|Three Sermons on Micah 6:8

The Woodland Hills Church recently had a 3-part series on Micah 6:8. I appreciated it, so I wanted to share it here.

PART 1: Love Mercy (Greg Boyd)

Normally I would be frustrated if a speaker made this biblical mention of mercy into a purely “spiritual” concept (i.e., God’s forgiving mercy toward us), but (a) this sermon’s rendering is beautiful to me, and (b) Boyd and the congregation have a deep and wide embrace of practical mercy that transcends a single sermon. Boyd hints at some of the social relevance of the phrase, but it’s not the focus.

PART 2: Walk Humbly (Seth McCoy)

Putting up with the poor audio quality is worth it. McCoy’s analysis of authority and vulnerability comes through loud and clear. Jesus radical vulnerability has moved me, challenged me, and I‘m encouraged to hear a pastor address it head on. It seems to me that many Christians are fixated on personal and national security rather than the vulnerability Jesus modeled for us.

PART 3: Do Justice (Greg Boyd)

The series ends on the critical theme of proactively working for justice–what is due people who were created in the image of God. As a neo-Anabaptist, you can guess a general approach Boyd will bring. It’s a conviction I share with him (not surprising since I studied at a Mennonite seminary), though I have sympathy for Jim Wallis’s approach too. I respect both men a lot, and I don’t feel the need to critique either of them on this. Regardless, it’s an important debate that I’m glad was included in the conversation.

I really appreciate what Boyd says about calling some government policies “Christian.” I have tried to make that argument as well. We can say some values are consistent with Christianity, but policy implementation is so fraught with unforeseen complications and unintended consequences. Let’s not drag Jesus name into our political quagmire.

Okay, I can’t resist. A “short” comment on the Boyd-Wallis difference. I’m all for systemic change, but I’m pessimistic about how much these fallen systems in our world can be redeemed without changed hearts and minds. And before Christians try to change the world through the government (a Constantinian model), I’d like to see us try to do it through the church by using the tools given us by the Spirit and by following the nonviolent, living model given us by Jesus.

And that means (at least partially) living what we want the world to be. Do we want racial justice in the world? Then we need to exemplify relationships of respect and fondness with all people created in the image of God with one blood. Do we want economic justice in the world? Then we need to demonstrate it in the mutuality of the community of Jesus. Do we want environmental justice in the world? Then we who believe God made the world good–very good–need to learn how to live in a way that supports the flourishing of all life on the planet, not just the short-term life of a certain economy or of a certain people group (a more robust definition of what it means to be pro-life). Like Boyd says, if all 2 billion Christians did this, we just might see some systems start to change.

If we are pursuing that as a faith community, then I support humble attempts to bring those values into our shared public space of a pluralistic society. But if we try to change society through the government without first pursuing and living these themes, then I can’t support that form of activism. Said another way, if I want the government to force people to live a way I don’t even follow (or my community doesn’t follow), then there’s a real problem even beyond the church/state issue.

I hope you’re as encouraged, challenged, and blessed by the three sermons as I was.
[I typed this on my phone while we were driving down the road recently. My partner was driving. 🙂 ]

Selma and Cesar Chavez

Tonight we watch the film Cesar Chavez, and it reminded me of Selma, which we watched shortly before listening to Senator John Lewis speak. (As an aside, almost a decade ago we attended an event where Dolores Huerta spoke, so it was interesting to see how she was played in the film by Rosario Dawson.) Both movies look at social movements, exploring the leaders, tactics, economics, politics and spirituality of social change.

An important theme in my mind is unity in diversity, the bringing together of different people groups. In Selma, it was white and black, to oversimplify. In Cesar Chavez it was Hispanic and Filipino, later American and European. And others like the various unions and even consumers and workers. Connections and coalitions are vital for positive change.

I saw this embodied in a small, local way recently. We attended a march hosted by two student groups at a local university–the Black student union and the Muslim student union. We walked and chanted, “Black lives matter. All lives matter.” It was a limited event in both time and scale–we marched, some gave impromptu speeches, we marched some more, some shared ideas for how to work for change, and then we dispersed–but I appreciated these different student groups were working together.

Here are trailers for both films:

Plank Versus Sawdust

“Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye. (Matthew 7:1-5)

Jesus’ teaching on self-assessment is important to me in many contexts. Beyond the purely individual application, I think it is appropriate material for contemplation anytime I find myself differentiating between my group and “the other.”

I support self-evaluation and discourage judging the other party. I’m Seventh-day Adventist, and I think we should focus on dealing with abuse within the church instead of pointing fingers at others religious communities that struggle with abuse. I’m a male, and I think guys should speak about “reproductive ethics” to other guys instead of telling women what they should do with their bodies. I have dark hair, and I hope I never hear another “blond joke” from anyone who wasn’t born with bleach-blond hair. And I’m also white. I think that the white community should focus on fixing its own issues rather than telling other racial groups what they should or shouldn’t be doing.

This came out again for me in the recent killing of Michael Brown. It’s just seems wrong to hear white people talking about what black people should be doing–stop rioting, stop speaking a certain way, stop getting into trouble with police. With our nation’s history of white people always getting the race issue wrong–genocide of First Nations, slavery, Jim Crow laws, the prison-industrial complex, treatment of Chinese immigrants during building of the railroads, policies of disruption in Central America, etc.–how are we in a position to tell anyone else how to act morally? Why do we think we have it right this time (see this Tim Wise video)?

If the rioting doesn’t make sense to you, then dig into it deeper. White people riot too. Find out what about the human experience brings this out. If demonstrations and protests don’t make sense to you, then dig deeper. All people groups demonstrate. This is not unusual behavior, so if you can’t understand why these people in this community at this time would feel motivated to speak their minds publicly, then look into their stories more deeply. You can judge from a distance or you can get closer and begin to understand. You may never agree with certain actions–I certainly don’t (and this applies to my views of violent people and groups regardless of race or economic level)–but if you don’t understand, then you need to go deeper.

So, my white friends, let’s refrain from telling other groups how they should act, especially if we aren’t friends with a number of people in “the other” category, whatever it might be. Instead, let’s focus on getting things right with ourselves–right thoughts, right attitudes, right words, right actions. We’ve got some planks to deal with before we try to deal with anyone else’s sawdust.

Above all, may we play our part in supporting the beloved community. This is to be on the right side of the “race question,” the right side of history, the right side of eternity.

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NOTE: See my earlier list of articles on the killing of Michael Brown–link.

Random Articles about Christianity

I haven’t posted anything about religion for a while. Here are some articles that have caught my attention, plus one I wrote for Adventist Peace Fellowship:

Crazy Radical Environmental Fruit-Nuts

In the past month or so I’ve watched two very intriguing documentaries about environmental activists who go to prison for their actions. Readers of this blog know I advocate for nonviolent social action, and I just want to highlight that again in the context of these two films.

The first is If A Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front (PBS, film website, Wikipedia, IMDB, DemocracyNow!) which follows the story of Daniel McGowan. As a member of the ELF, McGowan had participated in arson as a tactic for social and environmental change. The film simultaneously tells the ELF’s story and follows court proceedings against McGowan.

If a Tree Falls is compelling story-telling. It is a provocative look at the sociological, psychological, and political factors that radicalized the local environmental activist community. I appreciated that the filmmakers allowed the activists and the law enforcement personnel to be complex; they weren’t dumbed down to one-dimensional caricatures. These are complex issues with complex actors, and I value that this messiness was allowed to come through.

More recently, I watched Bidder 70, which looks at the actions of Tim DeChristopher relating to conservation and climate change (film website, organization, Facebook, IMBD, Peaceful Uprising). Rather than take a violent or destructive approach like McGowan, DeChristopher interfered with an auction of extraction rights by holding up his bidding number, 70.

I have a deep respect for people who find creative and meaningful ways to live our their values. I respect even more those who dedicate themselves to pursuing this integration of values and living in peaceful or nonviolent ways.

Reflection Questions

  1. Am I as committed to my values as these two young men are?
  2. To what degree have I integrated my values and actions? What holds me back from doing this more fully?
  3. What sacrifices am I willing to make to live what I believe and to promote my values?
  4. What role did community play in the lives of these two men? How did community influence them before, during and after the actions noted in these films?
  5. In the area of environmental activism, what is needed today? What issues, strategies and tactics are most important at this stage in world history?

BONUS

Want to find more films that address some of these same themes? Check out the follow twelve films on protest and social action:

  1. Encounter Point (2006, documentary)
  2. Budrus (2009, documentary)
  3. 5 Broken Cameras (2011, documentary)
  4. The Singing Revolution (2006, documentary)
  5. This Is What Democracy Looks Like (2000, documentary)
  6. Pray the Devil Back to Hell (2008, documentary)
  7. Rage Against the Machine: Revolution in the Head and the Art of Protest (2010, documentary)
  8. 180 South (2010, documentary)
  9. A Force More Powerful (1999, documentary)
  10. The Edukators (2004, movie)
  11. Sophie Scholl: The Final Days (2004, movie)
  12. Amazing Grace (2006, movie)

Adventism and Civil Disobedience

A conversation on Facebook motivated me to write out some thoughts that have been developing. I posted a few quotes about civil disobedience in early Adventism here.

In addition to the above thoughts from Ellen White, here are three more just for fun:

 

Friday Web Round-up

Economics

Human Rights

War, Peace & Social Change

Psychology

Environment

Religion: List

Random: List

Peace & Nonviolence Quotations

nonviolenceHere are a few lines from a book I started recently, The Power of Nonviolence: Writings by Advocates of Peace.

“Let man overcome anger by love, let him overcome evil by good; let him overcome the greedy by liberality, the liar by truth. For hatred does not cease by hatred at any time; hatred ceases by love; this is an old rule.” –Buddha (p. 3)

~~This reminds me a bit of Paul, who came a few years later: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:21).

“As Justice is a Preserver, so it is a better Procurer of Peace than War.” –William Penn (p. 5)

~~This reminds me of Pope Paul VI: “If you want peace, work for justice.

“There is another manifest Benefit which redounds to Christendom, by this Peaceable Expedient: the Reputation of Christianity will in some Degree be recovered in the Sight of Infidels; which, by the many Bloody and unjust Wars of Christians, not only with them, but one with another, hath greatly impaired. For, to the Scandal of that Holy Profession, Christians that glory in their Saviour’s Name have long devoted the Credit and Dignity of it, to their worldly Passions, as often as they have been excited by the Impulses of Ambition and Revenge. They have not always been in the Right: nor has Right been the Reason of War: and not only Christians against Christians but the same Sort of Christians embrewed their Hands in one another’s Blood: Invoking and Interesting, all they could, the Good and Merciful God to prosper their Arms to their Brethren’s Destruction: yet their Saviour has told them that he came to save, and not to destroy the Lives of Men…” –William Penn (p. 6)

~~The truth Penn gets at reminds me of Mark Twain’s “War Prayer“: “O Lord our God, help us tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief; help us to turn them out roofless with their little children to wander unfriended in the wastes of their desolated land in rags and hunger and thirst, sports of the sun flames in summer and the icy winds of winter, broken in spirit, worn with travail, imploring thee for the refuge of the grave and denied it.

“They look only at the passive side of the friend of peace, only at his passivity; they quite omit to consider his activity. But no man, it may be presumed, ever embraced the cause of peace and philanthropy for the sole end and satisfaction of being plundered and slain. A man does not come the length of the spirit of martyrdom without some active purpose, some equal motive, some flaming love.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 11)

“Nor…is the peace principle to be carried into effect by fear. It can never be defended, it can never be executed, by cowards. Everything great must be done in the spirit of greatness. The manhood that has been in war must be transferred to the cause of peace, before war can lose its charm, and peace be venerable to men…. The cause of peace is not the cause of cowardice.” –Ralph Waldo Emerson (p. 13)

~~These remind me of a line on the Christian Peacemaker Teams’ website: “we believe that until Christians are willing to devote the same discipline and sacrifice to nonviolent peacemaking that soldiers dedicate to war-making, violence will always prevail.”

Volf: Religion’s Internal Resources for Peace

volfNear the end of  A Public Faith: How Followers of Christ Should Serve the Common Good, theologian Miroslav Volf considers what is needed for people of various religions to engage in dialogue or to share public space without turning to violence.

The only way to attend to the problem of violent clashes among differing perspectives on life–whether religious or secular–is to concentrate on the internal resources of each for fostering a culture of peace.[1] For each, these resources would be different, though again they may significantly overlap. (p. 132)

That is, every religion has a unique basket of resources that can be useful for making peace. Each basket will have something in common with each of the other baskets, and they will each have resources not directly shared with the others. Therefore, followers of each religion need to utilize what is found in their own basket when encountering “the other” or experiencing conflict (which should be differentiated from “violence”).

I first encountered this general argument while reading Peacemakers in Action: Profiles of Religion in Conflict Resolution (David Little, Ed., 2007) while working on an independent study in grad school. In the concluding chapter (“Religion, Violent Conflict, and Peacemaking”), Little attempts to bring together the central themes that emerged in the material presented by the various contributing authors (roughly 400 pages of historical accounts of religion in violence and peacemaking). The first commonality between the peacemakers is a hermeneutics of peace, “an interpretive framework that begins with the conviction that the pursuit of justice and peace by peaceful means is a sacred priority in each of the traditions presented” (p. 438). The books’ narratives demonstrate that in the real world–and not just in books by theologians such as Volf–believers of various religions do in fact find resources which support peacemaking.

Maybe it is worth noting the flow or evolution in the conversation with a series of questions:

  1. Must Christianity (and all religions) be violent?[2]
  2. What set of peacemaking resources are available for adherents of each religion or worldview?
  3. Despite these resources, why are religions so often associated with violence?
  4. If a hermeneutic of peace must be constructed, is it really at the center of each (any?) religion or is it merely imposed on the religion by overly optimistic or sentimental peaceniks?
  5. How can people of goodwill encourage others to develop a hermeneutic of peace?

Wee have already answered the first question by noting the collection of essays edited by David Little. These accounts demonstrate that religion can be a tremendous nonviolent force for peace and justice.[3]

The second question is best answered by adherents of each religion, meaning I am not prepared to provide a list here (lacking specific knowledge, general wisdom, and time to list the resources I am currently aware of). However, I do appreciate how Volf answers this question regarding Christianity, noting two resources in particular. We’ll briefly explore the first of the two here.[4]

In regard to the Christian faith–the faith I embrace and study and the faith that is a good contender for having a legacy as violent as any other–developing its resources for fostering a culture of peace would mean at least two things. The first concerns the center of faith. From the very start, at the center of Christian faith was some version of the claim that God loved the sinful world and that Christ died for the ungodly (John 3:16; Rom. 5:6), and that Christ’s followers must love their enemies no less than they love themselves. Love doesn’t mean agreement and approval; it means benevolence and beneficence, possible disagreement and disapproval notwithstanding. A combination of moral clarity that does not shy away from calling evil by its proper name and of deep compassion toward evildoers that is willing to sacrifice one’s own life on their behalf was one of the extraordinary features of early Christianity. It should also be the central characteristic of contemporary Christianity. (p. 132)

If you are a Christian, do you agree with this description of the “center” of an orthodox Christian faith? How would you buttress or counter this assertion? If you disagree, what do you see as the center, and how does this impact Christianity’s ability to be a force the common good?

If you are an adherent of another faith tradition, what do you see as the resources for peace within your tradition? What are the most obvious tenets or tools? What elements require more imagination or “work” in order to be viewed as seeds of peace? What appears to foster violence or conflict more than peace, reconciliation or harmony?

Turning to the third question, why are religions so often violent if they have such profound resources for peacemaking? This is a grand question that deserves blog posts and books and libraries, but most simply I believe there are two reasons for the connection. (1) Most religious texts include descriptions of violence and use violence as a metaphor even when not directly addressing the topic of violence. For example, Christians wrestle with the “holy wars” of David and Joshua (as do Jewish peacemakers) as well as Paul’s war metaphors (e.g., armor of God in Ephesians 6:13-15). Even people desiring peace must wrestle with “sacred” material that does not sound very peaceful. This is where Little’s “hermeneutics of peace” is used. With this “framework, particular texts, doctrines, and practices contained in one’s own tradition–and often in the traditions of others–are examined for guidance in the process of elaborating and implementing the fundamental commitment to peace and justice” (Peacemakers in Action, p. 438). (2) People of all religions and worldviews share common emotions of anger and hatred with desires for revenge, which are all natural reactions to both real and perceived injustices. Resources for peacemaking are up against a mighty challenge that is the wounded human heart. Certainly, other reasons could be cited as well, but these–the religious texts and the human heart–are sufficient for the present purposes.

This point leads us to the fourth question–if a hermeneutic of peace must be constructed, is it really at the authentic center of each religion? This presents the struggle to properly (or effectively?) interpret the religious texts and traditions that have been handed down to us. Christians have used the Bible to argue for and against a number of social issues, including slavery, various wars (and war in general), women’s rights, environmental protection, and laissez-faire capitalism. Similarly, writings in Jewish and Islamic traditions have been used to advocate both peace and violence. Moving beyond the Abrahamic faiths, as a Hindu, Gandhi turned to the Bhagavad Gita (in addition to the Sermon on the Mount) for continual inspiration for nonviolent peace- and justice-making despite the Gita’s battlefield setting.[5] A lay person may be tempted to conclude that conclusions about interpretation likely say more about the interpreter than about the actual text under consideration.

This raises an important topic for interpreters of faith, the difference between what theologians call exegesis and eisegesis, though at a more macro level than is usually meant by these terms. Briefly, exegesis is the process of studying a passage of scripture to understand what it means, what the author was originally attempting to communicate. Alternatively, eisegesis is reading into a verse one’s own meaning. We battle this same tension at the level of determining the overall meaning or purpose of God and our particular religion. Christians struggle to determine what we believe God intended as the center of Christianity, not just what we want it to be. Guidance for undertaking this important work is beyond the scope of this post; I simply want to highlight the struggle and the call for humility that our limits demand.

Regarding Volf’s assertion regarding Christianity’s first peace resource, questions that arise include: Is “serving the common good” Christianity’s purpose, or is that an imposition of a modern value onto an ancient text? Since it is so easy to interpret Christianity in a way that supports either violence or peace, how do we know whether we are taking meaning from the Bible or reading our meaning into it? Presuming “Christianity” proceeded from “God,” how do we know whether God intended the movement to be one of peace? What is our hermeneutic of peace and how is it established?[6]

This line of questioning naturally moves toward the fifth question listed above: If we are convinced that peace and justice are central to our faith, how do we convince others within our religion who care little for such themes. Returning to Volf to address this question, I believe their is wisdom in his assertion that we need a “hermeneutical hospitality” (p. 136). This approach is not only important in inter-faith dialogue, but also in intra-faith conversation. Volf describes hermeneutical hospitality in this way:

Each should enter sympathetically into others’ efforts to interpret their sacred texts as well as listen to how others perceive them as readers of their own sacred texts. Such hospitality will not necessarily lead to agreement in the interpretation of each other’s respective scriptures. And it will certainly not lead to overall agreement among different religious communities for the simple reason that they hold distinct–even if, in some cases, partly overlapping–texts as authoritative. But such hermeneutical exchanges of gifts will help people of faith to better understand their own and others’ sacred texts, to see each other as companions rather than combatants in the struggle for truth, to better respect each other’s humanness, and to practice beneficence toward one another. (p. 136)

Here we see both give and take, sharing and listening. Gifts are given in both directions. Am I willing to receive or only to give? Am I willing to listen to people who view topics of peace and justice differently than I do? Am I willing to listen to people who hold a religion that is very different from mine? Stephen Covey may not have had world religions, peace, justice and violence in mind when he wrote his best seller, The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, but in the end Volf and Covey aren’t so far from each other–“Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”

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[1] Volf here points the reader to consider, A Common Word: Muslims and Christians on Loving God and Neighbor (2009).

[2] See Chase & Jacob, 2003.

[3] See also Disruptive Religion, Smith, 1996.

[4] The second resource focuses on “identity,” which relates to boundaries. This feature seems to relate to all traditions or people, so I am not addressing it directly here, though I do think it is an incredibly important topic. Maybe I’ll focus on it in a future post.

[5] For more about Gandhian interpretations of the Bhagavad Gita and Hinduism more broadly, see the first two chapters of Gandhi and Jesus (Rynne, 2008).

[6] I have previously posted thoughts on this topic at Spectrum — “Theology of Peace” Part 1Part 2Part 3.

Articles of Note (Updated)

I couldn’t sleep, so I got up and did some online reading. Here is a sampling: