Advent#2: No More Injustice

The reading for the second Sunday in Advent is Isaiah 11:1-10, as the prophet envisions a time when injustice is no more.

The hallmark of arrogance is injustice–the spirit of partisanship that creates a vested in-group which speaks and acts to the exclusion of others.  Such injustice grants an artificial permission for the “empowered” to legitimize their prejudicial behavior.

To use Isaiah’s imagery, in the fallen world wolves devour lambs, leopards kill young goats, and lions eat calves.  But in God’s world “the wolf will live with the lamb, and the leopard will lie down with the young goat; the calf and the young lion will feed together” (7:6).

This is today referred to as “the peaceable kingdom.”  It is where hesed and agapé prevail–where discrimination, prejudice, and hatred are eliminated so that Shalom can prevail.  The vision is pervasive, “They won’t harm or destroy anywhere” (7:9).

Advent overcomes injustice.  Those who create and thrive on hierarchical, in/out thinking and acting will be displaced by the “little child who leads them”  (7:6) and everyone to the place of liberty and justice for all (cf. Luke 4:18-19).

Posted in Advent 2016

Nonviolence: A Way Through

Athletes use visualization before they perform.  A gymnist sees herself executing her routine.  A golfer sees his put rolling into the hole.  Basketball players mentally trace the trajectory of their free throw into the basket.

This is not magic.  It is envisioning the accomplishment of a task they have practiced over and over.  And now, they prepare to do it one more time. 

This is how nonviolent participants operated in the civil rights era.  In Nashville, for example, Jim Lawson cast the vision and taught the principles of nonviolence for a year before the group took its first action.  They had seen the way through before they ever sought for it.

Some years later Martin Luther King Jr. spoke out the stanzas of “the dream,” describing what it would look like when the Beloved Community was a reality.  He painted a picture with words which then had to be lived out over and over in very specific ways.

And interestingly, those engaged in nonviolence had no guarantees that they would succeed in their lifetime.  The trajectory of “the dream” unfolded without being on a precise timeline.   In fact, they knew that it generally takes generations to enter the promised land.  It did so with the emancipation of slaves, the ability of women to vote, the freedom of India and South Africa from colonialism and apartheid, etc. 

Nonviolence is action based on a vision of making it through–if not today, then some day, because the quest has the backing of the Universe behind it.  Patience is not resignation, it is confidence that is willing to endure.

Posted in Nonviolence

Advent #1: No More Arrogance

The Book of Isaiah is the focal Old Testament text for Advent this year, both with respect to the Sunday Lectionary (Revised Common Lectionary) and the Daily Lectionary (Book of Common Prayer).  I will write each Wednesday about the upcoming Sunday lesson.  Each reading from the prophet looks to a time when an undesirable thing will be no more.

The first Sunday in Advent (Isaiah 2:1-5) anticipates a time when there will be no more arrogance.

Jerusalem (not only a city, but also a symbol) will fall, Isaiah says.  It will fall because of arrogance– because of reliance upon silver and gold, horses and chariots.  Isaiah summarizes the downfall in these words: “they worship their handiwork, what their own fingers have made” (2:8, CEB).

Advent begins this year with an undoing–the fall which must come when we trust in the “principalities and powers” and tout our self-made greatness.  Advent undermines personal, collective, national, and international egotism.  Advent subverts our civic and ecclesial systems whenever and however the thirst for power and partisanship attend them.  The babe of Bethlehem overturns any and all Herods.

Sadly, it took the fall of Jerusalem and an extended exile to dethrone Israel’s embedded pride.  Egotism is always the last thing to go.  The prayer of the Pharisee, “I thank you I am not like other people” (Luke 18:11) is the apex of pride.  Our “sacred cows” (the fattest/most-bloated one being the false self) must be slaughtered in order for God to be seen and served.  The road to hope passes through the desert of the judgment of arrogance.  “What goes up must come down.”

Advent lands hard in the land.  In Advent, knees bow.  Mangers replace thrones.  Where God is, there is no more arrogance.

Posted in Advent 2016

Nonviolence: A Way of Confrontation

Nonviolence is not a philosophical enterprise even though it draws upon key concepts taught in philosophy. Nonviolence is not abstract even though it has roots in general principles.  Nonviolence is a way of concrete action.

Gandhi fasted nonviolence. Pete Seeger sang nonviolence. Thomas Merton wrote nonviolence. Rosa Parks sat nonviolence.  Jim Lawson taught nonviolence.  Freedom Riders traveled nonviolence.  Martin Luther King Jr. marched nonviolence.  All these confronted nonviolence in other ways as well, but these examples illustrate the concreteness of confrontation.

Nonviolence is faith in action, with each person contributing their part to the larger mission which is to overcome evil with good and establish the Beloved Community.  But it is an effort that is always resisted by the in-group whose aim is to establish, maintain, or restore their dominance. 

In the context of resistance, nonviolence declares a “No” to an in-group’s “Yes.”  And no matter what form it takes, this makes nonviolence a confrontation.  But it is a confrontation based on the conviction that nonviolent resistance is the advocacy of ultimate values and virtues that will inexorably come to pass. Nonviolence is confrontation based on a vision which we name each time we pray, “thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”

Martin Luther King Jr. described the nature of nonviolent resistance in these words, “The method is nonaggressive physically but strongly aggressive spiritually.”  It was an overcoming of falsehood at a level deeper than the tangible. 

John Lewis described it this way in his book, ‘Walk with the Wind’–“believers in the Beloved Community insist that it is the moral responsibility of men and women with soul force, people of goodwill, to respond and to struggle against the forces that stand between a society and the harmony it naturally seeks.” (p. 78)

Nonviolent resistance arises from the deep conviction that injustice will not have the last word, God will.  Until that time comes, the methods of nonviolence will be used to bear witness to that conviction–“that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.”

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Year of Mercy: Mercy and Love

The Great Convergence Is when mercy and love flow together to become ‘merciful love.’  This is the combination described as ‘hesed’ in the Old Testament and ‘agapé’ in the New Testament.  We describe it as faithful love, steadfast love, never-ending love, etc.

The source of hesed/agapé is God.  God is love.  Love is the face of God, the heart of God, and the disposition of God.  That is a revelation many do not have.  They picture God as angry, punitive, and vengeful.  Hesed/agapé eliminate that view, and it is our task to proclaim it, so that nobody will live another day holding God at arm’s length–or thinking that God holds them at arm’s length.

But there is more.  Hesed/agapé is not reserved for God.  God sheds this love into our hearts through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, making it possible for us to be instruments of God’s love!  We can love as God loves because we are channels of God’s love.

And as such, we become merciful: mercy-full.  Jesus described this as one expression of the blessed life, and it is what Pope Francis has spent this past year emphasizing, expressing, and enacting.  Clearly, the Pope’s “Year of Mercy” is meant to symbolize the ongoing life of God’s people.  Pope Francis would now smile and say, “If you have been merciful this past year, you are off to a good start!  Never stop!”

Posted in Year of Mercy

Nonviolence: A Way of Forgiveness

Nonviolence creates the need for forgiveness time and time again.  But what does it mean to forgive someone who has harmed you?  That is the question.

Jim Lawson taught that the capacity to forgive was the essence of a nonviolent way of life.  But it was not a naivé forgiveness that said “it’s okay” when clearly it was not.  Forgiveness in the context of nonviolence is not the minimization of injustice, brushing it aside, or the adoption of a “forgive and forget” attitude.  St. Paul forgave his harmers, but he still acknowledged that he bore on his body the marks of his suffering.

Nonviolent forgiveness can be summed up in what St. Paul and St. Peter taught out of the experience of their sufferings: do not return evil for evil (Romans 12:17 and 1 Peter 3:9), and what Jesus modeled as he suffered: that when he was reviled, he did not revile in return (1 Peter 2:23). Nonviolent forgiveness is not overlooking the offense, it is refusing to use it as a justification for returning an offense back to the one who has harmed you with a “he deserves it after what he did to me” attitude.

Nonviolent forgiveness is doing no harm, directly or indirectly, to the one who has harmed you.

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Year of Mercy: Mercy and Hope

Mercy and hope unite to create the realization that God sees us differently than others see us–sees us differently than we may even see ourselves.  God sees us as beloved children.

Henri Nouwen made this one of his major emphases, reminding us again and again that God loves us more than we can imagine.  Even for some who are religious this is amazing news, because too much that goes under the name of religion puts a face on God that leaves the impression God is generally mad at us, and can barely put up with us.

But mercy and hope do not stop with revelation, they go on to create what they reveal.  Hope says, “You can be who you are.”  Grace is embedded in hope, working to bring our lives into conformity with the vision.

For some of us, this is living into an understanding others have provided by their words and deeds.  But for others of us, it is having to reject what others have said about us and/or done to us.  Either way, we must engage our wills to the Lord and move in conformity to the Spirit who is at work in us.

Mercy and hope conjoin to create awakening, and having our eyes open, we respond to God and relate to others in the Light of our new creation.

Posted in Year of Mercy