Holy Week is supposed to be a painful time for followers of Jesus.
However, I worry that it is painful for the wrong reasons.
For many Christians, the suffering and death of Jesus is simply understood as a sacrificial act on our behalf. Jesus, though without sin himself, had to die on a cross so that humanity’s sins could be forgiven. This requirement of a sacrificial victim, so this logic goes, stems from the idea that God requires perfection, or sinlessness, and cannot, in any way, accept the stain and corruption of a sinful humanity. The sin must be atoned for, and thus, Jesus steps in and takes our place as a substitute.
This idea is called “substitutionary atonement,” and is the standard evangelical Christian view of what happened during Holy Week. This idea gives rise to an extremely sentimental and individualistic view of Jesus’ passion. I’ve heard preachers say things like, “You were on his mind, when he was on the cross.” I’ve sung songs that assert, “I owed a debt I could not pay/He paid a debt he did not owe.”
In the end, Jesus came to die. That’s it. Nothing else. Even the resurrection is not necessary — all that had to happen is that Jesus die as a substitute for our sins.
I will say it plainly here: this view of Jesus, salvation, the kingdom of God, history, heaven and hell is plainly incoherent, incorrect, and destructive.
That is why I wrote the Alternative Holy Week (#AltHolyWeek) stories on this blog. I wanted to engage with the original purpose, motive, and strategy of Jesus, and contrast it with our usual way of thinking about the passion, crucifixion, and resurrection.
First of all, it should be clear that Jesus’ mission was to proclaim and inaugurate the kingdom of God. This is what he himself said on numerous occasions. His first sermon was, “Repent, for the kingdom has come near” (Matt. 4:17, Mark 1:15). Everything he said and did flowed from that self-understanding. His parables illustrated what life in the kingdom is like. His miracles were pointers in the direction of kingdom-life.
Everyone who followed Jesus seemed to understand this mission fully only after his resurrection. To some extent, they thought that Jesus was going to set up the kingdom on earth. They thought that this kingdom of which he spoke, was going to look like the Roman kingdom, only better. Thus, when Jesus was crucified, they truly thought everything was over. They believed they had been likely mistaken about Jesus’ identity, because the powers of evil had defeated him.
The resurrection overturned their resignation, however, and they came to see that Jesus was himself the kingdom, meaning that he had truly inaugurated a new order of things, that new life was possible, that God’s shalom could be found on earth. This is what the original Christian creed meant: “Jesus is Lord.”
The second point flows from the first: the kingdom of God is a radically different kind of thing than any of the earth’s kingdoms. For one, it cannot be ushered in by the world’s standards of power and authority. God’s kingdom purposes cannot be accomplished by violence and force. This is the simplest explanation of my story last week. We should take note of the simple fact that Jesus was nonviolent. Though his mission was to establish a kingdom, he did not gather an army, nor did he amass weapons.
This is why the story is so jarring. Jesus came to announce that there is a new king and a new order of things. Yet, he didn’t try to oust the people in power by force. He didn’t even seem interested in that. He simply lived in the reality of the kingdom of God at all times, and refused to acknowledge the idolatrous claims of the various kingdoms around him.
Not only is the kingdom of God nonviolent, but it inverts the values of the world. In God’s kingdom, the poor are lifted up, the sick are made well, the humble are exalted, the last are first. There is no selfish competition, no self-aggrandizement, no jockeying for position and power. Relationships are open, transparent, trusting.
But in the story I wrote last week, Jesus’ kingdom-building was not only physically violent, but also suspicious and cynical. This kind of kingdom rewards the powerful, centralizes authority in a single figure, and creates idols.
There is one more important point to be made, but it is one that is often skipped over, or ignored. Because the kingdom of God is fundamentally different from that of the earth’s kingdoms, many Christians jump over its implications for life on earth, and relegate it to a description of heaven. Then Jesus’ death becomes a substitutionary atonement performed on our behalf, so that we can go to heaven and live in the kingdom of God when we die.
But that is not what Jesus said!
Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is here amongst you!”
Jesus said, “Let anyone who hears, listen!”
If we are going to participate in Jesus’ mission, if we are truly Jesus’ followers, then we must live in the kingdom of God now, just as Jesus did. We must be nonviolent. We must be merciful and gracious. We must reject the values of the world. We must live as if we truly believe the poor are being lifted up, the sick being made well, the humble are being exalted, and the last are becoming first.
If we don’t, then maybe we don’t really believe that Jesus is Lord after all.
The following is the second of a series of posts which offer an alternative view of Holy Week. This is just a wacky exercise of creative writing that asks the question, “What if this is what had happened?”
Miriam yawned for the fifty-first time this morning, and tapped the tabletop absentmindedly. Her market stall, located just outside the Temple entrance, had done a poor business.
She sold a variety of religious trinkets, including Torah bubblegum, Legos Exodus sets, and Passover finger puppets. She was looking forward to the big tourist rush leading up to Passover, but so far, she hadn’t seen any impact on her business.
Miriam was also worried that her competitors across the street had got the best of her this year. They were selling “Kosher Style”-themed items, including T-shirts, bumper stickers, and armbands. It was awfully kitschy, she thought, until she turned and perused her own stock.
Inside the Temple courtyard, business was moving at a brisk clip. If Miriam leaned forward just enough, she could see the doves, chickens, and other fowl in cages on the ground, as well as the endless currency exchange booths. Around the corner, she was positive there was a bookie counter, where the men could place bets on any subject matter they liked, including how much longer Pilate would last in Palestine, and who would win the next Roman wrestling championship.
She watched as two elderly men made their way up the road, past her booth, and into the Temple area. She spat in the dust in contempt as they passed. They were members of the Sanhedrin Party; they had brokered a deal with the Romans for control of the Temple. All the Sanhedrin really wanted was a cut of the profits made by innocent shopkeepers like herself and her family. In return, they went along with whatever Pilate wanted, which was simply to remain submissive and quiet.
Miriam was a faithful member of the Milk-and-Honey Party, which believed in no taxes and even less government. She could have cared less about the Temple either; after all, as a woman, she wasn’t allowed to enter the courtyard. All she and her family wanted was the freedom to sell their trinkets and make a simple living.
The robes of the passing Sanhedrin men had scarcely whisked through the Temple gates when she heard the distant thunder.
“What’s that?” she asked, to no one in particular.
Meanwhile, Chuck was racing through the narrow back streets of Jerusalem, headed for the Temple area. Jesus, on horseback, was taking a longer route, in order to make a bigger impression on the citizenry. He was supposed to keep flashing his smile, waving his sword, and shouting revolutionary slogans, whipping up popular support for his coup.
Chuck and a contingent of mercenaries were to reach the Temple and secure the gates, so that Jesus could make another grand entrance, this time at the seat of religious power. This had been the consultants’ idea.
“After entering the city, head to the Temple first, and take it over,” said the first suit. “You must control the Temple, and thereby prove to the citizens of Israel that you have the blessing of God on your cause. Might makes right, after all.”
“What about the priests?” asked Simon the Zealot, who was, of course, zealous to do away with a few of them.
The second suit looked at the first suit and said, “Do what you have to do,” which elicited a hearty whoop from Simon.
Chuck was anxious to prevent a complete bloodbath, but on the other hand, he knew better than to interfere with the resentments of nationalists. As he made his way up the street toward the Temple, he began screaming at bystanders, beggars, and shopkeepers to get out of the way.
“Get out of here!” he shouted. “Trouble is coming! Shoo!”
As he passed Miriam’s stand, he flung his arm, knocking her figurines to the ground. She gasped in horror, and flung herself down to pick them up.
Only a few moments had passed before a stallion raced past her into the Temple courtyard. She looked up and saw a majestic figure quickly dismount. He unrolled a whip and then began thrashing it about wildly, upending tables, knocking open cages, and chasing white-bearded priests.
A couple of soldiers took up guard at the entrance, and began violently removing everyone from the courtyard. They threw out old men on their ear, kicked young boys to the curb, and waved machine guns at young adults. They tossed chickens over the walls, and scattered the cows to run loose in the streets.
Gradually, the man with the whip at the center of the action took control of the space. He placed guards at every corner of the Temple Mount, secured the Holy Place, and set up a radio control station. He ordered all the priests to be rounded up and marched away.
Miriam watched them being led off to a spot behind the Holy of Holies, and though secretly happy to see the priests in misery, she was nonetheless horrified when she heard the shouted orders, the countdown, and the systematic firing of rifles.
She clutched her remaining trinkets to her chest, holding them tightly as if her life depended on it. She wondered what she was witnessing — a new regime? a new religious order? a new oppression?
Her doubts and concerns were momentarily erased when she caught sight of the young man loitering across the street. He was hanging back, peering into the courtyard. On his face, she caught a thin, ironic smile. He was electric with excitement, alive with the sheen of young rebellion.
Her heart skipped a beat. She had never seen anyone so gloriously handsome.
When Lev turned, he saw her gazing at him from the shadows.
TO BE CONTINUED
In anticipation of a week of sober meditation on Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection, I offer the following series of posts which offer an alternative view of Holy Week. None of us Americans would likely have allowed Jesus’ story to play out the way it did. We prefer stories of heroic violence, in which there are clear villains and enemies. We like strong heroes who don’t mind shedding a little blood in the process. So please indulge me in this creative writing exercise, and imagine what our faith would be like if this is what had happened:
The view of Jerusalem from Mount Olive is a depressing sight, he thought as he stood in the breeze, holding a Bud Lite. It’s our city, he muttered grimly. Yes, it’s a sinkhole in a third-rate country in the middle of a desert, but it’s ours. If we built a few casinos, we could turn this into something.
Larry Ulysses Vance, III, or “Chuck” as his friends and enemies called him, turned and stared at the hut where Jesus was holding court with some of his hanger-ons.
Miserable riff-raff, Chuck thought. Jesus would never accomplish anything with that group of wannabe soldiers. So far, he’d put together a band which included a couple of mercenaries from South Africa, a chap from the French Legion, and a Libyan who’d abandoned al-Qaeda. There was Simon Peter, who’d followed him the longest, and thought he knew everything, though there was something to be said for seniority.
But the guys who made him the angriest were the consultants. Three guys in gray suits and red ties who had advised every American president since 1908. They’re civilians, he thought disgustedly. What do you they know about military strategy?
At that moment, he caught a whiff of a cigarette. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw that Bartholomew had joined him on the hillside, peering across the valley.
“I’m not feeling good about this,” Bart said. “I think the Romans know what we’re up to.”
“They have superior force of arms, hundreds more soldiers, and an easily defensible position,” Bart went on. “And now we’ve lost the element of surprise.”
After a moment, Chuck blurted out, “Napalm.”
“Napalm. In ‘Nam, we had the same difficulty. They knew we were coming, and so they hunkered down, hiding everywhere. So we used napalm. The stuff burns forever.”
They stood in the silence of the darkening dusk, watching the lights go on throughout the city.
“Where are we supposed to get that?” asked Bart finally. “Would the Iranians be willing to deal?”
“Napalm is easy to make. Just need some gasoline and styrofoam,” Chuck said.
“Let’s run it by Jesus” Bart said.
But Jesus wasn’t at all interested.
“We don’t want to burn the city down,” he said. “We want to rule the city. We simply need to secure the essential seats of power. It’ll be easy — once we invade, the occupants of Jerusalem will welcome us with open arms. They’ve been waiting to overthrow their oppressors for years. And that’s what I’m here for.”
He reached across the table and picked up a chicken wing. “Hey, eat up everyone. There’ll be time for plotting later.”
The next morning was time for plotting, as it turns out. Jesus picked out Leo and Roy, and gave them instructions.
“Go into the village over there, and you’ll find a gun shop,” he said. “Pick out a wide variety of machine guns, automatic rifles, rocket launchers, and a few grenades for good measure. If anyone says anything to you, just say you’ve got a big hunting trip coming up. But don’t worry, nobody will question you. They won’t even run a background check.”
Once they took off in their Jeep, Jesus bent over and started writing in the sand with his finger.
“Jerusalem has seven open gates, and we need to secure each one,” he said. “Meanwhile, I will advance with the major body of fighters to the east and enter through the Golden Gate.”
“Not a good idea,” said one of the South Africans. “The Western side of the city is more vulnerable.”
“Yeah, but the prophecies all say that the Messiah has to enter from the east,” Jesus said. “It’s a bummer, but that’s what we have to work with.”
Chuck watched the plotting from a distance. He had his doubts about this operation.
Yet he liked this Jesus figure. He was smart, charismatic, and funny, really funny. He also liked to get things done. He wasn’t one of these windbags who talk and talk about stuff, but aren’t willing to work.
That’s why Chuck liked him anyway. He could have cared less about the stories and sermons that Jesus told.
But he would follow him anywhere. Especially into the middle of a revolution.
However, napalm was the missing ingredient. Chuck was sure of that.
The first thing that Lev remembers about that Sunday morning was the sound of something falling onto the roof of the building, like enormous raindrops. At first, he thought it was one of those summer rain showers that blew across the desert with a furious, but brief, fury.
Upon reflection, Lev concluded that it must be stones, or rubble falling from towers above his family’s own apartment, or even shrapnel. He flew out of the bed, threw on a shirt and shorts, and bounded into the streets, along with every other teenage boy in Jerusalem, ignoring the warning cries of mothers and sisters.
The commotion came from the east side of the city, and Lev headed that direction. Along the way, he fell in with a schoolmate, Gad.
“What’s going on?” shouted Lev.
“It might be the Zealots,” Gad responded. “Finally — the revolution!”
As they turned a corner which led to the Golden Gate, they dropped to the ground.
A column of well-armed fighters was advancing across the bridge, mowing down Roman guards with a steady clip of machine gun fire. They weren’t uniformed, but they weren’t Zealots, either. They were too well-organized for that.
Bullets whizzed around Lev and Gad’s head, as they stumbled for cover behind an ATM machine. They watched the advancing fighters move through the gate, as resistance crumbled.
When the shooting stopped, the gate was secure. The lead fighter spoke into a walkie-talkie and apparently heard some good news. He raised his arm, and swept it forward several times.
Suddenly, a magnificent stallion galloped across the bridge, into the city. Astride the horse, Lev caught sight of a wild-eyed, confident, and impressive figure. He recognized the itinerant preacher who had been roaming the countryside.
Lev turned to Gad and exclaimed, “Hey, that’s Jesus! I’ve heard him speak — do you think he’s the one, the Messiah?”
Gad shook his head. “He wouldn’t have been my first choice. But if he can get rid of Herod and Pilate, more power to him!”
Jesus lifted his sword and uttered a war cry that echoed across the square. “Long live Israel!”
The citizens of Jerusalem began picking themselves up off the ground, emerged from hiding places, and began cheering loudly. “Long live Jesus, the Messiah, king of kings! Long live Israel!”
And then Jesus and his fighters were off, striding into the heart of the city, firing at every sight of a Roman soldier.
Lev and Gad followed, picking up stones to participate in the rampage. That night, Lev dreamed happily of the noise the rocks made as they bounced off Roman heads.
TO BE CONTINUED
I remember what it felt like ten years ago this week.
The dread had been building for months. The sabers had been rattling for some time.
Though there were certainly plenty of folks who were ready to “finish off the job” that had begun over ten years before, it seemed as if the great masses of Americans opposed military intervention in Iraq.
I myself had participated in a gigantic march through the streets of Dallas to voice my opposition to war. Around the world, huge numbers of people were saying, “No” to this looming conflict. It seemed impossible that Bush would actually go through with starting a preemptive war.
To the end, I convinced myself that something would happen at the last minute to stave off the invasion.
Alas, shock and awe happened. Poor planning happened. Insurgency happened. Abu Gharib happened. And Guantonomo Bay. And 116,000 Iraqi casualties. And 4,486 American casualties.
I don’t need to replay all that has happened in those ten years. I don’t want to, because it’s outright depressing. That’s why it’s taken me a few days to write this post.
To this day, it stuns me that we let the Iraq war happen. I let it happen. You let it happen. I knew it was a terrible thing, and you did, too. And it happened on our watch.
We could blame the Bush administration, but that would be too easy. We could blame the media for not asking enough tough questions, or the general public which too easily believed the rhetoric and hype from Washington.
But this blog is the place to blame ourselves, particularly the church. Especially the church. Especially people who claim to actually believe what Jesus said and did. I can’t speak for other denominations or traditions, so I will speak for my own. The United Methodist Church horribly disappointed me in those months leading up to the war.
There were, of course, individual bishops, clergy, and laypersons who stood up publicly to oppose the war. There were proclamations and statements, including this one from the President of the Council of Bishops in October 4, 2002: “A preemptive war by the United States against a nation like Iraq goes against the very grain of our understanding of the Gospel, our church’s teachings, and our conscience.” And, of course, there are the Social Principles of the church, which state that “war is incompatible with the teachings and example of Christ.”
But as all of us know very well, statements by bishops and agency heads are viewed with great suspicion — even by our own members, much less anyone else in the general population. You think Dick Cheney lost any sleep over what Rev. Jim Winkler (General Secretary of the General Board of Church and Society) thought about the war?
As a whole, United Methodists across the country did NOT rise up and demand that the US stand down. Not only that, but very few preachers were willing to preach against the impending war. There was simply very little momentum, and even less strategy, within the church to turn the tides of war.
We could have stopped the Iraq war from happening. Yes, we could. In 2003, there were 8.3 million United Methodists in the US. That’s a significant number, enough to have at least slowed the war machine.
If significant numbers from the other Christian churches in the rest of the country had also stood up and demanded that we stop the madness in the name of all that is moral and upright, I am convinced that we could have stopped the war from happening.
But I can’t sit and mope around about what didn’t happen. After reflecting on these last ten years, I find myself extremely motivated to make sure it never happens again. Not on my watch, anyway.
I will never stand back as passively as I did ten years ago as our country begins ramping up for a preemptive strike on another country. I would not be able to bear the guilt if I let it happen again.
And yes, I’m talking about Iran. Or North Korea. Or any other country which a President deems “unredeemable” or “evil” or “a threat.”
Perhaps we were too naive ten years ago, believing that marches and articles and prayers alone would stop a nation’s madness. It may be that we need to learn some new nonviolent strategies or take a few pages from the Occupy playbook. Those of us interested in the peaceful ways of Jesus have to do things differently next time.
Yet, even as I sit and write these words, I am uncomfortably aware that the current administration engages in the same kind of rhetoric and justification of violence that the last one used.
Bush had his Saddam vendetta, but Obama has his drones.
Bush had his al-Qaeda playing cards, but Obama has his kill lists.
Bush allowed for hospitals and schools as collateral damage in his bombings, but Obama allows for women and children as collateral damage in his drone strikes.
Bush had his Guantanamo Bay, and Obama has … the same Guantanamo Bay.
Bush was a willing participant in the military-industrial complex that dominates our political system, and so is Obama.
The truth is, nothing much has changed in ten years.
And it’s our fault.
My first and only experience with a gun took place when I was eight. My dad gave me a BB gun for a present. I remember shooting at a simple target in the front yard of the home where we lived.
More vividly, I remember the time that a friend was preparing to shoot at the target, and I foolishly passed right in front of him. My friend wasn’t ready to pull the trigger when I passed by, but my dad sternly scolded me. “Never walk in front of someone with a loaded gun,” he said.
Good advice. But I didn’t need it because I never became fond of that gun.
In fact, I’m not fond of guns now — not BB guns, rifles, handguns, or semi-automatics. I never developed any sort of fascination with things that shoot.
I realize this is due to my upbringing. Despite the gift of the BB gun, my father was not really interested in guns either. He didn’t hunt or fish, and so didn’t raise me in that outdoors, survivalist, camo-wearing subculture. Instead, I grew up interested in sports, books, music, films, and urban life.
At some point in my life, I came to the conclusion that gun ownership was actually antithetical to the lifestyle of a Jesus follower. I still believe that.
It is because of that conviction that I don’t own a gun, and never will.
In the midst of the current, post-Newtown national debate on gun control, this is my sole contribution to the discourse. It is my personal pledge, my manifesto.
I don’t own a gun, and never will.
I refuse to claim the rights (whatever they may be) of the Second Amendment. Those rights don’t mean anything to me as a follower of Jesus, who warned us that those who live by the gun, die by the gun.
I’m not that interested in changing the laws either. Yes, I think it’d be great if access to guns were restricted, but wouldn’t it be better if people just began to disarm themselves? Wouldn’t it be better if each of us said to ourselves, “I am not going to own a gun anymore”?
And wouldn’t it be better if, in particular, those who claim to follow Jesus decided to disarm? Imagine the impact if hundreds of thousands of folks said, in unison, “I don’t own a gun, and never will, because I follow the way of Jesus”!
I’m not advocating any sort of forced, government-imposed disarmament, but the free choice of people who are ready to live differently in this gun-loving nation, who are willing to completely divest themselves of weapons in the name of the Prince of Peace.
Why don’t we rise up en masse to refute the words of NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre, who foolishly said, “The only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun”? Theologically, this statement is indefensible. Jesus stopped the ultimate “bad guy with a gun” by giving up his life non-violently, and in the process, “destroyed death,” according to the Apostle Paul. The whole truth is that there are lots of ways to stop a bad guy with a gun, and not surprisingly, love is one of the ways.
Furthermore, there is a stark, false dualism at work when we so glibly refer to “bad” and “good” men. How can one really tell the difference, especially when Jesus kept pointing out that those whom his contemporaries thought were “good” were remarkably “bad,” as in the “scribes and Pharisees” who were hypocrites, and that the “bad” deserved compassion and kindness, such as the prostitutes and tax collectors? Guns enforce a black-and-white view of the world, which is extremely gray. And it’s amazing to me how many “good” guys suddenly turn “bad” when they have a gun in their hands.
I can’t think of a more powerful faith statement than to stand in solidarity and say, “Despite the presence of evil and terror in this world, I will not succumb to the false security of owning a gun.”
A word to hunters: Yes, I know that there are many folks who follow Jesus who also like to hunt. I know that your reason for owning guns is recreational. I don’t intend to try to persuade you to give up your guns, nor to insist that there is something morally wrong with hunting. If you hunt, then hunt safely. And keep following Jesus.
A word to those who carry guns which are required by profession: I am aware that there are many folks who follow Jesus who carry guns as part of their job. Again, I have no interest in trying to persuade you to take my pledge. I know that you carry your weapons with a clear conscience. I am not interested in starting an argument. All I ask is that you continue to wrestle with the words of Jesus, in particular, the command to, “Love your enemies.” That’s the best that any of us can do, to continue to struggle with the full import of Jesus’ message. He said some pretty strong things, and commanded us to do some really hard things. None of us are able to live completely and perfectly in the way of Jesus, no matter how hard we try.
However, the person who professes to follow Jesus must grapple with his teachings, as well as the example which he set. It’s clear in my mind that the arc of Jesus’ ministry steers us away from violence in any form, toward peacemaking and acts of radical love. His life also teaches us that violence can never be used to accomplish peace or love; the ends do not justify the means.
I can’t imagine a more powerful witness to the way of Jesus Christ than for as many of us as possible to say proudly, at the top of our voices: I don’t own a gun, and never will.
Who wants to say it with me?
I read a lot of books during the year, but there always seems to be one that stands out, that I continue to go back to again and again.
Last year, my favorite read was Samir Selmanovic’s It’s Really All About God: How Islam, Atheism, and Judaism Made Me a Better Christian, which probably had a lot to do with the Ramadan experiment that I conducted in the summer.
This year’s best book came out of nowhere and crashed into my consciousness just a few weeks ago.
I happened to see a chance to get a free book from Christian Alternative, a liberal/radical Christian imprint from John Hunt Publishing on Facebook, in exchange for the promise to review it on Amazon. Out of five or six titles, I noticed one that sounded especially interesting: Fingerprints of Fire, Footprints of Peace: A Spiritual Manifesto from a Jesus Perspective by Noel Moules. I’d never heard of the book or the author.
Fingerprints of Fire is an extremely exciting read, laying out a vision for the authentic Christian life in today’s world. It’s truly the manifesto of one particular man, Noel Moules, a founding member of Anabaptist Network UK and the creator and director of Workshop Programme for Applied Spirituality.
Though the book is fairly compact, it is packed full of biblical quotations, anecdotes from history and personal experience, wisdom from different faith traditions, and theological insights. Even more important, Moules has put his own soul into this book — the words vibrate off the page with energy.
Moules writes of the time that he discovered the Hebrew concept of shalom, or peace, and how it transformed his understanding of the meaning of the scriptures, and of Christianity. He began to see that shalom was the point of Jesus, that shalom is the message of the gospel, and that shalom is the way forward.
Chapters are titled by different names of the Jesus-follower: New Age Traveller, Cosmic Visionary, Shalom Activist, Radical Mystic, Creation Companion, Messianic Anarchist, Values Master, Meekness Zealot, Wisdom Dancer, Subversive Celebrant, Faith Friend, and Childlike Inquisitor.
Moules’ vision of 21st-century Christianity is not so much different from Brian McLaren, Phyllis Tickle, Tony Jones, or any other emergent thinker.
Yet it sounds new and refreshing. Perhaps this is because Moules is from the UK; maybe I can hear his accent in his writing!
But it’s more likely because Moules’ voice truly is different and compelling. His book invites the reader into a new kind of life, beckoning us all into a vision of shalom for the world, full of grace and openness. He writes as if this vision is possible, as if we can actually participate in this radical world of peace. In other words, it truly does read like a manifesto. And I want to be a part of it.
Where do I sign, Noel? I’m all in!
He shall judge between the nations, and shall arbitrate for many peoples; they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore.
I have no idea what a plowshare is. I understand the point of the Scripture passage above, but I don’t really know what you do with those beaten swords. I assume it has something to do with plowing, of course. To be honest, I probably wouldn’t know what to do with a pruning hook either.
But it sounds great. I get the idea — the one whom we wait for during Advent will usher in a new era when weapons of mass destruction will be turned into instruments of agriculture and prosperity. Or in our time, we might speak of AK-47s being melted down into tractor parts.
There’s one little catch, though. Both sides have to agree to dismantle their arms supply at the same time, right? Wouldn’t it be a disaster if one country turned their weapons into farming implements, and another didn’t? That could have catastrophic implications.
The only time you can afford not to learn war, is when the enemy is also not learning war, true?
Or is it?
In fact, I believe Jesus taught just the opposite. And lived it out. The time to put aside violence is now. Regardless of what the enemy does.
That’s the point of Jesus’ well-known sayings in the Sermon on the Mount, when he says, “You’ve heard the old saying, ‘An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,’ and that’s been the basis of your civil law. But let me give you some new direction — don’t retaliate when wronged” (Matthew 5:38-39).
His entire description of the kingdom of God centers on a new reality in which former enemies are reconciled by the strength of love, in which those who were estranged are brought back into the human community. And then Jesus lived out the full implications of his teaching when he was arrested, beaten, and executed. Throughout it all, Jesus refused to participate in the violence perpetrated upon him.
In early 1956, near the beginning of the civil rights movement, Martin Luther King, Jr.’s house was bombed one night. The event was traumatic for Dr. King’s family. At the urging of his closest friends, Dr. King went to the sheriff’s department and applied for a license to carry a gun; it was denied. But he quickly reconsidered his request. He wrote, “How could I serve as one of the leaders of a nonviolent movement and at the same time use weapons of violence for my personal protection? Coretta and I talked the matter over for several days and finally agreed that arms were no solution. We decided then to get rid of the one weapon we owned. When I decided that I couldn’t keep a gun, I came face-to-face with the question of death and I dealt with it. From that point on, I no longer needed a gun nor have I been afraid. Had we become distracted by the question of my safety we would have lost the moral offensive and sunk to the level of our oppressors.”
The decision to turn one’s weapons into harmless devices is a signal that one refuses to take part in violence. It is a rousing statement of faith which, to be honest, has nothing to do with one’s enemies. It is simply a refusal to participate in any violence whatsoever.
It’s obvious to me that Jesus’ mission was a nonviolent one. He came to love fully. If the mission of God had required violence, then God would have sent a mighty warrior, a lean mean fightin’ machine, someone to fear.
Instead, God sent a sword-beating, spear-bending baby.
Link of the day: This awesome blog post brings Isaiah 2:4 to life. It depicts eight different art projects created out of modern-day weapons, including shovels made of guns, and miniature churches fashioned from bullets and gun parts.
Prayer: God, give me the strength to put aside my weapons, and put my trust wholly in you. I long for the day when no one studies war anymore. Amen.