Archive for the ‘faith’ category

The Weight of the World

February 14, 2014


This past Monday at our Gathering service at Embrace Church I felt like the weight of the world, or at least our neighborhood, was on my shoulders. I am a fairly big guy, but my shoulders can’t bear that sort of mass. Heck, I can barely deal with my own problems many days.

On Mondays we open the doors a couple hours before our community meal, but on this particular Monday we opened even earlier so folks could join together in a service project. We made 130 pounds of laundry detergent to bless the low-income and unhoused folks in our community. Anyway, as we were were grating soap, measuring out borax, and shooting the bull the floodgates of folks’ grief broke open and poured right on me.

First, one of our regular guests brought a man to me who was plastered drunk and bawling. This man “Gary” shared with me some news that at once made me deeply outraged and profoundly sad. Gary told me that his best friend had recently frozen to death while sleeping behind a local church. I just wonder how it is that someone would feel so ostracized, or abused, or unworthy, or even self-reliant that they would choose to sleep in sub-freezing temperatures rather than go to a shelter. Are we that inhospitable?

I prayed with Gary. I put my arm around him. I tried to comfort him. Those efforts seemed largely futile. Not long after this conversation Gary started harassing other guests, as drunk people tend to do, so one of my volunteers had to have a conversation with him after which Gary chose to leave. Are we as guilty now as the folks who had pushed his friend so far to the margins that freezing to death was a better option than risking it with inside a church or a shelter? I sure hope not. Lord have mercy!

Soon after, one of our most beloved community members shared with me about the recent months in her life, particularly about why she had not been around much and what she was doing about it. I have shared about this lady before and I believe I called her “Ms. B” so I will use that alias again. Ms. B is a recovering drug addict who has experienced the love and power of God in some profound ways. At one point she was a spiritual leader in our small church community, always encouraging and praying with others. However, for economic and perhaps other personal reasons Ms. B had let her boyfriend, a crack smoker, move in with her. He, intentionally or not, pulled her away from our community. Then, praise the Lord, she was able to convince him to come to church with her one Sunday recently, and soon after she decided to kick him out of the house because she felt convicted about how this relationship was destroying her other relationships, most importantly her relationship with God.

Now, it seems reasonable to think that this is not a story of grief, but one of triumph. There is truth in that, but the story is still in process. Ms. B is still lonely. She still has financial problems. And, both of those things could easily be taken care of if she just let this man move back in with her. I am deeply concerned about my friend as she will struggle in the coming months to pay the bills, and to fight off loneliness as she lays down in bed alone at night because I know that in this neighborhood, in her world, there are many evil and destructive people and activities that might prove to be overwhelming temptations for her as she tries to keep her rent paid and stave off the residual effects of a lifetime of pain. Lord have mercy!

Not long after the conversation with Ms. B ended, one of our lead kitchen staff volunteers brought another distressed man to me. This particular guy, “Jim”, is someone for whom I have a special fondness. I helped he and his wife move, and they returned the favor. They have shared their gift for singing during our worship services, spoken words of encouragement to me and others in our community, and though they are decades older than me we have begun building a great friendship. Last week though Jim’s world was shattered. His wife was arrested, and she will likely spend up to the next year locked up. As this grown man, well-worn by tragedy, sat there with me and cried because the woman he loves is now in a cage, the many years of misfortune, hardships, and downright devastation all began coming out nearly as raw as when he had first lived them. He told me about how his young son was beaten to death, and how helpless he felt to stop it. He told me about drug abuse and years spent at the bottom of a bottle, including recent nights because alcohol was the only thing that helped him sleep. He told me about loves lost. He told me about being taken advantage of by landlords and friends. He told me about his life. What will my friend do now? Where will he go now that he can’t live in his current abode? Will he make good decisions, or will a 40 or worse be his release?  Lord have mercy!

Then, of course, there were the usual conversations about surgeries that people can’t afford, how there are bedbugs at one of the shelters, people desperately searching for any sort of work they can find, and still more conversations about intra and interpersonal conflict, including addictions and abusive relationships. Lord have mercy!

“Lord have mercy” is my continual prayer, and it is a prayer that I watched God answer on this very same Monday night and in the days since. After our community meal we all headed upstairs for worship service. It started off pretty normal though the feeling seemed to be a bit more solemn than usual. I made a few announcements, said a prayer then turned it over to our worship leader. As I went to my seat I realized I needed to run home and get something, and since my house is only a couple minutes from the church, I was back before the scheduled time for the sermon to start. I walked past my friend, Pastor Josh, patted him on the shoulder, and told him to keep is short tonight. Then I returned to my seat.

About the time I sat down I saw Jim head to the prayer rail and drop to his knees. Pastor Roz motioned for me to join Jim, so I quickly got up to the front and embraced this brother as tears poured out on to the altar. Soon others were headed that way as well. It became evident quite quickly that this was not going to be a sermon kind of night. Our worship leader, Luke, continued to strum his guitar and Roz invited others to come forward if they needed prayer (and it truly was an invitation, not a manipulative plea). Next thing I knew the front of the church was flooded. We had all the pastors and a couple interns and other prayer leaders praying for folks and there was still a line. Roz got a free moment then gave one more gentle invitation and still more people came asking for prayer. The atmosphere changed. I saw the promise that Yawheh gave to Jeremiah regarding Israel, fulfilled in a small but significant way in our community. “I will turn their mourning into gladness. I will give them comfort and joy instead of sorrow” (Jer 31:13b).

Yesterday I saw both Jim and Ms. B. They both looked happier and more at peace than they had been in quite a while. Jim even told me that he has slept more peacefully the last few nights than he has in a long time. All their problems aren’t solved, and even though we are now helping them shoulder their burdens, and thankfully doing it as a community, we have all certainly seen that they, that we, have been shown mercy. Praise the Lord!


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On Being Sick and Having a Home

October 24, 2013

flu-manI have been sick for the last two days, and it has thrown off my schedule. I have had to postpone some plans and set aside some work, but I was reminded today how fortunate I am to have a couch on which to crash when I don’t feel so hot. That realization came sometime this morning while I was sitting at a Waffle House table with one of my homeless friends. I was supposed to spend the day with him to check out the different churches and shelters that offer meals and other services.


The plan was to meet my friend at the shelter where he stays then to come park my car at the church  building since the shelter doesn’t allow people to park there during the day. From there we were going to walk to Lexington’s day center to get some breakfast, specifically coffee and donuts. While there we might check our email and hang out until it was time to move on. A few places in town offer a free lunch so we were going to decide where we wanted to go eat before we walked back to the church.

Instead, last night I went to bed sick and woke up feeling worse this morning. I still had to meet my friend because I had not other way to get in touch with him, so I got up and drove to the shelter. I picked up my friend then told him that I was not feeling so well. I asked if we could change our plans and just go out to breakfast instead so I could go home and lay down.

While we were having breakfast I asked him more about his daily routine. He talked about odd jobs, volunteering, and moving from place to place to get a meal. He then told me about how it was difficult some days to come back to the shelter because it meant facing people who were unkind, or worse, unstable. My friend’s bed is the top bunk in a room full of beds, so it is impossible for him to get any privacy or to just lay down and get some rest during the day when other folks are scurrying about. As he was talking I realized that he didn’t have the luxury of changing his plans so he could lay down and rest on a sick day.

After breakfast I dropped my friend back at the shelter. I then came home, turned on my tv, and crashed on my couch for several hours.


I think in years past I would have felt guilty about all this, but now I just feel more determined to love people the best I can with what I have. I feel more compelled to work toward justice, peace, and a bed with some privacy for every person who wants one.



Moving… Toward Justice (With Your Help)

October 5, 2013

Injustice makes me angry, especially when it is willful and blatant. We encountered one of just those sorts of injustices this past week, and we are continuing to right this wrong. Let me quickly tell you the story (yes, I did just split an infinitive).

On Monday, the night we usually feed upwards of 100 hungry people, we were having a town hall meeting at the church building. But, I am getting ahead of myself. That afternoon as we were preparing for the night’s events one of our new friends came in crying. She began to tell us that her landlord was arbitrarily charging her extra fees and claiming that she owed on her rent. The worst part is that the landlord had served her an eviction notice demanding that she pay up, plus the arbitrary fees, or she would be kicked out.

Fortunately, we know a lawyer who does great justice work for a great price (often for free). He offered his legal help, and our friend won her case. She was able to prove that she had indeed payed what she owed and that she was not due to pay any extra fees. Hooray!

Unfortunately, the landlord has decided not to renew our friend’s lease after it is up at the end of this month. Here’s the kicker. Our friend lives in a mobile home, which she and owns, but she has been renting the lot.


So, this means she now has a couple options: 1) Sell her mobile home. 2) Somehow raise the money (approx. $1500) to move it to a new park. Option one is problematic because she has such short notice, and because she may not be able to get what the place is worth. So, that leaves us with option two.

Here is where you come in. Our friend has been treated completely unjustly, so we are trying to pursue some justice by helping to raise the money to for her to move her mobile home. Also, if you know of anyone who would be capable and willing to move a mobile home for a charitable price (perhaps even free), that would of course be welcome.

If you would like to help us work toward justice for our friend, please make a check payable to Embrace Church with “Trailer Move” in the subject line, and send it to Embrace Church C/O Justin Barringer, 1015 N. Limestone St., Lexington, KY. 


Also, if you are interested in supporting my ministry as an urban missionary, please click the button below.


Stories to Tell – First Months at Embrace (Part II)

September 13, 2013

Stories Part I

Most folks who know me know that I am a pacifist. My first book even took on common questions about Christian nonviolence. I often speak about nonviolence, turning the other cheek, dying rather than killing. I used to think I was a good bible teacher, but I am not so sure anymore. You see, a while back I began leading a bible study through John’s gospel. One of the regular attendees, a guy named “J”, had proven to be inquisitive, enthusiastic, and he was always kindly offering to help in various capacities during our Monday night ministry. “J” was homeless, and he had twice been attacked, stabbed and robbed over a couple week period while out and about in Lexington. I think many of us could sense “J’s” frustration and hopelessness growing even as we tried to offer encouragement and point him toward hope. We failed, miserably.

A few weeks went by without “J” attending. We didn’t think too much about it because many of our guests drop off the radar for weeks or even months at a time, but we heard through the grapevine that “J” had been arrested for allegedly beating a man to death with a 2×4. Sure enough the news reports confirmed the rumors. “J” is now in prison. Likely he will be there for a while, perhaps the rest of his life.
barbed_safety_Fence_225577_lI sort of jokingly remarked on a few occasions that I must be the worst bible teacher ever. That may or may not be true, but I am beginning to realize that most of the change that happens in people’s lives does not happen because they sat in a particular class. There are a lot of ways in which God intervenes in the lives of people, countless different sorts of events that people can point to as places where they were changed for the better, but it seems that one of the most compelling reasons that people change is because they have others who love them through their mess. I will visit “J” in prison. I will let him know that he is still loved, that God still sees him as a person with infinite worth. I will pray with him, encourage him, challenge him to be a peacemaker and minister of reconciliation even and especially in the confines of concrete and barbed wire. I will declare over his life that Jesus does indeed set captives free and I will continue to trust that God has a plan for my friend “J” even though this detour has put him on an exceedingly more difficult path. I will challenge him to repent, to seek the forgiveness of God and the victim’s family.

Whether or not I succeed as a teacher, I am determined to be faithful as a minister of God’s redemptive peace.

Of course, not all of the stories of my time at Embrace are so dramatic, many of them are quite mundane yet eternally important. Sometimes they are even downright boring. A few weeks ago we had a baptism (that wasn’t the boring part), but since one of our worship gatherings takes place at a theater we have a portable baptistery. Our portable baptistery happens to be a plastic horse trough. Anyway, the theater does not have a particularly convenient way for us to fill the thing so I had to load it on to a small cart and wheel it into the bathroom. Me and two other guys took turns holding a small hose on to the end of one of the bathroom faucets. I know some traditions sprinkle water on congregants when a person gets baptized as a way to help others remember their own baptism. This was not a formal ritual, but we were sure getting wet as the water sprayed from the end of the hose since we could not get a tight connection with the faucet. We, I hope, remembered our baptisms as we prepared to welcome a new sister into the family.


After about half an hour of watching water slowly trickle into the trough we decided there was enough water to dunk someone. Of course a horse trough with 30 gallons of water in it is no light object to move, but we couldn’t really baptize this young lady in the men’s room, so we had to wheel the trough laden cart down to the front of the theater and up onto the stage. It took 6 of us to get it off the cart.

The baptism, like all baptisms, was beautiful. There is always something good about getting a soaking wet hug from a new sibling in Christ.

Of course once the baptism was over we had load the trough back on the cart, wheel it out the back door of the theater and dump the water out on the sidewalk. It created a small tidal wave that ran out into the street. I almost want to reconsider my stance on sprinkling for baptism after this, but it was great to watch someone die to sin and be raised to life with Christ.

Other stories at Embrace are still very much in process. In fact, most of them rest in that uncomfortable place of ambiguity between hope and hopelessness.

A few weeks ago a young lady who has been attending two of our weekly services on a regular basis came forward to ask for prayer. With the requisite tears in her eyes she told me about her addiction to heroin, about how she couldn’t see her children because of the drug’s hold on her. She asked me to pray for her. I prayed that God would deliver her from this demon of addiction. During our meal time after service I pulled “A” aside to talk more. I told her that helping folks with drug addictions was pretty new to me, but that I wanted to covenant with her to find her appropriate help. I told her that I would find her the following Sunday with information in hand ready to help her out.

For the whole week I sent messages to local friends who I knew would be able to help me out. My friend Kelly, the pastoral care coordinator at The Lexington Rescue Mission, had been working on a list of resources for addicts, which she kindly shared with me. I began checking into each program to see which would be the best fit. On Sunday, though I was teaching at another church in town, I rushed back to Embrace’s downtown campus at the Kentucky Theater to make sure I kept my word to “A”. I found her and told her about the various programs as asked her to meet me the next day at my office so we could look over them in more detail and at least get her on a waiting list or two.

The time came for our appointment and she never showed. I was angry, disappointed, and honestly sad because I still believe that she wants freedom from these chains that bind her. That evening one of her friends told me that she had hitched a ride to another city to follow her drug habit. That sort of thing makes me wanna scream and kick kittens (of course to be fair I don’t really like cats anyway), but instead I pray that God will continue the work that God has started in “A’s” life. Last week her friend said that “A” is back in town. Next time I see her, I plan to give her a big hug then a piece of my mind, then remind her once again that I love her with the love of the Lord and that I still want to help her though this mess. I don’t know where it will go. I don’t know if she will ever be free of her addiction. I don’t know if she will ever get back custody of her kids. I don’t know a lot of things, but I do know that I will I be waiting for her and working on her behalf, and I do know that as much as I am doing so that God will be infinitely more involved in her daily life, whispering to her that his grace is sufficient.

I can’t do the work that God has called me to without your help. Your prayers, financial support, encouragement and accountability make my work possible. If you think this ministry is worthwhile and God is leading you, please contribute to this small witness to God’s Kingdom.


Stories to Tell – First Months at Embrace (Part I)

September 3, 2013

It is difficult to know which stories I ought to share here. Though it has only been a couple months since I started at Embrace Church, and my work has largely been behind the scenes, there are many stories to tell. I would like to briefly (someone once told me brevity is a virtue, though I am not sure I agree) recount three encounters that are still weighing on my mind and shaping who I am.


1) Josh, the pastor in charge of The Gathering service was taking a much-needed vacation, so I was responsible for preparing and leading the service. Along with the worship service we offer a free meal to hungry folks in the community and pass out bags of non-perishable food (and occasionally fresh veggies when they are available), so I spent the day leading a small group of volunteers and interns packing the food bags, stocking the food pantry shelves, and buying the food for the kitchen staff (also a group of volunteers) so they could prepare dinner. By the time service started I was exhausted, but I had a priceless moment with a lady that energized my spirit.

Ms. “D” came up during our prayer time at the end of the service to ask me to pray for some family matters. I held her hand and put my other hand on her shoulder as we prayed. When I looked up after the prayer I noticed she was tearing up a bit. She said, “You see how you were touching me? No white man would ever do that. White people are usually afraid of me.” See, back in 1991 Ms. “D’s” face was burned with acid when she was attacked in what seems to have been (at least partially) a racially motivated attack. Since then she has had a number of surgeries and her face is permanently disfigured. I stood there sort of stunned not knowing what to say. I just continued to hold her hand and look her in the eye in hopes that my gaze would reassure her that I was not only not afraid, but I was honored that she would share that moment with me.

Cafe 12) One of the prayer leaders at Embrace is brother Lawrence. Lawrence recently had a stroke so one of the other pastors, LeTicia, and I went to pick him up to take him to the hospital. We helped him out to the car and drove him to the emergency room then waited with him until he began to get treatment, in part because he has no insurance and the hospital had already discharged him twice in the previous few days, so we wanted to make sure he was actually cared for this time. Lawrence was transferred to a rehab hospital within a couple days. While at the rehab hospital a number of people from Embrace visited him, and other guests began asking why he had so many visitors. Lawrence told them that all these visitors were his family members.

This witness began to spread through the rehab facility. One day while Josh and I were visiting Lawrence around dinner time we sat with him in the cafeteria to chat for a bit. Soon the conversation turned towards prayer. We prayed for Lawrence, then he asked that we pray for everyone else in the place. The thing is, with Lawrence he didn’t mean sort of generically pray for folks, he meant he wanted us to go to every table and ask people if we could pray with them. How could Josh and I say no to this man who was recovering from a stroke? So, Lawrence began telling everyone we were his pastors while we began to ask folks if they wanted prayer. By the time we were ready to leave we had prayed individually with every person eating in the dining room that evening, including a lady who was about to be released the next day. This lady was scared because going home meant not having round the clock care. As we prayed with her her eyes welled up with tears and she seemed filled with a renewed strength and the courage to return to her home. I am thankful for a brother who has the audacity to push me into situations like that because it proved to be one of the most blessed experiences I have had in recent memory.

Marquee3) Not all of the stories I have to share are uplifting. Many of them are downright tragic. I often find myself heartbroken and feeling hopeless as I learn to trust in the God who brings life out of death. One of these stories that is fresh on my mind is about failure, my failure and the failures of our society. One morning at our Downtown worship gathering a man showed up who was released from prison just that morning. Mr. “C” had back and leg problems so he literally hobbled in to the Kentucky Theater to join us in worship and to seek help. I prayed with him then he asked if we could possibly get a cane for him since he was having trouble walking. I took Mr. “C” to a drugstore where he picked out a suitable cane. Then we began talking about where I would take him next. Mr.”C” was in prison because of an altercation he had with his roommate, so once he was released he had no place to go. He told me that he had a bad experience at one of the homeless shelters so he didn’t want to go there.

I have learned about many of the resources available to homeless people in Lexington, but I am still trying to figure out the idiosyncrasies of each agency, church and organization. They often have odd hours, particular eligibility requirements, and limited space. I took Mr. “C” to another one of the shelters only to find out that they did not allow people on the premises until later in the evening. We left there to go to the new day center in hopes that it would be a safe place for him to spend a few hours before the shelter opened. Unfortunately the center is closed on Sundays. Now here is the part where my excuses start. I lived in a different town and I had other things to attend to that afternoon, so after an hour trying to find Mr. “C” a place to stay I was ready to drop him off somewhere and move on to my other responsibilities. I still regret my attitude and decision. I ended up leaving Mr.”C” at the day center property. He said he would stay there until the shelter opened.

I saw Mr.”C” again a few weeks later and his face was covered in bruises. I asked what happened and he told me that soon after I dropped him off he was attacked by a group of guys for his pain medication. They beat the mess out of him. He spent several days in the hospital recovering before he ended up at the very shelter where he did not want to go in the first place. Mr.”C” doesn’t blame me, but I can’t help but know that I could have done more. I also can’t help but think about the ways in which our society, including the church, has failed. When people think it is ok to attack a handicapped man to steal his medication we really need to revisit some things. When there is no decent place for someone to go after they have served their time in prison we really need to revisit some things. When the church community is so scattered that we have no network to help the most vulnerable and marginalized people we really need to revisit some things.

I imagine that some readers may be wondering why I would end this post with a negative story. The reality is that though we have seen numerous people profess faith in Christ, be freed from addiction, and have their lives transformed there are far more cases when it doesn’t turn out the way we had hoped. For every story of triumph there seems to be a dozen stories of tragedy. That is the nature of ministry, especially the ministry in which I have found myself. If I only told the miracle stories or the stories that made folks feel all good inside, that would be dishonest. It is my job to plant and water. I trust that God will bring growth. Some hearts will be receptive to God’s work in their lives, others will not, but I will continue to be faithful to the calling I have received. Come Lord Jesus!


If you feel so compelled, please support my ministry as I continue to try to be faithful in this ministry to the marginalized people of Lexington. Thank you!


More Quotes from Christians on Nonviolence

November 1, 2012

Asbury Theological Seminary has a new publishing and resourcing venture called Seedbed. They recently invited me to offer a short case for nonviolence. As a part of that post I offered some provocative quotes from a variety of voices throughout church history. However, because of the limited space many of them were cut from the final draft. So, I thought it would be helpful to post the rest of them here.*

Marcellus, ?-298 A.D. 

“I threw down my arms for it was not seemly that a Christian man, who renders military service to the Lord Christ, should render it by earthly injuries.” “It is not lawful for a Christian to bear arms for any earthly consideration.”

Irenaeus, approx. 180 A.D.

“Christians have changed their swords and their lances into instruments of peace, and they know not now how to fight.”

Justin Martyr, approx. 138 A.D.

“We, who used to kill one another, do not make war on our enemies. We refuse to tell lies or deceive our inquisitors; we prefer to die acknowledging Christ.”

Tertullian, 155-230 A.D.

“But how will a Christian engage in war—indeed, how will a Christian even engage in military service during peacetime—without the sword, which the Lord has taken away? For although soldiers had approached John to receive instructions and a centurion believed, this does not change the fact that afterward, the Lord, by disarming Peter, disarmed every soldier.”

“Under no circumstances should a true Christian draw the sword.”

Hippolytus, 170-236 A.D.

“A soldier, being inferior in rank to God, must not kill anyone. If ordered to, he must not carry out the order, nor may he take an oath to do so. If he does not accept this, let him be dismissed from the church. Anyone bearing the power of the sword, or any city magistrate, who wears purple, let him cease from wearing it at once or be dismissed from the church. Any catechumen or believer who wishes to become a soldier must be dismissed from the church because they have despised God.”

Cyprian, approx. 250 A.D.

“[Christians] are not allowed to kill, but they must be ready to be put to death themselves… it is not permitted the guiltless to put even the guilty to death.” “God wished iron to be used for the cultivation of the earth, and therefore it should not be used to take human life.”

St. Martin of Tours 316-397 A.D.

“I am a soldier of Christ, I cannot fight.”

Paulinas of Nola 325-431

“Do not go on loving this world and the military service that is part of it because Scripture bears witness that anyone who is ‘a friend of the world is an enemy of God.’ (James 4:44) The man who fights with the sword is an agent of death, and whoever sheds his own blood or someone else’s will have death as his wages. He will be responsible for his own death or for the crime of bringing it on another because of necessity, the soldier in war, even though he fights for someone else rather than himself, either meets death in defeat or attains victory through killing. One cannot be victorious except through shedding blood. For this reason the Lord says, ‘You cannot serve two masters’ (Matt. 6:24), that is, both the one God and mammon, both Christ and Caesar.”

Smaragdus d. c. 825

“For the world has its soldiers and Christ has his. Now the world’s soldiers take up weak and slippery weapons, whereas Christ’s soldiers take up strong and bright ones. The former fight against their enemies, and the result is they bring themselves and those they kill to eternal punishment; the latter fight against vices, so that after death they may be able to gain eternal life and its rewards; the former fight, and the result is they go down into hell, the latter fight that they may ascend to glory; the former fight so after death are enslaved with the demons of hell, the latter fight so that they may always rejoice with the angels; the former fight an so will always mourn with the devil, the latter fight so that they may always exult with Christ… For the former, to live is hard labor and to die is torment; for the latter, to live is Christ and to die is gain. The former battle against visible, the latter against invisible enemies.”

The Lollards Late 1300s

“Manslaughter in battle or by pretended law of justice for a temporal cause, without spiritual revelation, is expressly contrary to the New Testament, which is a law of grace and full of mercy. This conclusion is openly proved by the examples of Christ’s preaching here on earth, for he specially taught man to love and have mercy on his enemies and not to slay them… The law of mercy that is the New Testament forbids all manslaughter; in the Gospel, ‘it was said to them, thou shalt not kill.’ … For by meekness and patience was our faith multiplied, and Jesus Christ hates and threatens fighters and manslayers [when he says]: ‘He who lives by the sword, shall perish by the sword.’”

Desiderius Erasmus 1469-1536

“He should consider how desirable, how honorable, how wholesome a thing is peace; on the other hand, how calamitous as well as wicked a thing is war, and how even the most just of wars brings with it a train of evils – if indeed any war can really be called just.”

Peter Riedemann 1506-1556

“There is therefore no need for many words, for it is clear that Christians can neither go to war nor practice vengance. Whosoever doeth this hath forsaken and denied Christ and Christ’s nature.”

George Fox 1624-1691

“Therefore fighters are not of Christ’s kingdom, and are without Christ’s kingdom, for his kingdom stands for peace and righteousness.”

David Dodge 1774-1852

“In times of war thousands of virtuous women are deprived of their husbands and tens of thousands of helpless children of their fathers. … They are torn from their embraces by the cruelty of war, and they have no fathers left but their Father in heaven…. Surely Christians cannot be active in such measures without incurring the displeasure of God, who styles himself as the father of the fatherless and judge and avenger of the widow.”

Frederick Douglass 1818-1895

“I am opposed to war, because I am a believer in Christianity. … I believe, if there is one thing more than another that has brought reproach upon the Christian religion, it is the spirit of war.”

Evelyn Underhill 1875-1941

“The Christian Church is the Body of Christ. Her mission on earth is to spread the Spirit of Christ, which is the creative spirit of wisdom and love; and in so doing bring in the Kingdom of God. Therefore, she can never support or approve an human action, individual or collective, which is hostile to wisdom and love. This is the first and last reason why, if she remains true to her supernatural call, the Church cannot acquiesce to war.”

Jacques Ellul 1912-1994

“Thus violence can never be justified or acceptable before God. The Christian can only admit humbly that he could no do otherwise, that he took the easy way and yielded to necessity and the pressures of the world. That is why the Christian, even when he permits himself to use violence in what he considers the best of causes, cannot either feel or say that he is justified; he can only confess that he is a sinner, submit to God’s judgment, and hope for God’s grace and forgiveness.”

Ronald J. Sider 1939-

“If pacifism is not God’s will for all Christians, then it is not His will any. On the other hand, if the one who taught us to love our enemies is the eternal Son who became flesh in the carpenter who died and rose and now reigns as Lord of the universe, then the peaceful way of nonviolence is for all who believe and obey him. Do we have the courage to summon the entire church to forsake the way of violence?”

* Most of these quotes came from the following books: See Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President: Politics for Ordinary Radicals (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2008) for some more introductory quotes regarding Christian nonviolence. For a more comprehensive study, I encourage you to see Michael G. Long, Christian Peace and Nonviolence: A Documentary History (Maryknoll: Orbis, 2011).

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Quotes from The Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Why All The Fuss About Christmas?!?!

December 24, 2011

I wrote this several years ago with my congregation in Lexington, KY in mind. I thought it is worth sharing here.

The Message says that “God became man and moved into the neighborhood.” This may be difficult for us to grasp because it doesn’t seem like Jesus moved into our neighborhood. Rather he moved into a small ancient town on the other side of the world, about as far removed from the intersection of South Limestone and Alumni as possible; in land where donkeys and camels were far more popular than “Wildcats” and people greeted one another with Shalom instead of howdy. So you may wonder “Why all the fuss about Christmas?”

The truth is that God becoming man was the most significant event in the history of the universe. Not only did God join us in our humanity but the Almighty was born to a poor, minority, unwed teenage mother, not in a house, but on the floor of a barn, in an occupied territory during a genocide, which they then had to flee as refugees. He was then wrapped in scrap fabric and laid down in the feed trough; his first breaths took in the scent of manure and musty hay, his ears first heard donkeys braying and his eyes first focused in on the gnats and flies buzzing around his face. His first visitors were not world or religious leaders, but working class loners who led animals around the wilderness just to make ends meet. This is the way that God entered the world, as a baby, powerless and totally dependent on humanity for survival. So again you may ask “Why all the fuss about Christmas?”

Perhaps the best answer is found in a single word, love. God loved, so God risked, risked it all. In order to understand the profundity of this we must grapple with the eternal nature of the Son. “Without the premise of preexistence there can be no talk of incarnation or Christmas.” (Oden, p 66) Jesus, had to be God, for his becoming humanity to have any efficacious power. God who has always existed, who created, decided to join his creation as one of us, knowing that we would not accept him and that we would ultimately kill him. “God never did anything in history more revealing of the divine character than to become incarnate and die. By his coming the poor were blessed, the hungry satisfied, weepers brought to laughter, the excluded embraced, and the reviled welcomed. (Luke 6:20-23)” (Oden, 86) Perhaps you are stil asking, why all the fuss about Christmas?

In the birth of Jesus we can pinpoint this one totally unique event that God decided to reverse the curse of our history of sin and restore humanity to its intended place as the pinnacle of God’s creation. Classical theology teaches us that Jesus became a man to redefine humanity; he took on our image to give humanity his image. This is the greatest gift that God could give us, himself. Our only reaction should be humble praise and thanks because “Humanity is incomparably honored in the incarnation for God made flesh divine, without providing occasion for the worship of the creature.”(128) Still asking why all the fuss about Christmas?

Humanity’s enemy, the damned deceiver, has made it his mission to drag us with him to hell, to invade our space and whisper lies in our ears, but he is unwilling and incapable of joining in our experiences, knowing our joys and pains. But in Jesus “God came closer than the enemy. The devil came close to us; but he did not come so close as to assume our nature… (he) did not come so close to us as did God’s Son, who became our flesh and blood.”(130) At Christmas we recognize that God would rather join humanity than see his creation destroyed; He would rather have our experiences, demonstrate his intimate closeness and move into our neighborhood than let us wander hopelessly toward our own destruction. God did all that we could never do. He came to us when we could not come to him. That is why we make all this fuss about Christmas.

Pg numbered quotes are all from Thomas Oden’s book The Living Word.