I was praying Psalm 9 this morning, and it seemed to fit with the essay I just wrote...
I will give thanks to the LORD with my whole heart;
I will tell of all your wonderful deeds.
I will be glad and exult in you,
I will sing praise to your name, O Most High.
When my enemies turned back,
they stumbled and perished before you.
For you have maintained my just cause;
you have sat on the throne giving righteous judgment.
You have rebuked the nations, you have destroyed the wicked;
you have blotted out their name for ever and ever.
The enemy have vanished in everlasting ruins;
their cities thou hast rooted out;
the very memory of them has perished.
But the LORD sits enthroned for ever,
he has established his throne for judgment;
and he judges the world with righteousness,
he judges the peoples with equity.
The LORD is a stronghold for the oppressed,
a stronghold in times of trouble.
And those who know your name put their trust in you,
for you, O LORD, have not forsaken those who seek you.
Sing praises to the LORD, who dwells in Zion!
Tell among the peoples his deeds!
For he who avenges blood is mindful of them;
he does not forget the cry of the afflicted.
Be gracious to me, O LORD!
Behold what I suffer from those who hate me,
O you who lift me up from the gates of death,
that I may recount all your praises,
that in the gates of the daughter of Zion
I may rejoice in your deliverance.
The nations have sunk in the pit which they made;
in the net which they hid has their own foot been caught.
The LORD has made himself known, he has executed judgment;
the wicked are snared in the work of their own hands.
The wicked shall depart to Sheol,
all the nations that forget God.
For the needy shall not always be forgotten,
and the hope of the poor shall not perish for ever.
Arise, O LORD! Let not man prevail;
let the nations be judged before thee!
Put them in fear, O LORD!
Let the nations know that they are but men!
Continuing an essay I'm writing...
Jesus had great faith in the power of God. He experienced it daily, and based his promises on it. The power of God clothed the lilies and fed the birds of the air, it calmed storms, healed diseases, and even raised the dead. And Jesus preached that the power of God would provide and protect and unfailingly bring justice, just as all the prophets had promised. The God who had parted the Red Sea to lead his people out of oppression would also send “the son of man” in power to gather the sheep and expel the goats, ending every injustice and giving his people peace. This faith in God’s power went hand in hand with Jesus’ nonviolence. As Peter wrote, Jesus was able to reject violence and suffer patiently because “he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly.” Paul trusted the power of God in the same way, writing that we should repay no one evil for evil, but instead "if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him drink,” because the justice of God was sure. “I will repay, says the Lord.” The faith in God's power that Jesus demonstrated allows us to follow his example of nonviolent love, trusting God to ensure justice. As Miroslav Volf wrote in Exclusion and Embrace:
Without entrusting oneself to the God who judges justly, it will hardly be possible to follow the crucified Messiah and refuse to retaliate when abused. The certainty of God's just judgment at the end of history is the presupposition for the renunciation of violence in the middle of it. The divine system of judgment is not the flip side of the human reign of terror, but the necessary correlate of human nonviolence.
Unfortunately, many Christians inspired by the principles of nonviolent resistance seem to have become uncomfortable with a powerful God. Or a Jesus that returns with power from God to judge and forcefully impose justice. Violence is deemed unethical for both man and God. But to hold to these principles requires Christians to reject large portions of the Old Testament testimony about God, as well as the promises of Jesus about his return. And, more importantly, it rejects an aspect of God that Jesus held on to in his own nonviolent suffering. The powerful hands that Jesus entrusted his soul into as he died on the cross. Hands more powerful than the rulers that condemned him, or the soldiers that executed him. The hands that would raise him from death and clothe him in power to end every evil, as the prophets, and Jesus himself, promised us. We should not suppress this aspect of Jesus' faith, central to his practice of nonviolent love.
We must not let the principles of nonviolent resistance determine the extent to which we follow Jesus. We must not let the effectiveness of nonviolent resistance tactics make us forget that Jesus came, not to force evil men to submit, but to inspire each of us to give ourselves in obedience to God, freely, in love. And, no matter what the ethics of nonviolent resistance say, we must not deny the power of God, nor God’s freedom to use it any way he chooses to bring his promised justice. Above all, Jesus showed us the place of God and the place of man. We must not turn our resistance against God.
(This complete essay can be downloaded as a RTF file here.)
Continuing an essay I'm working on...
Violence was of no use to Jesus. He did not want to coerce people into obeying his teaching; he did not want to force their submission. His teaching and example show us he did not want us to be cowed into subservience to any human being. “You are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all brethren. And call no man your father on earth, for you have one Father, who is in heaven.” Jesus called us to serve and obey God. And the service he called us to was voluntary service, our obedience given freely, in love. This free giving of ourselves was what Jesus came to inspire, so violence and coercion had no value for him. And these should also have no value for Jesus' followers. If our purpose is the same as Jesus' purpose, then we also should not try to force the obedience of others, even to make them do good. Even to make them stop doing evil. Jesus challenged and rebuked, offered God's promises and God's warnings, and set the example himself of the good that we are all called to do. But when people refused to hear and follow him, Jesus did not try to force them to do right. He chose to accept suffering because of their bad choices rather than force good ones. In this also Jesus acted to inspire love in them, hoping they could see by the pain they caused that they were wrong, that he had been telling them the truth all along. Violence cannot accomplish this. It can inspire fear or force obedience, but it cannot inspire love.
Many have recognized the limitations of what violence can accomplish, and the methods of nonviolent resistance offer an alternative. But is it the alternative that Jesus offered? The destructiveness of violence, that turns hearts bitter and creates violent enemies, is avoided. A significant good. But nonviolent resistance has achieved its successes through the effective use of other forms of coercive force. Boycotts and strikes apply economic force. Public protests and the use of mass media apply political force, by turning public opinion against the wrongdoer. Combined with appeals to legislators, and the passage of new laws, the power of government is used to bring about change for the better. Violence is avoided. And results are still achieved, in some cases even more effectively than by the use of physical force. Yet this is not quite the inspiration to love that Jesus demonstrated. Force is still applied, nonviolent force, political or economic force that everyone must respect, whether or not they care anything about doing good, or loving God. The usefulness of this nonviolent force is recognized by activists of all kinds. But Jesus' purpose of inspiring love, inspiring a freely given obedience to God—no matter what the cost—is not so widely respected. Jesus' method of accepting suffering rather than forcing people to do right is not nearly so effective. It has been known to often lead to the cross.
Jesus apparently didn't feel he had to control what happens in the world. Good or evil. When a woman was brought to him, accused of adultery and in danger of being stoned, he did not physically intervene. He challenged those who were threatening her, speaking a word to humble them and turn away their wrath, but he did not prevent them from executing her. Jesus rebuked Peter when he struck a man with a sword, but Jesus did not prevent him from doing it. Neither did he prevent his cousin John's imprisonment or execution. As he did not prevent his own execution. Jesus worked always to inspire goodness and love, but it had to be freely given. What happened in the world was not his to control. Jesus trusted his Father to take care of that.
I'm writing something for Jesus Radicals; maybe I'll post it here as I write...
Nonviolently Resisting God
If when you do right and suffer for it you take it patiently, you have God's approval. For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. He committed no sin; no deceit was found on his lips. When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. (1 Pet 2.20-23)
Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God; for it is written, "Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord." (Rom 12.19)
Since the world witnessed the inspiring successes of Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., there has been growing support and enthusiasm for the practices of nonviolent resistance. Nonviolent methods such as protests, boycotts, and strikes, as well as appeals to the public and lawmakers through mass media and letter-writing campaigns, have become recognized as effective ways to change our society for the better. They have been shown to be especially valuable methods for oppressed groups, which lack the political or economic power to liberate themselves from their oppressors. Ruthless dictators have been toppled, unjust laws struck down, and crippling public prejudices overcome. And, perhaps most importantly, nonviolent resistance avoids the escalating cycle of violence that is seen when violence is used against violence, whether in personal fights, police intervention and imprisonment, or international warfare.
Nonviolent resistance has also gained support among Christians, especially among Christian pacifists. While there are many reasons for the popularity of nonviolent resistance methods aside from religious beliefs—their proven effectiveness for less powerful groups being reason enough—many Christians see nonviolent resistance as the way of Jesus. Jesus' refusal to lead a violent revolt against Rome, and his warning that “all who take the sword will perish by the sword” seem to demonstrate his nonviolence clearly enough. And his fearless rebukes to those in power demonstrated his resistance against oppression. Jesus' teachings about turning the other cheek and going the extra mile are also presented in a new light. Rather than a meek submission to an unjust oppressor, Jesus' words are understood as a call for creative, active responses that shame the wrongdoer publicly, so that they cease their oppression. Very similar to the nonviolent resistance methods used today.
But with the increasing popularity of nonviolent resistance among Christians, I've noticed that some of the principles of nonviolent resistance have also inspired a growing resistance against God. Ironically, this resistance is to beliefs and practices that are at the center of Jesus' own nonviolence.
We're in the season of Lent now, traditionally a time of repentance. And repentance has been the focus for a series of community retreat days here for the last few months. I've also been thinking about it a bit, and agree that God is calling us to repentance (it was almost a year ago that the last worship service I led focused on repentance). It's not an easy thing to actually do, though. Especially in an organization or community.
One complication I've noticed is the temptation to focus on some kind of shared "communal" guilt, rather than on our own personal wrongs and contributions to the hurts in the group. Sin that is common is easier to admit and accept than sin that is our own personal fault. And sins of the group can be something in the past, or acts of leaders or others that have little to do with my own choices. So it's easier to repent of that; it costs me nothing.
But I think this is just a symptom of a deeper problem involving repentance. We get to the point of recognizing (or believing) that God may be resisting us. Perhaps it feels as if God's "hand is heavy upon us." So repentance comes to mind. But we can easily take this to mean that God is angry with us and must somehow be appeased. We search for the right way of praying or right act of penitence to satisfy God's wrath and so regain his favor. When I say it this way it sounds so pagan, so unlike the way of relating to God that Jesus taught us. But I think it's easy to fall into this common response. Because it takes the focus off us, off our own fault, our own contribution to our current difficulties, and sees God's anger as the problem that must be solved. I know we sometimes respond this way when there are problems in our human relationships, so I'm not surprised we do it with God as well.
But of course God doesn't call us to repentance for his sake. If his hand is heavy upon us, it's not to satisfy his own wrath. It's because God is trying to get us to change direction, or see some truth we don't want to see, or grow past our fears. It's not for him but for us. So any efforts to appease God are worthless; they won't help us at all. If God's hand is heavy on me, it's not about something long ago, or the sins of others in the group, it's about me. It's about the direction I am currently going, the way I am choosing, and God is trying to turn me. For my own sake, my own good.
Repentance is about admitting that I cannot save myself or choose my own path. It is admitting the need for God to show me the way, though it may be too difficult for me, and letting God carry me along that way. "The sacrifice acceptable to God is a broken spirit."
But first we have to quit trying to appease the angry god we have conjured in our head. And we have to stop blaming others, the leaders, the group. The group has no soul; it cannot repent and cannot be forgiven. Each one of us has to turn the way God is pressing us to turn. And then the new life that springs from each of us will contribute to the healing of relationships and reveal the presence of the kingdom of God among us.
I haven't been online as much recently, because our troublesome fiber optic cable finally gave out completely, knocking out the internet for most of our community. Luckily (I might say providentially, but I fear some might object to me assuming God could be a supporter of the internet) a new friend of a friend enabled us to purchase new cable at a much lower price than we could find ourselves. So we now have brand new cable. I've been working hard to install it on trees, over hill and creek, for almost three quarters of a mile. Heather's been a big help too.
Ironically, I've been getting much more exercise than usual, climbing and cutting trees till I'm sore, and much more time outdoors (even got a bit of a sunburn in March!). All thanks to the internet.
From a discussion on "revolutionary hospitality"...
I think you're right that it's better for all if everyone [in the community is] contributing in some way (not necessarily money). If you're not requiring a rent contribution, though, it seems you would have to have some other way of insisting that everyone contribute. And if a guest stopped contributing, what then? Doesn't that bring back the power that those who own the house have over the guests? Who makes the decision that the troublemaker has to go?
That's the kind of problem we faced several times at the Catholic Worker, and I just couldn't see any way around it. As much as we wanted to break down inequality with our hospitality, it seemed to remain, especially inequalities of power. And I've seen the same dynamics in all three of the common purse communities I've lived in. It always seemed connected to who controlled the property (and money) that people relied on for their shelter and sustenance.
The only way forward seems to me to also emulate Jesus' practice regarding property and wealth as well as his practice of hospitality. You're right that money was some part of Jesus' care for others (donations to the poor, for example), but that seems very little of what he offered. He also demonstrated hospitality without his own property, it seems. Jesus welcomed people in the temple or on a hillside, or he borrowed an upper room to host a Passover meal. And that strikes me as removing the source of inequality and power over the guest that you rightly point out as problematic.
I guess I point this out as a way forward, if you find yourself running into the same kind of frustrations that I have seen in a number of communities trying to practice Christlike hospitality. I've been trying to move more and more in this direction myself.
I don't like "responsibility" as a motivator, but I find myself reluctant to ask someone to do something just to please or satisfy me; I'm more likely to insist that the person just do what's right, or considerate, or be trustworthy when they promise something. And that's really the same kind of motivation, with guilt involved if they fail. And often anger on my part if I think they aren't doing what's right or considerate or trustworthy.
I know I should approach the other person with vulnerability rather than anger, but I find myself so quickly going the other way when I feel hurt or scared.
Perhaps what's getting through to me lately is that anger and insistence on being responsible (whether or not I use that word) is often just not enough to motivate people to do better. Even when they want to do the right thing, and hate the guilt, often long-standing habits and simple personal weaknesses are just too much for their repeated efforts. That's made me depressed at times. Thinking the person just can't change (or I just can't change).
But some recent experiences have reminded me that there is a strength beyond our strength. Their is a motivator that's more powerful than fear or guilt. And even when we truly can't overcome our weaknesses no matter how much we want to, there may indeed be a way to overcome them and do "the good that we want." That way is love. The love that comes from God and is the power of God.
That's why, when we are wronged, the approach of humility and vulnerability is usually better. Because it is more likely to stir love in others who care for us. Letting them know our suffering or fears that are caused by their behavior, not demanding they change and "be responsible" but asking that they respond to our suffering because they love us. If we're being honest (not manipulative) I believe we can count on God to be the source of that love if the person is at all open to it. And that means the power of God is available to help them overcome their weaknesses and habits and actually do what they want to in their love for us.