Category: Member Blogs

The Movements of Faith

What is the primary movement of faith? More specifically, what is the primary movement of Christian faith. It’s a question I’ve been thinking a lot about lately. It’s a question that I’ve answered differently at various points of my life, in implicit and explicit ways. It’s a question that I answer differently at various points of the day, come to think of it. What ought the trajectory of a life lived in pursuit of the risen Christ look like?

In my childhood, I suppose I
would have assumed that the primary movement of faith was from bad to good. These
are simple enough categories (conceptually, at least) and they map quite naturally
on to familiar frameworks of religion and what it’s for. Jesus wants me to be a
good boy and not a bad boy. There are threats for being bad and rewards for
being good (it’s not difficult to find isolated bible verses to bolster this
view). Faith means that you’re gradually getting better at doing more good
things than bad things

In young adulthood, my views morphed a bit and I probably came to see the movement of faith as a movement from ignorance to knowledge. I began to get a taste of how much bigger and broader the world out there was than the narrowness of my own little tribe’s teaching. I wanted to know if what I believed about God was true and why. This was a season for voracious reading and at times tortured writing about the big questions of life. I would fill journals with ruminations that dripped with existential angst. Jesus said that the faith of a child was sufficient, sure, but he also said love God with the mind, yes? Intelligence and commitment became the markers of devoted faith. Faith means that you’re gradually learning more and more about God and that you have the capacity to give a reason for the hope within, particularly in a secular context.

Of course, one inevitably bumps
up against the uncomfortable fact that there’s always more to learn, more to know,
that your perspective is limited in countless ways, and that the biggest and
most important questions don’t really admit of decisive answers. And that in
the gospels Jesus seemed to have little patience for super-smart religious
people. These were, indeed, his main obstacle. I thus began to think that the primary
movement of faith is the movement from fear to love. The world is scary and our
place within it is tenuous. There is the dread of unknowing, anxiety about the
future (personal or global), the knowledge that all that we hold dear could be
snatched away in a moment by freak accident or the ordinary pain of human
existence. Faith, surely, means moving from a life defined by the terror of
existence to an expansive life of love. Love that risks rejection and failure.
Love that does not depend on reward or social approval. Love that is a response
to the love that we believe is the ground of being itself and that holds all
things together.  

Personal piety, a pursuit of knowledge and wisdom, love. Each of these, surely, are important parts of the life of faith. We do well to move toward these in the life of faith. The last one, particularly. I’ve sketched them out in a linear and chronological way for the purposes of simplicity, but the truth is they’re all still operating, on some level, in my own faith journey. I still happen to think it’s preferable to be good than bad, more admirable and faithful to be informed and curious than ignorant, and more excellent to love in the face of uncertainty rather than capitulate to the fears that come so naturally.

But lately, I’ve been thinking of
the primary movement of faith in a different way. Not a better way, necessarily.
Not a way that doesn’t have room for all the others. Not a way that is really
even terribly different. It’s just a way of reframing things that seems to better
isolate one of the crucial dimensions of specifically Christian faith. I’m
coming to think that primary movement of faith is the movement from self to God
and neighbour.

I’ve noticed something in my forty-plus years on the planet. As human beings, we are rather fond of ourselves. We think quite highly of our projects, our views, our accomplishments. We pursue naturally things that make ourselves look good or bring ourselves pleasure and security. We listen poorly more often than we listen well. We speak quickly and self-congratulatorily. We evaluate the actions of others based on how they impinge upon our desires and our freedoms. We love self-interestedly. We accumulate and hoard for ourselves. We take the easy way when the hard way seems like it will cost too much. We would rather be entertained and distracted than more fruitfully engaged. Even our acts of selflessness are often displayed for the approval of others. This isn’t all true across the board for all people at all times. But it’s true enough of the time to be a problem. Our default setting seems to be inward. Mine does, at any rate.

And Jesus consistently, patiently, stubbornly, at times, pushes us outward. Away from the self. Toward God. Toward neighbour. He commands us to die to ourselves that we might truly live. To take up a towel and serve, to take up a cross and follow. He commands us to love as he has loved us, which goes far beyond the impoverished notions of love that clog up our hashtags and filter through the detritus of pop culture. He models and invites us into a love that is an expenditure of the self, not an extension of it, a love that involves giving instead of taking, a love that is a rising toward instead of a falling into. This is a love that I still sometimes feel like I barely understand and struggle to want as I ought to. But this is, I think, the primary movement of Christian faith.

I was recently listening to a friend speak with some trepidation about the upcoming visit of their mother from out of town. The relationship was complicated, strained, difficult. It wasn’t going to be an easy visit. “It just seems like she never really stopped being a teenager. It’s all about her,” they said. I smiled, grimly. As a parent of teenagers, I knew well what they spoke of. I thought about what a sad indictment that statement was—someone well into their last third of life, still acting like a petulant kid. Someone whose life should have exhibited more movement by now, still stuck within the small, stifling confines of the self.  

And then, Jesus inconveniently
directed my attention to something he once said about logs and splinters…

Syndicated from Rumblings


The Church Walks

My view of the church—and I would say even the church’s view of itself—has evolved since 1976 when Walking in the Resurrection was written. I am with him on the opening statements that “the church is a fellowship and not an institution…The church is an expression in the world of a new humanity, a people reconciled to God, a people in whom the restoration of God’s image keeps coming through as a transparent quality.” It exhibits the idealism of the Jesus movement going on at the time but I still like the definition. Sometimes I’m not sure how useful are such idealistic definitions because we are more realistically a fellowship of sinners than a fellowship of saints. Most normal churches are often a very poor representation of a new humanity that do not look at all like the one we claim to follow. But being too idealistic and hard on ourselves will probably not help the matter much. Practicing grace and forgiveness for ourselves and others might.
“The concept of the invisible church is a man-made doctrine which claims that ultimately only God knows the heart of each person who is a genuine believer. But as disciples of Christ this is a false perspective. The church by its very nature must be visible.” I too have preached this in my Anabaptist theology class and it was a helpful response to Christendom and still is a helpful response to western individualism. At the same time this view has nurtured ethical legalism and an ethnic superiority complex among Mennonites over the past few centuries. Again, take with a dose of grace. That too is part of walking in the resurrection.
The other critique I have is Augsburger’s view of evangelism, i.e. proselytization, as the primary work of the church. “Changing lives will change society.” Since 1976 the missional church movement has helpfully broadened and deepened the mission of the church as articulated by Darrell Guder, Chris Wright, and others. God’s mission is the restoration of all humanity and all creation and the church’s mission is to give witness to God’s work in the world. Rather than doing missions and evangelism, the church is missional in character; our mission is simply to be the church, gathered and scattered. This involves not only verbal proclamation but also structural work for social justice. Augsburger’s final chapters on “relating to government” and “God and Mammon” will hopefully get into this.

Syndicated from gareth brandt

Dear Greg: I’m a Principal at a School and I Disagree with the Pledge of Allegiance (podcast)

What if you’re against the Pledge of Allegiance AND you are also a principal at a school? Episode 508 Send Questions To: Dan: @thatdankent Email: Twitter: @reKnewOrg Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | Google Play | RSS
The post Dear Greg: I’m a Principal at a School and I Disagree with the Pledge of Allegiance (podcast) appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Epistle Passage – Going on a journey & touring heaven and the kingdom of the Divine

“And in the spirit he carried me away to a great, high mountain and showed me the holy city Jerusalem coming down out of heaven from God. . . . I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb. And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it. Its gates will never be shut by day–and there will be no night there. People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean will enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:10, 22 – 27)
The book of Revelations . . . . you know already, beloved reader, it is not a book I am comfortable with. But as I read through the above verses it occurred to me that the reader must have a somewhat sophisticated understanding of metaphors and allusions to be able to understand what the writer of Revelations is implying. And that might be part of my struggle, to understand what is supposed to be metaphor and what is supposed to be literal. If it were a place I knew of, I could discern what it metaphor and what is reality. However, if one is looking for clues about heaven and the kingdom of God it is rather frustrating to try to figure out what is literal and what is poetic license.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.” (Chapter 22, verses 1 – 5)
I think I was much happier with the book of Revelation when I assumed it was all of poetic fanciful tour of heaven by an imaginative dreamer. That is not to say that it is all make-believe or untruths. The truth is found in the intent of what the writer of Revelation sees – a utopia where the will of the Divine finds its completion. Imagine, if you will, the outline of a city or town where everything is drawn to scale and all the streets are labeled and each building has an assigned street number. It is a literal map of where everything is. With such map one could navigate from one end of the city or town to the other the first time they step foot in it. Then imagine the same city or town on a tourist map where spots of interest are depicted in fanciful caricature and buildings float free form on the map. Could you expect to successfully navigate through with such a map?
Some view the book of Revelation as an actual map, and others view it as a introduction to the type of place the Divine would rule over. I think with that understanding in mind I am much more amenable to read the book of Revelation. May you beloved reader allow the inspiration of the Holy Spirit to inform your faith and your understanding of Heaven. Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Up, up, and Away: A Reflection on the Ascension

I’ve been listening to a podcast about the Heaven’s Gate cult, thinking how very strange and warped the group members’ beliefs were—they thought aliens from the Halle-Bop comet were going to pick them up. Then I started looking at the story of the ascension: “While Jesus was blessing them, he withdrew from them and was…
Syndicated from Spacious Faith

When the Guy You Baptized Won’t Take Your Call

Half a decade or so, I watched from the window of my study as a beat-up old truck covered in mud pulled into our church parking lot. I think it was on a Tuesday morning, just like today. The driver just sat there for a while. I watched from my window, puzzled. Were they lost? Confused? Was the Tim Hortons parking lot across the road full and they were just looking for a peaceful place to nurse their double double? Were they actually in the right place but struggling to muster the courage to come inside? Eventually, a young man opened the door tentatively made his way into the building. I’ll call him Duane. 

Duane was nineteen years old and skinny as a rake. He had a few wispy strands of peach fuzz on his chin and wore a pair of oversized cowboy boots underneath his mechanic’s coveralls. He had a kind of aw-shucks demeanour and gave off a vibe that wondered if his very presence might be an imposition. As far as first impressions go, his was all kinds of awkward. I assured him that he was most welcome and inquired as to the reason for his visit. 

“Well, you know, I was wondering if you would baptize me.” I peered at him incredulously. A stranger walking in off the street and asking to be baptized is not exactly a common occurrence for a Tuesday morning. Or any other morning. “What, you mean like right now?” I asked (thus proving beyond a shadow of a doubt that pastors can have their thick moments! A better response might have been something like, “Wonderful, I’m so glad you’re interested in baptism!” or “Praise God!” Or pretty much anything other than what I in fact said). “I dunno,” he responded. “Whenever. I just was wanting to get baptized.” 

After the shock had subsided, I invited Duane to sit down and tell me a bit of his story. He was a mechanic, he said, but that was just his day job. He was really a musician, an aspiring drummer in a country music band. They were pretty good. They had played the casino the other night. I asked why he wanted to get baptized and why he had chosen our church. He offered surprisingly little. It was just something he felt like he needed to do. He had heard about Mennonites from a grandmother or aunt or something back in Manitoba. He thought this would be as good a place as any. I told him about our church’s protocol—that he would need to meet with me for a few sessions where I’d learn more about his faith journey, where I’d explain our church’s theology of baptism, where we’d discuss logistics for the day itself, etc. He nodded brightly. Yup, that all sounded good to him.

And so, we met at Tim Hortons for our baptism classes. He read the material. We opened our bibles and read some passages I had chosen. I asked if he understood. He nodded. I asked him if he had any questions. He had none. Literally, none. There was no crisis driving him to get baptized, no evidence of a spiritual quest or anything like existential angst. His main interests seemed to be his truck and his drumming. I remember remarking to my wife after one of our sessions that Duane was just about the most spiritually uninquisitive person I had ever encountered. He just wanted to get baptized. 

After our initial meeting, I told Duane, “You know, as Mennonites we take pretty seriously the idea that baptism isn’t just about the individual but about the community. We are baptized into the church and the church is the context in which we live out the commitment it symbolizes, where we are strengthened and where we grow in faith. We don’t believe that baptism is magic or that it saves you or anything like that. It’s a public declaration made in community. So, it would be really great if you would start to, you know, be part of the community. Start with this Sunday. Come to worship and start to meet people.” Yup, that all sounded good to Duane. He smiled and said he’d see me on Sunday.

He didn’t show up that first Sunday. Or the one after that (despite being reminded again of the importance of it.) He came on the third Sunday. People were warm and curious toward him. He smiled, shook a few hands, and left. He didn’t come the fourth Sunday. I think he came the fifth. And then it was the day of the baptism. I scratched my head all that week about how utterly strange it was going to be to baptize someone who had shown up for worship precisely two times, who almost nobody in our church even knew, and who seemed almost completely uninterested in faith or Christian community.

I baptized Duane that morning. He smiled broadly when it was done. We had a potluck afterward and he stayed for lunch before walking out the door to begin living into the glorious truth and freedom of his baptismal vows. 

That was the last time I saw him. 

I texted and called him repeatedly. Had something happened? Was he ok? All I got was silence. He evidently had no interest in me or in the church any longer. We had baptized him. That was all he wanted.

I have thought about Duane periodically over the intervening years. I wondered where he went, what happened to him. The experience has lodged itself in my brain as a flashing neon sign screaming, “Pastor fail!” I must have done something wrong for someone to so utterly and thoroughly misunderstand the act of baptism or the role of the church in it. I should have made him wait longer. I should have pushed him harder on certain questions. I should have dug deeper to try to figure out what was going on underneath this strange experience. I should have done something differently, surely. 

For the last six years or so, Duane’s name has sat there in our church directory. He’s a “member,” after all. The incongruity would be laughable if not for the regret that comes with it. A “member” who came to church twice and had a drive-by baptism. The kingdom of God is a strange reality to be sure, but not that kind of strange. That’s just weird. Tonight, at a congregational meeting, we will formally remove Duane’s name from our membership roll. Much as it gives the membership numbers an incremental boost (and which church wouldn’t want that, these days?!), his name on a membership list simply doesn’t reflect reality.

On a whim, though, I googled his name this morning. It seems he’s a professional drummer now. I spent about ten minutes scrolling through pictures of concerts and bars and smiles and cowboy hats and good times. He’s been nominated for a few awards, it seems. One profile picture says he’s “chasin’ the dream and loving every second of it.” That made me smile.

I don’t know if Duane ever thinks about his baptism any more. I don’t really even know what he thought about it back then. Was he trying to wash out a stain? Was it a strange kind of penance or insurance policy? Was he doing it to make his mom happy? Or, against all odds, was it an expression of faith in Jesus Christ. I don’t know. Obviously. There’s so much that is hard to know when the guy you baptized won’t take your calls. 

One thing I do know, though, is that Jesus is more stubborn and persistent than I am. And Jesus has his ways of getting through—of reminding all his children of promises made and forgotten, of commitments made and abandoned, of loves ignited and untended. The Hound of Heaven is no respecter of membership rolls and “correct procedures.” And for this, I suppose we should all be thankful. 

Syndicated from Rumblings

“Christ is Lord”: What Does it Mean?

We enter the domain of God’s reign when we enthrone Christ as Lord of our life. This seems simple enough. But actually, I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding of what this means. The Bible says that if we “declare with our mouth ‘Jesus is Lord,” we “will be saved” ...
The post “Christ is Lord”: What Does it Mean? appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

Sixth Sunday of Easter: The Substituted Acts Passage – Going on a journey & being lead by the Divine

“During the night Paul had a vision: there stood a man of Macedonia pleading with him and saying, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.” When he had seen the vision, we immediately tried to cross over to Macedonia, being convinced that God had called us to proclaim the good news to them.
We set sail from Troas and took a straight course to Samothrace, the following day to Neapolis, and from there to Philippi, which is a leading city of the district of Macedonia and a Roman colony. We remained in this city for some days.” (Acts 16:9 – 12)
A couple of questions occurred to me as I prepared to write about this passage; actually two main questions and ones that I have wondered about since I was reading the bible for the first time on my own – how did Paul know the man was from Macedonia? The answer must be, I thought then as now, there was something distinct about the man that convinced Paul it was someone from Macedonia. In our modern times we sometimes suppose (and to our shame) and prejudge that someone has a certain “look” about them. We think – that person must be from such and such a place because of the way they look and dress. In our modern times, we should not judge like that. But in the times that Paul lived so few people traveled and intermingled in marriage/children that people of specific geographic areas shared many common attributes.
The second question is, why did Paul believe it was a message from the Divine that he was to go to Macedonia? Could it have not been just a random dream? That question rests greatly, I imagine, on how certain Paul was that the man was from Macedonia and what Paul’s past experience was in discerning what Macedonians look like. If the dream gave clear signs of the man’s background and identity – things that Paul would not have known from his own experience, it probably was a message from the Divine.
“On the [S]abbath day we went outside the gate by the river, where we supposed there was a place of prayer; and we sat down and spoke to the women who had gathered there. A certain woman named Lydia, a worshiper of God, was listening to us; she was from the city of Thyatira and a dealer in purple cloth. The Lord opened her heart to listen eagerly to what was said by Paul. When she and her household were baptized, she urged us, saying, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come and stay at my home.” And she prevailed upon us.” (Verses 13 – 15)
Decades ago when I first encountered this passage (and quite honestly up to this point) it never occurred to me to wonder why they were gathered outside the city by a river (apparently there were not enough male Jews/male worshipers of God to constitute enough for a synagogue/temple) nor why a man of Macedonia called them there, and yet it was to a woman they first ministered to and converted. Nope, have no explanation for that. And you can bet the biblical commentators of this passage had nary a word of explanation for that. That of course may be to their credit, that they let pass the fact that a man called Paul and his colleagues to convert women. Apparently, in addition, the journey into Macedonia signifies the movement of conversion from the central area where Jews were in predominance to what the biblical scholars called the more “European” parts, ie. Gentile. And indeed that is where Paul seemed to be called to, outside of the traditionally more Jewish areas.
But actually I do not want to belabor the point – sorry if it seems that I already have. My point really is that when the Lord God calls us, we need to travel to where the Divine has directed us. Even if it is somewhere we have never been before. Even if it goes against the norms we have known previously. Even if it takes us outside of our comfort zone. Paul, the Paul who exhorted women to be silent in worship services, was lead to a powerful woman who ran her own household and who was very successful. He did not question the appropriateness of her conversion but went where his Lord God lead.
May we do the same! Selah!

Syndicated from Pondering From the Pacific

Is Christian pacifism a thing?

Ted Grimsrud—May 20, 2019
I can imagine several ways that the question I ask in the title of this post could go, so I want to start by explaining what I mean. By pacifism, I have in mind the principled unwillingness to support or participate in warfare or other forms of lethal violence (though I will say a bit more below that will define pacifism in more detail). For the purposes of what I write here, I assume the validity of pacifism. My question has to do with whether there is a type of pacifism that is uniquely Christian—that is, in effect, only available to Christians.
To make this more personal, I can rephrase the question: (1) Am I a pacifist because I am a Christian? Or, (2) Am I a Christian because I am a pacifist? Which comes first? Which is more essential? Now, of course, most Christians are not pacifists. And surely many pacifists are not Christians. As I have thought about this lately, I have come to conclude that though my self-awareness of having an explicitly pacifist commitment came at a time when I would have believed #1 (that I was a pacifist because I was a Christian), I now think that #2 is true for me (that is, to the extent I would see myself as a Christian it is because I am a pacifist and I know of a kind of Christianity that affirms pacifism). I should also say before I go further that I recognize that so much of this kind of discussion depends on how we define our terms. I will try to do that with care as I move along—but I request of the reader some tolerance with the limits of our language. I offer these reflections more as a kind of thought experiment than pretending to present anything definitive.
A uniquely Christian pacifism?
I grew up mostly outside the church, and in a general and vague way I found war and other forms of violence pretty unattractive, mostly on humanistic grounds. My father had fought in World War II, but afterwards refused to have a gun in the house, saying he had seen enough guns to last a lifetime. My mother had also served in the military during the War, but certainly never valorized doing so.
When I was 17, I was encouraged by several important people in my life seriously to consider seeking an appointment to one of the military academies for college. I don’t remember the conversations very clearly, but in my memory is a sense of feeling that such a journey was not even remotely attractive. This was partly because of watching the Vietnam War on television and seeing it as deeply problematic. But it was also simply not being able envision myself as a soldier trained to kill other human beings.
Interestingly, the same summer that I had the most intense conversations about my possible future in the military I also had a conversion experience and embraced Christianity. Tellingly the Christianity to which I was initially exposed had no qualms about affirming the soldier’s path. For several years, it never occurred to me that Christian faith might lead one to reject fighting in war. My reluctance to go to war was much more intuitive.
About the time of my 22nd birthday, as I neared graduation from college with a journalism degree (I hoped to be a sportswriter), everything changed. The vagueness of my reluctance to be a warrior became a clear and specific conviction—I could never fight because I knew that it would be wrong to do so. This became a certainty (as it has remained)—and seemed at the time to be directly tied to my Christian faith. As I look back, though, I realize that at that moment I knew nothing about any Christian pacifist traditions or any explicit Christian peace theology. I’d had no conversations with other Christians about pacifism. I’d say that it actually was more a personal awareness about the wrongness of war than a specifically Christian belief.
My vagueness soon changed, though. My faith-seeking-understanding concerning my pacifism led me to discover Mennonites. We had a few Mennonites in our college town (Eugene, Oregon), and I tracked down numerous books and articles. A few years later, my wife Kathleen and I attended a Mennonite graduate school and I got an MA in peace studies. Then followed formally joining the Mennonite church, becoming a Mennonite pastor, and getting a PhD in Christian Ethics with a dissertation on conscientious objection to World War II.
During these years, I came to believe that my pacifism followed from my Christian faith and was shaped by that faith in ways that made it different from any other kind of pacifism. Jesus Christ taught and practiced the love of enemies and he is God’s Son. His path is costly and, ultimately, not based on beliefs about effectiveness. We count only on God’s vindication—which may take the shape of failure (even death) followed by the miracle of resurrection. At the center was the inextricable link between Jesus’s identity as God Incarnate and the truthfulness of his call to follow his pacifist path. His call made no sense and had no power apart from his identity.
I’m not sure, though, that that logic ever actually animated my pacifism at its core. I suspect that for me it was more a matter of believing that I should have an explicitly Christian rationale for any strongly held believe—and then trying to find such a rationale. Certainly, I now realize, my entry into my pacifist convictions was not based on theological reasoning. At the same time, it is not that I now believe that the Bible and Christian theology don’t support pacifism (nor do I no longer believe that Jesus is God’s Son). I do think the best reading of the Bible and the best understandings of Christianity’s core convictions point toward pacifism (I still affirm the two books I wrote making that point—God’s Healing Strategy and Theology as if Jesus Matters)—and I do think Jesus is God’s Son. But I now tend to see that my pacifist convictions are based on something deeper (and perhaps more fundamentally human, even universal) than the scriptures and theology of one particular human-generated religion.
Questions about Christian pacifism
As I said above, my initial experience as a Christian convert was in a church environment that was quite pro war—even militarist—in sensibility. So I have known all along that most Christians are not pacifists. That means most fundamentalist Christians and most liberal Christians. Most deeply involved and pious Christians and most marginally involved and profane Christians. Most high church Christians and most low church Christians. Most highly educated Christians and most lightly educated Christians. Most North American Christians and most Global South Christians. Even, most Quakers and, I daresay, most Mennonites. Most Christians (in many contexts, all Christians) reject pacifism.
In other words, it is simply a descriptive reality that very few Christians see an inextricable link between Christianity and pacifism. And that is not because too many Christians are, sadly, misinformed about Christianity or unserious about their faith. Certainly, many Christians are misinformed and unserious. However, most of the most informed and most serious Christians also are not pacifist. Maybe I could say that after more than forty years, that non-pacifist consensus is wearing me down. It does not make me doubt the truthfulness of pacifism when I realize that Christianity is, as a matter of fact, a non-pacifist religion. It does makes me doubt the truthfulness of Christianity (which does not mean doubting the truthfulness of the Bible or the truthfulness of Jesus).
I noticed a number of years ago when I read the 1995 Mennonite Confession of Faith carefully that this confession, though it does eventually affirm pacifism, presents its core doctrinal teachings (in the first eight articles) in a way that does not take pacifism into account. It seems as if the writers of the Confession wanted to make it seem as compatible as possible with the major Protestant traditions (none of which, of course, affirm pacifism at all). So, even for Mennonites, the core convictions of Christian faith do not require a pacifist sensibility (in contrast, see my attempt to write about the core convictions that does make pacifism central—Theology as If Jesus Matters: An Introduction to Christianity’s Core Convictions).
I think it is also a matter of historical fact that the vast majority of Christians since the rise of the Western nation-states have simply given their respective governments a blank check and willingly supported preparing for and fighting in whatever wars the state might engage in. I researched conscientious objection in the United States during World War II and discovered that the government recognized about 12,000 COs and excused them from military service—and drafted more than 12,000,000 soldiers into the military. Noting that most of those in either group would identify as Christians, we could make a ballpark estimate that one out of 1,000 American Christians was pacifist (0.1%)—that is, hardly any. It seems clear that there is nothing inherent in the actual embodiment of Christian faith that leads to pacifism.
I assume that there is a connection between a doctrinal system that does not make pacifism a part of its core theology and a willingness automatically for church members to go to war. We can construct a rationale for pacifism based on Christian theology, but I don’t truly think that we can call pacifism “Christian.” A kind of pacifism that presents itself as being uniquely Christian does not seem consistent with the understanding of Christianity that characterizes almost all Christians, at least since the 4th century and that affirms war.
I also have recognized for a long time that not all pacifists are Christians. And these are not only “pacifists” who merely see nonviolent tactics as the most effective way to achieve political goals. There are also non-Christian pacifists who are pacifists because they believe in and practice love for their enemies, even at great cost to themselves. Whatever it is that empowers a person to give up their lives out of love for others is present with at least some non-Christians.
So, I have not observed a positive correlation between Christian faith and the practice of self-giving love and refusal to use violence. Certainly many people who seek to follow Jesus and affirm orthodox Christian beliefs do practice self-giving love in impressive ways. But others practice that kind of love in equally impressive ways and do not believe themselves to be Christians. Praise God for both kinds of people!
Pacifism for everyone?
A key point for me is to expand the definition of “pacifism” beyond simply a rejection of war. I do think that rejection is an important aspect of the meaning of pacifism—and separates “pacifism” from merely “loving peace” or affirming “nonviolence”. However, I believe that pacifism signifies more than saying no to war and violence. It signifies a positive affirmation of the centrality of love for human ethics—not simply a negative stance regarding violence.
And I believe that the centrality of love is a core part of who we all are as human beings. We are all born needing connection with others and love is what empowers that connection. We are fragile creatures who easily are damaged and in that damage turn away from love—and the damage spreads to cultures and we grow up socialized by damaged cultures. But love is what drives us and living in love is how we best fulfill our human nature.
So, I don’t believe that the story of Jesus and his love distinguishes biblical faith from the rest of humanity. All cultures over all history have been healthiest when love is central (I state this more as a philosophical affirmation than as the result of careful scientific study—though the latter could possibly disprove the former should such a study be done). Biblical faith can confirm the broader human experience and provide a metaphysical framework for understanding it (e.g., the idea that we are created in and for love by a loving creator based on materials such as the creation story, some of the psalms, and teachings found in the gospels). However, we do not need the Bible to recognize the foundational reality of love.
Let me suggest that the dynamic is not that we start with the normal, innately human way of seeing life as inevitably violent and it taking “special revelation” to see something different. Rather, I believe that the normal, human way of seeing tends more toward pacifism and that the affirmation of violence is due to cultural deception, the consequence of what the Bible calls “idolatry” where people trust in nations and ideologies instead of the true God of love. “Special revelation” is not then special information from the outside that is not discernible to normal people but rather a cutting through of the idolatry to help any of us see how things truly are.
I will close with a suggestion that we can think of “Christian” pacifism in one of two ways. One way would be to say that there is a pacifism that is uniquely Christian, that depends upon God’s special revelation in Jesus and requires an affirmation, we could say, of a faith about Jesus—confessing his identity as God Incarnate as the basis for self-sacrificial love, even of enemies, and a willingness to die for one’s convictions. Such a pacifism stands or falls on this confession.
The second way would be to say that to live with love as our central moral imperative so that violence is always forbidden is simply the consequence when we recognize and affirm the universal human reality of love as our core reason for being. Christian faith is only one way to recognize and affirm that reality. Christian faith is true and worth embracing only insofar as it does empower such a recognition and affirmation. The distinctive elements of Christianity—its creeds and other doctrines, its rituals and sacraments—have their validity in providing such empowerment. Insofar as those distinctive elements become “autonomous” (or, ends in themselves) and comfortably coexist with war and violence, they lose their authenticity and contradict Jesus’s (and Torah’s) placing love as the incontrovertible center of faith.
In light of these points, I would say that Christian pacifists should not seek to present their convictions as unique or better than other forms of pacifism that place love at the center. For a pacifist to affirm that Christianity is true because it puts love at the center will then celebrate of other forms of pacifism that also put love at the center. Pacifism them becomes a basis for welcoming people of other faiths (or none), not another rationale for pride and exclusion.

Syndicated from Thinking Pacifism

Patri•Archy and the Way of Jesus #1: Systems, Persons, and God (Jenn Shaffer)

In this series, Pastor Jenn Shaffer leads us through a series of conversations about Jesus and patriarchy. Through sermons and panel discussions, we explore the ways in which patriarchy—ancient and modern—is completely at odds with the way of Jesus. At the end of the series Pastor Kurt will give a wrap up message as we anticipate there will be lots to process and integrate into our church family’s DNA.

Syndicated from PangeaCast - Pangea Church

Dear Greg: My Spouse Thinks Spanking is Okay and I Do Not (podcast)

Greg offers thoughts on how spanking plants a seed of redemptive violence and offers ideas for resolving differences of opinion between spouses. Episode 507 Send Questions To: Dan: @thatdankent Email: Twitter: @reKnewOrg Subscribe: iTunes | Stitcher | Google Play | RSS
The post Dear Greg: My Spouse Thinks Spanking is Okay and I Do Not (podcast) appeared first on Greg Boyd - ReKnew.

Syndicated from Greg Boyd – ReKnew

Three Things Most Cherished: A Spiritual Exercise in Material Form

If your house were on fire,
what would you most want to save?
Or, less dramatically, if you strolled through your house today,
which items would you miss most if they weren’t there?
Take your time, I’ll wait for you.
A fiery sunset.
Recently, my friend Tina challenged our group of college friends
to name our three favorite things.
We admitted to each other over three days of conversation
at Bethany Beach that the assignment was a hard one.
But we all managed to do it.
Ice cream helped.
L-R: Gloria, Mary, Shirley, Tina. We’ve been friends for 53 years.
What are your three most cherished things?
Of course, you cherish your loved ones most, but
what about loved things?
Are all your things precious?
Or can you honestly say they are all expendable?
Do you find three things springing to mind right away? Or do only one or two strike you?
Are you willing to share them? 
I’d love to know what things are close to your heart and why, and I’ll tell you my three soon.

Syndicated from Shirley Hershey Showalter


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