Re-Visioning

This space is again freshened up with an updated back-end (WordPress 2.5) and a new look. How important it is to take a fresh look at everything familiar! On the day of this upgrade, with much attention being paid to the fortieth anniversary of the death of Martin Luther King, Jr., I’m reflecting on the urgency of every day of life, and the fact that ordinary people, people like you and me, can make a difference. Had he lived, King would be an elder statesman by now, 79 years old. I wonder on such an occasion if it would have done more honor to the man and his legacy to annually remember the day of his death rather than the day of his birth. Less than 24 hours before a bullet ended his life, with uncanny prescience he mused upon mortality, and spoke in near-regretful tones of his own life and legacy: “I‘ve been to the mountaintop, and I’ve seen the promised land. I may not get there with you…” A full generation later, that promised land of full equality still eludes us. Some, no doubt, have passed beyond the Jordan, and more yet have gazed from atop Mount Pisgah at what seems still so near, and yet so far: a place where the great ideals are not just respected but acted upon, where all God’s children can live together without being afraid of seeing each other take away what we have worked for. MLK spoke vociferously against the tripartate evils of racism, poverty and war, and understood that all three work against the freedom we hold dear. Racism is less entrenched, today, at least in law and public expression; but all who say so are quick to add that much more still remains to be done. Less boast can be made about poverty, and today the hope of eliminating war seems laughably out of reach. But here in this space, we will speak of the kingdom of God, the place where everyone is able to invite his neighbor to sit with him “under his own vine and under his fig tree, where none shall make them afraid” (Micah 4:4).

Jesus came proclaiming that Kingdom within reach, “at hand” — a kingdom where no one is hungry, so he fed thousands on a few loaves and fishes; a kingdom where health prevails, so he healed all the sick who came to him; a kingdom where love and reconciliation is the rule, so he taught about a Father who is merciful and expects his children to be the same; a kingdom where forgiveness is required of each subject, and not left as the optional prerogative of a stern monarch. Wherever he went, that kingdom came. He sent his apprentices out to proclaim in village and town, even where they were rejected: “Be sure of this, that the Kingdom of God has come near to you” (Luke 10:8-11). He taught them, and through them all of us, to pray for that kingdom to come, and in the fashion of Hebrew poetic repetition to repeat the sense of that prayer by saying (Matthew 6:10) “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The authorities thought that by destroying that king, whose kingdom was already in the world, though not of it, they could drive it out; but by triumphing over the ultimate means of destruction available to this world’s authorities, namely death, the good news was made available that the Kingdom has not retreated to a distant heaven or a far-away future, but is still here, breaking in to this world’s affairs wherever there are courageous people who are willing to bring Kingdom characteristics into their own lives, their own surroundings, their own world. Forgiveness, peace, the sharing of abundance, remain the means God has chosen to overcome hatred, prejudice, war, greed, and shortage.

In its fullness, in its final manifestation, the Kingdom has not yet fully come. But it is here, for those with eyes to see: Continue reading “Re-Visioning”

Increase of peace?

Edge: A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE By Steven Pinker

An excerpt:

The decline of violence is a fractal phenomenon, visible at the scale of millennia, centuries, decades, and years. It applies over several orders of magnitude of violence, from genocide to war to rioting to homicide to the treatment of children and animals. And it appears to be a worldwide trend, though not a homogeneous one. The leading edge has been in Western societies, especially England and Holland, and there seems to have been a tipping point at the onset of the Age of Reason in the early seventeenth century.

At the widest-angle view, one can see a whopping difference across the millennia that separate us from our pre-state ancestors. Contra leftist anthropologists who celebrate the noble savage, quantitative body-counts—such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with axemarks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men—suggest that pre-state societies were far more violent than our own. It is true that raids and battles killed a tiny percentage of the numbers that die in modern warfare. But, in tribal violence, the clashes are more frequent, the percentage of men in the population who fight is greater, and the rates of death per battle are higher. According to anthropologists like Lawrence Keeley, Stephen LeBlanc, Phillip Walker, and Bruce Knauft, these factors combine to yield population-wide rates of death in tribal warfare that dwarf those of modern times. If the wars of the twentieth century had killed the same proportion of the population that die in the wars of a typical tribal society, there would have been two billion deaths, not 100 million.

Are we, perhaps, less far than we think from the time envisioned by the ancient prophets, when “nation will not take up sword against nation, neither will they learn war any more” (Isaiah 2:4)? I have long observed, to anyone who will listen, that most people, at most times and places, live most of their lives in relative peace. Pinker’s study seems to suggest that this is increasingly true, despite even the horrors of the twentieth century. Our attention focuses on acts of violence precisely because they are anomalous, whether the occasion is murder, terrorism, or organized warfare.

“Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end” says Isaiah 9:7 of the one identified in the previous verse as the Prince of Peace, in a passage widely held in the Christian tradition as pointing to the birth of Christ: yet today, many who claim to be followers of that Christ, who insist they are believers in the very selfsame sacred text that gives us these words, have given up on any hope that there can be any increase of peace, but instead hope only for a bloody, fiery apocalyptic end of the world — and some of them think their “blessed hope” lies, not in the increase of peace, but in being on the winning side in an upcoming battle. They concern themselves not a whit with the increase of peace (though the chief apostle, Peter, admonishes them to “seek peace and pursue it”) 1 , thinking that there will be time enough for all that after the end of time.
Yet for the Christian, the evil that we fight is not the evil outside of us, but the evil we find within: not sinners but sin, not bad people but the wickedness to which people, including ourselves, so easily succumb: “for our struggle is not against flesh and blood” (Ephesians 6:12). Our enemies are not those who hate us, but the hatred within us, not terrorists but our own sense of terror, not those who threaten to ban talk of God from our public places but our own fears and suspicions which threaten to banish the peace of God from our inner life. When the victory is gained over these enemies, we can become stalwart warriors for peace.

  1. 1 Peter 3:9-11 []

One Commandment

crossposted:  

Never mind fighting battles over posting the Ten Commandments in public places. There is one commandment that will take up a lot less space, makes no overtly religious statement, yet calls for an even more radical change in priorities, is common but not exclusive to all Abrahamic religions, yet especially revered in the founding documents of Christianity, and still promotes no sect of organized religion.

I’d like to see it on billboards all across the country, but I’d even more like to see it taken to heart by those who want to honor God.

How about the one thing that is agreed upon by Jesus and those who opposed him, as well as by the apostles Peter, Paul and James in their writings (not to mention John, who takes it even further)?

How about the only passage from the book of Leviticus that is quoted multiple times in the New Testament?

Jesus says it is “like” the Great Commandment, the one about loving God with all one’s heart, strength, soul and mind.

John agrees, when he suggests that a person who does not love a fellow human, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen.

Paul says that all of the commandments are summed up in this one saying. Elsewhere he says that it fulfills the law.

James calls it the Royal Law, and refers to it as the perfect law that gives liberty.

Love your neighbor as yourselfA greater commandment than all the Ten put together; and you know, it doesn’t even mention God.

Just God’s image.

Bless God, America!

What Jesus said: see Matthew 22:34-40Matthew 19:17-18, Mark 12:28-34Luke 10:25-37.

 

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “Do not commit adultery,” “Do not murder,” “Do not steal,” “Do not covet,” and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. 

— Paul (Romans 13:8-10)

 

Do not seek revenge, or bear a grudge against one of your people, but love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD(Leviticus 19:18)

When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native-born. Love him as yourselffor you were aliens in Egypt. I am the LORD your God. (Leviticus 19:33-34)

The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbor as yourselfGalatians 5:14 (Paul)

If you really keep the royal law found in scripture, Love your neighbor as yourself, you are doing right. — James 2:8

 

All Together, NOW!

The following thoughts were shared at the “Chew and Chat” held at the corners of Port Tobacco Road and Tayloe Neck Road, Nanjemoy, MD on July 31st, 2007.

 

I’m honored to be here and share a few thoughts with you today. We’re here to affirm and celebrate the value of community, to make it known that all of us understand the truth embodied in a certain passage of scripture. Paul the Apostle says in one place, that when one member suffers, all suffer together, and when one rejoices, all rejoice together. Just as this is organically true with a physical body, I’m here to tell you that for all of us this is not just something to think about, it is a fact.

Sometimes we don’t know why we suffer. We might have plenty of food, a safe place to sleep, good family, a well paying job, and we might feel like just so long as we keep these things, no matter what happens with anyone else, we’ll be fine. And we might even work to see to it that we keep what we have even if it means someone else doing without; but the result, the spiritual and dynamic fact is, that to the extent we contribute to someone else’s suffering, we increase our own. The Bible tells us that Jesus came with good news for the poor, but that good news benefits rich and poor alike, because all suffer together to the extent that any of us suffer.

Continue reading “All Together, NOW!”

US Christian flag?

Found this at another blog and thought it could use a bit more airtime. Blogger Phil Wilson comments as follows:

It’s at http://www.uschristianflag.com and the flag itself is very interesting.

I won’t bother explaining every aspect of the flag, but you can find that here. The thing that always interests me is simply the phenomenon of why people have this need to place America firmly in the place of God’s new chosen. I won’t bother to point out the sins committed to make America what it is today (Native American resettlement, dropping nuclear bombs, etc.); someone else would point out the ideology of people settling in America for religious freedom, as well as to proselytize the Native Americans. And I don’t think it’s wrong to want the best for the place where you live.

I do think the problem is that we become so focused on being Americans, that the Christianity takes a back seat. And even the ugly co-mingling of the two still tries to place them as equals, which is just as idolatrous.

Being an American is not a bad thing, just as for Paul being a Roman was not a bad thing, but something to be used for the advantage of spreading the Gospel of Jesus. In the same way, we can use our influence (waning as it might be) as Americans to do the same, whether that’s using our economic power to spread fair trade, or even refusing to buy materials made in sweatshops.

The United States of America is NOT a Christian nation. It might have been founded by men with some Christian principles. It might even be populated by Christians in the majority. But nation’s by their very nature are not Christian. Nations cannot sacrifice themselves for the good of others; nations generally seek their own preservation, but that preservation is not eternal. All of the great empires have fallen: Persian, Greek, Roman, Ottoman, British, even the American Empire will fall.

My comment: It was perhaps an unfortunate naivety that was at work when fourth-century Christians looked to a secular emperor as the savior of the church, just because he was so kind as to officially end a policy of persecution, thus placing the churches under his personal imperial protection. We find, perhaps, a comparable naivety at work here. Ever since that time, from the Roman Empire under Constantine forward, the governments of Western civilization have been patrons and protectors of, or sought the patronage and protection of, Christianity: a state of affairs that, I would argue, has consistently compromised and weakened the effectiveness of the gospel message. The United States of America is perhaps a bit unique in that it suffers a collective amnesia in that regard, and many people in this country seem somehow persuaded (quite falsely) that America is the first, and perhaps only, specifically Christian nation in history; that Christianity and Democracy are one and the same (just as the nations of Christian Europe used to persuade themselves that Christianity and Monarchy went hand in glove; remember the Divine Right of kings?).

All that said, there seems in this particular effort an attempt at moderation, in that the emphasis on this flag does focus on the gospel being for all nations. But the question is one of method, and of what we think is meant by “this gospel of the Kingdom.” I am not encouraged by the association with Mr. Pat Robertson of the 700 Club, whose educational effort is called “Regent”: an indication of an idea that until the King comes, someone ought to be ruling in his stead. Who do you suppose they have in mind, and how does that square with what Jesus actually taught?

Easter

Today is Holy Saturday in the Eastern and Western churches
a day of silence
of waiting
of mourning
and of selfless service
therefore, a day for women
who do, so it seems, a lot of the above.

The sacred time between the crucifixion and the resurrection
when all paradoxes are at their peak
all contradictions brought into the open
the God of Life participating in Death
Holiness punished for sin
The eternal Word, silent

but on Sunday morning, not with fanfare and blazing glory
but in the silence of an empty tomb
a witness to a life unstoppable is born.

a moving experience

Housekeeping notes: Yesterday I moved all of the material from the old seethekingdom.net site and merged it with one of my newer blogs, renaming it and setting up redirects so that everything should work. Also I had at various times had church information (Marbury Church of God) on three different places, which was cumbersome and unwieldy to maintain; now I just link from this blog to the new church site and have redirected mcog.seethekingdom.net to point there as well, so updating that will be much easier. This is the electronic equivalent of cleaning up my desk, a necessary, though somewhat tedious, process. I actually, at the end of this process, deleted the two aforementioned (and now redundant) blogs, the equivalent of throwing away whole stacks of redundant paper. I do hope that his will make things run much more smoothly in terms of timely updates.

A Leadership Principle

A couple of thoughts on leadership vs. power.Jesus was training his disciples to be leaders. “You know that the kings of the gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority upon them,“ he said, “but not so with you: for whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all.” He is training them to be leaders of God’s people, encouraging them to greatness, and applauding in his own way their competitive desire to be first; but he needs to lay down some principles about what greatness looks like in the kingdom of God.Here are several ways of stating a key principle:

  • Leaders — true leaders in any organization — set it as a goal to make themselves unnecessary; whereas seekers of power have set a goal to make themselves indispensable.
  • Leaders seek to become superfluous to their organization.
    Power-seekers seek to become essential to their organization.
  • Leaders seek to help others lead.
    Power-seekers want followers.
  • The leader wants to help the organization achieve its goals.
    The Power-seeker wants to use the organization to achieve his own goals.

The things that flow out from this principle are legion.

Much more on this to come.