Archive for the ‘Peacemaking’ Category

Back to Scotland

Thursday, August 15th, 2013

It has been a long time since I have posted! In May I was at the International meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature at St. Andrews University in Scotland to be on a the panel with Markus Bockmuehl and Martin de Boer responding to Tom Wright’s soon-to-be-released magnum opus, Paul and the Faithfulness of God. I intend to post parts of that review here. However, at the moment I am completing a paper for yet another conference at St. Andrews, the British New Testament Society’s annual conference. It will take place August 29-31. The title of the paper is “The Lord of Peace: Christ our Peace in Pauline Theology.” The paper will be part of the Paul Seminar, which is on Pauline Christology this year, with additional papers by N. T. Wright, John Barclay, and Peter Oakes–followed by a panel conversation. So it should be fun. I will also post some excerpts from that paper here. This paper grows out of my recent research on peace in Paul for a new book, scheduled to be published by Eerdmans next year: Becoming the Gospel: Paul, Participation, and Mission. Here is the abstract of the paper:

Despite ongoing contemporary efforts by such NT scholars as Willard Swartley in the U.S., Pieter de Villiers in South Africa, and William Campbell in the U.K., the claim that peace is central to Pauline theology (including Christology) and ethics has not been universally acknowledged, as evidenced in even some of the most recent and most comprehensive treatments of Paul. This paper will review a portion of the evidence in Paul for Jesus as both (1) the crucified and resurrected Messiah who inaugurated God’s promised eschatological peace and (2) the present Lord who continues to form each ekkl?sia into a peaceful, peacemaking community. In each role, Jesus is both the source and the shape of God’s shalom. While this evidence demonstrates the centrality of peace and peacemaking to Pauline Christology, it also shows that Paul does not think of Christ as peacemaker in isolation, but only in conjunction with God the Father and the Spirit, on the one hand, and in union with the ekkl?sia, on the other.

Memorial Day Preaching Suggestions

Friday, May 27th, 2011

This weekend, in the U.S., churches will be filled with civil religion as the civil part of the liturgical year (Memorial Day to Thanksgiving), as practiced here, kicks off.

Suggestions for what not to do this weekend if you are among those who will be preaching and choose to make some reference to the U.S. holiday/ holy-day:

1. Do not glorify war. Consider using a quote from a war-seasoned expert about war. Eisenhower, for instance, said, “I hate war as only a soldier who has lived it can, only as one who has seen its brutality, its futility, its stupidity.”

2. Do not sacralize war. War is not a holy enterprise, a crusade led by God and God’s representatives on earth, but a human project caused by failures and full of evils, no matter what its rationale or outcome.

3. Do not make war salvific or Christian  by misapplying Jesus’ statement in John 15:3 about his own loving death and about radical discipleship (“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”) to war-deaths.

4. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking that any nation is the kingdom of God, or that any nation deserves the unqualified allegiance and praise due to God alone.

5. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking that there is anything more important than worshiping God and following Jesus Christ in the power of the Spirit.

6. Do not let anyone leave the church thinking, “Man, that was a great sermon about this great country and our great wars!”

And one thing to do:

Make sure everyone leaves the church knowing it is Easter season and Pentecost is around the corner! It is the season of life and peace and promise.

Jim Wallis on Egypt

Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Jim Wallis has an excellent essay on Egypt, which I recommend especially for a good perspective on the recent change in the U.S.’s view of Mubarak.

Pray for the peace of Cairo.

This is NOT Independence Sunday (reprise)

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

A popular post from last year, repeated here in light of earlier conversations and updated just a bit for this year:

In some U.S. churches, at least some Methodist churches (and I suspect others), this Sunday’s bulletin will announce that Sunday, July 5 [4], 2009 [2010] is Independence Sunday—perhaps along with something else (like the Fifth [Sixth] Sunday after Pentecost), or perhaps not.

But it is not Independence Sunday, because that liturgical day does not exist, or at least should not exist. “Independence Sunday” is an American invention, an example of American civil religion: the inappropriate Americanizing of Christianity and Christianizing (in some vague, superficial sense) of America.

The misnaming of the Sunday nearest [or, this year, on] July 4 is a theological mistake in at least three specific ways. First, it nationalizes a calendar (the liturgical or church calendar) and a day that belong to the entire Christian church. “The Fifth [Sixth] Sunday after Pentecost” or “The 14th Sunday in Ordinary Time” or simply “The Lord’s Day, July 5 [4], 2009 [2010]” is theologically appropriate because each of these is inclusive, universal, catholic. But “Independence Sunday” is exclusive and parochial. When we come as Christians to worship God, even on the Fourth of July [itself] weekend, we come to celebrate our oneness with people from every nation, tribe, and race, and to recommit to a divine mission that includes all peoples. There may be appropriate ways for Christian individuals and churches to acknowledge their particularity as Americans or Iraquis or Koreans, but hijacking the Christian calendar and liturgy is not one of them.

Second, “Independence Sunday” robs not only the Christian church, but also, and far more importantly, the Lord of the church. It takes the focus of worship off the Triune God who liberated Israel in the Exodus and then came to rescue wayward humanity in the person of Jesus Christ, substituting—however subtly (or not!)—a national deity who is usually thought to have chosen America and poured special blessings on the American people as Americans. Sunday—every Sunday, no exceptions—is the Lord’s day, the day devoted to the adoration of Jesus as Lord and to communion with him [---and for many of us it will be our monthly communion Sunday]. Centering on anything or anyone else negates the very reason for the gathering and transforms it into something else, something alien.

Third, the language of “Independence Sunday” misleads both Christians and non-Christians into thinking that one’s true identity and freedom are given to them by one’s nation state. It will not suffice to say something like “We celebrate our freedom as Americans but also, and more importantly, our freedom from sin because of Jesus.” Why is this insufficient? Because comparing the two trivializes the latter, the one that really matters. Why do these words not make “Independence Day” language in church appropriate? Because the use of “we” in “we celebrate” erroneously suggests that there is something as significant, or almost as significant, about the assembled group’s identity as Americans as there is about its identity as Christians.

The custom of singing songs and offering prayers about peace, justice and similar topics on the Sunday nearest July 4 may be a good thing—if they are appropriately interpreted by the pastor in non-nationalistic and non-militaristic ways. In my experience this is seldom done. (But at least it’s better than blatant nationalism.) A church can do this without either misnaming the Sunday or misfocusing the worship service.

I have not said anything about the use of American flags in church, on “Independence Sunday” or any other time, but for all the reasons noted above, the position I would argue is probably obvious.

At Christmas time I posted that Christmas is not Jesus’ birthday, but this other liturgical error may be far more harmful, at least for Americans. [For 2009: So… Happy Fifth to all! Fifth Sunday after Pentecost, that is.

PS For ideas about celebrating Independence Day (the national holiday), see what Shane Claiborne and others have to say.

July 4: Baby Steps away from Civil Religion

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

The gist of recent comments on this blog has been that pastors need to take baby steps to move churches away from civil religion. On the assumption that that’s what most people will need to do, here are some ideas for pastors:

1. Be the pastor. Take charge of the service. Don’t allow special interests to dictate worship—ever.

2. Begin every conversation about this subject with something like, “Let’s remember: the purpose of worship is worship, not celebrating the national holiday. Church is a Christian gathering, not a civic/patriotic gathering. We cannot do anything in Christian worship that would exclude any non-American Christians who might happen to be there.”

3. Under no circumstances allow the pledge of allegiance. Don’t feel forced to challenge the pledge in principle. Simply say, “In worship we pledge ourselves to God alone.”

4. Don’t compare the red of the U.S. flag or the blood shed in battle to the blood of Christ, or war deaths to Christ’s sacrifice. At best, that cheapens Christ’s death.

5. Do not allow the singing or playing of “The Battle Hymn of the Republic” or “Onward Christian Soldiers” or anything that calls itself a national or armed-forces hymn. That feeds militarism. Avoid “America the Beautiful” and “America (My Country ‘Tis of Thee)” because they are not truly hymns, as they celebrate a nation rather than God. (They both directly address “America” in personification.)

6. If your church must sing something related to the national holiday, try “Let There be Peace on Earth” or “This is My Song” (to the tune of Finlandia) or something similar.

7. If you must allude to the national holiday, keep it brief, and try to focus on anything other than what people expect. Be creative! Possible themes: justice, peace, nonviolence, interdependence, etc.

8. Use and blame the lectionary! Preach on the texts of the day, not the civic holiday.

Any other baby steps?

Mother Teresa on Peace

Friday, March 19th, 2010

“If everyone were capable of discovering the image of God in their neighbors, do you think that we would still need tanks and generals?”

—Mother Teresa, No Greater Love, pp. 47-48

Happy Epiphany, from Isaiah via Jürgen Moltmann

Wednesday, January 6th, 2010

A reading for Epiphany:

Isaiah 9:2-6

2The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who lived in a land of deep darkness— on them light has shined. 3You have multiplied the nation, you have increased its joy; they rejoice before you as with joy at the harvest, as people exult when dividing plunder. 4For the yoke of their burden, and the bar across their shoulders, the rod of their oppressor, you have broken as on the day of Midian. 5For all the boots of the tramping warriors and all the garments rolled in blood shall be burned as fuel for the fire. 6For a child has been born for us, a son given to us; authority rests upon his shoulders; and he is named Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Commenting on Isaiah 9:2-6, Jürgen Moltmann says,

Emperors have always liked to be called emperors of peace, from Augustus to the present day. Their opponents and the heroes of the people have always liked to be called liberators…. They have come and gone. Neither their rule nor their liberation endured. God was not with them. Their zeal was not the zeal of the Lord. They did not disarm this divided world. They could not forgive the guilt, because they themselves were not innocent. Their hope did not bring new life. So let them go their way. Let us deny them our complete obedience. “To us this child is born.” The divine liberty lies upon his shoulders….

When God is God in the world, then no one will want to be anyone else’s Lord and God anymore….

But is this really possible here and now, or is it just a dream?….

The New Testament proclaims to us the person [the divine child in Isaiah 9] himself. He is Jesus Christ, the child in the manger, the preacher on the mount, the tormented man on the cross, the risen liberator.

So according to the New Testament the dream of a liberator, and the dream of peace, is not merely a dream. The liberator is already present and his power is already among us. We can follow him, even today making visible something of the peace, liberty and righteousness of the kingdom that he will complete. It is no longer impossible. It has become possible for us in fellowship with him. Let us share in his new creation of the world and—born again to a living hope—live as new men and women.

The zeal of the Lord be with us all.

— Jürgen Moltmann, “The Disarming Child,” from The Power of the Powerless (ca. 1974)

A Blessing for the New Year

Thursday, December 31st, 2009

A Franciscan Benediction (anonymous), courtesy of Christian Peace Witness:

May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.

And may God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.

“We” Do Not Have Troops: An Open Letter to the Church in the U.S.

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

Dear Pastors, Other Church Leaders, and All Fellow Christians in the U.S.,

It has been commonplace recently to hear requests for prayer and other forms of support for “our” troops. The problem is that “we” do not have any troops. By “we” I mean the Christian church. It is not my intent in this letter to convince anyone to become a pacifist. It is only my intent to make our speech appropriately Christian and accurate.

When we gather, we confess our faith in the one God revealed in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth: “We believe in one God….” When we gather, we confess that Christ came “for us and for our salvation,” which are not references to people of any particular nation, not even the nation in which we happen to live. When we gather, we confess our participation in a community that transcends space and time and nationality: “the communion of the saints….” When we gather, we do so, therefore, as one small, local part of a worldwide community called the church of Jesus Christ. We do not gather as Americans, even if we happen to be Americans. We gather as Christians.

Therefore, when we talk about “our” troops, we are being inaccurate. The troops do not belong to us, that is, to the Christian church, the communion of saints, the Christians gathered together in a particular church. The troops do not represent us; the troops do not fight for us; they are not on a mission from us; they are not our troops. They are someone else’s troops, even if some of them happen to come from our churches. They are, to be theologically correct and grammatically accurate, “their” troops. They go at someone else’s behest. They are someone else’s soldiers and missionaries. The church does not have troops except prayer warriors and mission workers and apologists and martyrs and common believers who bring every thought captive to Christ and who fight daily not against flesh and blood but against and principalities and powers. Those are our troops. Let’s pray for them, for us.

When we talk about “our” troops, we also make another mistake. Even if one believes that the church in the U.S. should pray for “the” troops, we should not use the word “our” because it is exclusive and therefore inaccurate in another way. How so? Many, if not most, churches in the U.S. have members or regular participants who are not Americans, but they are Christians. To pray for “our” troops, referring to U.S. troops, is impossible for these people. The invitation to prayer or support for “our” troops therefore creates a division in the church that ought not to exist.

The prayer of the church should always be a corporate prayer in which everyone can participate and to which everyone can say “Amen.” The mission of the church should always be a mission that all can support. Prayer for “our” troops and support for “our” troops do not fit this essential criterion of inclusion. We need to find something more appropriate that all in the church can support and pray for. Given all the needs in the world, that should not be too hard to do. The end of war, rather than support for it, would not be a bad place to start. (Even Andy Rooney of “60 Minutes” might agree [see his Nov. 8, 2009 comments].)

Speech about “our” troops is possible only for a church that has lost track of its fundamental and ultimate identity. It is the speech of civil religion, not of the international, transnational church of Jesus Christ. It is time to clean up our speech.

Your brother in Christ,

MJG

Israel, Palestine, and Water

Tuesday, July 21st, 2009

Anyone who has been to “the Holy Land” or even been in a drought knows how important water is. Biblical images of life-giving streams take on richer theological and practical significance upon reflection on such experiences.

My friend and colleague Carole Burnett recently returned from another trip to Israel and Palestine. Today she has an eloquentt letter in the Washington Post responding to Monday’s op-ed piece by Ehud Olmert, the former prime minister of Israel, arguing that growth within Israel’s already-existing settlements should not be seen as problematic.

Carole claims that Israelis are diverting water that rightfully belongs to Palestinians, that Israelis are polluting Palestinian land, and that many Palestinians are not getting the safe water they need (and, I should add, that is a basic human right).

She concludes the letter as follows:

So let us hear no more about the alleged necessity of allowing the settler population to expand. Even if Israel begins to abide by its agreement to halt its confiscation of Palestinian land, its ever-encroaching appropriation of Palestinian resources must also be stopped if there is to be any hope for a viable Palestinian state and, thus, for the two-state solution that Mr. Olmert professes to support.


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