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A Whole New World

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

Disney’s Aladdin is my daughter’s favorite “princess” movie…well currently…she always changes her mind. I also hear it is Adam Ericksen’s as well. And who can blame them, really? The film features Princess Jasmine, arguably the most gorgeous fictional animated character of all time (although I fancy her attire would not have been permitted given her cultural context). Plus, she is one courageous girl. She boldly stands up to the power structures; challenging the laws and mandates set forth by her father, the Sultan. She does not care about money or fortune, status or fame; but seeks true love, eventually even from a down and out “street-rat” named Aladdin. And speaking of Aladdin: how can one not root for an underdog like him? He has nobody and nothing—scraping together what he can just to survive. He is easy-pickings to be scapegoated by the people—unknown, poor, parent-less and downtrodden.

Agrabah, the Middle-Eastern setting for the film, is ruled with an iron fist. Commit petty theft and it’s “off with your hand”—literally! Sinister Jafar oversees police operations and has his cronies intimidatingly patrolling the streets looking to shake people down. Moreover, poor children roam the alleys, thankful even if they only get a few scrapes of bread. Certainly the Sultan—the “one-percent”—could kick down some of the lavish riches he has. Yet, he chooses to live in what appears to be a temple erected for self-worship. Because of this kind of society, struggling Aladdin finds himself in trouble with the law on more than one occasion. His trouble, however, will also include an unlikely encounter with royalty.

After prophetically releasing a group of white doves from her Father’s courtyard, Jasmine sneaks out of her palace home—clearing the walls for the very first time. Because of her ignorance to common society, she soon finds herself in a bit of trouble while at a bazaar, forcing street-wandering Aladdin to come to her rescue. In doing so, the two develop trust in each other; recognizing the shared desire to be free to be themselves—free from their current situation.

Aladdin—to be free from the oppressive socio-economic situation he is in.

Jasmine—to be free from the system of law she is under.

However, any budding relationship gets cut short by Jafar’s minions and Aladdin is arrested under the false charges of “kidnapping”. As we would find out, because of a prophecy that Aladdin was a “diamond in the rough”, and thus, worthy to acquire the lamp, this is all part of Jafar’s evil plan.

As a sorcerer, Jafar manifests himself as an elderly prisoner and slips Aladdin out a secret tunnel of the jail and toward a “cave of wonders” where this lamp is to be found. In exchange, Aladdin is promised riches beyond his wildest imagination. After turmoil in the cave, Aladdin is able to get the lamp to Jafar but Jafar does not live up to his end of the deal and shoves Aladdin into the cave and thus, trapping him inside. However, Aladdin’s side-kick Abu sneakily swipes the lamp from Jafar which leads to the introduction of “the Genie”.

While the Genie is able to use his magical powers to free Aladdin and his friends from the cave, they are also used to turn Aladdin into a “prince”, something Jasmine does not desire. Aladdin may have had good intentions in doing this—as he knew the law stated “the princess must marry a prince”—but his plan backfires when his false status goes to his head and Jasmine witnesses herself being treated as some “prize to be won”(Philippians 2:6). The Aladdin from the marketplace—the “nobody” in the eyes of society—is what Jasmine desired. He was humble and sincere: a romantic at heart. This “Prince Ali”, as he went by, was arrogant, flashy, and everything Jasmine despised in a man. This status Aladdin thought Jasmine desired was the very thing that initially kept them apart. It is not until some of Aladdin’s humility shines through later that night when Jasmine begins to show some trust in him (although he still is not fully honest with her as of yet).

After the two sail on a romantic magic carpet ride, all is looking up…for around 10 seconds. Shortly after Aladdin kisses Jasmine goodnight, Jafar captures Aladdin; nearly drowning him before the Genie can save his life. Shortly after, Aladdin exposes Jafar’s corruption to the Sultan and it seems like the case is closed. Jafar is guilty and headed for prison, maybe worse. However, being the sorcerer that he is, Jafar is able to break free from the guard’s restraints. Later that evening, Jafar’s right-hand parrot, Iago, is able to steal the Genie’s lamp—making the Genie subject to his new master, Jafar.

Jafar spends wish 1 & 2 on becoming sultan and “the most powerful sorcerer on earth”, using this new power to crush our hero’s hope. However, because of mimetic desire and Aladdin’s quick wit, Jafar is tricked into engaging into mimetic rivalry with the Genie…the very one he is manipulating for his evil plans. Aladdin’s plan to taunt Jafar—claiming he is second to the Genie in power—works brilliantly. Upon Jafar’s third wish; the wish to be the most powerful genie in the world, Jafar enslaves himself in his own “magic lamp” until someone should come along and free him. Jafar’s own desire to be the most powerful genie the world is the very cause of his enslavement.

When we enter into mimetic rivalry—when we desire power and to be over and above others—our fate is enslavement. In contrast, we discover freedom when we give of ourselves and lift others up. After Jafar is defeated, Aladdin uses his final wish to give the Genie his freedom. In doing so, Aladdin risked his chance at marrying Jasmine as they were still under the same archaic marriage law as before. However, because the Sultan witnesses the power of true love, he gives his daughter the gift of freedom—the freedom to love whom she pleases.

I applaud Disney for contrasting these two fates. Mimetic rivalry will always lead to conflict, violence, enslavement, and ultimately, death of some kind. However, the self-giving love of others is what sets us free—free to desire the same type of love our Papa has for us. This theme is prevalent throughout scripture. Jesus, in only doing what He saw His Father doing (John 5:19), was given up for us all (Romans 8:32). There is no greater gift than to be given freedom through Jesus Christ. Without it, our own desires, borrowed from the desires of others, will lead to our own enslavement. Thank God for the perfect Model out of this.

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.”

How Not to Scapegoat Tom Brady: Reflections on Deflate Gate

Tom Brady discussing Deflate Gate. (Screenshot from YouTube.)

Tom Brady discussing Deflategate. (Screenshot from YouTube.)

I have so many reasons to hate Tom Brady.

As I said after he beat my beloved Seahawks in the Super Bowl, I have one primary reason for hating him. My wife thinks he’s hot.

Yup. I hate Tom Brady.

But there’s another reason to hate Tom Brady. “Deflategate” is back in the news. The controversy centers on Patriot’s footballs being deflated after they were approved by NFL officials prior to the AFC championship game in January.

Brady has asserted his innocence, but an independent investigation found that “it is more probable than not” he was aware that the locker room attendant and equipment manager altered the footballs.

So, not only does my wife think Tom Brady is hot, he’s also a cheater.

I hate him.

Of course, there is some equivocation in the report. “More probable than not” isn’t a definitive answer. It’s actually quite a disappointing answer to those of us who want to hate Brady with a perfect hatred. The report leaves room for doubt. “Maybe he’s innocent,” the report says. “We can’t be sure.”

But my hatred of Brady was recently put into perspective by New York Times sports columnist Bill Rhoden, who appeared yesterday on CBS This Morning. Even though it’s “more probable than not” that Brady is a dirty cheater, Rhoden reminded me that my hatred of Brady for cheating is an act of scapegoating. Charlie Rose asked Rhoden, “So, what’s the worst thing about this?” Rhoden’s response was illuminating,

The worst thing about this is that a guy who’s on top of the world, who seems to have everything – great family, a legacy, Super Bowl – still feels so much pressure and the need to cheat. That’s what blows everybody away. You didn’t have to do this. Why does someone who seems to have everything need to cheat? And that speaks to a large societal problem. Why do people on Wall Street, why do people who seem to have all the money, need to have even more money?

This isn’t just about Tom Brady. As much as I may hate the guy, he and I have some things in common. Rhoden is pointing to a crisis that all humans face. No matter how successful we appear, we all face the same existential lack of being. I can have all the success and money in the world, but I will still feel an emptiness in my soul.

Why do we experience this lack of being? Because we are constantly comparing ourselves with others. This comparison leads us to believe that we aren’t enough, that we lack something within ourselves, and so we try to obtain something that will fill the void within our soul.

But we don’t just want to obtain “something.” We want something that another person has, or wants to have. The competitive nature of this dynamic means that we easily fall into the trap of lying and cheating our way to the top.

You don’t have to be an NFL quarterback or on Wall Street to be infected by this competitive trap caused by our lack of being. I experience it, and from my years of ministry and counseling, I can tell you that nearly everyone is tempted to fill the void by cheating.

So, Tom Brady isn’t alone. My hatred of him actually comes from my own lack of being. As with all of my scapegoats, I put him down so that I can feel better about myself.

So, how do we stop scapegoating people like Tom Brady? As Rhoden states, Brady’s cheating “speaks to a large societal problem.” This is bigger than Brady. This is about me. This is about you. This is about a society obsessed with success and comparison with others, which leads to a sense that we lack something within ourselves.

Fortunately, there is a solution to the lack of being that we experience. The solution involves a complete change of mind – what the Jesus and the Hebrew prophets called repentance. Instead of relating to others by competitively grasping for success over and against them, we can learn to “love our neighbor as we love ourselves.”

That feels like a death. And it is a kind of death. It’s a death to the old competitive way of life that leads us over and against our scapegoats. But that death leads to new life. It’s a new life based on joy and love. It’s based on living in a community that isn’t over and against one another, but that actually celebrates and mourns with one another. It’s based on the realization that any of us can find ourselves in situations where we are tempted by societal standards of success to cheat, and so we begin to empathize with those who do. We begin to forgive. And our hearts begin to move away from hatred and toward love.

Tale As Old As Time

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Disney’s Beauty and the Beast has all the ingredients needed for a great story–rivalry, conflict, an angry mob, a beautiful woman, and an eventual, yet unpredictable romance. In one “corner”, you have “the Beast” who, at one point was a handsome, yet frigid and egocentric prince. However, due to his selfishness, he has been transformed into a cursed, almost loveless monster. The  narrator even rhetorically asks, “who could ever learn to love a ‘beast?’” The obvious answer to this is, “no one.” In the other “corner” is every woman’s dream; handsome, capable, and patriarchal Gaston. Caught in between is Belle, the most beautiful girl in town. However, where there is beauty, there is also “otherness” (and not in a good way). The women of the town sing, “It’s a pity but a sin, she doesn’t quite fit in…very different from the rest of us is Belle.” The truth is, Belle is an intellectual with her “nose always in a book” as the townspeople say. For a town that worships Gaston’s patriarchy, any woman, no matter how attractive, can become an eventual victim due to her “otherness.” Within the first few minutes of the film, the stage is set for quite the thriller.

Early on, Gaston makes his intentions to Belle clear: he desires her hand in marriage. However, Belle sees right through Gaston’s shallowness, and brushes him aside. After doing so, Belle’s father, Maurice (yet another outsider according to the general consensus of the town’s people), is noticed tinkering around on his latest “invention”. Gaston’s abused and invalidated sidekick, LeFou, even goes-so-far as to label Maurice “crazy”. At this point in the story, three potential scapegoats have been identified: a “beast,” a “sinful” woman, and an “insane” elderly man. Potential will soon become actualization with the semblance of an angry mob. However, before that happens, our eventual scapegoats will meet in a chance encounter that will end up changing their lives forever.

When Maurice stumbles upon the Beast’s castle (under the same “curse” as the Beast himself), he witnesses the horrid psychological truth of what being an “outsider” of society does to someone. The Beast responds to his unannounced “guest” by promptly locking Maurice away, threatening him with “life in prison” for what we would simply deem “trespassing” (a cruel and unusual punishment indeed!). In his inhospitable treatment of Maurice, the Beast lives up to his name. However, when Belle shows up in search of her father (after spurning Gaston‘s advances yet again), the Beast is introduced to self-giving love when she offers herself to the Beast in exchange for her father’s freedom. For the first time in what probably seemed like forever, the Beast witnesses true humanness. Back at home, however, something was taking place that begins to coalesce the community against the very one whom Belle freed, namely, Maurice.

After his release from captivity, Maurice begs for the townspeople to come rescue Belle, which Gaston and the community interpret as nothing more than “crazy Maurice acting like he always does”. This time, however, Gaston sees his chance to use Maurice to manipulate Belle. Gaston hatches a scheme to have Maurice arrested for insanity if Belle does not marry him. Unbeknownst to him, Belle was with the Beast, who would quickly soften his ways.

Although Belle and the Beast’s relationship starts on shaky ground, they eventually begin to grow fond of each other. For the first time, we begin to see the human side of the Beast. Where once there was anger, disdain, and bitterness, now there is love, gentleness, and kindness propagating within him. However, the blossoming relationship gets cut off when Belle learns, through a magic mirror, that her father is lost in the woods and is in serious peril. When the Beast allows Belle to leave to attend to her father, he not only gives up the ability to become human again (as Belle’s kiss would have broken the curse), but discovers what it means to be “human” (in the giving up of one’s “self” for another).

After Belle rescues her father and brings him home, Gaston and the mob show up to unleash his master plan. However, after a third rejection, Gaston has had enough, and along with LeFou, begins to incite a riot. To prove her father’s sanity, Belle shows the image of the Beast in the magic mirror. Belle’s insistence that the Beast is kind incites Gaston’s jealousy as he notes the affection in her tone. He accuses Belle of being “as crazy as the old man.” In discrediting Belle by associating her with her father’s alleged lunacy for defending the Beast, Gaston manages to scapegoat all three at once and harden the mob against them. Once the angry mob witnesses the roaring Beast, all hell breaks loose. The hunt is on and nothing can stop the murderous frenzy. The song they sing while traveling to the Beast’s castle is a classic case of a frenzied mob which, with little modification, could have easily been sung at the Sanhedrin trial of Jesus.

[Gaston:] The Beast will make off with your children.
[Mob:] {gasp}
[Gaston:] He’ll come after them in the night.
[Belle:] No!
[Gaston:] We’re not safe till his head is mounted on my wall! I
Say we kill the Beast!
[Mob:] Kill him!
[Man I:] We’re not safe until he’s dead
[Man II:] He’ll come stalking us at night
[Woman:] Set to sacrifice our children to his monstrous appetite
[Man III:] He’ll wreak havoc on our village if we let him wander free
[Gaston:] So it’s time to take some action, boys
It’s time to follow me!
Through the mist
Through the woods
Through the darkness and the shadows
It’s a nightmare but it’s one exciting ride
Say a prayer
Then we’re there
At the drawbridge of a castle
And there’s something truly terrible inside
It’s a beast
He’s got fangs
Razor sharp ones
Massive paws
Killer claws for the feast
Hear him roar
See him foam
But we’re not coming home
‘Til he’s dead
Good and dead
Kill the Beast!
[Belle:] No! I won’t let you do this!
[Gaston:] If you’re not with us, you’re against us!
Bring the old man!
[Maurice:] Get your hands off me!
[Gaston:] We can’t have them running off to warn the creature.
[Belle:] Let us out!
[Gaston:] We’ll rid the village of this Beast. Who’s with me?
[Mob:] I am! I am! I am!)
Light your torch
Mount your horse
[Gaston:] screw your courage to the sticking place
[Mob:] We’re counting on Gaston to lead the way
Through a mist
Through a wood
Where within a haunted castle
Something’s lurking that you don’t see ev’ry day
It’s a beast
One as tall as a mountain
We won’t rest
‘Til he’s good and deceased
Sally forth
Tally ho
Grab your sword
Grab your bow
Praise the Lord and here we go!
[Mob:] We don’t like
What we don’t understand
In fact it scares us
And this monster is mysterious at least
Bring your guns
Bring your knives
Save your children and your wives
We’ll save our village and our lives
We’ll kill the Beast!

Although the mob is thwarted by the enchanted objects of the castle, Gaston is able to slip through the crowd; making his way up to the Beast. What he discovers is a hopeless and defeated Beast. With the loss of Belle, there was a loss of love, and thus, of life. However, once the Beast sees Belle running toward the castle, he is reinvigorated and begins to defend himself from Gaston’s assault. Because of the Beast’s overpowering strength, he is able to control Gaston, and has the opportunity to destroy him. However, the Beast is able to find his humanness and forces the evil within him out: choosing peace. Once mercifully released, Gaston does not return the favor and stabs the Beast in the back. In doing so, Gaston loses his footing and falls to his doom.

The final scene is a beautiful metaphor for the Gospel story. Although the Beast has the opportunity to easily wipe out Gaston (a la Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane), he chooses compassion and mercy. Because of this, he is brutally murdered. However, that is not the end of the story as Belle, who is the embodiment of love, resurrects the Beast and restores the castle and her staff (apokatastasis). Because of the Beast’s conversion to grace, he in essence allows his enemy to slay him; but because of love, the curse that had been in place for ages (aionios) is destroyed. As one who holds to the doctrine of universal reconciliation, this is a beautiful ending to the story.

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.”

Top 10 Ways Mimetic Theory Can Help Create Interfaith Empathy – A Panel Discussion

adam empathy 2I was delighted to be invited to an international discussion about creating more empathy between people of different religions. The panel consisted of a Christian (that was me!), an atheist, and three Muslims.

(You can watch the video by scrolling down.)

The producer of the panel was Edwin Rusch, who is the founding director for the Center for Building a Culture of Empathy. Edwin’s goal is to create “a worldwide culture of empathy and compassion.” Through articles and videos, the website explores the arts, sciences, religion, and much more.

Sheima Salam Summer brought the panel together. I was introduced to Sheima about a year ago through our mutual friend, Lindsey Paris-Lopez. Lindsey suggested that I read Sheima’s book How to Be a Happy Muslims. As I state in the video, it’s a wonderful book that has taught me to be a happier Christian. I’m grateful for Sheima’s friendship, her book, and her blogging at howtobeahappymuslim.com.

Our other panelists were my new Muslim friends Amal Damaj and Eric Abdulmonaim Merkt. Amal enjoys studying the Quran and discovering connections between some of its verses and modern research findings in science and sociology. Abdulmonaim is a Sufi Muslim. He has a master’s degree in religion and a degree in philosophy.

I brought René Girard and mimetic theory into the discussion. Although not always explicit, I soon discovered that the principles of mimetic theory were permeating our discussion. So, from the conversation, I decided to make a top 10 list of the ways that that mimetic theory can help foster empathy across our religious and atheist traditions:

  1. Girard’s mimetic theory, and the recent discovery of mirror neurons, help us better understand empathy as a natural process, but that there are positive and negative aspects to it. For example, in the same way we can imitate a smile, we can imitate a scowl.
  2. The Judeo-Christian-Islamic tradition leads us to empathize in a positive way with the poor, weak, marginalized, and scapegoats of human culture.
  3. Atheism’s empathy comes from underlying values in our common humanity.
  4. Islam’s empathy is based on receiving the abundant mercy of God who has infinite empathy for creation.
  5. Christianity’s empathy is based on God in Jesus walking in human shoes/sandals. Since we recorded the discussion during Holy Week, I discussed Jesus empathizing with our pain and suffering on Good Friday.
  6. Empathy can help us overcome the scapegoat mechanism.
  7. To “know thy self” is to “know thy self” in relationship to others.
  8. The function of Satan the Accuser plays a similar role in Judaism, Christianity, and Islam – to encourage us to mimic the satanic accusation against our scapegoats.
  9. We can avoid creating an identity “over-and-against” another group by creating an identity that is “with” another group.
  10. Creating interfaith empathy and an identity that is “with” another group can be fostered by bringing people together to work for a common good. This is a form of positive mimesis and empathy. Eboo Patel’s Interfaith Youth Core is a good example.

We talked about so much more! I’d love to know if this discussion stirred up any comments or questions for you about empathy in relation to mimetic theory or interfaith dialogue. Please leave your comments below!

Happily Ever After

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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.

Happy Presidents Day! – On Mimetic Theory and How I Lost Political Ambition

Like many children growing up in the US, I had dreams of becoming the President. My political career got off to a pretty good start. In high school, I was Freshman Class President, Junior Class President, and then Student Body President my senior year. During college, I was involved in the Student Senate and my senior year I was the Vice President of the Student Body.

I was well on my way to becoming President of the United, don’t you think? And when I turned 35 last year, I made it Facebook official and announced my candidacy for the President of the United States.

#EricksenClinton2016

It’s a hashtag, so it’s gotta be true.

But then I read this passage about political leaders from René Girard’s book Violence and the Sacred,

The king reigns only by virtue of his future death; he is no more and no less than a victim awaiting sacrifice, a condemned man about to be executed.

So, I’m rethinking my political ambitions…

Girard was specifically talking about ancient kings, who were paradoxically revered and demonized. Girard claims that all human institutions, including political institutions, emerge from the “scapegoat mechanism.” To summarize, Girard postulates that whenever conflicts began to threaten ancient peoples, they would find cohesion by uniting against a sacrificial victim. This victim was the group’s scapegoat. He or she was blamed for all the group’s conflicts and was then sacrificed. The violent sacrifice created a temporary sense of peace, but conflicts would soon re-emerge and the scapegoat mechanism was re-enacted.

The sacrificial victim was demonized as the cause of conflict, but after the sacrifice, the victim was venerated at the cause of peace. Hence the paradox of the scapegoat being revered and demonized. As Wolfgang Palaver writes in his book René Girard’s Mimetic Theory,

The sacrificial victim…is marked by double transference; it is viewed initially as absolutely evil, that is, as responsible for the plight that has descended on the given society, and retroactively as absolutely benevolent, i.e, as a harbinger of peace that has rescued the community from its plight.

Ancient kingship emerged from the sacrificial scapegoat mechanism. Palaver states that the group’s future sacrificial victim was infused with prestige as a “harbinger of peace” and that “It is not uncommon in primitive cultures that the victim chosen for ritual sacrifice is granted the highest social privileges before its impending murder.”

The highest social privilege involved political rule, but that privilege came with a cost. Our ancient ancestors weren’t stupid; they knew the sacrificial cost kingship. Palaver points out that many ancient people were unwilling to take political roles and that many kings were “forced with violence to take on the position.” Why? Because kings were blamed for any problems that plagued the community and thus were always potential, if not nearly always, sacrificial victims. “This fear of being appointed a king is not unfounded,” states Palaver, “in many cultures, kings were simply killed if they were unable to overcome crises such as droughts or bad harvests.”

Fortunately, we moderns don’t tend to kill our political rulers, which is good progress, but we are moved by the same scapegoating dynamic as our ancestors. Presidents act as cultural lightning rods for adoration during times of prosperity and hatred during times of crisis.

During those times of cultural crisis, we can find cohesion if there is one person we can blame, let’s say…a president. The Founding Fathers of the United States knew this. Thus, they made sure that the executive branch was occupied by one person. Palaver highlights Alexander Hamilton, a founding father of the US and one of the most important original interpreters of the US Constitution. Hamilton believed that executive power must remain, as much as possible, with one person “so that the people can attribute the mistakes of the government to a single responsible individual.” Hamilton argued that this would make it possible, “to determine on whom the blame or the punishment of a pernicious measure, or a series of measures, ought really to fall.”

So, thanks to my friends René Girard and Wolfgang Palaver, I no longer dream of being president. I do, however, have greater respect for anyone who takes on the role of future scapegoat president.

So, Hillary, you can have it.

Top 5 Ways to Be More Peaceful in 2015

At 35, I discovered years ago that New Year’s resolutions are a practice in failure. By January 15, I haven’t lost any weight, I keep swearing, I’ve stopped flossing my teeth, and I haven’t learned any new recipes…but I can still make a pretty mean batch of Top Ramen.

Here’s another resolution I’m going to fail – be more peaceful. That’ll last until about 12:15 am on January 1st. But if you’re like me, you know that the biggest problem facing our world is violence in all its forms – physical, spiritual, economic, emotional, and ecological violence are killing us and the planet. It’s as if humanity is addicted to violence, which means that if there’s one resolution worth keeping, it’s to become more peaceful.

So, to help us become more peaceful in 2015, here are my top 5 ways to have a more peaceful 2015:

5. Admit that you are a violent person.

Are you offended yet? Well don’t worry. The first step in overcoming any addiction is to honestly admit that you have one. So, if you find yourself protesting, “What a jerk! I’m not violent! I’m a peaceful person!” you know you have violent streak. And here’s the thing: that’s okay. We all have a violent streak. As someone who promotes nonviolence, I can be provoked to violence pretty easily. I often feel like the theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas when he said, “I say I’m a pacifist because I am a violent son of a bitch…But by avowing it, I create expectations within others that hopefully will help me live faithfully to what is true. But that I have no confidence in my own ability to live it at all.”

4. Be aware of the scapegoat mechanism

The scapegoat mechanism is the reason I have no confidence in my own ability to be faithful to peace. As explained by René Girard, the violent scapegoat mechanism is everywhere in human culture. Scapegoating is blaming someone else for our problems. When two people experience tensions in their relationship they unite against a scapegoat. Scapegoating another makes them feel like their relationship is tighter. They create a bond by teaming up against their scapegoat. And once they have dealt with their common enemy, they feel a sense of peace. But that peace is only temporary because blaming someone else for our problems never actually solves our problem. The scapegoat mechanism runs every aspect of our lives. Its violence permeates our families, neighborhoods, workplace, religious institutions, economics, and politics. So, if you are serious about becoming a more peaceful person, become aware of the scapegoat mechanism. Notice it and name it. And then stop participating in it.

3. Know the relationship between war and peace and justice

Did you ever read War and Peace? Me neither. I hear it’s great…But I can tell you that war never leads to lasting peace. Oh, sure. War gives us a temporary sense of peace. Attempting to kill our enemies makes us feel like we are making the world a safer place. But if there’s anything we should learn from the last 14 years of the “War on Terror,” it’s that war only creates more enemies. But our “enemies” aren’t the real problem. As the Paul wrote 2,000 years ago, “Our struggle is not against enemies of the flesh and blood, but against…the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil.” The way to lasting peace isn’t to kill flesh and blood; it’s to struggle against “the spiritual forces of evil.” And the only way to struggle against those forces is to work for justice. Peace can only be achieved through justice. Not a justice based on retaliation, but a justice that seeks to heal. The Hebrew prophets and Jesus were obsessed with making sure everyone’s basic needs were met. The prophets claimed that if the nation didn’t care for the weak, vulnerable, and marginalized – those who were scapegoated – that the nation would fall. Jesus gave free food to crowds of poor people. He even provided free health care to people! The way of justice modeled by the prophets and by Jesus is a justice that heals and leads to peace.

2. Blessed are the peacemakers and forgivers

Jesus said that peacemakers are blessed. Jesus had a very specific way of making peace and it had nothing to do with scapegoating or killing people. He knew that killing people would only strengthen the scapegoating process and never deal with the actual problem, which is violence. But here’s the obvious problem: Jesus was killed. And his death wasn’t very peaceful. Yet, Jesus was right. Peacemakers are blessed because they unmask the violent powers of evil. They reveal that violence and scapegoating only leads to more violence and scapegoating. As René Girard states in his book Violence and the Sacred, “Evil and the violent measures to combat evil are essentially the same.” But the powers don’t like to be expose. People who are blinded and seduced by those powers don’t respond kindly to peacemakers. Know that by following Jesus and becoming a peacemaking you will be blessed by God, but you are likely to be cursed by others. As you expose the violence of the scapegoating mechanism, family and friends who are enthralled to the mechanism may turn against you. And that’s okay. You don’t hold it against them because you know they are enthralled to the mechanism. You are blessed because you know that you are too. (See number 1.) And because you are aware of your own tendency to scapegoat, you can forgive others for theirs.

1. Love and forgive your neighbor as you love and forgive yourself

Love is fundamental to being more peaceful. But let’s face it, love is hard. I find it especially hard to love myself. I beat myself up for not being good enough, smart enough, popular enough, or peaceful enough. I fail in so many ways. I gave up New Year’s resolutions years ago because it only confirmed the fact that I’m a total failure. And this resolution to be more peaceful? Not a chance. But Jesus and the Hebrew priest of Leviticus tell us to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. But it’s hard. I’m aware that I’m going to fail at love and so are my neighbors. And that’s okay. Failure is part of being human. So be gentle on yourself and on your neighbors. When we fail, when we get caught up in the violent scapegoat mechanism, we don’t have to beat ourselves up. Rather, we can receive those blessed words from Jesus, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” We can receive God’s forgiveness and offer that forgiveness to others. In Jesus we find that forgiveness and justice, not violence, are the way to peace.

Those are my top 5 ways to be more peaceful in 2015. Let me know what you would add. May you have a peaceful 2015!

*Make another resolution to like the Raven Foundation Facebook page! And ask your friends to join as we make a commitment to peace in 2015.

Book Feature Friday: Changing Our Mind – Leading Evangelical Ethicist Calls for Full Inclusion

David Gushee, author of "Changing Our Mind"

David Gushee, author of “Changing Our Mind”

REPENT!

Do shivers run down your spine when you hear that word? Well, there’s no getting around it – repent is an important biblical word. But as opposed to emphasizing how horrible we sinners are, the word simply means “Change your mind.” So, what happened when the leading American Evangelical ethicist repents? He asked the whole Church to change its mind, too.

That’s what David Gushee has done in his latest book, Changing Our Mind: A Call From America’s Leading Evangelical Ethics Scholar for Full Acceptance of LGBTQ Christians in the Church. Gushee challenges the Church (yes, capital C) to repent and change its mind to fully accept the LGBTQ community. And, of course, Gushee means more than the Catholic Church. Gushee’s call is bigger than changing our individual minds. Gushee claims that he titled the book, Changing Our Mind, “because I believe the question that matters is whether the collective mind of the Church universal can and ought to change.

I agree with Gushee that the Church needs to change its mind. Why? So that the Church can be the Church!

Much has been said about the Church dying in American. I believe that as long as the Church is involved in scapegoating, bullying, and excluding a certain segment of humanity, the Church deserves to die because it’s not being the Church.

Why do I make such a radical claim? Because the Church is the Body of Christ. If the Church doesn’t act like Christ, if it uses religious laws to exclude and marginalize people as opposed to include and love them, then it has no business calling itself “Church” because it is not acting as the Body of Christ. As Gushee claims,

…if what we are talking about is carving out space for serious committed Christians who happen to be gay or lesbian, to participate in society as equals, in church as kin, and in blessings and demands of covenant on the same terms as everyone else, I now think that has nothing to do with cultural, ecclesial and moral decline, and everything to do with treating people the way Christ did.

The reason that full inclusion of LGBTQ community in the church is the biggest hot button issue of our day is because the theological stakes are high. I believe that those on different sides of this issue actually believe in different gods. One side believes in a god who justifies sacrifice and exclusion. The other side believes in a God who desires mercy and inclusion.

Gushee knows that Jesus changes our understanding of God on a fundamental level. He claims that, “…for the early Jewish and then Gentile Christians, their transformative encounter with Jesus led them to a huge paradigm shift, so huge it is better to call it a paradigm leap.” Jesus calls us to repent of our understanding of God as being violent and exclusionary. For many of us who grew up with an understanding of a violent and wrathful god, this repentance requires a paradigm leap in our understanding of the true nonviolent God of love revealed in Jesus. Because of Jesus, this leap means that Christians should not use God, or biblical verses, to justify excluding others from our midst.

Gushee explains this paradigm leap by referring to Acts 10. Peter believed that religious principles claimed that “it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile.” Peter used religious justifications to exclude Gentiles from being fully included into the religious community. But God would have not of that. In a vision, Peter saw a large sheet fall from heaven. On the sheet were all kinds of animals that his religious tradition told him not to eat. But God led Peter on a paradigm shift by saying, “Get up, Peter; kill and eat.” Peter replied, “By no means, Lord; for I have never eaten anything that is profane or unclean.” God then said, “What God has made clean, you must no call profane.” Apparently, Peter was pretty dense because Luke, the author of Acts, tells us that God had to tell Peter this “three times, and [then] the thing was suddenly taken up to heaven.”

But Peter repented. He changed his mind. Of course, that story is about so much more than food. For Peter, it was about full inclusion of those whom he previously thought should never be fully included – the Gentiles. In fact, God was telling Peter that using religious principles, even biblical verses, to exclude another segment of humanity from full inclusion into God’s community is to work against the will of God. And make no mistake, when anyone uses religious principles and biblical verses to exclude the LGBTQ community from full inclusion into the Church they are working against the will of God.

And yet, what about those biblical passages? It’s important to note that Gushee intimately knows the biblical arguments against including the LGBTQ community because he has made those arguments in the past. He formulates that biblical argument like this:

Genesis 1-2 + Genesis 19 + Leviticus 18:22/20:13 + Judges 19 + Matthew 19:1-12/Mark 10:2-12 + Romans 1:26-27 + 1 Corinthians 6:9/1 Timothy 1:10 [+ Ephesians 5:22-33 and all other biblical references  to sex and marriage assuming or depicting male + female] = a clear ban on same-sex relationships.

Gushee used to believe that formula was valid, but no longer does. He takes each passage and explores them from their literary, historical, and cultural context and concludes that the Bible is not talking about same-sex relationships in the sense that we talk about loving and committed same-sex relationships. Gushee does an excellent job of deconstructing the use of those verses to justify excluding same sex relationships from full inclusion in the church.

But more to the point are Gushees personal stories about his friendships with people who identify as LGBT. Because of those relationships he has discovered that “The fact that traditionalist Christian teaching produces despair in just about every gay or lesbian person who must endure is surely very relevant information for the LGBT debate.”

When “The Good News” produces despair in anyone, it is no longer Good News. When the Church spreads despair to a certain segment of humanity, telling them that they are second class citizens at best and shamefully disordered human beings at worst, the Church deserves to die.

That’s why it is so important for the Church to listen to Gushee’s words. The Church must repent and change its mind to fully include the LGBT community and all people who experience scapegoating and exclusion, or it will fail in its divine mission to participate in the Good News of God’s reconciliation of the world.

Violence Nevermore!

Image from winteriscoming.net

Image from winteriscoming.net

Happy Halloween, Dear Friends! Tonight, for a spooky edition of Book Feature Friday, I decided to do things a little differently. As it is Halloween, my article tonight is going out in costume — disguised as a parody of the original Raven by model-obstacle  famous master of poetic horror, Edgar Allen Poe. Just have fun with it friends; it’s my “treat” for you this Halloween!

Once upon a midnight dreary
I woke pondr’ing mimetic theory –
How we imitate each other and role models gone before –
Patterns of human behavior,
And our deep need for a savior
From the violence we savor
That consumes us all the more.
As we compete for our desires with each other more and more
Are we doomed forevermore?

From infancy we form obsessions
With our parents’ prized possessions,
Such that it’s my phone and kindle, more than toys, my girls adore.
My actions for them will inspire
Their own acts, so I aspire
To make sure that I desire
Things and goals worth striving for
My kids are watching all the while, of this one thing I am sure:
I’m their model evermore.

And this human form of learning
From each other has us yearning,
Coveting the things of others, on TV or in the store
More than just for things, we’re aching
For identity, mistaking
Goods and wealth for self, forsaking
What we should be living for:
To love and serve each other should be all that we are living for,
Be our mission evermore.

Yet we find ourselves competing
On and on without retreating
‘Til in anger self-defeating, we find ourselves in all-out war.
Coveting in our hearts creates
Violence that escalates
In cycles that perpetuate
Evermore and evermore
Violence keeps coming back round through that e’re revolving door
Evermore and evermore.

From Cain and Abel, rival brothers,
The virus quickly spreads to others
Jealousy turns lethal, righteous anger ends in gore.
Violent acts keep on compounding
Til the whole wide world is drowning,
Can mercy, too, be so abounding?
Can we hope to find a cure?
From our brutal, warring madness, surely we must find a cure
Or keep searching evermore.

Yet our violence seems abated
When we unify our hatred
Against a single victim we find easy to abhor.
We’re not at each others’ throats
As long as we have our scapegoats
But this short-lived antidote
Just hides our sickness all the more
When we think that we are righteous, we’re deluded all the more
And no better than before.

Whole societies and cultures
Feed off sacrifice like vultures
Never seeing human beings in the ones whom we deplore.
Mob-like, gathering in alliance
To pour out our wrath and violence
On some victim whom we silence,
To be heard from nevermore
Victim purged, we find catharsis; fragile peace has been restored,
Truth is sacrificed once more.

Scripture tells the bloody story,
How we think we see God’s glory
In the sacrifice of others and the victories of war.
Though we’re caught up in believing
In our violence so deceiving,
Looking down, Our Father’s grieving,
Pitying us all the more.
When time was ripe He came among us, His good image to restore,
Reconcile us evermore.

Seeing violence in God’s name and
Grieving for us, Jesus came and
In the form of humble servant, took his place among the poor.
Joining prostitutes for dinner,
Healing lepers, calling sinners,
He stood not among the winners,
But our outcasts he restored.
‘Til authorities and powers couldn’t take him any more.
Vowing vengeance swift and sure.

Against him former foes united
Herod the King and Pontius Pilate
Whipped and stripped and body broken, thorns upon his head so sore
Mob and leaders vilified him,
Followers betrayed, denied him
Human malice crucified him,
But God raised him up once more!
In the Vindicated Victim, we see God as ne’er before
Off’ring mercy evermore!

When the words of peace were spoken,
Then the curse of hate was broken
Sins are healed by forgiveness, not by sacrifice and gore
What a friend we have in Jesus
Seeing others as he sees us
From our violence he frees us
From our senseless rush to war
Only love can break the cycle that leads us on and on to war
On and on forevermore.

In Jesus Christ we fin’ly see that
God could never ever be that
Genocidal tyrant once more dreaded than adored.
By death and hate no longer blind,
We put on Jesus’ heart and mind
And guided by his grace we find
New life, new love, new hope restored.
Freed from jealousy and greed, at last to God we are restored.
Ever and forevermore.

This mimetic theory tells us:
When fickle desire compels us
To fight each other for the things our culture tells us to fight for,
If we live instead for others
Give to sisters and to brothers
And be not fighters, no, but lovers
The world can be whole once more
With Jesus as our human model, our world can be whole once more.
Of this truth we can be sure.

Who coined this theory? Why Girard did
And that’s why he is regarded
As one who makes us see our world, our faith, ourselves, as never before
The insights we gain from his reading
Of the scriptures has us pleading,
“Stop the sacrificial bleeding
For we can afford no more!”
No more sacrifice and violence, there cannot be any more!
This we must work to ensure.

This nonviolent hermeneutic
That we find so therapeutic
Applies not only to our scripture, but to our lives all the more.
From politics to parenting
We keep on finding the same thing:
The insight from Girard can bring
Us closer, closer to the cure
From our bitter warring madness, God’s love is our only cure
Girard just helps us see it more.

Here at the Raven Foundation
We work on proliferation
Of mimetic insights, to spread peace from shore to shore
Exposing violent tendencies,
Reducing our dependencies
On scapegoats and enemies;
Won’t you join us, we implore?
Take Christ as your mimetic model, we emphatically implore
To make violence nevermore!