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An Honest Prayer

Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest author Matthew Distefano.

A change of mind is needed in America. In Greek, the word is metánoia. Racism is alive and well, regardless of what some may say. The list of victims our country is producing is growing by leaps and bounds.

Freddie Gray

Eric Garner

Walter Scott

Unfortunately, we now must add Cynthia Hurd, Susie Jackson, Ethel Lee Lance, Depayne Middleton-Doctor, Clementa C. Pinckney, Tywanza Sanders, Daniel Simmons, Sharonda Singleton, and Myra Thompson to that list. From what I have witnessed in the news, the victims and their families, as well as the many members of the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church, have all displayed a beautiful model of how to forgive even those who commit the greatest harm. I believe our Lord would say, “Well done, good and faithful servants” (Matt. 25:23).

Now, what I want to say in the following will likely upset some people, but it is what I believe to be true. In the second sentence above, I mentioned that it is our “country” that is producing victims. I did not flippantly suggest that. We, as a nation, produce victims. Sure, the white man who murdered those nine black people is responsible for his actions. He should face consequences and he needs to repent. However, he is not solely responsible. Anthropologist René Girard coined the term “interdividuals” to explain the way in which humans should define themselves. We are our relationships and all of us, for better or worse, beautiful and disgusting, are our brother’s keeper. When Cain asks the Lord “Am I my brother’s keeper?” the implied answer is “Yes!” So, when a white man kills 9 people in a black church, he is not a lone gunman, but rather, a product of systemic racism.

Take a look at the drug laws in America. Huffington Post columnist, Saki Knafo, reports that blacks make up 45% of those in state prisons for drug offenses, compared to 30% for whites. And yet, the rate of drug use amongst blacks is lower than that of whites. John McWhorter, of the CATO Institute, writes:

If the War on Drugs were terminated, the main factor keeping race-based resentment a core element in the American social fabric would no longer exist. America would be a better place for all.

Many of the stereotypes large groups of white people have about “black people committing more crimes” are in some way caused by the War on Drugs. It is a racist war and is directly correlated to an increase in violence. Thus, any accusation that “blacks are more violent than whites” is a false cause fallacy; as violence is caused by the coercive nature of the War on Drugs, as well as its racist underpinnings.

And now there is this business with the Confederate flag. The fact that we are even having this “debate” on whether the flag should stay or go tells me one thing: racism is so much a part of our culture that many would rather hold onto some symbol of supposed “heritage” than have empathy for the black people against whom it has been used as a racist, destructive image. The Swastika is a symbol with a storied past that predates Nazism—thousands of years even—yet we do not hear people arguing some extra-Nazism heritage to justify it flying proudly over a state capitol. Let’s drop the bullshit and get rid of any racist symbols, even if there are alternative meanings behind them.

Racism does not develop out of some lone wolf. Rather, it manifests because of hundreds of years of history built on a foundation of an “over and above” mentality. It is time we move forward as a country and as a species. We must end all of the satanic “powers and principalities”, as Paul would call them, that have plagued us for far too long. The systemic sins of this country have lead to far too much blood. We can be silent no more.

Black lives matter.

All lives matter.

Here is my honest prayer—I hope you will join me.

Father,

Please comfort the families of those who were murdered in cold blood in Charleston, SC. Please overwhelm them with your loving presence, healing the broken and bringing peace to those who mourn today. I pray that my fellow brothers and sisters in this giant family step up and step up big to aid in comforting those who grieve the most.

I pray that the citizens of that city, state, the citizens of the country I live in, as well as the citizens of a planet I share residence with—every single person—renounce the satanic principle of racism and bigotry. We have seen too much hatred and violence, too many scapegoats, too many “others”, too many victims, too much blood, too many families destroyed, too much pain, too much grieving, too many tears…all of it must end.

Please help us all to see the satanic systems that are in place for what they are—human constructs meant to oppress and hold down, accuse and blame, destroy and destroy well. Please give us the courage to confront these powers and principalities boldly.

Amen.

 MattMatthew Distefano is writing his first book on universal reconciliation and advocate for non-violence. He lives in Northern California and is married with one daughter.

Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.”

 

Copyright: americanspirit / 123RF Stock Photo

His Soul Wrapped In A Confederate Flag

At the bond hearing, grieving loved ones forgave Dylann Roof. This was reported as news, but it was so much more than that. It was the light embracing the darkness.

And white America absorbed this forgiveness through the eyes of the 21-year-old terrorist, who watched the proceedings on a video screen from his jail cell. Whatever he heard and felt is unknown, but beyond him, in the world he believed he was saving, something gave. The solidarity of whiteness — the quiet assumption of white supremacy — shuddered ever so slightly.

The flag, the flag . . .

The fate of this symbolic relic of the slave era is now the big story in the aftermath of Roof’s murder of nine African-Americans. He acted in such clear allegiance to the Confederate flag that politicians everywhere — even Republican presidential candidates — are demanding, or at least acquiescing to, its removal from public and official locations, such as in front of the South Carolina State House.

Not only that, “Walmart and Sears, two of the country’s largest retailers, will remove all Confederate flag merchandise from their stores,” CNN reported.

This is what atonement looks like in a consumer culture.

“The announcements,” according to CNN, “are the latest indication that the flag, a symbol of the slave-holding South, has become toxic in the aftermath of a shooting last week at a historic African-American church in Charleston, South Carolina.”

A few days later, Amazon and eBay also announced they would remove Confederate flag merchandise from their sites. No longer available, CNN reported, would be such flag-decorated items as folding knives, T-shirts, blankets or (God help us) shower curtains.

Oh Lord. The news so quickly becomes theater of the absurd. Roof’s act of terror has forced mainstream America to begin consciously disassociating itself from the lethal margins of white solidarity, to wake up to what it really means. But this waking up, so far, seems limited to the symbolism of Confederate paraphernalia. All our guilt is being dumped here, while the pain that Roof’s act of terror has caused ebbs and slowly vanishes from the social mainstream.

In fact, an undead racism still stalks the American consciousness and it will, once again, regroup, Confederate flag or no Confederate flag. What this moment of awareness calls for is true atonement for our history.

“I forgive you.” These are the words of Nadine Collier, the daughter of 70-year-old Ethel Lance, one of Roof’s victims. “You took something very precious from me. I will never talk to her again. I will never, ever hold her again. But I forgive you. And have mercy on your soul.”

Atonement begins with cradling the pain.

“We welcomed you Wednesday night in our Bible study with open arms,” said Felicia Sanders, who was not only present in the church during the murders but the mother of Tywanza Sanders, 26, the youngest of those killed. As we cradle the pain, we must cradle this as well: the open souls of the murder victims.

What do we value as a nation? Do we value such openness? The killer — who was, as he entered the church, simply an unknown young man — did not go through security clearance as he walked through the open door. He had complete freedom of movement as he entered the historic African-American church, where he was accepted simply for his humanity. Yes, such openness and acceptance are also part of who we are as a nation, but . . . do we value these qualities? Do we have the least faith that they matter now more than ever, now that they’ve been so violated?

A participant at one of the vigils last week for the murder victims “noted how a church’s doors are always open, especially to those in need,” a Daily Beast story reported. “She wonders now how churches can square their mission of public service, charity and acceptance with security concerns.”

Roof’s act of terror has opened a gaping hole in the social fabric. Can we no longer pray together?

But all such questions lead back into the depth of American history and the need for atonement and transformation. A Reuters story, addressing the segregated nature of most American churches (11 a.m. Sunday is “the most segregated hour in the nation,” Martin Luther King once said), pointed out: “The story of this division began in America’s earliest moments, when slaves and freed African-Americans alike were often expected to pray in the same churches as whites, but in areas cordoned off, often called ‘slave galleries.’”

Imagine praying in a setting that defines you as semi-human. Now imagine Dylann Roof walking into Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church with a gun in his backpack. Roof was the self-defined semi-human in the church that night, his soul wrapped in a Confederate flag.

The U.S. is enslaved by its past. That’s what no one has said yet. One hundred fifty years after the Civil War ended, we’re thinking maybe it’s time to lower the flag that symbolizes this enslavement.

Robert Koehler is an award-winning, Chicago-based journalist and nationally syndicated writer. His book, Courage Grows Strong at the Wound (Xenos Press), is still available. Contact him at koehlercw@gmail.com or visit his website at commonwonders.com.

© 2015 TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, INC.

The Theology of a Biker Gang

 

Five rival biker gangs descended upon a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas on Sunday. Hundreds of gang members began stabbing, beating, and shooting each other. Weapons included chains, knives, clubs, and guns. When the fight ended, 9 people were dead, 18 were sent to the hospital, and more than 170 people were arrested.

Waco police Sargent W. Patrick Swanton stated, “In my nearly 35 years of law enforcement experience, this is the most violent and gruesome scene that I have dealt with.”

One of the biker gangs is called the “Bandidos.” They originated in Texas during the 1960s. In 2013, federal law enforcement produced a national gang report that identified the Bandidos as one of the five most dangerous biker gang threats in the US.

And they have a theology and an anthropology that you should know about. They’re summed up in one of their slogans:

God forgives. Bandidos don’t.

We can easily dismiss that slogan as a biker gangs attempt to intimidate, but do not dismiss it. That pithy statement tells a profound truth about both God and humanity.

Anthropology of a Biker Gang: Bandidos Don’t Forgive

Let’s start with the anthropology. When it comes to forgiveness, we are all much more like a biker gang than we’d like to admit. Take what happened in Waco, for example. A group of rival gangs come together to fight because they have a relationship based on hostility. They refuse to forgive because biker gangs respond to violence with violence. That’s the pattern that they have developed.

It’s not just biker gangs who have that violent pattern. We all do. Violence is a human problem. For example, our political and judicial systems are based on that pattern. The same principle of retaliation that consumes biker gangs also consumes our culture.

Biker gangs such as the Bandidos are a violent and evil menace to society precisely because they refuse to forgive. And whenever we refuse to forgive, we become just like a violent and evil biker gang that is a menace to society.

Bandidos don’t forgive because we don’t forgive. Whenever someone insults us, we tend to insult back. When someone hits us, we tend to hit back. When someone attacks our country, we attack back. That’s the reciprocal pattern we tend to fall into when it comes to violence. For example, will our society respond to Sunday’s biker gang violence with forgiveness? No, we will respond with violent punishment of our own – maybe even the death penalty. Which leads me to ask some question:

How would the biker gang situation be different if one of the gangs decided to respond with forgiveness?

How would my life be different if I responded to insults with forgiveness?

How would the world situation be different if on 9/11 the United States decided to respond with forgiveness?

We will never know the answer to that last question. But what we do know is that our violent response didn’t solve the problem of violence that we face; in fact, it may only have perpetuated it.

Theology of a Biker Gang: God Forgives

And here’s the good news: God forgives. The theological truth of the Bandidos slogan is that God isn’t like us. God doesn’t hold on to grudges. God forgives.

But please understand that God’s forgiveness doesn’t make violence okay. Rather, it stops the cycle of violence by refusing to play the game. The best example of God’s radical forgiveness is on the cross. Jesus prays, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

God forgives.

That’s true. But the truth that the Bandidos biker gang doesn’t understand, and what we so often fail to understand as well, is that God calls us to participate in a culture of divine forgiveness, as opposed to a culture of human violence. The first step is to realize that we all have a tendency toward violence in thought, word, and deed; and so we are all in need of receiving God’s forgiveness. Then, as we receive from God’s well of abundant forgiveness, we are able to share that forgiveness with others.

There is an urgency in our current situation. What happened between 5 biker gangs in Waco is a microcosm of our world situation. Our hope in the face of violence is in following the God of radical forgiveness. As René Girard prophetically says in his book The Scapegoat, “The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be enough time.”

A woman balancing motherhood and a career. (Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo

Maria’s Choice: Dr. Montessori’s Struggle to Balance Career and Motherhood

A woman balancing motherhood and a career. (Copyright:  / 123RF Stock Photo

A mother balancing motherhood and a career. (Copyright: / 123RF Stock Photo)

Dr. Maria Montessori loved children, yet the story of her only child seems to indicate that she loved her career more. In the late 1890s, just as her success at reforming the treatment of prisoners, insanity, mental retardation and child delinquency was garnering her world-wide fame, she became pregnant by a colleague. Maria and her lover, Guiseppe Montesano, were both doctors, both radical reformers, and both dedicated to the liberation of women. Yet the reality in Italy at the turn of the 20th century was that when a woman married she was expected to leave the workforce. A married woman’s place, no matter her skills or level of education, was in the home, not the surgery or hospital, not teaching at university or advising governments on social programs. Though we cannot be certain, it seems that to protect Maria’s career the lovers took a vow not to marry and to raise their child together, but in secret. When Guiseppe betrayed Maria by marrying someone else, all that remained of their vow was the secrecy.

Dr. Montessori concealed her pregnancy and gave birth to her only child, a son, sending him to a wet nurse in the country. It was during this time of personal crisis that her career path took a dramatic turn. Maria shifted her focus from the institutionalized population of criminals and delinquents to the education of normal children. They became her passion and she dedicated her life to improving the health, education and well-being of children. What she could not provide for her own child in his formative years, she longed to guarantee for the children of mothers all over the world.

The choice between work and motherhood, Maria’s choice, is still faced by women today. I imagine that Maria felt what so many of us feel – whether at home or work, we feel guilty, divided, and teetering on the brink of failing at both motherhood and career. I’m in the midst of doing research on Dr. Montessori’s life and work with the hope of producing a novel or bio-pic that does justice to her genius. I recently came across some of Dr. Montessori’s thoughts on the differences between the work-a-day world and life spent in the company of children. Careers are spent in an atmosphere of competition and selfish self-promotion. Becoming a parent requires something quite different. She explains it this way:

The child awakens what adults think of as an ideal; the ideal of renunciation, of unselfishness – virtues almost unreachable outside family life. What businessman, in a position to acquire some property he needs, will ever say to one of his competitors: “You can have it. I am leaving it for you!” But if hungry parents are short of food, they will deny themselves the last crumb of bread rather than have the child go hungry.

Dr. Montessori witnessed this self-denying love herself. Her medical career and her early work with children was among the poorest of the poor in Rome and so she saw the virtue of selflessness in action. Of course, she was all too familiar with self-serving patriarchal attitudes of women’s inferiority. The male dominated professions of medicine and education often patronized and dismissed her innovations without serious consideration. But she was undaunted and achieved much for which the children of the world owe her a debt of gratitude.

But what of her love for her own child? She seems not to have been able to achieve the ideals of “renunciation” and “unselfishness” that she so admired in others. Her story of motherhood does have a happy ending, though. When her son was about twelve, she took him into her life and under her care, though she did not publically acknowledge him as her son until near the end of her life. They had a warm, loving relationship and Mario worked tirelessly by her side, continuing after her death to work on behalf of the Montessori Method.

Maria’s choice to give up her son for the sake of her career was a difficult one for her and her son, but somehow they found forgiveness and redemption. Perhaps this is the lesson of her life. All moms know that we will make mistakes, especially in difficult situations, but Maria’s choice reminds us that the story of a mother and child isn’t over until love writes the ending.

“So we see,” Dr. Montessori wrote, “there are two kinds of life.” We have our careers and our motherhood, and a woman “is privileged to share in both. [But] the better of the two is that with children, for nearness to them brings out our best side.” Dr. Montessori knew the truth – our children make us better people. As we make the daily trek between our two worlds, let’s be mothers first, even at work. What better tribute to offer our children who love us for better or worse.

Monica Lewinsky and Jesus Christ: How to Overcome the Place of Shame

Monica Lewinsky at her TED Talk

Monica Lewinsky at her TED Talk

Monica Lewinsky and Jesus Christ had the same experience. Their shared experience could have defined their lives. It could have made them bitter. They could have sought revenge. But they didn’t. Instead, they invited us to change. They invited us to live into a better world.

Monica Lewinsky and the Place of Shame

Monica and Jesus both occupied the place of shame. In 1998, Monica became a lightning rod for shame in American culture.  In her recent TED talk, The Price of Shame, she talks about her experience of public shame. With refreshing humor, she takes responsibility for the “wrong turns” she has taken.

The Lewinsky scandal happened on the cusp of the Internet boom. It was one of the first Internet scandals to go viral. Monica reflects that, “What that meant for me personally, was that overnight I went from being a completely private figure, to a publicly humiliated one worldwide.”

But Monica’s point is not that she’s a victim of shame. Rather, she is using her experience to warn us about our cultural inclination to put others in the place of shame. She hopes that sharing her experience “can lead to a cultural change that results in less suffering for others.”

And there has been a lot of suffering. The Internet has become a public hub of shaming. Monica states that, “A market place has emerged where public humiliation is a commodity and shame is an industry.” Shame is big business on the Internet. Promoting scandals is the easiest method to get clicks. Monica explains the dangers of this economic system in a radically prophetic way:

The more shame, the more clicks, the more clicks, the more advertising dollars. We are in a dangerous cycle. The more we click on this kind of gossip, the more numb we get to the human lives behind it. And the more numb we get, the more we click. All the while, someone is making money off of the back of someone else’s suffering. With every click we make a choice. The more we saturate our culture with public shaming, the more accepted it is, the more we will see behaviors… that have humiliation at their core. This behavior is a symptom of the culture we have created.

A culture of shame is more than making money on the Internet. It’s also about developing a sense of moral superiority over-and-against another person. Gossip sites are addictive because they allow us to feel good about ourselves at the expense of another. Notice that we feel the need to gossip and scapegoat others because we don’t feel good about ourselves. And so we unite with others against another person. Gossip boils down to this thought that runs through our heads: How could they do such a stupid thing! At least I’m not as bad as them!

Sure, Monica made “wrong turns.” But by shaming her, we gained a false sense of moral superiority that is rooted in our lack of self-esteem. After all, deep down we know that we have made wrong turns, too. We have all compromised ourselves morally and ethically. Shaming allows us to project our own sense of shame upon another. When it comes to shaming, it’s not really about them. It’s really about us.

Monica’s statement is prophetic because she is putting the price of public shaming where it belongs – on us. We are all responsible for the culture of shame. By claiming that “we have created” a culture of shame, Monica admits that she also needs to take responsibility for her part in participating in that culture. But she is also taking responsibility for transforming our culture of shame. Monica explains how we can change that culture,

Public shaming as a bloodsport has to stop. And it’s time for an intervention on the Internet and in our culture. The shift begins by… returning to a long held value of compassion and empathy.

That’s the key. Yet, typically we respond to shame and humiliation by mimicking shame and humiliation. We shame the shamers. We scapegoat the scapegoater. We project our own shame upon someone else. When we do this, we have only reinforced the spirit of shame that permeates our culture.

The answer to shame is not more shame. It’s more compassion, more empathy, and more love for others and for ourselves.

Jesus Christ and the Place of Shame

jesus teacherJesus and Monica were both publicly exposed, shamed, and humiliated. Of course, Jesus’ public humiliation didn’t happen on the Internet; it happened on a cross. Jesus hung on the cross, naked, exposed, and humiliated for everyone to see. The cross was a place of torture and shame.

Jesus didn’t make “wrong turns” as Monica did. He was innocent. And yet the cross reveals that innocence doesn’t matter. He was still mocked, shamed, tortured, and killed.

The remarkable thing about Jesus is the same thing that I find remarkable about Monica Lewinsky – neither are defined by their experience of shame. Neither want revenge. Rather, both invite us into a new reality where the cycle of shame stops and a new cycle of compassion and empathy begins.

Jesus invites us into a new life – a new way of being in the world. Unfortunately, human cultures run on shaming a scapegoat. As James Alison states in his book Jesus the Forgiving Victim, we humans would much rather someone else occupy the place of shame than we occupy that place ourselves. And so we point the finger of accusation and shame against others so that we can feel safe.

But when we play by the rules of shame, no one escapes life without experiencing it. Everyone, whether we make wrong turns or not, experiences shame. The good news is that we don’t have to play by those rules. In fact, we can learn an entirely new game.

Jesus called that new game the “Kingdom of God.” He based that game on two simple rules, “Love God and love your neighbor as you love yourself.” Your neighbor, Jesus reminded us, might just be your enemy, the one who shames you. While that often hurts, Jesus gives us the freedom to respond to shame with compassion and empathy.

Even more important, Jesus invites us to take responsibility for the way we all participate in the culture of shame. We all stand in need of forgiveness and Jesus hung on the cross to offer that forgiveness. In the face of human violence and shame committed against him, Jesus prayed for his persecutors to be forgiven, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

How Monica and Jesus Overcame the Place of Shame

Monica and Jesus both reveal that we can overcome our experience of shame. The place of shame is overcome not by projecting our own sense of shame upon another or by the revenge of shaming those who shame us. Rather, it is overcome by responding to shame with compassion and empathy for ourselves, our neighbors, and even those we call our enemies.

Our culture is run by cycles of shame, but we don’t have to be. By receiving the forgiveness and compassion of God, we can run our lives by different rules. The only way to transform a culture of violence and shame is to play by different rules – the rules of self-giving love and compassion.

Caterpillar’s Surprise: An Easter Play For Children (And The Young At Heart)

josh and Pete

“Here, take my last carrot. Whenever you eat it, you can remember me.”

Editor’s Note: This is a puppet show with Easter themes that I wrote a few years ago for a church fundraiser. Because the fundraiser was open to the wider community and there were many different faith communities represented in the neighborhood, I do not directly reference scripture, but the parallels are easily recognizable. Parents are invited to share with their children, especially during Holy Week and Easter, and talk about themes of resurrection, forgiveness, and new life! 

Narrator:

On a warm afternoon on the last day of May
Two animal friends were happy at play.
Josh Caterpillar and his bunny pal Pete
Were frolicking in meadows of flowers so sweet.

Pete was a small rabbit with long ears and bright eyes
But Josh was an insect of enormous size!
For a caterpillar, he was nearly as big as a cat!
And lots of the animals teased him for that.

Crowd of animals (mockingly): “Oooh, look at the big scary caterpillar!” “Ick, a giant bug!” “Big fat caterpillar, big fat caterpillar!”

Pete R. Rabbit: “My friend isn’t fat! He’s perfectly proportionate!”

Josh Caterpillar: “It’s okay, Pete. Don’t engage them. They don’t know what they’re saying.”

Narrator:

But Pete knew his friend Josh was a bug among bugs
With the power to heal in his multi-legged hugs.
So he stayed by his side through all kinds of weather.
Wherever they went, they were always together.

And on this fine day they were having such fun,
Splashing in puddles and drying off in the sun.
And as they sat down to their nice picnic lunch,
Pete said to Josh, as his carrots went “crunch,”

Pete: (Garble something unintelligible as bits of carrot fly out… “blargle glarble…”)

Josh: Pete, come on! How many times do I have to tell you not to talk with your mouth full?”

Pete: “Sorry Josh! These carrots are just so yummy! I was just saying, this is so much fun. I hope we can have days like this everyday!’

Narrator:

But Josh just sighed sadly and gazed in the distance.
Pete asked what was wrong, and at his insistence,
Josh answered, “Pete, I have something to say.
In just a short while, I must go away.”

Pete: “I don’t understand.”

Josh: “I have to leave you for a while, Pete. I’m sorry. I knew this day would come, and even I was a little afraid of it. But I must go away for a time. Here, take my last carrot. Whenever you eat it you can remember me.”

Pete: “But I don’t understand! You’re my best friend! I stood up for you when all the other animals made fun of you for being so freakishly huge!”

Josh: “Hey!”

Pete: “And now you’re just going to abandon me? What’s up with that?”

Josh: “I’m not abandoning you. I’ll come back to you soon, but for a while, I must go away. And when I come back, things will be a little different, but I’ll still love you.”

Pete: “What do you mean, ‘things will be different?’

Josh: “You’ll understand everything in time.”

Pete: “You’re talking in riddles again! Why are you so confusing? Why do things have to change? Why do you have to go? You can’t just leave me all alone! I – I’m gonna miss you, man!”

(Josh wraps around Pete in a big hug.)

Josh: “There are things I can’t explain now; you’ll only understand when you see for yourself. I have to go now. But everything’s going to be okay. I promise.”

Pete: “That’s it? You’re leaving? Well, fine, go then!” *sniff* “Who – who needs you anyway?”

Narrator:

So Pete turned in grief and sped fast down the lane
While Josh crawled on slowly, full of sorrow and pain.
Some animals saw him, and as he passed by,
With mocking voices, they jeered and they cried,

Crowds of animals: “Where you going, big guy?” “Where’s your silly little rabbit friend?” “For such a big guy with so many legs, you’d think he’d move faster!”

But Josh just crawled on, ignoring their sneers.
In his heart he forgave all their taunting and jeers.
He climbed up a hill and he came to a tree
And up the tall trunk he crawled silently.

Pete ran a good distance and then turned back to see
As Josh slowly made his way up the great tree.
He looked on as Josh vanished into the leaves
But just as poor Pete sat himself down to grieve

The animals found him and said to him, “So
You’re that friend of that Caterpillar. Where did he go?”
And Pete shook his head, and pretended to doubt,
And said, “I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Animals: “Sure you do. You were friends with that giant caterpillar, right? We saw him slinking away all by himself, pouting like a giant baby. What happened? You guys were always together.”

Pete: “He’s not a giant baby! I mean, uh, I guess… not that I would know. I, I’ve never even seen him.”

Animals: “Look, he’s trying to pretend he doesn’t know him! Maybe he finally realized what an enormous anomaly of nature he was and now he’s trying to make us forget he had anything to do with him.”

Pete: “No! I swear, I never knew him!”

Animals: “Hey, take it easy buddy. Maybe we should leave you alone to chill out.” (Animals leave)

Pete: (Sadly) “After all we went through, he left me all alone. I really didn’t know him at all.”

Narrator:

But when Pete saw his carrot, he thought of his friend,
And he said to himself, I should go make amends.
And so, without wasting anymore time,
He hopped fast to the tree that he saw his friend climb.

Pete: “Josh! Josh, are you there?”

Narrator:

Pete yelled and he shouted but he heard no reply.
He shook his head and he tried not to cry.
When he looked up, he saw, in the light of the moon.
Hanging from a branch, a big Josh-shaped cocoon!

But Pete didn’t know what the cocoon was for.
You see, he had never seen one before.
So he cried, “Josh, come out! Please come play with me.”
But still he heard nothing as he stared at the tree.

It was too high to climb, so Pete just had to wait.
He worried and wondered about his playmate.
Hours passed, and still Josh stayed hidden away.
Still Pete stayed and waited, day after long day.

One morning Pete woke to a shocking surprise.
When he looked up, he couldn’t believe his own eyes.
Hanging from the tree on that morning in June
Pete saw only a shredded and empty cocoon!

Pete: “Oh no! Josh’s sleeping bag is all ripped! And he’s not there! What happened? Did the birds tear his house apart? Did he get eaten by a giant squirrel? Where could he be? Josh! Josh!”

Narrator:

In panic and sorrow Pete looked all around
But his bug-buddy Josh was nowhere to be found!
But just before Pete hung his head down to cry,
Down from the tree flew a huge butterfly!

Butterfly Josh: “Little bunny, why are you crying?”

Pete: “My, my best friend left me all alone… He was a caterpillar, see… And– and he climbed up that tree and crawled into a sleeping bag and I was waiting and waiting for him to wake up but now his sleeping bag is torn and he’s gone and I’ll never see him again and –”

Butterfly Josh: “Pete, it’s ok.”

Pete: “How can you say it’s ok? You didn’t even know him; it’s not o– Hey, how did you know my name?” (Pete stares at Josh). “Your eyes… they look so familiar…”

Josh: “Pete….”

Pete: “Josh! It is you! It’s really you!” (Humongous hug!)

Josh: “I told you I wouldn’t abandon you!”

Pete: “Oh Josh! You’re back! You’re… different… You’re so… beautiful!”

Josh: “I missed you, Pete! Come on, we have so much fun to catch up on! Hop on my back and let’s go see the world!”

Pete: “Yay!”

Narrator:

So with Pete on his back, Josh soared way up high.
O’er tall trees and rooftops they flew through sky.
And when they looked down on the ground, they both saw
All the animals staring up at them in awe.

Animals: “Pete! Pete, is that you? Who’s you’re amazing new friend? That’s the most beautiful butterfly I’ve ever seen!”

(Josh and Pete land.)

Josh: “Hi guys. Don’t you remember me?”

Narrator:

When they recognized Josh, they all cowered in shame,
But Josh wasn’t one to hold a grudge or place blame.
So as they said “We’re sorry,” and trembled with fear,
Josh smiled, and his voice rang out, sweet and clear.

Josh:

“I forgive you, my friends, and I hope you will see
That this new-found kindness should not end with me.
When someone is different, look past fur, scales and skin
Because a creature’s true beauty always comes from within.”

Animals: “You mean you forgive us just like that? You’re not gonna hurt us?”

So away they all flew to make friends far and wide...

So away they all flew to make friends far and wide…

Josh: “Of course not. Making friends is so much more fun than staying enemies, don’t you think?”

Animals: “Well, Josh, you’re a bigger man than all of us.”

Pete: “You can say that again!” (The animals laugh.)

Josh: “Come on guys! There’s room for everyone! Climb aboard and let’s go make new friends all over the world!”

Animals and Pete: “Hooray!”

Narrator:

So away they all flew to make friends far and wide.
In wonder and joy, creatures flocked to their side.
They befriended new creatures of all shapes and sizes.
And learned that life’s full of sweet, happy surprises.

The End.

Repent For Lent: Renewing Our Minds With Mimetic Theory – Holy Week (Poem)

Palm Cross. Image from 123rf.com

Palm Cross. Image from 123rf.com

Dear Friends,

For a final “Repent For Lent” post, I offer a Palm/Passion Sunday Meditation that I delivered two years ago in the form of poem. These are some Girardian reflections on how Christ “takes away the sin of the world” by his death. The resurrection is crucial, but during Holy Week, I want to leave us in the dark and terrible recognition of our sin as we “look upon the one we’ve pierced.” Still there is the promise of forgiveness and redemption, and also the recognition that God is Love, which can only be recognized by looking back upon all of this from the perspective of Easter. I have enjoyed every step of this Lenten walk with you, my friends, and though this is the end of the series, it is not the end of the journey. During the Easter season, I am considering some posts on what it means to live into the Resurrection, although what form that will take is still undecided. In the meantime, I offer for your reflection this

Passion Sunday Meditation: 

In the beginning, there was Love.
And Love was joyful, and Love was playful.
Lover and Beloved and the Love between them danced in Triune Communion,
and where they danced, they left stars and planets in their path.
Their gentle footsteps made ripples on waters;
Their exuberant flourishes made waves upon the oceans.
Love made all things in the beginning, and the end for which all things were made was Love.

Love is the Alpha and Omega.
Love is God.

God molded humanity in the image of perfect Love;
Male and Female, God created them, breathed into them Love’s own Spirit
And taught them to live in the harmony of the Dance.
God gave to us humans in our infancy the world for a playground,
To be cared for and enjoyed in perfect Love.

The first image-bearers of God lacked nothing,
Perfectly trusting the Love that brought them into being.
That trust sustained their lives.

God warned them not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil
But to keep their trust in God’s judgment.
For once we seek to judge for ourselves
Between evil and good
And bring that judgment upon others
Threads of trust loosen,
And the cord of love begins to unravel.

Envy slithered into the human heart
Tempting it with lies
Maligning God as a withholder and making of Him a rival.
“Take, eat,” it hissed, “for then you will be like God”
As if being Love’s embodied image
Were not enough.

And once we lost trust in the perfect Love of God
And presumed to judge for ourselves
A wedge was drawn between us and God,
And that wedge was death.

Death infected all the world
Throwing out of harmony
Our dance with God and each other.
Insecurity, envy, rivalry, scorn
Hatred and strife and malice were born.

For our judgment of others is born from deceit;
A failure to recognize God’s image of Love
In every human being
And a failure to recognize Love itself
As the ground of our being.

So we set ourselves up against one-another
Forming unions that exclude
Always an outcast; always an “other”
Never the perfect harmony as it was in the beginning.

Wars rage across lands and generations
People are taken by force or for granted
Land is laid to waste, blood poisons the ground
As we strive to survive and thrive in a world founded on death
Ever since our hearts expelled the Living God.

Into this broken world
Love emptied himself,
Poured himself out into flesh
To reconcile us back to Himself
To invite us back into the Dance.

By his very humility he shook our faulty foundation of one-upmanship;
By his very nonviolence he threatened to overturn our violent world.
He broke bread with sinners we had thought under judgment
And healed untouchables we had thought condemned.

Refusing to be caught up in the rivalry that kills,
He lowered himself, becoming a servant,
Stooping beneath our feet to wash them clean,
Putting himself entirely in our hands.

And in the blindness of our false judgments,
We put Love on trial;
In the name of the God we thought we knew,
We condemned God to death.

Yet he went to his death without protest,
Bearing all the pain of the broken world on his mortal shoulders,
He occupied the rift between God and humanity.
The space of death we created when we separated ourselves from God
He filled willingly, to rob death of its power,
Putting his body on the gears of violence to stop them from turning
Once and for all.

Redemption starts with the centurion and the dying thief
Who recognized Jesus’ innocence.
Guilty as they were of violence themselves,
They were not blinded by self-righteousness,
And false, finger-pointing judgment.

They looked upon him and saw his humanity
And in this Truly Human One they saw the perfect image of God.
“Jesus, remember me, when you come into your kingdom.”
The dying thief saw that,
by filling the space of the accused with his innocence,
Jesus was going to his glory,
And was not accursed by God
As he hung dying from the cross.

Redemption starts when we recognize our violence,
The log of arrogance removed from our eyes,
The fog of prejudice lifted.
When we see the mess of injustice in which we are immersed,
And know that we are not immune,
That we all play into the system,
When we recognize our violence for what it is,
And refuse to shift the blame.

We practice violence in the dark of self-deception
In this fragile world built on the faulty foundation of deceit…
We practice violence when we think we must rely on ourselves to climb social and economic ladders,
At the expense of others, every man for himself…

We practice violence when we fail to trust in the foundational Love of God
Who will fulfill our needs as he clothes the lillies and guides the sparrows.

That Love was on display for the world to see upon the cross.
For the day we tried Jesus, our false judgments also stood on trial
And the day we mocked our Prince of Peace, the Prince of Violence was exposed as a Liar and Murderer.
God became our victim to expose the violence within us
And show Himself to have no part in it.

Reconcilation takes place at the foot of the cross,
For it is there that the blinders fall away
When we look on the one whom we have pierced
And recognize in him the God who endured our violence and answered it with forgiveness.
Our hearts break open,
We unite in repentance,
And turn ourselves around.

Were you there when we crucified our Lord?
Were you there when we nailed him to the tree?
He still cries through the voices of our victims,
Saying, “My Child, My Child, why do you persecute me?”

Happily Ever After

Raven-YourVoice-9

Editor’s Note: This post was written by guest author Matthew Distefano.

I believe the film, Cinderella, is the most “Christian” movie to be released in some time. The story follows a fortunate young girl named Ella, whose mother and father are the embodiment of love and compassion. The family lives on a rural farm, living a life of simplicity, rooted not in material goods but in love and kindness. When Ella’s mother becomes ill, prior to her death, she tells Ella to always live by two truths: “have courage” and “be kind.” Ella promises her mother she will always do so. After her mother’s death, Ella’s father remarries the dreadful Lady Tremaine and Ella’s fortunes are, for a time, drastically changed. Along with her daughters, Anastasia and Drisella, the three quickly show they care not for love and kindness, but for material possessions and social status. This is more than likely due to the daughters’ imitation of Lady Tremaine, who models nothing in the way of loving kindness herself. Thus, the stepsisters seem like nothing more than immature and dumbed-down stepmothers. Moreover, because of Lady Tremaine’s awareness of the close bond between Ella and her parents, she, along with Anastasia and Drisella, desired to be in Ella’s position, one in which they could be the object of another’s affection (although for materialistic reasons).

Once tragedy strikes Ella’s father during a business trip, everything in Ella’s life begins to change for the worse. In fact, the first thing out of Lady Tremaine’s mouth is that of ruin—she “knows” the death of her income source will be the cause of her perpetual unhappiness. Because Lady Tremaine and her daughters (the “mob”) cannot directly blame Ella’s deceased father, they turn their attention to Ella (the “scapegoat”) to place all their internal torment onto her, transforming Ella’s life into a living hell.

What Ella endures at the hands of her stepmother is nothing short of hellacious. Assuredly, Ella is not the direct cause of Lady Tremaine’s unhappiness (no scapegoat is), but because of the ever-loving relationship she had with her father (who, at least in the Stepmother’s mind, was to blame for her financial ruin), Ella is the obvious target for Lady Tremaine and the two stepsisters. From forcing Ella to sleep in the drafty attic, to not allowing her to eat with the family, the three wicked women do their best to break Ella’s spirit. However, because of a chance encounter with a stranger in the woods outside the home, Ella, at minimum, finally has something to hope for again.

The stranger, “Kit” (who turned out to be the Prince), is so fascinated by Ella that he calls a royal ball to commence, with everyone in the kingdom invited.[1] While Lady Tremaine finally has a shot at royalty (her plan is for one of her daughters to impress on the Prince in such a manner that he would choose either Anastasia’s or Drisella’s hand in marriage), Ella views this as her chance to see Kit once more. However, Lady Tremaine forbids Ella from attending the ball, fearing profound embarrassment at the sight of her out-of-date “rags”. To ensure Ella will not attend, the three wicked women tear Ella’s dress into pieces.[2] The one thing that Ella looks forward to is ripped from her the moment the Stepmother rips her dress. Now, she must witness her treacherous stepmother and wicked stepsisters head off to the ball in an attempt to deceive the Prince into marrying one of the corrupt women. The only thing she had hoped for, since the death of her parents, is seemingly gone.

What takes place immediately after Lady Tremaine and the stepsisters tear Ella’s dress to pieces is the first of two “wow” moments in the movie. For Ella, there is nothing to look forward to, nothing to hope for. However, when she encounters a poor beggar just outside the home, Ella immediately takes to serving the elderly woman. Through all of the torment, pain, and sorrow—after having everything violently torn from her—Ella remains courageous and kind.[3] As most already know, the “poor beggar” turns out to be Ella’s “Fairy Godmother” and hope is magically restored. That hope will turn into possibility, but as we shortly find out, evil is not so easily quelled.

After the magic of the “royal ball” ends, Ella returns home and before long, is confronted by her stepmother.[4] Lady Tremaine begins a classic monologue, ripe with accusations and finger-pointing. Not only is Ella blamed for sabotaging the stepsisters’ chance with the Prince,[5] but also for causing Lady Tremaine to live “unhappily ever-after.” Under no circumstance is Ella’s stepmother going to take any responsibility for her own misery, for in the minds of “the mob”, the scapegoat is (illogically) the cause of all the sins of the community (or family in this story). She locks Ella attic in hopes that Kit will never find her again. However, because love trumps evil in the end, Ella and Kit are reunited and will go on to live “happily ever after.” However—before they can do so—one last “wow” moment.

Prior to being whisked off, Ella utters three short words to her wicked and treacherous stepmother that, if I may be honest, brought me to tears…“I forgive you.” In doing so, Ella models precisely how the cycle of violence is broken by imitating Christ on the cross. Surely, as the future queen, Ella could have had Lady Tremaine, along with her moronic stepsisters, imprisoned for the rest of their lives. However, like Christ, Ella does not condemn her oppressors—she forgives them. This courageous act of kindness, in spite of oppression that would have destroyed most, is what it means to be truly human. Forgiveness of horrific oppression has the power to transform humanity more than any other human act. Whether Lady Tremaine will ever accept Ella’s act of mercy or not is not what drives Ella to forgive. Rather, it is Ella’s desire to live out what she promised her late mother, namely, to “be kind” and “have courage.” Ella’s “happily ever after” could only truly be possible with the forgiveness of her former oppressors; her act of kindness being that she potentially liberated future generations of Tremaine’s family who would have otherwise been caught up in the cycle of violence and oppression.

I am quite thankful the gospel can be witnessed in such a brilliantly analogous way by so many people around the globe. If humanity can truly appreciate what is going on in this story, then we can move closer to understanding how to end the cycle of retributive violence we continue today. On the cross, Christ gave us the starting point of our theology, and close to two-thousand years later, Disney © has helped spread this message around the world. I pray humanity has the courage to grasp it and collectively put it into practice.

[1] It is not necessarily Ella’s external beauty that charms Kit, but her peculiar understanding of philosophy. Two specific statements Ella made that piqued Kit’s curiosity; namely “Be kind and have courage,” and “Just because it’s what’s done, doesn’t mean it’s what should be done.” One could draw the analogy to Jesus, who redefined the Pharisees understanding of what following God looked like. Like Christ, Ella seemed to be teaching an ethic that was contrary to how the principalities understood ethics.

[2] The dress was once Ella’s mothers.

[3] While Ella vocalizes her defeat, her actions toward the homeless beggar suggests she still has the desire to do “good”; to serve others.

[4] Being an insightful and intellectual woman, Lady Tremaine quickly becomes privy to Ella’s “royal secret.”

[5] As noted before, Kit (the Prince) did not become infatuated with Ella because of her external beauty, but because of her kind spirit and her philosophical mind. Obviously, the stepsisters possessed none of the attributes that drew Kit to Ella.

 

MattMatthew Distefano is writing his first book on universal reconciliation and advocate for non-violence. He lives in Northern California and is married with one daughter.

 

 

Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in the guidelines of our new section, “Your Voice.”

Repent For Lent: Renewing Our Minds With Mimetic Theory – Swords

cross sword

Image from 123rf.com

Apologies, Friends, for the absence of this column last week. If part of Lent is about finding blessings through suffering, then I was given a prodigious opportunity to do just that while recovering from the stomach flu! In the midst of my struggle, I found many reasons for gratitude, including the fact that my family remained well, my husband was able to take care of me and we were both able to care for our children, and I was reminded to pray for those who must deal with pain and illness everyday and still work hard for survival. I am also fortunate to work with wonderfully understanding colleagues and blessed with patient readers who understand the value of forgiveness when it comes to building peace!

After all, making peace is what the Gospel is all about. But there are difficult sayings of Jesus that may, on the surface, make it appear otherwise. In this series, I attempt to wrestle a blessing from those sayings, and today, I’d like to focus on a couple that are especially problematic for peacemakers. I’m referring to the verses in which Jesus mentions “swords.”

Two verses in particular, Matthew 10:34 and Luke 22:36, might be used to justify violence. Though the sayings are very different, as the former refers to a metaphorical sword and the latter refers to a literal one, they have some contextual connections, and both statements have been used to refute pacifism. However, through the lens of mimetic theory, both statements can also be used to show how Jesus’ peace subverts the human understanding of peace founded on the corpses of victims. Jesus’ rejection of the language of peace is ultimately his rejection of the premise on which human cultures build their peace; likewise, his invocation of the “sword” subverts our understanding of and reliance on violence.

Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword. For I have come to turn ‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—one’s enemies will be the members of one’s own household.’” (Matthew 10:34-36)

I have already written about a similar statement of Jesus (Luke 14:26) when it comes to the division his call to discipleship brings among families. Two more points must be made. First of all, it must be noted that the divisions Jesus says he will create lie along mimetic fault lines. Man against father, mother against daughter, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law; each of these relationships has the potential for rivalry that is likely to erupt when the scapegoat mechanism is taken away. The false unity built on the foundation of an innocent victim disappears when the victim’s innocence is exposed and faith in the scapegoat mechanism is lost. Therefore, father and son will compete for power, wealth and status; mother and daughter will compete for influence and attention, and bonds built on anything weaker than love will unravel at the seams. Jesus will not be the cause of this destruction; the sword of which he speaks is already built into our desires. Our desires are not our own but are always shared, a double-edged blade cutting both us and our rivals when we attempt to hoard or acquire at the other’s expense. Jesus simply unsheathes this sword by removing the victim who once cushioned us from its blow, or, rather, by becoming that victim.

Secondly, it should be noted that Jesus speaks these words about a sword in a larger context of discipleship. He gives this speech when he sends out his followers to heal the sick, raise the dead, and drive out demons, with nothing for protection “as sheep among wolves.” He forbids them to bring money or extra clothing for their journey, or to receive any compensation beyond welcome and lodging (“Freely you have received; freely give.”) He warns them of dangers they will encounter, yet leaves them defenseless except for their wits (“be as wise as serpents and as innocent as doves”) and their faith, and tells them not to be afraid. (“You will be hated by everyone because of me… When you are persecuted in one place, flee to another.”) Thus, as Jesus speaks of the “sword” that he brings, he sends his own disciples out into the midst of persecutions without any weapons at all and forbids retaliation! The healing work he commands his disciples to do will cause them to be hated, because they will re-socialize the scapegoats and victims of the community. Removing the enmity aimed at those scapegoats will redirect it back onto them. With no literal sword for protection, the metaphoric sword that Jesus brings — wrath and rivalry unsheathed from within human hearts — will fall on the disciples just as it will fall on Jesus himself at Calvary.

Therefore the “sword” of which Jesus speaks is not a threat to humanity but a warning to the disciples as followers of Jesus of the fate that will befall them because it will befall Jesus first. The sword of which Jesus speaks is judgment that will fall first against himself. And in sending the disciples out into the midst of persecutions with the words “I did not come to bring peace, but a sword,” Jesus is warning that the sword you unsheathe is the sword that falls against you.

Lest there be any confusion about this, Jesus makes it very clear on the night of his arrest. This is the context he recalls at the last supper when he asks his disciples, “When I sent you out without a purse, bag, or sandals, did you lack anything?” When his disciples answer that they lacked nothing, Jesus’ bizarre reply is

But now, the one who has a purse must take it, and likewise a bag. And the one who has no sword must sell his cloak and buy one. For I tell you, this scripture must be fulfilled in me, ‘And he was counted among the lawless’; and indeed what is written about me is being fulfilled.” (Luke 22: 35; 36-37)

By itself, this command would seem to contradict all of the nonviolence that has been Jesus’ modus operandi from the beginning. Indeed, nonviolence has been not only Jesus’ tactic, but his very nature. Yet in the context of this verse and Jesus’ larger ministry and mission, it is profoundly fitting with the subversive nature of Jesus’ language and teaching methods.

First, the scripture to which Jesus is referring is Isaiah 53:12, found in the Hymn of the Suffering Servant (Is 52:13 – 53:12), the greatest testament to non-retaliation in the Hebrew Bible and the most thorough foreshadowing of the crucifixion found therein. This hymn is an indictment of human judgment and violence, specifically telling us that what we consider to be God’s will is actually a “perversion of justice.” Our justice is a perversion. On a surface level, when Jesus tells his disciples to buy swords, he will be counted among the transgressors by the priests who arrest him. They will see the small band of disciples armed with weapons and arrest Jesus among them as their leader. Thus the scriptures will be fulfilled; he’ll be counted as an insurrectionist. But there is so much more beneath the surface.

As I have expressed elsewhere (see my comment to then-future colleague Adam Ericksen’s review of Reza Aslan’s Zealot), the allusion to the Hymn of the Suffering Servant was never enough for me. One could easily argue that Jesus did not need to tell his disciples to buy swords in order to be counted among the transgressors, seeing as how the plans to arrest him were going into effect that very night. And for what it is worth, what does it matter if Jesus is considered lawless by those who use their own swords to arrest him? When Empire arrests a band of guerrilla warriors for being “lawless” does that vindicate the Empire’s own violence? In our world, we like to think that the moral law is on the side of those who wield violence for good, whether it be the Empire or the rebels. But Jesus is turning our world upside-down.

Jesus is instead showing, in a very concrete, physical way, that the swords we use will fall against us. He refers back to the time he sent his disciples out with nothing, relying on only their faith to carry them from through the towns and spread the ministry of healing. That was also the time that he said he came not to bring peace, but a sword. If he had given his disciples the impression then that they would one day wield actual swords, he is now turning that idea on its head with a real sword rendered completely useless as a prop in his subversive drama. If the hope in a day of real uprising and violence against Rome had sustained them then, they were in for a rude awakening.

Over-eager Peter betrays his trust in violence when he jumps at Jesus’ command. “See, Lord, here are two swords,” he says. In other words, “Way ahead of you, Lord! Let’s do this!” Jesus’ answer, “It is enough,” is not satisfaction that his disciples are sufficiently prepared for violence; it is a cut-off to the conversation because Peter just doesn’t get it. None of the disciples do. Their eagerness to use violence is an abandonment of Jesus in his time of crisis. Jesus knows this must happen, for to be a scapegoat is to be left utterly alone. For him to assume his role as the victim of our perversion of justice, Jesus must be rejected not only by those who arrest and crucify him but also by the disciples who flee his way of nonviolence and then flee him.

In Matthew 10, Jesus sends the disciples out with no physical swords, but declares that he himself has come to bring a sword to the world. Now in Luke 22, the disciples are armed with swords but Jesus renders them useless, even undoing the little violence that is done with them. Upon Jesus’ arrest, one of his disciples severs the ear of the slave of the high priest. Jesus heals the ear of the slave and, according to Matthew 26, utters the famous words, “Put your sword back into its place; for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”  But healing the ear of the slave does not save Jesus. Indeed, it was healing that brought Jesus to this hour of crisis — healing in violation of the law, healing in order to rob society of its outcasts by bringing them into the fold. Healing, casting out demons and raising the dead — this is all Jesus has ever done, and it unsheathes the sword of which he speaks in Matthew 10:34. Jesus is dying on his own “sword.” But the death that he risks and endures to point out the double-edged sword of our own desires, rivalries, and vengeance, the death that comes from exposing the truth and rendering our deceitful safety-nets false, cannot hold his Life.

The physical sword is a perversion of human justice. Those who wield it in the name of Jesus unknowingly wield it against him. Those who project their violence onto others in the name of “taking up the cross” actually turn the cross upside-down and render it a sword (as Emmanuel McCarthy of the Center for Christian Nonviolence would say). This is trying to make peace as the world makes peace, over the dead bodies of victims.

But thanks to Jesus, the victims of human violence can no longer create peace. Jesus has exposed that rotten foundation for what it is and used his “sword” to cut it out from under us. From the cross, Jesus destroyed our fragile “peace” and laid a new foundation — the foundation of forgiveness and love. Only this foundation is everlasting. Peace built upon the sword will perish, but peace built upon forgiveness cannot be conquered by death, as the resurrection has shown. We build upon this foundation whenever we recognize our violence for what it is and ask for forgiveness, and whenever we forgive others. As Jesus and his disciples following after him have shown, this peace isn’t “safe;” it is risky and at times costly. It calls upon us to forgive and perhaps absorb violence without violence of our own, though we must speak and act for peace, welcoming and healing as the Spirit gives us the power to do so. There is no guarantee that it won’t also cost us our lives. But in Jesus Christ we know that building upon this peace will reconcile us and the world to the God of Love in whom there is life everlasting.

Repent for Lent: Renewing Our Minds With Mimetic Theory – Introduction

 

Image from 123rf.com

Image from 123rf.com

Repent!

It’s a word Christians will probably hear a lot for the next 40 days as we settle into the liturgical season of Lent, following our Lord on the path to eternal life that lies beyond the wilderness of temptation and death. For many, this word rings of shame, fear, or maybe resentment. It can conjure images of an angry god pointing an accusatory finger and giving a final warning to us to cease some inscrutable sin before getting his smiting on. Yikes.

Actually, “repent” can more accurately be defined as “turn around,” and one of the most important ideas to turn from is this very notion that God is a fearsome, punishing deity. During the season of Lent, we are called to turn toward Jesus, to change our minds that they might better resemble his. The image of God that we see fully revealed in Jesus should change our perception of God from one who metes out punishment for innumerable obscure offenses to one who suffers our punishment and answers with mercy and love. While repentance involves facing the truth of our own sin, it does so only in the light of the forgiveness of Christ that we have already received. It is not a precursor to forgiveness, but a consequence of it.

Repentance is a new understanding of God and of ourselves. It is not a quick fix but a lifelong process, the gradual unclouding of our eyes as we live into the love we have already received. Reorienting ourselves according to this love loosens the chains of anxiety and arrogance that lock us into patterns of judgmental or unmerciful behavior. It is being yoked to Jesus to be turned in his direction as he transforms us into more perfect images of the God who is more wonderful than we dared imagine – pure light and love and life.

The slow leavening of the forgiveness of Christ permeating the world is gradually opening our eyes to the folly of our own judgment by revealing God-in-flesh as our forgiving victim. It was the revelatory power of the crucifixion, resurrection and forgiving love of Christ that allowed René Girard to articulate the victim mechanism and develop mimetic theory. Mimetic theory, in turn, provides critical perspective for my own process of repentance. Its anthropological and theological insights – that we are relational beings continually receiving our desires from one-another, leading to conflict, crisis, and scapegoating sacrifice – illuminate the life and mission of Jesus in profound ways.

This Lenten season, I would like to share my journey of repentance, of turning toward Jesus and being “transformed by the renewal of [my] mind” (Romans 12:2). Each Monday of this liturgical season, I’d like to explore some of the difficult scriptures concerning Jesus – especially those that, on the surface, appear violent or vengeful – in light of mimetic theory and the forgiveness of Christ. As I prayerfully repent, tuning my mind and heart toward Christ and sharing thoughts still in the process of being formed by God’s mercy, I hope to open some avenues for dialogue, either on this site or on our FB page. I can’t take your journey, but as relational creatures we can (and indeed must) travel some of the way together, and I believe we can bless each other along the way. So come, let us reason together!