech is not the Song of the Lamb.
The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 17th Ordinary (Day 4)

John 6:1-21
6 After this Jesus went across the Galilee Sea (that is, the Tiberius Sea). 2 A large crowd followed him, because they had seen the miraculous signs he had done among the sick. 3 Jesus went up a mountain and sat there with his disciples. 4 It was nearly time for Passover, the Jewish festival.
5 Jesus looked up and saw the large crowd coming toward him. He asked Philip, “Where will we buy food to feed these people?” 6 Jesus said this to test him, for he already knew what he was going to do.
7 Philip replied, “More than a half year’s salary worth of food wouldn’t be enough for each person to have even a little bit.”
8 One of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, said, 9 “A youth here has five barley loaves and two fish. But what good is that for a crowd like this?”
10 Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass there. They sat down, about five thousand of them. 11 Then Jesus took the bread. When he had given thanks, he distributed it to those who were sitting there. He did the same with the fish, each getting as much as they wanted. 12 When they had plenty to eat, he said to his disciples, “Gather up the leftover pieces, so that nothing will be wasted.” 13 So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves that had been left over by those who had eaten.
14 When the people saw that he had done a miraculous sign, they said, “This is truly the prophet who is coming into the world.” 15 Jesus understood that they were about to come and force him to be their king, so he took refuge again, alone on a mountain.
16 When evening came, Jesus’ disciples went down to the lake. 17 They got into a boat and were crossing the lake to Capernaum. It was already getting dark and Jesus hadn’t come to them yet. 18 The water was getting rough because a strong wind was blowing. 19 When the wind had driven them out for about three or four miles, they saw Jesus walking on the water. He was approaching the boat and they were afraid. 20 He said to them, “I Am. Don’t be afraid.” 21 Then they wanted to take him into the boat, and just then the boat reached the land where they had been heading.
Gathering the Fragments

Gathering the Fragments © Jan L. Richardson
Reading from the Gospels, Pentecost +9, Year B (July 29): John 6.1-21
He told his disciples, “Gather up the fragments left over,
so that nothing may be lost.”
―John 6.12

It is part of the miracle: how Jesus, with such intention, cares for the fragments following the feast. He sees the abundance that persists, the feast that remains within the fragments. We might think the marvel of the story is that there is enough for everyone. And yet for Jesus, enough does not seem to be enough. There is more: a meal that depends on paying attention to what has been left behind, on turning toward what has been tossed aside.
Call it the persistence of wonder, or the stubbornness of the miraculous: how Christ casts his circle around the fragments, will not loose his hold on what is broken and in pieces. How he gathers them up: a sign of the wholeness he can see; a foretaste of the banquet to come.

Blessing the Fragments

Cup your hands together,
and you will see the shape
this blessing wants to take.
Basket, bowl, vessel:
it cannot help but
hold itself open
to welcome
what comes.

This blessing
knows the secret
of the fragments
that find their way
into its keeping,
the wholeness
that may hide
in what has been
left behind,
the persistence of plenty
where there seemed
only lack.

Look into the hollows
of your hands
and ask
what wants to be
gathered there,
what abundance waits
among the scraps
that come to you,
what feast
will offer itself
from the fragments
that remain.

Mean-world-syndrome_small Aurora, and The Mean World Syndrome

David Ropeik on July 24, 2012, 1:37 PM

It’s a Mean Mean Mean Mean World. Just ask the people in Aurora, Colorado. Or the people in Colombine, Colorado. Or the people of Port Arthur, Australia, where a schizophrenic massacred 35 and wounded 23 in 1996. What do those three mass murders, and so many others, have in common? The killers were all inspired to some degree by things they saw in movies.

Should there be talk about banning violent movies, as there is talk about controlling access to assault weapons with ammunition magazines that contain 100 rounds? No, although Andy Borowitz does a hilarious send-up of just that idea in a satire reporting that the National Rifle Association, claiming it’s “high time to take action against the number one cause of violence in America,” has proposed a ban on all violent movies. Movies don’t make people murderers any more than guns do. Still, guns make muderousness much more feasible, and popular entertainment certainly plants ideas that sick minds can use as inspiration for deadly reality.

Does violence in media lead to violence in the real world? Yes, according to something called The Mean World Syndrome, the idea posited by communications theorist George Gerbner, that violent content in popular media – Gerbner focused on the entertainment media but the concept includes the violent and alarmist nature of news content too - makes people believe that the world is a more violent place than it actually is.

Actually, the implications of the Mean World Syndrome go far beyond what happened in Aurora or Colombine or Port Arthur, or even the idea that violence in the entertainment media might spur violence in the real world. It describes something far more insidious, and far more potentially harmful. The Mean World Syndrome is the byproduct of what Gerbner called Cultivation Theory, the idea that the more we watch the news and entertainment media and the more they depict the world as a violent and threatening place, the more we come to accept that those are the norms of society, and the more those norms shape how we live. A world that feels more violent and threatening than it is makes us more worried than we need to be. The implications of that are enormous, far broader than awful but thankfully rare mass murders by people who are clearly mentally unstable.

Gerbner’s idea holds that if we think the world is a ‘mean’ and violent and unsafe place, the kind of world we see again and again in both the news and so much entertainment media, we live our lives accordingly. We buy guns to protect ourselves (guns purchased for self-protection are far more likely to go off in accidents, suicides, or in crimes against others). We live in gated communities. We support candidates who promise to keep us safe, and policies like the Patriot Act that cede civil liberties in the name of safety. A Mean and worrying world causes us to magnify our fears of anything, be it terrorism or industrial chemicals or economic uncertainty, sometimes prompting personal choices or social policies that feel right but do us more harm than good.

In a violent and threatening world we are readier to fear ‘others’. We mistrust more, and polarize more fiercely into our groups in pursuit of the protection afforded to social animals by tribal unity and cohesion. A Mean World is a more divided world, less able to achieve compromise and progress. A Mean World makes us more prone to the profound ill effects of chronic stress. And as Gerbner put it “…a society in which most people or many people already expect a higher degree of victimization, sooner or later they are going to get it.”

Batman, Natural Born Killers, and thousands more movies that normalize violence; countless TV shows about killers and rapists and torturers and terrorists; news reports that dramatically overemphasize violence and risk, depicting the world as a far more threatening place than it actually is. They all capture our attention, of course, because we are exquisitely sensitive to anything that might threaten us, and we are pruriently rewarded by watching cinematic violence and horror that we can tell ourselves is pretend, and walk away from, happy that “That didn’t happen to me.”

Except that a lot of people in that theater in Aurora didn’t get to walk away. Sometimes the Mean World Syndrome turns us into actual victims, in dramatic ways, when the normalization of violence fostered by the entertainment and news media creates fertile soil for madness. Most of the time, though, the Mean World Syndrome victimizes us more insidiously, making us feel more worried and fearful, more defensive and mistrustful, more polarized and anti-‘other’, than we need to be. Sometimes, in the name of trying to protect ourselves against the threats of a violent and threatening Mean World, we end up as the victims we are trying not to be.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 17th Ordinary (Day 3)

Ephesians 3:14-21

14 This is why I kneel before the Father. 15 Every ethnic group in heaven or on earth is recognized by him. 16 I ask that he will strengthen you in your inner selves from the riches of his glory through the Spirit. 17 I ask that Christ will live in your hearts through faith. As a result of having strong roots in love, 18 I ask that you’ll have the power to grasp love’s width and length, height and depth, together with all believers. 19 I ask that you’ll know the love of Christ that is beyond knowledge so that you will be filled entirely with the fullness of God.
20 Glory to God, who is able to do far beyond all that we could ask or imagine by his power at work within us; 21 glory to him in the church and in Christ Jesus for all generations, forever and always. Amen.

“Far beyond all that we could ask or imagine” – herein is grace!

“Far beyond all that we could ask or imagine” – herein is glory!

“Far beyond all that we could ask or imagine” – herein is the secret of life with God!

The love of Christ which is “beyond knowledge” is love “far beyond all that we could ask or imagine”!

Undivided, unconditional, unfathomable – such is the love that has us in its grasp and will not let us go. Yet we live in such poverty, self-chosen poverty, open only to what we can ask or imagine. Love, sought according to limits of our imagination and lived in accord with our small willingness to ask lock us into perpetual poverty at the very center of our existence.

Thus, the thrust of Paul’s prayer - strengthening through the Spirit, Christ living in us, being filled with the fullness of God. In all these ways Paul begs God to enable us to step out of this poverty and into the full experience of he has opened up to us in Christ. This invitation to live “far beyond all that we could ask or imagine” is the only way for us to live into this “glory” God offers us.

And yet we continually draw back. We stop at the point of our willingness to ask and our capacity to imagine because . . ., well, there are lots of reasons. You know your own heart and can supply your own reason. And in a sense, it doesn’t really matter why we do it. That we do it is enough – enough for us and enough for Paul. He knows the secret to life with God is not in figuring out what we do and why. Rather it lies in what God is able and willing to do and why he does it. And the answer is love – rich, lavish, full, unending, better than we can ever imagine, far more abundant than we can manage to ask for – “love so amazing so divine, it demands my soul, my life, my all.”

And that is what gives glory to God, in the church, in Christ Jesus, now and forever. Amen.

Some Thoughts on God’s Relation to Violence

Last night I put together this list of approaches to God’s relation to violence, especially in the Old Testament. This is off the top of my head. I doubtless have missed some, and perhaps misnamed others, but the list gives us an idea of the variety and attention being given to this important matter these days.

God’s Sovereignty

-the Bible accurately reflects what happened
-God is sovereign and just in all his actions
-therefore there is nothing problematic here even if we today have trouble accepting it


-the Bible accurately reflects what happened
-God meets his people where they are and deals with them in terms of national, political, and religious realities of the time
-God is willing to “get his hands dirty” (that is, act in ways that do not fully reflect his character and will) in order to move with his people toward fuller and clearer expressions of who he is and what he does (e.g. Jesus)

God allows his people to tell his story

-the Bible tells the story of God’s relation to violence in terms of what its authors understood and could express
-later revelation (esp. Jesus) brings more clarity to the way God’s works in the world
-we honor the intent of these stories (to honor and affirm God’s greatness and sovereign power) while not necessarily claiming the literal truth of their stories


-the Bible is a story made up of various chapters. How God has dealt with the his people and led them in earlier chapters of the story do not prescribe how he does that in later chapters
-God did what he is described as doing in these earlier chapters of the story (the so-called Conquest). But since Christ we live in a new and later chapter of the story in which he has revealed God’s will and way for us. This new later chapter is organically related to the earlier chapters. That is, it is the same story that has grown out of the earlier chapters. Indeed, it would not be the story it is without them!

God misunderstood approach

-here the claim is that the authors of the Old Testament have misunderstood what they believed God had done or asked them to do
-therefore, the biblical stories did not happen as portrayed and we are free to set them aside in our effort to understand and follow God


-the biblical authors of the Old Testament intended to portray the consequences of faithfulness (Joshua) and unfaithfulness (Judges) to YHWH
-their accounts are literary stylizations of these pictures of faithfulness and unfaithfulness that reflect their theological convictions rather than historical reality

God is “recovering” from his “addiction” to violence

-I heard this from Walter Brueggemann (though I have not read his written work on this so I may be misunderstanding him).
-He seems to be saying that God himself “changes” in the course of the biblical story from a God who uses violent means to effect his purposes to one who acts and is known as the “God of peace” we meet in Jesus Christ

As you can see from my cursory and inadequate survey here there is much ferment presently in this area. My categories can be mixed and matched together in a variety of ways. History, exegesis, and theology work together in different ways in these constructs. Much remains to be done but perhaps my little typology will get you started in getting into this crucial discussion. Again, this typology is inadequate and inelegant, flawed and simplistic – but just maybe it might help someone.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Gun Laws, None Dare Call it Time

July 24, 2012 By scotmcknight 27 Comments

Sandy Levinson, at Balkinization:

Some of this blog’s readers will know that I am against our gun laws — we are a violent society and our violence is magnified by the 2d Amendment’s right to bear arms, a right taken far too liberally in our culture. The issue for me, however, is not simply repealing the 2d Amendment or drastically reducing what constitutes the right to “bear” arms, but how Christians participate.

The GOP is in bed with the NRA; the Dems learned from Al Gore’s opposition to gun laws, which many Dems supported, that they can’t win elections with that platform. So today no party is willing to re-examine our gun laws.

The reality is similar with regard to firearms, including the ones used in Aurora. For better or worse–and it seems hard to argue that it is not “for worse”–Americans are simply unwilling to accept the possibility of significant constraints on gun ownership. Events like the one in Aurora are, therefore, simply the price we willingly pay for “taking rights seriously,” as Ronald Dworkin would put it (though surely not with regard to the Second Amendment), just as the slaughter of innocent victims of drunk drivers is the price we similarly pay for the only minimally-regulated sale of alcohol. (We could also talk about the price paid for honoring the First Amendment, which on occasion can certainly increase the probability of murder, as with incitement to kill abortion providers).In any case, let me suggest that something along these lines is what a truly honest discussion of Aurora might look like, but we have no national leaders, in either party, willing to conduct it.

Michael Bloomerg has shown, once again, why he has no prospect at all for national political office, by noting the pathetic inadequacy of both the Obama and Romney responses. The inability to have an honest discussion about guns (or alcohol or drugs) is simply a mirror of our equal inability to have an honest discussion about so many other issues in contemporary American life. The only difference is that we actually pay some attention, for at least a couple of days, to massacres carried out by (presumed) lunatics with guns and not to the deaths that are just as equally caused by presumed “non-lunatics” in other aspects of American poliltics and culture. Perhaps Mitt Romney will suggest hugging one’s child as one explains why there is no way to cover expensive medical care for a parent or the tot him/herself.

Distribution of Wealth

Lament, Confession and The Politics of Jesus

July 24, 2012 By Christopher Smith Leave a Comment

This is the third Slow Church post in a short series about Lament and the Aurora Theater Shooting…
You can read the previous posts here: [ Part I ] [ Part II ]

“To learn to lament is to become people who stay near to the wounds of the world, singing over them and washing them, allowing the unsettling cry of pain to be heard.” — Chris Rice / Emmanuel Katongole RECONCILING ALL THINGS

Continuing our reflection on what it means to lament, I want to focus now on locating lament. Generally speaking, where and how does it happen? I want to start with an insightful comment that my friend Gary Lynch left on yesterday’s post:

I also believe that lament has to be and must also be something very personal, it is something that we feel in our bones and in our heart, it is each person expressing deep sadness and contrition over a particular event or even the state of life itself. It is in the coming together of a people lamenting that the cause of our lament can be more clearly defined and addressed in a God like way.

Gary is spot on here, lament begins inside us, as we wrestle personally with grief and contrition. But the journey of lament cannot end there. Eventually, as Gary observes, we will be ready to share our personal laments in the local church community. Often this sort of sharing will come in the form of confession. Confession, like lament, is not a particularly familiar practice for most churches today. Offering confession may be a more familiar practice in some churches, but the flip-side, a congregation receiving, extending grace to and restoring the one who confesses is, I imagine, mostly a foreign practice to us. A group of us from Englewood have recently finished reading through Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s Life Together. One of the most challenging parts of the book was the final chapter on confession and communion. Bonhoeffer writes:

The final break-through to fellowship does not occur, because, though they have fellowship with one another as believers and as devout people, they do not have fellowship as the undevout, as sinners. The pious fellowship permits no one to be a sinner. So everybody must conceal his sin from himself and from the fellowship. We dare not be sinner. Many Christians are unthinkably horrified when a real sinner is found among the righteous. So we remain alone with our sin, living in lies and hypocrisy. The fact is that we are sinners!

The journey of lament, though it may be initiated by an external event (a tragic shooting, a social malaise — e.g., the recent focus on the tragic preponderance of PTSD and suicide among soldiers–, etc.), as it proceeds from the personal through confession to forgiveness and restoration, ultimately serves to deepen the fellowship — from the biblical Greek word koinonia, literally common life — of the congregation.

In Reconciling All Things, Chris Rice and Emmanuel Katongole describe lament as the means by which we unlearn speed, distance and innocence. By this definition, it should be clear that lament is an essential part of what John and I have been calling Slow Church. As we are slowed by lament, we come to see not only how deeply broken we are, and all creation is, but also that in Christ, we have been given a way out of this huge mess (and when I say “we,” I mean not just us as individuals, or as Christians, but all humanity and indeed all creation). The way begins in our hearts and eventually leads to confession in our local congregation (or some subset thereof), and then to the extension of grace and forgiveness by the church community. At this point in the journey is where, in conversation together, we might begin to strategize about how we can enter into a situation, whether it is personal struggles that a brother or sister might face or a larger social problem.

As I have argued in my recent book The Virtue of Dialogue, we need spaces in which this conversation can unfold, for such spaces are where the politics of Jesus can begin to take shape (our congregations are, after all, manifestations of the body of Christ). Returning to the above definition of lament, our typical approaches to politics are politics without lament, politics fueled by speed (and efficiency), distance (addressing an issue, without engaging in it), and (the appearance of) innocence (especially in contrast to members of the opposite party, whichever that might be). Maybe we need to lament the sort of politics that we called Christian –whether we are inclined to the right or to the left — and in so doing, begin to imagine new sorts of politics together in our churches that are locally-rooted in our particular congregations.

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 17th Ordinary (Day 2)

Psalm 14

14 Fools say in their hearts, There is no God.
They are corrupt and do evil things;
not one of them does anything good.
2 The LORD looks down from heaven on humans
to see if anyone is wise,
to see if anyone seeks God,
3 but all of them have turned bad.
Everyone is corrupt.
No one does good—
not even one person!
4 Are they dumb, all these evildoers,
devouring my people
like they are eating bread
but never calling on the LORD?
5 Count on it: they will be in utter panic
because God is with the righteous generation.
6 You evildoers may humiliate
the plans of those who suffer,
but the LORD is their refuge.
7 Let Israel’s salvation come out of Zion!
When the LORD changes
his people’s circumstances for the better,
Jacob will rejoice;
Israel will celebrate!

Here’s how The Message renders Psalm 14:

1 Bilious and bloated, they gas, "God is gone."
Their words are poison gas,
fouling the air; they poison
Rivers and skies;
thistles are their cash crop.

2 GOD sticks his head out of heaven.
He looks around.
He's looking for someone not stupid—
one man, even, God-expectant,
just one God-ready woman.

3 He comes up empty. A string
of zeros. Useless, unshepherded
Sheep, taking turns pretending
to be Shepherd.
The ninety and nine
follow their fellow.

4 Don't they know anything,
all these impostors?
Don't they know
they can't get away with this—
Treating people like a fast-food meal
over which they're too busy to pray?

5-6 Night is coming for them, and nightmares,
for God takes the side of victims.
Do you think you can mess
with the dreams of the poor?
You can't, for God
makes their dreams come true.

7 Is there anyone around to save Israel?
Yes. God is around; God turns life around.
Turned-around Jacob skips rope,
turned-around Israel sings laughter.

Monday, July 23, 2012

The Church Year and the Lectionary Commentary – 17th Ordinary (Day 1)

2 Samuel 11:1-15

11 In the spring, when kings go off to war, David sent Joab, along with his servants and all the Israelites, and they destroyed the Ammonites, attacking the city of Rabbah. But David remained in Jerusalem.
2 One evening, David got up from his couch and was pacing back and forth on the roof of the palace. From the roof he saw a woman bathing; the woman was very beautiful. 3 David sent someone and inquired about the woman. The report came back: “Isn’t this Eliam’s daughter Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite?” 4 So David sent messengers to get her. When she came to him, he had sex with her. (Now she had been purifying herself after her monthly period.) Then she returned home. 5 The woman conceived and sent word to David.
“I’m pregnant,” she said.
6 Then David sent a message to Joab: “Send me Uriah the Hittite.” So Joab sent Uriah to David. 7 When Uriah came to him, David asked about the welfare of Joab and the army and how the battle was going. 8 Then David told Uriah, “Go down to your house and wash your feet.”
Uriah left the palace, and a gift from the king was sent after him. 9 However, Uriah slept at the palace entrance with all his master’s servants. He didn’t go down to his own house. 10 David was told, “Uriah didn’t go down to his own house,” so David asked Uriah, “Haven’t you just returned from a journey? Why didn’t you go home?”
11 “The chest and Israel and Judah are all living in tents,” Uriah told David. “And my master Joab and my master’s troops are camping in the open field. How could I go home and eat, drink, and have sex with my wife? I swear on your very life, I will not do that!”
12 Then David told Uriah, “Stay here one more day. Tomorrow I’ll send you back.” So Uriah stayed in Jerusalem that day. The next day 13 David called for him, and he ate and drank, and David got him drunk. In the evening Uriah went out to sleep in the same place, alongside his master’s servants, but he did not go down to his own home.
14 The next morning David wrote a letter to Joab and sent it with Uriah. 15 He wrote in the letter, “Place Uriah at the front of the fiercest battle, and then pull back from him so that he will be struck down and die.”

In the ancient Near East of David’s time spring is a propitious time for war not just because winter is over and the weather is better. More importantly for them was that spring, the reassertion of new life in nature, meant that the people’s god was reasserting himself and going forth in strength victorious against the forces of chaos which had gotten the upper hand for a time during the dying seasons of fall and winter. People went to war at the time when they believed their deity was at full strength and victorious.

Israel’s deity has chosen and sent his people in the world, a world that had turned away from its Creator in pride and rebellion, to be what I like to call a “subversive counter-revolutionary movement.” They were to be a living demonstration of what human life was designed to be, a people who attitudes and structures for living made them a distinctive and subversive presence among the dysfunctional peoples of the world.

In this sense, they were engaged in a war that included but went beyond their physical confrontations with other nations and peoples. The church today bears the mantle of this ongoing divine warfare between God and his still-not-yet-fully-redeemed-world. This warfare no longer includes the physical battle, since God’s people are no longer a geopolitical entity with boundaries to secure and political, economic, or military interests to pursue. Rather, as a people dispersed among all the nations of the globe, the church carries out its subversive counter-revolutionary work in non-violent ways.

Yet it is still warfare. The Apostle Paul thematizes warfare as the church’s mode of existence in his letter to the Ephesians. He is clear that this is NOT physical combat against other human beings (6:12) but rather a struggles against spiritual powers and principalities which agitate and exacerbate humanity’s penchant for rebelling against God.

With that caveat, we can treat this episode in David’s life as an analogy to our life in the church. What can we learn from it?

We remember that David, as king, is a representative figure not simply an individual. He is “Israel.” Thus whatever we learn here is something for all of us and for the church as a whole.

In the first place, then, we notice that at a time when Israel’s God was on a victory march against the Ammonites, David was not there. He was not in his appointed place, not pursuing his vocation and calling. Instead, he is at ease at home, cooling his heels while his generals and their troops do the dirty work on his behalf. This is another version of humanity’s primal sin – failing to attend to our dignity and calling as God’s image-bearers as did our first parents in the garden.

And when we don’t play our parts and attend to our calling and vocation, things get gummed up pretty quickly. In his self-chosen leisure David spots Bathsheba, and the rest is history. David is in deep now with no easy way out.

In the second place, when we don’t attend to our calling and vocation, we end up in denial and rationalization to justify what we are doing. And people get used and hurt in the process, as do Bathsheba, Uriah, and Joab. The whole body gets distorted and suffers when we stray from what God has called us to be and do.

Whether we are “leaders” or members of the congregation, this applies to all of us. Both “leaders” and “followers” must encourage and hold each other accountable for this basic task of discipleship – attending to the calling and vocation God has given to us!

To Understand and be Understood

These five practices for moving beyond the polarization which currently dominates our public discourse are adapted from Charles C. Camosy, assistant professor of Christian ethics at Fordham University in New York City:

1. Humility.

-We might be wrong
-Acknowledge that our views are ours, not Truth itself.
-We seek understanding and are willing to change our mind if convinced.

2. Treat your conversation partner as a full-fledged human being.

-They are human beings, God’s beloved creatures, well worth knowing in their own right.
-Never presume to know what someone thinks or what motivates them because of their gender, race, level of privilege, sexual orientation, or social location.
-Listen to learn rather than critique (“Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”)

3. Avoiding binary thinking.

-Genuine issues are almost always too complex to fit into simplistic categories like liberal/conservative, religious/secular, open/close-minded, pro-life/pro-choice, etc.
-Binary thinking creates “sides”, my side and the wrong side, which hinders or shuts off serious and open engagement.
-Learn to accept or embrace ambiguity

4. Don’t use labels.

-Words like radical feminist, feminazi, war on women, neocon, limousine liberal, prude, heretic, tree-hugger, anti-science, anti-life, and so on.
-Try to use language that engages, alffirms, and draws the other into a fruitful engage of ideas.

5. Lead with what you are for.

-this makes a convincing, positive case for your view you.
-In practice leading with what we are for often reveals that we are actually after very similar things and simply need to be able to talk in an open and coherent way about the best plan for getting there.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mission in John - Scot McKnight


Scot McKnight

Here is an outline of God’s mission, mostly drawn from the Gospel of John and its use of the word “send,” I sketched in my preparations for the teaching at SommerOase in Denmark. This sketch was the theological foundation of my talks.
Dansk Oase
July 2012


Theme: Who is God? (in mission)

1.0 Mission Begins IN God.

“I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).
“the Father is in me, and I in the Father” (10:38; 17:21, 23).
Now a brief sketch of a major Christian doctrine, the Trinity, and its connection to mission.

1. God has been eternally missional, is missional, and will be missional forever. (Eschatology is inherent.)

2. Why? Because the Trinity is mutual indwelling in love for the Other.

3. God is essentially and endlessly missionally engaged within the Trinty: the Father, the Son, and the Spirit engage One Another in missional union and missional love.

4. Creation is the explosion of God’s internal missionality into living, created, mortal order.

2.0 Mission Begins WITH God’s Sending.

1. God sends John: “And I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water told me…” (1:33).

2. God sends Jesus: ““My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work….” (4:34).

3. Jesus sends us: “As the Father has sent me, I am sending you” (20:21).
If you are one of Jesus’ followers you are missional.

3.0 The Missional Christian, who is a follower of Jesus, Stays WITHIN God’s Mission.

Jesus provides the pattern for the Missional Christian:

1. Seeking God’s Approval: John 5:30 By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me….” and this approval is the future kingdom’s judgment becoming reality in the Now.

2. Source is God’s Truth in Jesus: John 7:16 Jesus answered, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the one who sent me…. 18 Whoever speaks on their own does so to gain personal glory, but he who seeks the glory of the one who sent him is a man of truth; there is nothing false about him. … 28 Then Jesus, still teaching in the temple courts, cried out, “Yes, you know me, and you know where I am from. I am not here on my own authority, but he who sent me is true.”

3. Strengthened by God’s Presence:
God is at work: John 6:44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws them, and I will raise them up at the last day.
God is present: John 8:16 But if I do judge, my decisions are true, because I am not alone. I stand with the Father, who sent me.
John 8:29 The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.”
God is present in the Holy Spirit: John 14:26 But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.
The Spirit’s presence orients us toward Jesus: John 15:26 “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father—the Spirit of truth who goes out from the Father—he will testify about me.”

4. Speaking God’s words: John 12:49 For I did not speak on my own, but the Father who sent me commanded me to say all that I have spoken.

4.0 The Missional Christian is INSIDE/IN Christ.

1. Seeing Jesus is seeing the Father: John 12:44 Then Jesus cried out, “Whoever believes in me does not believe in me only, but in the one who sent me. 45 The one who looks at me is seeing the one who sent me.”

2. Accepting Us is accepting Jesus is accepting the Father: John 13:20 Very truly I tell you, whoever accepts anyone I send accepts me; and whoever accepts me accepts the one who sent me.”

3. Opposing You is opposing Jesus is opposing the Father: John 15:21 They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me.

Here is a 4 point sketch of how the Missional Christian is to see himself or herself:

1. To see yourself as deriving your mission in God.
2. To see yourself as extending God’s mission in Jesus to others.
3. To see yourself as inhabiting God’s perichoresis.
4. To see yourself participating in God’s present anticipation of the kingdom of God — the future that God’s mission now leans into.

A Faith Not Worth Fighting For Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Nonviolence; Summary and Review(1)

(2012-05-17). A Faith Not Worth Fighting For: Addressing Commonly Asked Questions about Christian Nonviolence (The Peaceable Kingdom Series) . Cascade Books, an Imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers. Kindle Edition.

“We begin this book with the audacious hope that you will accept our proposal to concede that following Jesus could demand a lifelong commitment to nonviolence” (6). In this book editors Justin Bronson Barringer and Tripp York invite readers to journey into the ever-popular and important concern of “what would you do if” objections to this claim. This first volume in “The Peaceable Kingdom Series” offers thorough yet accessible essays from a variety of contributors to address these matters from a center of what we might call Christological Realism. Stanley Hauerwas, in his forward to this volume, identifies this center as the legacy of the great Mennonnite theologian John Howard Yoder. These essays may then be considered a furthering of the tradition of Christological pacifism for which Yoder is justly famous.

The editors’ aims are to “discuss why refusing to employ violence is so important to Christian discipleship” (4) and to address why “how we respond to our enemies reveals the reality of our ultimate commitment” (4). This is a crucial and effective strategy given the ease with which we in North America conclude that the benefits of contravening Jesus’ command to live nonviolently are evident.

This command to so live is rooted in a theological conviction, the basic theological conviction of Christian theology: “To be clear, we stress nonviolence not because we are against something called ‘violence,’ rather, we emphasize nonviolence because we believe Jesus is resurrected from the dead. For in light of his resurrection, what else can we do but follow him? (p. 6)

In light of this conviction, indeed this unfathomable reality, the editors claim that we must thus attend to “the important questions that often tempt us to ignore, neglect, explain away, or flat-out reject the difficult teachings of Jesus that could potentially require us to give up our lives, and those of the ones we love, at the hands of our enemies” (6).

The volume is brought to a fitting conclusion with a consideration of the martyrs from whom this faith of ours was not worth killing for but most certainly worth dying for (7).

Guns and Grace

Our national debate about guns and gun control revolves around the “rights” of the individual citizen according to how one interprets the second amendment. As citizens, Christians have every reason to weigh in on this debate.

However, “rights” language is not the Christian faith’s natural habitat. We cannot say all we might want to say or describe our way of living in this language. Many Christians will likely question the “right” of any private citizen to own an assault rifle or any other weapon whose sole purpose is maximal killing. Thus, it may be necessary for us to use this language in the public debate, but this hardly exhausts a Christian response to the gun culture in which we live.

Christian faith is animated and normed by the cross of Jesus Christ. In Philippians 2 Paul pictures the Jesus in whose light and by whose resurrection life we live in a way that is rightly recognized as decisive and determinative for his followers. In this picture, it is precisely not the “rights” on which he, as “God” might have been expected to invoke, but rather his refusal precisely as “God” not invoke them and indeed to declare such practice antithetical to what being “God” means! In other words, Jesus chose, because he was God incarnate and this is the true way of being “God,” to live defenselessly in this world. He refused to assert his own right to existence or value it more than the lives of other people. He never countenanced taking another’s life or defending his own when it was threatened. Instead, he let go of that whole way of being, choosing instead to be obedient, “even to the point of death on a cross,” living in the power of the strange alchemy of divine love which overturns all our intimations of what is right and proper by rather suffering the “wrongs” of others and absorbing their hurt rather than attempting to defend against them by an assertion of “rights.”

Christians, therefore, those who belong to Christ, will also learn to choose by letting go of assertive, aggressive, defensive practices and ways of life in favor of this strange, counterintuitive alchemy of divine love. It is important to note that this way of living is not a strategy for surviving in a violent world. It may work out on occasion that practice of such love may turn an aggressor’s heart or intent from the harm he or she intended. But this clearly does not always happen – otherwise we would have no martyrs in the church! No, this way of life is a witness to the deepest truth about life as God intended it, the way of Jesus Christ not a survival strategy or the recommendation of a policy for how everyone should live. It is, as I said, a witness and an invitation to join the community who lives this way by trusting in the grace of the One who showed us that living not to lose or lives is antithetical to God’s way of living in a fallen and dangerous world, losing one’s life to save it.

It is, in my judgment, the communal demonstration on the part of Jesus’ people of such a way of life that has potential to impact and change the fabric of our culture. For this demonstration is gospel – the announcement that God has won the victory, defeated the power of death, and embraced the whole world in its destiny to live with him forever. And this gospel, as Paul puts it in Romans, is the gracious power of God to salvation (Romans 1:16ff.)! And only such a salvation that reorients us from seeking our “rights” but instead impels us to give ourselves to the “wrongs” that loving a fallen world will inevitably bring.

Such a way of life cannot be imposed or legislated. We should, of course, work for any legislation that seems wise and achievable towards the lessening of the presence and power of the gun culture that places us in such peril of events like the massacre in the theater in Aurora, CO and far too many other similar events for us to name or remember. This way of “rights,” however, is, at best, a holding action. The only change or preventative, if there be such at this point, is communities of those faithful to Jesus Christ becoming parables of new and life-giving ways to live. There may be no more important witness to the gospel we can offer at this time in our nation’s history. It is worth noting here that the Greek word that means “witness” also means “martyr”!