Bringing Peace to a Violent World

I don’t have the answer.  I wish so much that I did.  But I continue to struggle.  You see I believe Jesus when he says that those who live by the sword will die by the sword.  I love the name we give Jesus calling him “Prince of Peace.”  I believe that the concept of Christian pacifism is a very legitimate understanding of how we are called to live as followers of Christ.

But I just watched a 60 Minutes story on the ongoing struggle in Syria.  The story highlighted the work of Syrian doctors from the U.S. who have been going to Aleppo and other war-torn parts of Syria to provide medical care to all the people injured in the war.  The story reported the fact that Syrian president Assad has been targeting the hospitals where the doctors are working.  With both barrel bombs and chemical weapons the Assad government has targeted those already injured in the war.  This, as the reporters in the story pointed out, was the first identified war crime.  This war crime was the basis for the forming of the Geneva Convention and the founding of the Red Cross to stop this horrific behavior.

Whenever I hear such stories, (and there are of course many other stories of unspeakable violence carried out by individuals and governments), I struggle to understand and follow what Jesus seems to ask of us.

To most, even in the church, it feels like a “no-brainer.”  Of course we fight back.  Of course we must stop the mad men and women of the world.  And since most of them seem to have barrel bombs or AK-47s, we need to respond in kind.  And I understand the logic in that thinking.  I understand why I have had several calls over the past couple of weeks about having guns in church in light of the church shooting in Texas.

But it seems to me that Jesus often challenges us to go beyond logical thinking.  Jesus calls us to see the future not just the right now.  He invites us to see the long term consequences not just the immediate results.  Jesus seems to me to be inviting us to understand that every act of violence brings about the next and the next and the next and the only way to stop it is to not live by the sword anymore regardless of the situation.  It seems like that is what the cross teaches us too.

But just about the time I’m settled on that, I think of the people in the hospitals in Aleppo.  Do we simply pray while the bombs continue?  Paul gives us some insight perhaps when he speaks to the Romans about the government and its authority to “wield the sword” in Romans 13.  But is he simply outlining the way things are, or the way of Christ?

I don’t have the answer and people way smarter, with deep faith, come down in different places on this issue.  But as angry as I get at the injustice and violence in our world, the absolutely awful things that are done and especially the violence perpetrated against children; as much as my heart cries out for justice and for the offenders to “pay” or at least be stopped violently if necessary, a part of me still believes that Jesus has a way that is real and different.  It is a way that leads to life.  And it is a way that never includes a sword.

As we begin our Advent Journey this year, in the midst of a very violent world, may we consider how we might make peace, how we might find the alternate way, how we might be a part of fighting evil not with evil, but with love.  It won’t be easy.  Most will probably reject it out of hand as foolhardy, perhaps even unloving.  But if we truly believe in Jesus’ call to live, love even in the face of evil, then we need to continue to look for that alternative way to engage.  Perhaps a way that changes people and institutions instead of just trying to overpower the current version.



Remembering victims of 9/11, hunger, war and more

As a nation we remembered, this past weekend, a momentous day in our recent history.  We marked the 15th anniversary of the terrorist attack upon the Twin Towers and the Pentagon.  We remembered again the, close to 3,000 lives lost in that horrific event.

And with you, I continue to mourn those lives cut short.  I continue to pray for family members whose holiday celebrations and birthdays without loved ones have brought grief and pain as they recognize the empty chairs around their tables.

But while I indeed mourn these deaths, I also continue to struggle with the way we tend to value certain lives over others.

As some of you know my all-time favorite television show is The West Wing.  In one episode the president was deliberating about what, if anything, to do about a situation in an African country where thousands were being killed in a civil war.  In a conversation with an advisor he reflected, “Why is an American life worth more to me than one in this African country.”  The aide responded, “I don’t know sir, but it is.”

It troubles me that we place such a level of importance on the 3,000 individuals who died in the 9/11 attacks and place so little value on the 21,000 who died that same day, and every day since.  The 21,000 children who died from hunger.  Tony Campalo, the noted sociologist and Christian speaker, put this sentiment more directly once when he said to a crowd of Christians, “30,000 children died today and you don’t give a sh_t…. And most of you are more upset that I just said “sh_t” than you are about the children dying.”

Friends I am grateful to be a citizen of the United States; I am grateful for so many things about our country.  But as grateful as I am to be a citizen of this geo-political body, I am more grateful to be a part of the kingdom of God.  The Body that crosses every boundary, every boarder and every ideology.  The Body that values every life and every person, understanding that each individual who walks the earth has been created in the image of God and is love deeply by God, even if they happen to be named an enemy of my country.

I don’t have the answer to the 21,000 children who died today of hunger (although numerous organizations from the G8 to UNICEF and the Borgen Project outline the ways that we could care for this travesty.  What most have concluded is that while we could, we simply don’t have the will to do it.).  And while I get the fact that emotionally we are more connected to those of “our tribe,” “our family” much more than we are to those with whom we have no connection, I guess that is ultimately my point.  If we are all part of God’s world, then how is it that we can allow ourselves to erect multi-million dollar monuments to those who died on 9/11, and at the same time allow children to die day after day virtually anonymously?  I am grateful for the ways UMCOR and others are helping us to bring this number down. But as followers of Jesus I simply invite us to find ways to remove the boundaries around who is most important, what lives (or deaths) we value and what lives are of a lesser or, if we’re honest, no value.  As followers of Jesus may we care, emotionally and practically for as the song goes, “all the children of the world.”