Archive for the ‘Peace’ category

The Weight of the World

February 14, 2014

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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.

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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.

 

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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).

Check Out These Links As Well

Quotes from The Orthodox Peace Fellowship

Theology and Public Transportation

May 15, 2010

I wrote this a few months ago while I was living in Washington, DC and working at Sojourners. It is my hope to write more about my DC experience in coming days…

I heard a sermon in which the speaker asked a silly, but profoundly important question. He asked the chapel full of seminarians where the most important location was in the small town in which the school is located. Is it this chapel with its beautiful stained glass and singing? Is it the building that houses the classrooms where you learn theology and philosophy? Is it one of the local church congregations? No. It is Cluckers (the local gas station). The speaker went onto to posit that he believed that Cluckers was important because it was where the world collided in our small town to refuel, talk about the goings on, grab a drink and eat the best baklava this side of the Mediterranean.

Things are different for me now. I’m living in a major world city, where I often use public transportation. Like Cluckers, public transportation, in such a metropolitan city, is where the world meets. Rich and poor, powerful and powerless, young and old, all pile into buses and the metro. This is a great place to people watch and think and pray. One day as I was doing this I was reminded of the Joan Osborn song, “What if God Was One of Us?” There is a line directly following the title line, ‘just a stranger on the bus, trying to make his way home.’ I got to thinking about what Jesus would notice, and say and do if he were riding the metro. I began to think he would be pleased to see societies’ hierarchies and barriers temporarily removed as nearly every socio-economic background, religion and race huddled together trying not to fall down as the train jerked forward.

Though the more I ride, I notice something I believe would disturb Jesus and should disturb us. As I rode certain lines in certain directions the demographics changed. Instead of a multicultural mélange, the faces on the metro became more homogenous. One could almost know which stop was theirs by looking at the number of people in the car who did or did not look like them. I wonder how Jesus would react. Would he start flipping over the turnstiles or would he stand on a seat and preach? Would he heal the blind man standing by the door or would he multiply the amount of money still left on everyone’s ticket? I don’t know, but I’m sure that he would do something, perhaps something crazy, certainly something creative, to let people know that they were loved and cherished by God.

As people interested in reconciliation, the way of Jesus, this modern day segregation should sadden us, inform us and challenge us to keep working for a world where love and justice are the norm; a world where skin color, your country of origin or the language you speak don’t have to play a role in deciding which area of town you should live. I am not suggesting that there is anything wrong with wanting to live with people who are most like you. There is however a terrible evil lurks just below the surface of this desire that works its way into our lives when we get too comfortable with where we live and with whom we associate. This evil is complacency and apathy towards the struggles of the ‘other’ and it is a structure, a principality in which individuals are content with being walled off with folks like them and failing to join in the journeys of others for more than a short metro ride.

What if our whole lives looked like the line for baklava and a soda, or the trip on the red line metro train? What if we were intentional about meeting people most unlike us and participating in their lives, helping them when they needed it and sharing our food, our journeys and our lives together? The moments we share when our paths cross on the metro, subway, or bus look more and more to me like our local church congregations ought to and the way heaven appears in Scripture. If we can get together to share our journeys to work and school and to restaurants and stores, why can’t we get together and share our journey into eternity?

A Powerful Vision

January 8, 2010

Recently I was talking to my little sister, who happens to be one of the most faithful, dedicated and wise Christian women I know, about a vision that she had a while back. I was so moved by her vision that I asked her to write it down so that I could keep it with me and share it with others. This written version is quite moving, but I wish you could all hear her share her experience personally. Maybe someday I can get a video of her sharing, but for now here is the short written version.

Pursuit of the Beloved
Sarah Bronson

I saw myself in a field covered in rags running from God. I was terrified. I knew that He had every right to kill me. My life was worth nothing and He was coming towards me. I had tried and tried to scrub myself clean, but it only revealed more dirt. I couldn’t let Him see me like this. But He was coming for me, and getting closer.

Suddenly I felt His arms around me. “NOooo! I can’t let Him touch me! He is perfect and I am unclean.” I struggled to get away. Like a little kid who knew they had done wrong, I didn’t want to face the consequences. His hold hurt as a tried to get away. The more I struggled the tighter the hold became. He wasn’t going to let me go. I stopped struggling and stood in his arms turned away from His face.
I was terrified, but the truth was punishment didn’t scare me. I knew I deserved death. But I couldn’t bear to look at His face. I wanted more than anything to please Him and to earn His love. If I turned, I knew that I would have to face the disappointment in His eyes. THAT was what I could not handle.

I stood rigid, vulnerable, and overwhelmed. His hold softened and became warm and gentle. He whispered into my ear, “I love you. Please, turn around.” I didn’t understand. How could that be? He had no reason to love me. I was uncertain and couldn’t turn around. He continued “I love you. Turn and see…I love you turn and see…” Could it be?

Trembling I turned my head towards Him, eyes closed. “Open your eyes, beloved”, He whispered softly. Slowly I opened them to see a face filled with light and life and more love than I ever could have imagined. I was transfixed by His face. I don’t know how long I stood there amazed but when I looked down at myself I was CLEAN!!! I was seeing myself through His eyes. I began to walk with him. When I strayed I saw myself dirty again, but He would always call me back.
On the walk we came across many people. He would wrap His arms around them as He had done for me. They were all afraid. I would try to encourage them and tell them my story. It was an amazing experience when they finally turned and saw themselves in God’s light. They really came to life! We rejoiced together.

But others we came across would not make that choice. He held them the same as He had held us. I saw the love in His eyes as he spoke to them. He longed for their hearts to be whole. They refused to turn, refused to believe. I don’t remember any specific point that He released His hold, but He when did, they ran into the wilderness, into the darkness, into death. I saw Him crumple to the ground weeping at the beloved He had lost.

Human Trafficking Conference- NFS Video

October 13, 2009

This very short video, from last weeks Forum On Human Trafficking, powerfully conveys the message that slavery and human trafficking are a grave reality in our world, even this very day. Watch it, then check out my previous post to see what you can do about it.

Human Trafficking Conference- Helpful Links

October 9, 2009

So far today the most useful presentation was about monitoring supply changes. It was especially helpful because several organizations’ websites were given out, from groups that advocate on behalf of the poor to consumer watchdog groups to grass roots movements.

Here are the links and a brief description about each. I hope you find these to be informative and inspiring. This an issue that the church must find itself combating as a part of our witness as Jesus, the One who befriended the lowest of the low.

The International Labor Rights Forum is a nonprofit advocacy organization dedicated to achieving just and humane treatment for workers worldwide. They also provide information about the labor practices of various companies and even information about labor laws around the world.

The Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility seeks to encourage businesses to act in a socially responsible way.

MADE-BY is an independent consumer label for fashion companies who continuously improve and are transparent about the social, economic and ecological conditions throughout the whole supply chain of their collections.

The Not For Sale Campaign equips and mobilizes Smart Activists to deploy innovative solutions to re-abolish slavery in their own backyards and across the globe.

International Justice Mission is a human rights agency that secures justice for victims of slavery, sexual exploitation and other forms of violent oppression.

Proxy Democracy is an organization that helps investors find companies that have ethical practices and connect to other investors to work synergistically to open information streams and encourage corporations to be ethical.

The Story of Stuff creatively chronicles the underside of our production and consumption patterns, and exposes the connections between a huge number of environmental and social issues, and calls us together to create a more sustainable and just world. It’ll teach you something, it’ll make you laugh, and it just may change the way you look at all the stuff in your life forever.

Free 2 Work provides a databaseof companies from around the world so you can independently search, report, and verify known labor practices. This one may be particularly helpful as we try to decide what products to buy.

Responsible Shopper reports on global research and campaign information regarding the impact of major corporations on human rights, social justice, environmental sustainability and more.

The Good Guide provides the world’s largest and most reliable source of information on the health, environmental, and social impacts of the products in your home. This means you can find out if your products were made by forced labor or with environmentally harmful materials and processes.

The Trade Observatory works with organizations around the world to analyze how global trade agreements impact domestic farm and food policies. Alongside a global coalition, and advocates for fair trade policies that promote strong health standards, labor and human rights, the environment and, most fundamentally, democratic institutions.

Earth Rights International combats human rights violations through advocation, organization, education and litigation.

Chain Store Reaction provides information about tons of brands and provides an easy opportunity to contact these companies to encourage them to investigate and end slavery in their supply chains.

I believe that when Jesus said he came to set the captives free that he didnt just free their souls for heaven, he showed with his life that he came to set people free from the slavery of poverty and greed and abuse and oppression as well. Join the Carpenter from Nazareth and take part in freeing slaves and acting in a restorative and redemptive way in this world. No more excuses!!!