Prior to Thanksgiving, I sent the following letter to the St. Paul's UMC email list. Several people have asked that I post it here so it can be referred to, so, here it is:
There are times when events and reactions to events invite opportunities to live into the best of who we are or the worst of who we are. I have the overwhelming sense that we are upon such a time. I am often slow to comment on issues about which people may hold deep and profound disagreements, not because I am afraid of conflict, but I refuse to operate within the polarity that so often shapes our thoughts and practices. Additionally if I am going to speak to the spiritual ramifications of current events I want to be sure that what I say is true to the heart of the Gospel that God has revealed in Christ, and to which we commit ourselves when we claim the name, “Christian.”
The attacks in Paris were just the latest in a long series of terroristic activity happening all around the world, and recently related to the rise of the Islamic state. Increasingly there is a sense in which the world must respond, and there will likely be continued calls for escalating military action in Syria as a result of this activity. There is also a related refugee crisis as people caught in the middle of the bloodshed seek an escape. Two questions present themselves to those of us who seek to follow Christ. The first is how our relationship with God is shaped by the reality of a world in which terror exists. The second is how do we bear witness to the Good News of Christ in the midst of a world desperately in need of good news?
With regard to the first question, there are several facts to keep in mind:
· Prolific violence is as old as humanity. The Genesis story of Cain killing Abel highlights the reality of human on human violence even within the nuclear family. Whether or not Cain and Able were historical figures, their story is part of the telling of the situation in which the world finds itself fallen from God. Violence need not challenge our view of the world, rather it is evidence that we know something about the nature of the world.
· Terrorism is a method, not a people. The use of terrorism is not monopolized by middle easterners, nor is it monopolized by non-state rebels. Terrorism is the using of violence to harness fear for the purpose of affecting political change. It is by its very nature manipulative and deceptive. It is a method most often used by small groups who are fighting a perceived enemy that is infinitely larger. However by harnessing fear through random brutality, terrorists effectively makes themselves appear larger and more prolific than they are.
· The fact that we live in a dangerous world is long established and acknowledged by God. The world is not less dangerous for Christians, in fact, Jesus anticipated that his followers would encounter danger. In the 21st chapter of the Book of John, Jesus said to Peter, “’I assure you that when you were younger you tied your own belt and walked around wherever you wanted. When you grow old, you will stretch out your hands and another will tie your belt and lead you where you don’t want to go.’ 19 He said this to show the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God.” It is impossible to live life avoiding all danger and to at the same time follow Christ. Thus as Christians we must refuse to live in fear even when fear is reasonable.
With regard to the second question, let us consider the following:
· We cannot be surprised that the world’s news is bad news. The world’s news is always bad news until it embraces the good news that God sends into it in the person of Jesus Christ. When we watch the bad news of the world we need to remember that it is not God’s news. God’s news will be found through the work that God does in the midst of the bad news of our world.
· God’s good news is for everyone. Demonizing people who remind us of our greatest fears does not draw them or us any closer to the gospel of Christ. There were people in the days of Jesus who represented everything that the Jewish people hated and feared. There was the Canaanite woman who asked for her daughter to be healed. Jesus acknowledged her relationship to the Jews as an abomination. She acknowledge the distrust between Jews and Canaanites, but that she believed in him she could find healing and wholeness. Jesus said to her, “your faith is great” and her daughter was healed. (Matthew 15: 21-28) When soldiers came to arrest Jesus, Peter cut off Malchus’ ear certain that Jesus must be defended and his enemies killed. Though Malchus was a guard of the high priest and there among the mob to arrest and kill Jesus, Jesus rebuked not Malchus, but Peter, then touched the ear and restored wholeness. There is very little that is good about that moment. The mob is driven by evil, Peter is acting in fear, and yet God’s Good News enters through the surprising touch of Jesus who brings wholeness to the one who came to kill him. (John 18: 10-14).
As you wrestle with current events, as you share with your friends and family your thoughts, reflections, and feelings about where we stand as a nation and as a people—remember to filter all things through your relationship with God. What does it look like to serve God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength right now? Don’t fall into the trap of being uninformed and yet having a strong opinion—when this happens, it is often not your opinion, but someone else’s. Don’t let us be driven by fear and lack of complete understanding. It is time to study, to pray, to read scripture, to connect to God and explore where God may be. If you don’t feel you fully understand what is happening in Syria, and who ISIS is—now would be a good time to turn off the cable news network you listen to most often and seek out information from a variety of reliable sources. Then take what you learn to the study of scripture and prayer. May we as followers of Christ become a breath of fresh air in the midst of a world stagnated by polarity and fear. Then we will see some good news as God enters in.
Stay strong in faith,