violence

The Time to Change Gun Laws is Now

The Time to Change Gun Laws is Now

Guest post by Phil Snider

Gun laws in the United States of America should be changed immediately:

Fact 1: Every year far more innocent people in the U.S. are unintentionally killed by an accident with a gun than are criminals killed by a “good guy with a gun.” [So the self-defense argument doesn’t work unless for some strange reason one wishes to also argue that more deaths by gun violence is preferable to fewer deaths by gun violence.]

Fact 2: Where there are higher rates of gun ownership in the U.S., there are higher rates of gun violence in the U.S. There is a direct and disproportionate correlation between gun ownership and gun fatalities.

Fact 3: Nations with tighter gun restrictions have drastically fewer gun fatalities in comparison to the U.S.

Fact 4: If you say that changing the law is unnecessary because criminals will always find ways to break the law, then you are de facto arguing against the purpose of having any laws.

Fact 5: A person hellbent on acting maliciously can murder far more people with certain types of guns than with, say, a knife. [This seems so obvious to point out, but, for example, there’s a reason it’s wrong to build bombs –> they are designed to kill large quantities of people at once. As are many types of guns.]

Two more facts, from a friend:

A history of violence against women is among the strongest predictors of future violence like murder and mass shootings.

People living with mental illness are far more likely to be the victims of violent acts than the perpetrators.

Truth: We may think (or feel) that having guns makes us more safe, but that is an illusion. Owning guns makes us far less safe. Nonetheless, our fears have led us to build a golden calf out of guns. But like all idols, they cannot save.

Truth: Our nation is enamored with the myth of redemptive violence, from which we need to be saved.

Truth: If one thinks the founding documents of our country are not subject to revision or contextual and constructive critique, then (1) one has to continue to support some pretty outlandish things, such as the 3/5ths compromise and (2) one doesn’t think it’s possible to progress further or to be open to new insights and perspectives, which is at once both tragic and myopic.

Truth: We have the responsibility to politicize tragedies so they don’t keep happening over and over and over again. Not to do so is to give them our tacit approval, which should be unconscionable.

What are we waiting for?


Phil Snider is an award-winning author, community organizer, pastor, and teacher. In addition to providing religious commentary in various local and national media outlets, including NPR affiliates and nationally-syndicated radio and television programming, his work has been featured in the Huffington Post, Religion Dispatches, Slate, Fox News and USA Today. Phil’s books include Justice Calls: Sermons of Welcome and AffirmationPreaching After GodThe Hyphenateds, and Toward a Hopeful Future (winner of the 2011 Mayflower Award for best book in church and society).

Image: REUTERS/SERGIO FLORES

Why I Am Unarmed

Why I Am Unarmed

This post originally appeared in The Banner, January 20, 2014

My neighbors were recently mugged at gunpoint not far from where I live in Washington, D.C. A nice evening out for dinner with another couple quickly went awry as two young men pulled a gun on them and demanded their wallets and phones. The four of them hit the ground and did as they were asked. After being accosted in this way, my friends felt rattled. Unsafe. Sad.

Some might say: “If only they’d been carrying a weapon of their own, they might have been able to turn the tables, or at least hold onto their wallets.” A good thought. After all, they say the best defense is a good offense, so why not be ready to take charge in such a situation? An argument could be made that a gun might have helped. The instigators could have been forced to flee out of fear. The potential firepower might have caused panic, and my friends might have been able to take control of the situation.

But it’s also true that bringing a second gun into the picture might have escalated the situation. It is likely that the perpetrators did not plan to use the gun. There’s a good chance that these two young men found themselves in a desperate situation requiring desperate action.

I’m pretty sure this situation would not have been improved by issuing a threat of violence in response to the initial threat of violence. A response in kind, even in self-defense, is exactly what it sounds like: a response in kind.

With these types of incidents happening close to where I live—in an urban setting—some might recommend that I own a weapon. That I protect my family. That I prepare for the worst.

Yet I remain unarmed.

For me, carrying a weapon is in direct conflict with my desire to be a faithful disciple of Jesus. How can I justify responding to violence with more violence when I follow the Prince of Peace? How can I think of carrying a weapon designed solely to kill efficiently if I’m seeking to follow a God who instructs us, “Do not kill”? How can I think of owning a gun when Jesus tells us to turn the other cheek, to love our enemies, and to pray for those who hurt us? How can I stock up on ammunition when Romans 12 clearly instructs us to “not repay evil for evil” and to “live at peace with everyone” (vv. 17-18)?

These days there is a lot of conversation about guns and gun rights, particularly in the wake of last year’s Newtown school shooting and the Trayvon Martin murder trial. Many note that it is their constitutional or even God-given right to carry a gun. Some are sure that the answer to the outbreak of violence in our schools, homes, and streets is not fewer guns, but more.

More guns in our schools. More guns in our homes. Moreguns in our neighborhoods.

The argument that we need more guns, and more people trained to use them, boils down to “we can kill before we get killed.” At some level, this argument may be right. This strategy may well be effective—even the most effective. But what kind of society do we want to have? What kind of people do we want to be?

One response to violence is to admit that we live in a sick society and increase weapon proliferation to deal with the issue. “It’s effective.” “I’ll feel safer.” But do we really want a society in which there are more weapons that can be unleashed on a schoolroom full of unsuspecting children? A society where our children are afraid to walk the streets because there may be a neighborhood watch person following them with a gun?

The more poignant question is this: Do I really want to become someone who has to be trained to kill someone else as the answer to reducing violence? To me, this stems from a lack of imagination and a lack of hope.

I’d rather we work on connecting better with our neighbors, getting involved in our neighborhood schools, and learning the opportunities and challenges we face together.

I’d rather we dealt with mental health issues and make counseling accessible to those who need it.

I’d rather be a person who is trained to love than one who is trained to kill—even in self-defense.

That’s why I am simply not interested in carrying a firearm. In the U.S., the Constitution may grant me such a right. But I follow someone who eschewed his rights to self-defense (and many other things).

Some will point to Jesus endorsing the carrying of swords in Luke 22 and note that even he knew when it was time to arm oneself. Yet when the disciples say, “See, Lord, here are two swords,” Jesus replies, “That’s enough.” Or as another translation puts it: “Enough of that!” The point is notthat he endorses the private right to carry weapons. Rather, the display of two weapons in the face of a contingent of armed Roman soldiers from Pilate makes the point that Jesus and his disciples are not there to act in violence. Jesus notes that he has the power to call down legions of angels to his defense. But he refuses to resort to such violence, even when self-defense might call for it. He says, “My kingdom is not of this world, otherwise my servants would fight.”

When the kingdom of heaven breaks in, there is a refusal to respond to violence with more violence. There is a love that is greater than calling upon our “rights.” There is a forgiveness that can be extended even to those who would put us to death, as Jesus and many of his earliest followers exemplified.

In our society, people have the right to carry or own a gun. But I’m not going to be one of them because my hope for peace outweighs my desire for personal safety. Because my desire to follow Jesus exceeds my desire to defend myself. And because responding to a threat upon my life with an act of love, even if it costs me my life, might be one small piece of God’s kingdom being realized here and now.

There are no easy answers or solutions to the reality of gun violence in our nation and our world.

But should that stop us from dreaming? What if we tried to enact the prophetic dream now, and gave up our obsession with violence? What if we didn’t wait for someone else to beat the pistols into plowshares but set the example ourselves? What’s the worst that could happen?

Ask Jesus.

The Parable of the Ten Servants

The Parable of the Ten Servants

A new take on the Parable of the Ten Virgins, by Bryan Berghoef

And he told them this parable:

At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten servants who went out to meet their master. Five of them were foolish and five were wise. The foolish ones took no weapons nor did they take any means of defense with them. The wise ones, however, took care to bring swords along with their concealed knives. The master was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

At midnight the cry rang out: “An intruder! Defend yourselves!” Continue Reading..

Advice to a Child

Advice to a Child

What one piece of advice would you offer to a newborn infant? That was the question that kicked off our conversation at Pub Theology Holland last night. After a few quips like: “Go back!” and “A newborn infant wouldn’t be capable of understanding advice,” we decided to stretch it out to a child somewhere between 5 and 8 years old.

Then some real wisdom began to come out around the table. Here are a few of the gems that were shared: Continue Reading..

A Palm Sunday Prayer for Peace

Palm-Sunday-2013

Holy Week begins this Sunday. It is a familiar week, beginning with Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem. But maybe so familiar that we still aren’t quite hearing the full story.

Marcus Borg reminds us that there was not one, but two processions entering Jerusalem that year. Two very different processions. “They proclaimed two very different and contrasting visions of how this world can and should be: the kingdom of God versus the kingdoms, the powers, of this world. The former is about justice and the end of violence. The latter are about domination and exploitation. On Friday, the rulers of this world kill Jesus. On Easter, God says “yes” to Jesus and “no” to the powers that executed him.

Thus Palm Sunday announces the central conflict of Holy Week. The conflict persists. That conflict continues wherever injustice and violence abound. Holy Week is not about less than that.”

In the spirit of the One who came in peace, and in the wake of this week’s continued violence in our world, a prayer for peace. May it bless you this week.


G
reat God, who has told us
“Vengeance is mine,”
save us from ourselves,
save us from the vengeance in our hearts
and the acid in our souls.
Save us from our desire to hurt as we have been hurt,
to punish as we have been punished,
to terrorize as we have been terrorized.
Give us the strength it takes
to listen rather than to judge,
to trust rather than to fear,
to try again and again
to make peace even when peace eludes us.
We ask, O God, for the grace
to be our best selves.
We ask for the vision
to be builders of the human community
rather than its destroyers.
We ask for the humility as a people
to understand the fears and hopes of other peoples.
We ask for the love it takes
to bequeath to the children of the world to come
more than the failures of our own making.
We ask for the heart it takes
to care for all the peoples
of Afghanistan and Iraq, of Palestine and Israel
as well as for ourselves.
Give us the depth of soul, O God,
to constrain our might,
to resist the temptations of power
to refuse to attack the attackable,
to understand
that vengeance begets violence,
and to bring peace–not war–wherever we go.
For You, O God, have been merciful to us.
For You, O God, have been patient with us.
For You, O God, have been gracious to us.
And so may we be merciful
and patient
and gracious
and trusting
with these others whom you also love.
This we ask through Jesus,
the one without vengeance in his heart.
This we ask forever and ever. Amen
A Prayer for World Peace,
by Sister Joan Chittister, of the Benedictine Sisters of Erie
(source)

Noah and the Violence of God [Trailer included]

Noah and the Violence of God [Trailer included]

A new movie about the story of the Genesis flood is heading to theatres entitled simply: NOAH. Starring Russell Crowe as Noah, of course.

The movie trailer begins with these controversial words:

“At a time when wickedness was great in the world… so too was the response.”

A story so familiar: water, animals, a big boat. Perhaps too familiar. Rev. Alan Storey preached a sermon recently that helps us push through the simple children’s version to the dark depths of this story. The darkness of humanity, and of a dark response from the heavens. It appears the movie will similarly pull no punches on the terror of the flood.  [Warning: this may well be the longest post ever at pubtheologian.com, but it also might be the most important.]

The opening to the biblical story in Genesis 6:5-8:

And YHWH saw that great was humankind’s evildoing on earth and every form of their heart’s planning was only evil all the day. Then YHWH was sorry that he had made mankind on earth, and it pained his heart. YHWH said: “I will blot out humankind, whom I have created, from the face of the soil, from man to beast, to crawling thing and to the fowl of the heavens, for I am sorry that I made them.” But Noah found favor in the eyes of YHWH. [Everett Fox’s translation, The Five Books of Moses]

Rev Storey’s sermon entitled:

“Not even God can use violence successfully.”

I wonder what you have just heard during the reading of those Hebrew scriptures. I wonder what you heard. What did you hear?

Did you hear Sunday school children singing, singing about animals going in two by two? Or did you hear children screaming panic-stricken, terrified, gasping for breath; people fleeing to higher ground, pleading, praying to be let into that ark—and if not me, then take my child. Knocking, banging, banging on the ark, let me in! Yet the doors of the ark remained sadistically closed.

What did you feel when [you read] those words? Did you feel the desperation, the despair, the drowning, the death?

And then after the 40 days, what did you see? The sunshine? Green lush, beautiful blossoming? Birds and bees? Or decomposing bodies, swelling, smelling—disease, decay gathered in every single nook and cranny?

The cruel results, the inevitable cruel results of dividing up a world with the simplistic notion that there are some who are wicked and others who are righteous, that there are two types of people in the world: good and bad. And if we can just get rid of the bad people, then we will have peace. There is an axis of evil int he world and if we can just destroy the axis of evil, then all will be safe and secure.

The persons who act on this notion of dividing the world into wicked people and righteous people should be brought before the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity and all of creation – even if that person is God.

This deathly division between good people and bad people continues today especially in my faith tradition—especially in my faith tradition. The Christian faith, more than any other faith, has participated in this deathly division—dividing the world into good and bad, saved and unsaved, those who will be ushered into heaven and those who will be cast into hell. That thought process is nothing less than hate speech.

We go back to the text. These Hebrew narrators were incredibly courageous, risky in the extreme. You see, what these Hebrew narrators are trying to do is not endorse this primitive, partisan God or world view, but rather to cleverly, and with great risk, subvert it. They knew that the common world understanding of God was that God was some almighty superhero that would punish the wicked and bless the righteous. They knew that was the dominant religious world view and understanding of their time. So they risked casting God in that light in their narrative. They don’t believe it, they know that’s not so. But they cleverly start where the audience is.

There were righteous ones, just a few. God saved them and the wicked were punished and the audience applaud. Because that was their world view. Justice has been done, the wicked got what they deserved, and the righteous what was promised. And then the narrator moves to Act II. And we read that once the flood had subsided, wickedness remained. Wickedness remained. In other words, God failed. God failed to eradicate evil through this weapon of mass destruction called the flood.

The narrator is bold to pen those words, “God failed.” God fails when God uses violence. Not even God can use violence successfully. Not even God. God’s war on terror  became a war of terror. And God repents. Listen to these words: “I will never again destroy every living creature as I have done.”

And then God is converted and God takes God’s bow, not a rainbow, but a weapon, God’s bow, and hangs it up in the sky, just as a boxer hangs up his gloves – and says,“Never again will I fight.” It’s the great narrative of the disarmament of God.

God can do all things. God can do all things – except use violence successfully.

And you and I will not be converted to nonviolence until we first realize that God has long since been converted. It is impossible to be a peacemaker if we serve a violent God, an angry God, a God who needs blood to be satisfied. If the God we serve, if the God we worship, has blood on his hands (I use that male pronoun deliberately), then the likelihood will be that we will too.

Using violence, God fails. So how much more will we fail if we use it? And you and I witness the failure of violence all around us all the time.

Violence fails to deliver on what it promises – peace and security. Since 9/11, billions and billions and billions of your dollars have been invested in violence, military might. And this country is less safe than it ever was. It doesn’t matter how long you have to stand in line to wait to get onto an airplane – it is less safe, less secure. And if it is not more afraid, it is definitely more feared.

Ask the people of Pakistan who scan the skies for drones – where the people who fly them can have break-fast in the morning with their family, go to the office and sit in a comfortable chair and go to war in Afghanistan; and then can come home and have lunch with their family, and then in the afternoon they can go to war in Pakistan.

There is no victory in vengeance. Satan cannot cast out Satan; violence cannot cast out violence. War is a poor chisel to carve out a peaceable future says Martin Luther King, and yet it remains our biggest investment.

If you know history, you will know that empires do not explode. Empires implode. And the reason why empires implode is because they spend more than they have on trying to defend (read attack) who they are.

And if you just question safety and security, you will be labeled unpatriotic. You can commit the most grave of sins in the name of safety and security. Listening to the presidential debates, if you could call them that, president Obama was asked, “What is the greatest threat to America?” Notice, please, the very narrow nationalistic question that is. His answer: “Terrorism, and China.”

I want to say to Barack Obama the greatest threat to America is not terrorism, it’s not China. The greatest threat to America is – America. You are your worst enemy. No one will explode you – you will implode. If God fails using violence, so will the USA.

God is a nonviolent God.

Now, a couple of years ago in my country, there was a murder that took place and it was discovered that it was a family murder. An 18-year-old girl killed her 13-year-old sister, stabbed her repeatedly. The mother, as you can imagine, grieved, like only a mother can grieve. And yet at the same time as she was grieving the loss of her daughter, she stood in solidarity with her other daughter, as only, you can imagine, a mother can do. She was reported to have said, “I want to hate her, but I can’t.”

She went to court every day when her daughter was on trial. She stood behind her and embraced her when she was convicted. She visited her daughter every available opportunity in prison and when her daughter was finally released, she welcomed her home. Mrs. Du Toit, the mother, found herself in the painful, yet privileged position of God, being parent to both murdered and murderer. At one and the same time. “I want to hate her but I can’t. I’m her mother.”

God is not only a nonviolent God, but God is the heavenly parent of both murdered and murderer. And to take vengeance on the murderer is simply to multiply the grief of God. If someone had come up to that mother and said, “Let us kill this daughter,” she would say, “No – don’t double my grief.”

Not only is this a nonviolent God, not only does this God grieve on all sides of the border, but when we remember Saul traveling on the road to Damascus because he had written permission to extend his war on terror, he is stopped in his tracks with these words from the Divine:“Why, why, why are you persecuting me?”

Please notice what the Divine did not say. The Divine did not say, “Why are you persecuting them?” but, “Why are you persecuting me?”

The Divine takes persecution personally. It is not, “Why are you persecuting the Afghans, and the Iraqis, and the Pakistanis, and whoever else? it’s, “Why are you persecuting me?” We need to hear that question here today.

So not only is God a nonviolent God. Not only does God grieve on both sides. God takes persecution personally. Our violence violates God. All violence – we see from that illustration – is family violence. Cain and Abel were brothers. Did you know that death enters the Hebrew scriptures through murder? – reminding us that all violence is family violence? That there are seven billion chosen, chosen people in the world? That the apartheid between nations must come to an end?

There is something that distresses me more than anything else every time I listen to the president of this country speak – when he ends his speeches with the words,“God Bless America.”

Someone please remind him that there is a world larger than America. And not until he begins to have a vision for the world and not just a nation – (long pause) The only flag I am prepared to salute, the only flag, the only flag that I am prepared to stand up for is the flag with a picture of the globe on it. Can you give your flag away? And claim a new flag? And certainly remove it from your sanctuaries.

Jesus said if you want to save your life, give it away. If you want to save your nation – give it away. If you want to save your flag – give it away. If you want to save your religion – give it away. We know that it is easier to identify with the victim than the perpetrator. It is easier to see the splinter in our neighbor’s eye than it is to see the log in our own eye. It is easier to watch a documentary called Pray the Devil Back to Hell than to face the devil in us and the hell that we create. I watched that documentary for the first time here. I was deeply moved by it – the courage of woman.

I was inspired when one of them said, “With this tee shirt, I am powerful.” I was horrified at the children, the children carrying guns that were too big for them to carry. I wept at the senseless suffering.

But that was a distant devil to observe. Much more difficult to watch a documentary of the devil that we are, and the hell that we create. Some people here have asked me, “Gosh, listening to Bernard Lafayette the other night, – how is it possible to be able to draw that love from the wells that live within to be able to even love the person beating us?”

Now it is a fine question to ask, but I think there is an earlier question. You see, that question assumes that we are going to be the victim. That question assumes we are going to be the one who is going to be beaten and kicked. The balance of probability that any of us in this room are going to go through that is pretty slim.

You see, we identify with the victim. The question we should be asking is, “How do we stop beating and killing others who are praying for the love to be able to forgive us?” What our dollars do in this world –

You know the date. But do you know what happened during 9/11? 9/11. When country and the hopes of that country were shattered. The thousands of people dying, thousands of people dying, not just on 9/11, but the days after. 9/11. You know the day, you know what I am talking about. Yes, I am talking about 1973. 9/11. When Pinochet came into power in Chile with the help of our dollars, a reign of terror for 16 years until 1990 – we know the date.

The 20th of August 1998 – in Sudan, the Clinton administration bombs Al-Shifa pharmaceutical company that provided 50% of all medication in the Sudan. I went to the Sudan a number of years after that. I watched mothers carrying children, hopelessly dying of malaria, not able to get medication. Do you know the date: 20th of August 1998?

We will not have peace in this world, we will not become peacemakers, until we know the dates of terror that we have inflicted on others as well as we know the dates of terror that others have inflicted on us.

By the way, the 20th of August 1998 was covered in the Boston Globe, the Washington PostThe Guardian, the New York Times.

Last night we listened to Leymah Gbowee. She spoke powerfully about an analogy of violence and anger: pouring it into a violent cup or a nonviolent cup. I wonder if our problem is that we are not angry enough.

What makes you angry? When the price of gas goes up? Or when more of our children go and learn how to kill and we tell them that they are heroes when all they are are victims to the lie, the lie that says you can be a killer with honor. The lie that says you can actually be alive while you kill another.

We are addicted to violence. This nation knows that more than any other. It is never going to be easy to kick an addiction. We are always going to think, “One more drink.” And the one more drink becomes the first of many more. The alcoholic needs to admit that she is, that he is, powerless. And then join together with other people who feel powerless too. And admit their addiction, confess it.

“Hi, my name is Alan and I belong to the most violent nation in the world – that spends more money on the military than all other nations put together.”

Can we say those words? And only when we are able to admit that in the presence of others and then rely on a power – however you understand that power – that is higher than us, to begin to transform us. To make a stringent list of the things that we have done wrong. To admit them, and then to make amends. To go through, as a nation, a 12-step program. As the most violent nation in the world. Sign up. And then, in our powerlessness, we will discover what Michael Nagler invited us to see: nonviolence as that power that is unleashed when all desire to harm is overcome; and only then will we be feeling powerful again.

People have been asking me, “Alan, what do we do,what do we do, where do I stand, what do I do?” Well, it is very difficult to transform a system that we are dependent on – for our livelihood. Very difficult. So what we need to do is in those little AA communities, confessing that we are a violent people, we need to somehow wean ourselves off the system that we are dependent on.

I mean, don’t you get it? Let me use Christian language for a moment. I am dependent – this is the contradiction I live with in my life – I am dependent on my sin for my survival. Sin, meaning “wages of death, way of death.” I am dependent on a way of life that is in actual fact a way of death, for my survival. And when I turn against my sin, it feels like I am dying, even though I am coming alive.

We have to admit that we are dependent on our sin for our survival. But it, like all addiction, is killing us and those after us and those around us—not to mention God’s creation.

Now let me close.

If you had interviewed political analysts in the Middle Eastern region in December, 2010, and if you had asked them the question, “What is the likelihood of there being a regime change in this part of the world – places like Tunisia and Egypt – places supported by these dollars, our dollars, superpower dollars?” the political analysts would have said that it would be impossible. That would beDecember, 2010. Interview those same analysts in February, 2011, and they would say that it was inevitable. As intifada and the Arab Spring began to spread and take root – because a vegetable seller set himself alight which kindled the fire of freedom and justice in the hearts and minds of families in that region.

You see, political analysts are not to be counted upon in regard to what is possible in this world. Liberation, peace, will come like a thief in the night, and it is not for you and I to know dates or times.

The most amazing thing about the people who were involved in the struggle against Apartheid, for me, were that they joined the struggle with no expectation to see liberation themselves. And yet, they joined it, not for certain results, but because it was right.

We have to liberate ourselves from our addiction to certain results. Thomas Merton said that years ago, set yourself free from limiting results. Just do what you need to do. The results will come.

We heard that over these few days. Who knew that when a 14-year-old boy, when he is treated with dignity and respect and given a social security number and given a driver’s license, who knew that what that would do would refine a conscience that could lead a people that could set people free? Who knew?

It was an unmeasurable act of human relationship and we need to awaken ourselves to the unmeasurableness of our actions. That we cannot actually see the impact thereof  – and so, do what you do not knowing what impact God will do with it through the world – Do you really think that Leymah Gbowee, last night, expected to be standing here, 15 years ago?

So what do we do? I want to ask you to do something specific. But the truth is that I am 44 years old. Right? If I have a good innings, I’m at half time. I’m at half time. And I am sorry to say that looking out at some of you, you are past half time. And looking at some of you more closely, it looks like some of you are in injury time. I’m serious. You don’t have too many years left. Okay? So why don’t you make them count? You have nothing to lose.

I want to speak specifically to the people of my faith – Christians, Methodists. When is the Methodist Church of this nation going to refuse to allow members of its church to enter the military? When? When will children’s church teachers teach the children that that’s the gravest sin, that there is nothing heroic in it, to kill family.

Why don’t you do it? Let us call the troops back home from Afghanistan. Tell them to hand in their guns and their uniforms. Do it! You have nothing to lose. The game is nearly over. It’s the right thing to do. There are people on that side praying, praying that you will do that.

Let’s lament, let’s lament. Let’s not build any more monuments.

I have stood here today for one person. His name is Bradley Manning. You asked me, “What gives me hope?” People have asked, “Alan, are you hopeful?”

I said, “I am hopeful because of one person, Bradley Manning.” Bradley Manning is 24 years old – 24 years old. He’s spent the last 902 days in a military prison, most of which has been in solitary confinement in chains. Bradley Manning. All because he revealed documents that exposed the truth of the killing of Iraqis from an American helicopter. And he sits in one of your prisons. Bradley Manning. You want to know what you can do? You can give your life for his freedom, because he has given his life for the freedom of this world. Pray for his sanity, pray for his healing. Bradley Manning. Bradley Manning.

If there is anything that I have said here that is true, may it set us free.


Alan Storey is an ordained minister of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa and is presently ministry in Cape Town. As a young man, Alan faced conscription into the apartheid regime’s military. After spending a year of discernment working as a laborer in Australia, he returned to South Africa, declaring he would never fight in the apartheid army, or any army. He was arrested and faced trial with a six-year prison sentence as the likely outcome. Alan’s trial was abandoned midway, and he became the last conscientious objector to be tried in apartheid South Africa.

This sermon is a transcription of the final presentation of a four-day peace conference held at Lake Junaluska, NC, Nov 8-11, 2012. The text only hints at the power of this presentation to those who heard it in person. Transcription courtesy of the War Crimes Times. The official release date of the Noah movie starring Russell Crowe and Jennifer Connelly has yet to be announced.

Atheist: “I Still Believe in Good Friday”

banksy_good_friday

Guest post by Chris Lubbers, Adjunct Professor of Philosophy, Muskegon Community College

Reflections on Good Friday

I remember being puzzled as a child in church—one of many times—about why the day on which Jesus was crucified was called “Good Friday.” What was good about that? It seemed pretty awful.

I was told that what was good was that Jesus died for our sins, thus saving us from the punishment of death. But everyone still sins, and everyone still dies.

Later I was told that saving us from death was a metaphor for saving us from the eternal torment known as hell, which was not a metaphor. Some people still went to hell, though, because they didn’t believe in Jesus. Whatever that meant.

Have you ever tried to just believe something that you didn’t already believe? Good luck.

Eventually, I was told that it didn’t really matter what we did. God chose from before the creation who would go to heaven and who would go to hell. Problem solved?

Studying Biblical scholarship, church history, theology, ethics and philosophy of religion offered me the opportunity to learn far more subtle, complex, nuanced and technical answers to these simple questions I had raised. But I found them all lacking.

So, why am I writing about Good Friday, when I don’t believe in Easter?

Because, even though I don’t think there are any such things as gods or places like heaven and hell, I still believe in Good Friday. I believe that Jesus was crucified by a powerful and corrupt empire, with the help of the religious leadership, whose authority Jesus questioned on a regular basis, sometimes violently.

Little has changed in two thousand years. Those in power still seek to destroy those who question their authority.

Every once in a while, though, someone comes along and reminds us that some things are worth dying for. They inspire us to do what is right and let the shameful injustice of those in power reveal itself to everyone.

I think today of all those girls, boys, women and men who have suffered and died for our sins.

Do we have enough courage not to avert our eyes?

Linger here and reflect

sandy-hook-elementary-school-shooting
Tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School on December 14, 2012

Heaven on Earth
We need it now
I’m sick of all of this
Hanging around

Sick of sorrow
I’m sick of the pain
I’m sick of hearing
Again and again
That there’s gonna be
Peace on Earth
–U2, Peace on Earth

Some have accused me of insensitivity due to my FB posting yesterday in which I highlighted what had occurred the day before in my home state of Michigan:

“LANSING — Changes to the concealed weapons law passed the state House and Senate late Thursday, allowing gun owners to carry their weapons in formerly forbidden places, such as schools, day care centers, stadiums and churches.”

Some said it was too soon to talk about these kinds of issues.

Some said I was out of bounds for “making this political.”

Some accused me of being insensitive or narrowing this down to one issue. (because a single FB post clearly defines everything I think about a subject)

First of all, let me say that as a parent of four children, all of whom are the right age to attend Sandy Hook, and who just spent their first week in an urban public school, I was devastated to hear of this incident, and I am absolutely sick about it.  I have no idea how I am going to drop off my four little precious ones on Monday, and say, “See you soon.”  I am sure all parents feel the same way.

Yesterday was a day for grieving.  So is today, and the day after that. 

But is it not appropriate to begin to wonder: what has to change?  How can we avoid situations like this?

I get that people got angry at me.  I get that we’re all a bit angry.  But seriously, is it really worth getting angry at those who wonder: “What if this guy didn’t have guns?”

Arm Yourselves

Some are sure the answer is not less guns, but more.

We need more people trained to use guns in our schools.  Like teachers and school administrators.  More guns in our schools.

We ourselves should arm ourselves, because who knows, someone could break into our homes and threaten our own families.  More guns in our homes.

The question is: What kind of society do we want to have?  What kind of people do we want to be?

The argument that we need more guns, and more people trained to use them boils down to: then we can kill, before we get killed.

They may, in fact, be right. This strategy may well have some level of effectiveness. It may even be the most effective strategy.

Again I ask: What kind of society do we want to have?  What kind of people do we want to be?

Perhaps we need to admit that we live in a sick society, and just increase weapon proliferation to deal with the issue.  “It’s effective.”  “I’ll feel safer.”

But do we really want a society in which there are more of these weapons that can be unleashed across a schoolroom full of unsuspecting children?

And for me the more poignant question is: do I really want to become someone who has to be trained to kill someone else, as the answer to reducing violence?

What happened to making this a broader issue than just guns?  (Those who are angry at mention of gun control but turn around and say we need more guns are also talking about: gun control.  Just less of it.)

To me, this stems from a lack of imagination, and a lack of hope.

Let’s Talk About Training

I’d rather be trained in being a good parent.

I’d rather be trained in connecting with my neighbors.

I’d rather be trained in getting involved in my neighborhood school, getting to know the kids, the families, the moms, the dads, the challenges, etc.

I’d rather have others who are trained in mental health issues and counseling accessible to those who need their services and expertise.

I’d rather train my kids to deal with emotional and social issues in a healthy manner.

I’d rather train my kids to be discerning consumers of media.

I’d rather be a person who is trained to love, than one who is trained to kill (even in self-defense).

(And this is just me, I get that we do need some folks like that, but I bristle at the suggestion that we all become like that.)

A Question of Efficiency?

Call me naïve on this.  Call me ignorant or even Amish when it comes to guns.  Not a big fan.

They kill people.  Ah, but you say, guns don’t kill people, people kill people.

Well that’s fine and good.

But as James Fallows noted yesterday in The Atlantic:

“Guns don’t attack children; psychopaths and sadists do. But guns uniquely allow a psychopath to wreak death and devastation on such a large scale so quickly and easily. America is the only country in which this happens again — and again and again. You can look it up.”

And also, as I’m sure you’ve heard, there was an outbreak of violence at a school in China yesterday as well, and because there was a knife, instead of a gun, all of those children are alive today.   Though, it has been pointed out to me that knives can kill people too.  But does anyone seriously want to compare assault rifles to utensils?

Guns make it way too easy.  Pulling a trigger can happen with a momentary brain lapse.  Killing someone with a knife or spoon takes some serious want-to, and generally hurts one person at a time, not an entire classroom.

But you say, more trained gun carriers will indeed make us safer.  It’s the most efficient way forward.

Again, perhaps.

Or perhaps not.

Consider this article, which came out in September:

In the wake of the slaughters this summer at a Colorado movie theater and a Sikh temple in Wisconsin, we set out to track mass shootings in the United States over the last 30 years. We identified and analyzed 61 of them, and one striking pattern in the data is this: In not a single case was the killing stopped by a civilian using a gun. Moreover, we found that the rate of mass shootings has increased in recent years—at a time when America has been flooded with millions of additional firearms and a barrage of new laws has made it easier than ever to carry them in public. And in recent rampages in which armed civilians attempted to intervene, they not only failed to stop the shooter but also were gravely wounded or killed.

America has long been heavily armed relative to other societies, and our arsenal keeps growing.

There is no evidence indicating that arming Americans further will help prevent mass shootings or reduce the carnage, says Dr. Stephen Hargarten, a leading expert on emergency medicine and gun violence at the Medical College of Wisconsin. To the contrary, there appears to be a relationship between the proliferation of firearms and a rise in mass shootings.

And armed civilians attempting to intervene are actually more likely to increase the bloodshed, says Hargarten, “given that civilian shooters are less likely to hit their targets than police in these circumstances.”

For the sake of argument, let’s say that more trained gunowners is the most efficient solution to avoiding disasters like occurred yesterday. Are we ceding that violence is the answer?  Is efficiency our highest goal?  And is becoming potential killers ourselves really the place we want to be?

“We need to become those trained to kill so that others don’t kill us.”

Kill or be killed, isn’t that what Jesus said?

Or was it: “those who live by the sword, die by the sword.”  I also seem to recall an ancient prophetic dream that one day swords would be beaten into plowshares, and war and fighting would be no more.

Ah… but you say, “That is way in the future.”

For now, you say, let’s eschew the Psalmist’s call to trust in the Lord rather than in horses and armies (or firearms and munitions), and arm ourselves for the sake of the children.

After all, Jesus was a bit naïve about the whole “sword thing” and the whole “turning the other cheek” idea.  Look where it got him.

As followers of his, surely we are much wiser.

Carry the weapons, shoot first, and trust in God later.

“If someone broke into your home and threatened your children, wouldn’t you rather be able to shoot and kill them?”

What kind of society do we want to have?  What kind of people do we want to be?

Linger here and reflect

I live in Washington DC.  I don’t own a gun.  Call me Amish, a wishful-thinker, or naïve…  Or maybe just a bad parent.  Speaking of which, we went for a walk with the kids last night in an area garden decorated with Christmas lights, and came across a memorial to those who died at the hands of the DC-area sniper back in 2002.

And we saw this stone:

linger_here

“Linger here and reflect on those lost to violence.
Hope for a more peaceful world.
Seek a reverence for life among all people.”

Amen.

There are no easy answers.  This is not a one-issue situation.  We all have some long and hard thinking to do about it.

But should that stop us from dreaming?

What if we tried to enact the prophetic dream now, and gave up our obsession with violence?  What if we didn’t wait for someone else to beat the pistols into plowshares, but set the example ourselves?

What’s the worst that could happen?

Ask Jesus.

Sikh-ing Peace

A Necessary Conversation

The recent shooting in Wisconsin at a Sikh Temple has many wondering if religiously-rooted violence is about to erupt, or if this is one of the dying gasps of intolerance as our world continues to become a more hospitable place.

I would like to lean toward the latter, but realize we have a long ways to go.My own experience in interfaith conversations, as highlighted in my new book, Pub Theology, is that we need to work toward listening and learning, rather than antagonizing.

A few comments by young people of various faith traditions highlight as much (from an article in the Huffington Post):

Hannah Shirey, Christian, New York, USA

Through the pain, I have been reminded of the deep gratitude I feel for my time spent at a Sikh NGO this last year.

As we move forward, I am inspired by Sikh scripture that calls devotees to “recognize the human race as one” and by Jesus of Nazareth’s famous words, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” In our differences and our pain we are all interconnected and we all are capable of being peace-builders.

Nomi Teutsch, Jewish, Jerusalem, Israel

The injunction to “love the stranger, for we were strangers in the land of Egypt” is one of the most central teachings of my Jewish faith. To me, this speaks to the connection that all minorities have to one another. We must not only feel hurt and anguish, but rather remember to transform those feelings into standing up for other groups in their times of need.

I spent the last year working at UNITED SIKHS along with Hannah Shirey, and I became more and more connected to Sikhi’s message of equality and openness each day. I pray that Sunday’s devastating events remind us all to get to know the strangers in our midst so that we may love them.

Sana Rahim, Muslim, Chicago, USA

On Aug. 5, ignorance and hatred materialized into a tragedy that will be etched in my memory for years to come. Last night, I went to my local gurdwara and stood in solidarity with the Sikh community as an American Muslim. While the Quran stipulates that our differences exist so that we “may come to know one another,” it is only when our friendships compel us to action that we truly begin to challenge the status quo.

Eric Farr, Bahá’í, Toronto, Canada

As a Bahá’í, I commit myself to helping usher in a day when people of every race and religion will look at each other with an understanding and protective love akin to what we feel for the members of our own family. I offer my sincere condolences and prayers for my brothers and sisters of the Sikh Faith affected by the tragic events of this past Sunday.

Immy Kaur, Sikh, Birmingham, UK

The last few years have seen me move from skeptical to utterly convinced about the need for interfaith interaction, friendship and shared experience. During this painfully difficult time as a community, I have been touched by the global outpouring of love and support towards the Sikh community. The state of Chardi Kala by the American Sikh organizations leaves me yet again in awe of my brothers and sisters across the shores.

An excerpt from the introduction of Pub Theology calls for this needed conversation together:

My argument in this book is simple: good things happen when we sit down at the same table together and talk honestly about things that matter — and frankly, having a beer doesn’t hurt. We don’t need to agree on whatever it is that we discuss — that isn’t even the point. The point is that we are all stuck here together on this planet (for the unforeseeable future) — and we might as well get to know each other while we’re here. My sense is that more and more people are hungry for this. People of all backgrounds are opening up about the broadness and diversity of thought and belief around them. And I sense that there is a growing desire for this among my fellow Christians as well. People are ready. Ready to see openness happen in their own lives and communities. Ready to move beyond fear to understanding. Ready to take a brave step forward in learning to live out their own faith honestly and with integrity in the increasingly pluralistic and global world we find ourselves in.

Here’s the good news. It’s happening. In conversation. At the pub. Over beer. From London to New York to Ann Arbor, people are gathering to communicate, connect, and learn from one another over the topic of religion and theology, of all things.

In the past we’ve typically assumed that if you want to find God, going to church is the place to go. I wonder if this is still the case. It seems to me that God is breaking out of churches everywhere. In fact, some would say that’s not the best place to find him. Given the places Jesus frequented, that shouldn’t surprise us (hint: he never went to church!). It turns out that a pub creates a perfect setting in which to encounter people who are interested in spiritual topics, philosophy, life, and — yes — theology, and they are open to being honest about it. For some, it even becomes a place to encounter God himself.

Let me be up front that I write this as a Christian. But I write in the hope that readers of any perspective, religious or not, might garner something from these pages. Further, my hope is that as you read you will encounter a shift toward a more chastened, humble, and inviting Christianity — one that will have a seat at the table in the important conversations our world is having.  Unless we are willing to first listen and make space for the other, we won’t be invited. Here you will find real life stories, real people, real questions — many gleaned from conversations and encounters during actual Pub Theology gatherings. These recollections will attempt to give flesh and bones to this needed shift.

Where is God?

Who is God?

What do other religions say?

What do those who’ve given up on God say?

Turns out agnostics, atheists, Buddhists, Hindus, humanists, Jews, Muslims, Wiccans and many others have wonderful traditions that have wrestled with these very questions for centuries. It’s time we start to listen. If you’re tired of pat answers that exclude wrestling and doubt while presuming certainty in the face of serious questions, welcome to the club. I wrestle with these issues in my own life. I wouldn’t be surprised if you do as well. I hope you’ll find encouragement and ideas here toward living out a more global faith.


How are you engaging those around you who have different ideas about God, faith, and life?  

Here’s to more good conversations.  We need them.

Peace, Victory, and the Gospel

A Reflection for Independence Day

Last July 4 weekend I came across the following church announcement:

“Our Verse of the Day is Psalm 33:12: Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord, the people he chose for his inheritance. Let’s thank God for our freedom today, and pray for the safety and success for the mission of our soldiers around the world as they bring justice to the terrorists so that we can be safe and free from tyranny, here on our country’s soil.”

Typical Independence Day language, but it started me thinking: Is this the kind of language we should be speaking in the church? Is our confidence for well-being based on our military might? What about the remaining words of the same psalm?:

No king is saved by the size of his army; no warrior escapes by his great strength. A horse is a vain hope for deliverance; despite all its great strength it cannot save. But the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him. . . . We wait in hope for the Lord; he is our help and our shield (33:16-20).

I noticed that the church announcement and suggested prayer lacked an important word: peace.

Shouldn’t our prayers go out for peace rather than victory (which equals peace at the cost of more deaths)? Certainly we should pray for the safety of our soldiers, but what about prayers for Iraqi and Afghani civilians? Many more of them are dying every day. What is Jesus’ message to us in all this?

A Thin Line

Approximately 100,000 Iraqi civilians have died since the U.S.-led invasion in 2003 (see iraqbodycount.org). And experts agree that is a conservative estimate. One 2006 study showed the number of civilians dead at that time to already be between 400,000 and 600,000 (Lancet study, as covered in the New York Times).

Those are startling numbers. On Sept. 11, 2001, when nearly 3,000 civilians died in the United States, we appropriately reacted with outrage. But somehow our outrage subsides when the innocent dead are farther away both geographically and culturally.

Given such statistics, you wonder what makes terrorism so terrible and war so legitimate. In reality, the line between terrorism and war is a thin one, as Wendell Berry notes: “The National Security Strategy defines terrorism as ‘premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents.’ This is truly a distinct kind of violence, but to imply by the word ‘terrorism’ that this sort of terror is the work exclusively of ‘terrorists’ is misleading. The ‘legitimate’ warfare of technologically advanced nations likewise is premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against innocents. The distinction between the intention to perpetrate violence against innocents, as in ‘terrorism,’ and the willingness to do so, as in ‘war,’ is not a source of comfort” (“A Citizen’s Response to the National Security Strategy of the United States”).

Jesus as an Iraqi?

I find it alarming to see many Christians so supportive of such revenge-motivated foreign policy. In our patriotic fervor, we seem to forget Jesus’ call for us to love our enemies, not destroy them with the largest and wealthiest army the world has ever known.

“But,” we say, “Jesus was just talking about interpersonal relationships, not national politics.” Was he? The world Jesus lived in was in some ways very different from our own, but in other ways he was on the other end of a very similar context. His Middle Eastern nation was occupied by the largest superpower in the world at that time. And that empire claimed to spread peace, freedom, civilization, and security. We like to imagine Jesus as an American wearing a “God Bless America” T-shirt. In fact, we’d do better to imagine him as an Iraqi.

Many in Jesus’ audience were eager for armed revolt against Rome. It was to them that Jesus said, “If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. . . . If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles” (Matt. 5:39, 41). Roman soldiers felt free to remind the occupied Jewish people who was in charge with a physical blow.  Roman law required people living under Roman rule to carry a soldier’s gear one mile if requested. Jesus addresses people involved in real conflicts with real governments and real soldiers, not simply interpersonal relationships.

Jesus’ entire life and ministry could be viewed as a contrast to what the world offers. In the end, about to face the might of Rome, Jesus told Pilate (Rome’s local representative), “My kingdom is not of this world; if it were, my servants would fight . . .” (John 18:36). He wasn’t saying that his kingdom is apolitical; rather, he was saying how his kingdom is political: “the essential difference is that in my kingdom, we do not fight to maintain the kingdom” (Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw, Jesus for President, p. 110).

New Testament scholar Marcus Borg notes that Jesus’ words would have had an unmistakable meaning in the politically violent situation of first-century Palestine: “For a public figure to speak of loving one’s enemies in such a setting would unambiguously mean to disavow the path of violence and war” (Jesus: A New Vision, p. 139). The church for its first 300 years understood this and maintained a path of nonviolence. It was only when the church went from being a minority in the Roman Empire to the official religion of the empire under Constantine that it began to endorse warfare as sometimes legitimate—indeed, even necessary.

Biblical Ambiguity

Some will say that we can support war because in the Bible it is sometimes even sanctioned by God. John Dominic Crossan addresses this ambiguity: “The ambiguity of divine power suffuses the Christian Bible in both its Testaments and therefore presses this question for us Christians: how do we reconcile the ambiguity of our Bible’s violent and/or nonviolent God? The Bible forces us to witness the struggles of these two transcendental visions within its own pages and to ask ourselves as Christians how we decide between them. My answer is that we are bound to whichever of these visions was incarnated by and in the historical Jesus. It is not the violent but the nonviolent God who is revealed to Christian faith in Jesus of Nazareth and announced to Christian faith by Paul of Tarsus. That is how we Christians decide between a violent and nonviolent God in the Bible: Christ is the norm of the Bible, the criterion of the New Testament, the incarnation of the Gospel” (God and Empire: Jesus Against Rome, Then and Now, pp. 94-95).

Are we to blame for not taking Jesus at his word? Marcus Borg notes that it is understandable that the church has largely denied the political thrust of Jesus’ words: “Through time the church became enculturated, and it is very difficult for an enculturated religion to stand in tension with culture. For the church to have said that following Jesus meant nonviolence would have made the church into a counterculture. Only occasionally has it been willing to be so since the time of Jesus and his earliest followers” (Jesus: A New Vision, p. 139).

Perhaps it is time for a countercultural church and message to re-emerge. In this day of multibillion-dollar war budgets, may we remember that the Bible from its very beginning calls us to bless the world, rather than rid the world of evil. The latter is God’s business, as Paul reminds us in Romans 12: “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary . . . do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (vv. 19-21).

In that light, may the words of this old hymn guide us forward:
“Lead on, O King eternal, till sin’s fierce war shall cease,
and holiness shall whisper the sweet amen of peace.
For not with swords’ loud clashing or roll of stirring drums-
[but] with deeds of love and mercy the heavenly kingdom comes.”

________
This article originally appeared in The Banner entitled Reflections for Independence Day.

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