sharing god

The Truth about God and Interfaith Relationships

Can we share God?

Because for many of us, God is something that we refuse to share. In fact, human history shows that we will fight over God. God, after all, is truth. And we all like to think that we hold the Truth. But what happens when others claim that they hold the Truth about God? We get caught in a rivalry, even killing over who possesses the Truth.

But believing that we hold the truth about God is to turn God into an idol. That’s because we don’t hold the truth about God. None of us hold the truth about God. Rather, God holds the truth about us. And, according to Jews, Christians, and Muslims living in Long Island, NY, the truth is that God holds us in the spirit of love, justice, and service.

Members of these three major world religions come together at Brookville Church to share sacred space. Brookville’s slogan is “Where our doors are always open.” Indeed, the church’s doors are open to Jews and Muslims. But they do much more than simply use the church building as a place of worship. At Brookville Church, Jews, Christians, and Muslims intentionally build friendships with one another. They learn from one another, they serve their community with one another, and they care for one another.

It’s a radical experiment, especially when we consider that leading presidential candidates are proposing to ban Muslim immigrants from entering the United States and they are proposing to force police to patrol Muslim neighborhoods. Those candidates are the most vocal about their faith in God, but they worship an idol. They worship a god that erects political systems of fear, exclusion, and death.

But the true God of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam doesn’t lead to fear, exclusion, and death. The true God leads to relationships like those formed at Brookville Church. The true God subverts the politics of fear, exclusion, and death. The true God transforms our relationships from rivalry into love.

In doing so, they show that they don’t hold the truth, but that the truth holds them.

Image: Flickr, Destination God, Hatim Kaghat, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

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Atheism and Religious Violence: Should Religion Be Expelled or Redeemed?

Many atheists argue that religion is a massive problem in our world. Since religion is the cause of major conflicts and violence, we would be much better off if we expelled religion from our midst.

As a Christian, it may surprise you that I think there’s a lot of merit to this atheist critique of religion. And René Girard helps us understand why.

Religion and violence have always been connected. “Violence and the sacred are inseparable,” wrote Girard in his book Violence and the Sacred. They are inseparable because religion solved the most urgent problem the facing primitive societies – their own violence.

Girard’s anthropology states that before religion formed in the ancient world, the greatest danger facing our early ancestors was their own violence against each other. Conflictual violence could not be contained and a war of all against all threatened our ancestors with extinction.

For Girard, the disease was violence. Just like modern medicine, the cure was found in the disease. Violence that threatened the community was channeled onto a single victim, who was violently sacrificed. Where there was once conflict that threatened the community, there was now peace that came from violently uniting against a common enemy. Whom Girard calls the scapegoat.

But the peace was only temporary. Conflicts re-emerged, violence threatened the community, and another scapegoat was sacrificed. The sacrifice was ritualized and religion was born.

I want you to notice the human aspect of religion. You don’t need God to explain religion, in fact, theology often gets in the way of understanding archaic religion. Religion didn’t emerge from the gods. They emerged anthropologically – from human violence. Religion in the form of sacrificial rituals solved the problem of human violence that threatened the community. Without sacrificial religion, says Girard, our ancestors never would have survived.

The scapegoat stands as a substitute for the community. Girard calls this the “surrogate victim.” The sacrifice underlies all of human culture. It seeks to expel a common enemy. Girard states that sacrifice is the “mechanism that assures the community’s spontaneous and unanimous outburst of opposition to the surrogate victim” (Violence and the Sacred, 300).

This is the irony – archaic sacrificial religions seek to expel a scapegoat, someone who is blamed for the violent problems facing the community. Archaic religion seeks to expel the scapegoat. But the modern propensity to expel religion is itself a religious act. Again, Girard,

Human beings are soon moved to make religion itself into a new scapegoat, failing to realize once more that the violence is theirs. To expel religion is, as always, a religious gesture—as much so today when the sacred is loathed and abhorred as in the past when it was worshipped and adored. (Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, 32).

We owe a great debt to archaic religions of sacrifice. They saved our ancestors from extinction, but they did so by doing a terrible thing – killing a scapegoat. The community truly believed that their scapegoat was guilty of causing all the problems that it faced. The people believed the sacrifice was good and necessary to protect the community from evil. In this way, modern atheists and secularists who want to expel religion are run by the same scapegoating principle as archaic religions. They scapegoat religion, not realizing that the real threat is not some evil other, be it a person or a religion. The real threat is our own scapegoating violence.

Indeed, to expel religion is just another violent religious act. The question is, can religion help us transform our sacrificial violence into something that will lead to lasting peace?

Girard distinguishes between archaic religions that sacrifice a scapegoat and the revealed religions of Judaism and Christianity. Instead of sacrificing scapegoats, these religions begin a process of caring for scapegoats. The story in Genesis where Abraham nearly sacrifices his son Isaac is about this move away from sacrificial violence. Instead of sacrificing humans, the ancient Hebrews moved to sacrificing animals. Sure, PETA would have a fit, but it was a radical move away from sacrificial religions.

In the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, we find the complete reversal of the sacrificial formula. Instead of someone sacrificing another, we find someone who is willing to be sacrificed by his fellow humans to show them the way of peace. The early Christians identified Jesus as the Suffering Servant. Jesus said, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives.”

The world gives peace by violently sacrificing another, but Jesus gives peace by living a life of nonviolent love. It’s a love that extends even to his enemies. Instead of sacrificing another, Jesus allowed himself to be sacrificed. He became the scapegoat of the crowd. He was sacrificed by the political and religious authorities. He took religious violence upon himself so that he could redeem our religions and show us a better way of being religious.

That better way of being religious is defined in the New Testament by the epistle of James as this, “Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world” (1:27).

If Girard is right, then the world is fueled by the archaic religious impulse to sacrifice a scapegoat in the name of peace. That impulse is what unites all cultures, but it doesn’t lead to lasting peace. In fact, in a world with weapons of mass destruction, that impulse could lead to an apocalyptic destruction of our own making.

Religion that is pure is religion that keeps us unstained by the world’s involvement in scapegoating. Instead of scapegoating, God the Father reveals that pure religion leads us to acts of nonviolent love that seek to care for the scapegoats of our world.

For more on religion and sacrifice, see Patheos’s Public Square conversation – The Sacrifice: Religions and the Role of the Scapegoat.

Photo: Flickr, James Quinn, “Beware of God,” Creative Commons License, some changes made.

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Clearing the Confusion about God, Transgender, and Bathrooms

I’m going to be honest with you. I’m confused – and I know that many of my fellow cisgender male friends are confused, too. I even hesitate to use that word … cisgender … it’s so new to me. I think it means someone who identifies with the gender they were given at birth. At any rate, I identify as a male, which aligns with the gender I was assigned at birth, which makes me cisgender.

Now that I’ve cleared that up … let me clear up another part of the confusion for my cisgender friends: We are the ones confused. My transgender and fluid gender friends aren’t confused about their gender. For them, once they claim a transgender or a fluid gender identity, it’s like coming home.

So, what should we do with our confusion? First, let me tell you what we shouldn’t do. We shouldn’t create legislation that prohibits the transgender community from using bathrooms of the gender they identify with. We shouldn’t go along with that legislation because the logic is demonically flawed. That’s right. I said demonically flawed. As Erin Wathen points out in her brilliant article “10 Things Scarier Than a Trans Person in Your Bathroom,” the logic is that our women and children will be put in danger by transgender women using the woman’s room.

But here’s the thing. Do you know how many times a transgender person has attacked someone in a bathroom? 0. That’s right. It’s never happened. Ever.

The transgender community is being labeled as violent sexual predators. Whatever our confusion about the transgender community might be, we cannot stand by while the transgender community is falsely labeled as sexual predators. Let’s clear the air of any confusion; where the transgender community pees is not a “public safety issue.” If cisgender men want to have a real conversation about the safety of women, then as Erin says, let’s talk about rape at college campuses. “Let’s talk about the military. Let’s talk about football players and domestic violence. Let’s talk about a culture that worships masculinity, objectifies women and glorifies violence—all adding up to a pervading world of male entitlement that is, always and everywhere, a danger to your wives and daughters.”

Some might think this is male bashing. But it’s not. It’s evidence that we are dealing with scapegoating, which is a satanic mechanism that assigns blame onto an innocent victim. The Hebrew word “satan” means “accuser.” The accusation that the transgender community poses a threat is absurdly, satanically, false. The transgender community poses no threat. They are not the violent ones they are being made out to be. In fact, 2015 “set a record number of transgender murders.” I’m not confused about this point – the transgender community doesn’t pose a violent threat to anyone peeing in a bathroom.

Scapegoating protects accusers from the painful task of owning up to their own guilt. Cisgender males don’t know what to do about our violence against women, so we project guilt upon the harmless and largely defenseless transgender community, who tragically have been victimized by others, including cisgender men. They experience constant threats of violence, exclusion from their families and their religious institutions. And now we’re debating about which bathrooms to exclude them from because they are the threat?

But here’s what cisgender people should do with our confusion. Realize that our confusion is about us, not about transgender people.

One of the most shameful parts of this whole debate is that it’s mostly Christians who are leading the crusade against transgender people. As a Christian, I feel compelled to speak up. This is not what Christianity is about.

Jesus destroyed the barriers that divided people so that they could find reconciliation. Gender even played a role in this. The closest we get to our modern concept of transgender in the Bible is the eunuch. There was a religious law that relegated eunuchs to outsider status.

But other aspects of the Hebrew Bible sought to include eunuchs into the religious community. Jesus, as always, stood within the tradition that sought to include those who were marginalized by religious laws. He brought eunuchs into his community, saying, “For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by others, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuch for the sake of the kingdom of heaven.”

Someone will protest, “But eunuchs and transgender are not the same thing!” That may be true, but look in the Bible and you will never find the word “transgender.” But you will find gender variant “others” who generated a confused, violent, and scapegoating response from the community. The point is this: What did Jesus do with people who were born with a gender variant? Whereas a religious law excluded them from full participation in the community, Jesus included them as full members into his band of followers, the very people through whom Jesus founded the church.

One of Jesus’ disciples, Philip, baptized an Ethiopian eunuch into the early Christian community. And Peter, the rock upon whom Jesus built the church, received the message from God that he “should not call anyone profane or unclean,” saying “I truly know that God shows no partiality.”

Philip may have been confused. Heck, Peter was always confused! But he didn’t let that confusion block him from the truth that – no matter what religious laws said – he shouldn’t call anyone profane or unclean.

So, to my cisgender friends, we may be confused, but God isn’t. God shows no partiality. God doesn’t care where his beloved transgender children go to the bathroom. And neither should we.

Image: Flickr, Samir Luther, “All Gender Restroom Sign,” Creative Commons License, some changes made.

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Would You Stand With Mary? Musings on the Death Penalty

Editor’s Note:  This article, submitted by guest author Andrew Robinson, first appeared on his blog Musings of a Peaceful Warrior.

The mother stands with tears streaming down her face. The sobs have stopped now. She is no longer wailing, for she knows her son’s fate is sealed. Still, however, she cannot stop the tears from flowing freely from her eyes. She no longer has any hope of holding the hand which once fit completely inside of hers. She no longer has hope of kissing the lips that once pulled sustenance from her breast. She understands that her son’s life is about to be taken. Will you stand with her?

She is convinced that her son is innocent, despite the majority opinion that he deserves to die. Will you stand with her? She has resigned herself to the fact that she will never be able to prepare her son his favorite meal again, but she cannot resign herself to the belief that her son is worthy of the penalty he is about to pay. Will you stand with her? Will you stand with Mary as her son asks that His Father forgive us? Would you have stood with her?

I am sure most of us would say that we would have stood with Mary. We would say that because we have the advantage of hindsight on our side. We know, in the twenty-first century, that Jesus was innocent. We also know that there have been many people wrongfully executed in our nation. Perhaps you read that last sentence and thought to yourself, “Many is a relative word.” I would agree with you. My question would be, how many innocent lives is too many to pay to keep our vengeance alive? One? Five? Twenty? More?

The example above that I gave came out of a meeting I had recently with Jason Redick, who is the North Texas outreach coordinator for the Texas Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. In my meeting with him he showed me many different perspectives on the evils of capital punishment which I had never considered before. None, however, were more powerful to me than the question, “would you have stood with Mary.”

Let us set the scene. Picture yourself as a 1st century Jewish man or woman. Perhaps you had heard stories of this man named Jesus. Let us imagine you had never met Him. You possibly would have heard some stories from some people that He has great power and has been able to heal people of various illnesses. However, your local Rabbi and priest tell no such stories. When His name is mentioned in their presence they refer to him as a troublemaker, a drunkard, a glutton, a sinner and worst of all, a blasphemer. You are not quite sure what to make of this man but whatever He is doing does not directly impact you so you do not give it much thought.

Then you are visiting the temple during Passover. This is the most holy time on your calendar. For an American, think the combination of Easter, Christmas and the 4th of July altogether. As you approach the temple to make your sacrifice you hear a commotion. Your first thought is that those filthy Romans are picking a fight with your people. “Not now!” you think to yourself, as all the emotions of your oppression and your desire to be free, as well as your desire to just worship your God on this most holy of holidays, come rushing forth. You begin jogging and eventually break into a sprint to the temple. There, in the middle of the temple is this Jesus you have heard about. You don’t know how you know it is Him, but you know. He has a whip in His hands and He is driving the sacrificial animals out. He has turned over the tables and is blocking the whole process from happening. In this moment, you realize your Rabbi was right about Him. You are shocked that a fellow Jew could do something so cruel and disrespectful. You walk away from the temple disheartened.

The next day you hear that Jesus was arrested in the middle of the night. How do you feel? Perhaps you heard that Pilate had him sentenced to death. Does He deserve it? You caught wind of the time and place of the execution. Will you attend? Many of your neighbors are going to watch this man who led such an amazing movement carry his cross up to Golgotha. Will you go with them?

Now let us imagine you are there. You see Jesus hanging on the cross. Out of the corner of your eye you notice His mother. She is one of a very small group of people weeping. How do you feel about her? Should she have spanked her son more? Should she have taught Him more respect? Do you notice the absence of a father and believe that is why Jesus acted so rashly? Do you cast judgement on her parenting? Do you feel bad for her but believe that her son should have made better decisions?

Maybe you feel great compassion for her. Is it enough to go put an arm around her? You see, this is how the scapegoating mechanism works. We get swept up in the crowd and even if we feel compassion for the victim, we are extremely unlikely to go stand with the victim, or the family of the victim.

Scapegoating is a mechanism in René Girard’s mimetic theory which allows a community to temporarily come together around a false sense of peace and security after executing the scapegoat. In America, we have overwhelmingly made the poor, as well as racial minorities, our scapegoats.

People believe that the death penalty makes them safer. It does not. There is absolutely zero correlation between death penalty states and safer states here in the U.S. Statistically the facts are overwhelmingly against the death penalty doing anything that advocates for the practice claim it does. It is far more expensive to execute someone than even to give them life in prison. Execution generally takes ten years or more so it actually delays finality for the families of victims. No one benefits from these state sponsored revenge killings…except our psyches.

If we buy into this scapegoating mechanism, if we buy into the rhetoric that every person on death row is a monster, then we can find some temporary peace when our government sacrifices yet another victim to the American god of peace of mind. The only logical reason I can see for the continued implication of the death penalty in America is that it makes us FEEL safer. There is no statistical evidence to back up those feelings, but that does not matter much. What matters is that we as a community feel safe. But here is a problem. There are many different communities within our nation. The problem with our scapegoating mechanism is that it makes the wealthy and the white feel safe, but not so much the poor or the racial minority.

Would you be willing to break from popular opinion to stand with Mary? Jesus exposed the scapegoating mechanism on the cross. Jesus put it out in plain view for us all to see. Jesus beckons us to stand with His mother. Jesus calls us to leave the mob. Jesus shows us the way out of negative mimesis and into a life of faith, love and justice.

Will you break the cycle of mimetic violence?

Will you stand with the oppressed?

Will you stand with Mary?

Author’s Note: Thank you to Jason Redick for insight on the death penalty I had not had before and to Michael Hardin for helping with the mimetic theory side of this. I am so grateful for these friends and I recommend following them on social media if you are not already. You can see more of Michael’s work at http://www.preachingpeace.org and you can learn more about the organization Jason works with at http://www.tcadp.org

Editor’s Note: Please say a prayer or save a space in your heart for Kenneth Earl Fults, scheduled to be executed in Georgia today, April 12, 2016.

12968602_10154125007529187_684506685_nAndrew Robinson  is a writer, student and activist in Dallas, Texas. He is the husband of a beautiful Irish woman named Karen and the father of two amazing little boys. He is passionate about fighting for social justice in this world as well as learning and teaching theology that will go hand in hand with the fight for social justice.

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.” Articles published do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the staff at the Raven Foundation, but are selected primarily because of the way they enhance the conversation around mimetic theory.

Image: “Station of the cross, Saint Symhorian church of Pfettisheim, Bas-Rhin, France. XIXth century. Detail of the 13th station : Mary Magdalene weeping.” by Pethrus. Available on Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.

 

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Theology and Sacrifice in Batman v. Superman [Spoilers]

The critics have almost universally condemned Batman v. Superman. Personally, I think they’re right. Like many, I fell into plot holes about every 15 minutes and had a difficult time finding my way out. But for all the problems with the story line, Batman v. Superman asks some really good questions about theology, evil, and sacrifice.

There is an ancient sacrificial formula. According to René Girard, it goes back all the way to the founding of the first human cultures. Most concisely, the formula looks like this: whenever a community experiences a crisis of violence, it undoubtedly will survive by blaming a single person for its problems. Girard calls this person the scapegoat. The group finds unity by channeling its own violence against their scapegoat, who is accused of being evil, even a demon or a monster. The scapegoat is violently murdered and peace descends upon the group, but the peace is only temporary because the real problem of violence has never been solved.

When a crisis once again threatens the group, the process of sacrificial violence against an “evil” scapegoat repeats itself. As Girard states in a recently published conversation edited by Michael HardinReading the Bible with René Girard: Conversations with Stephen E. Berry, “Sacrifice is repeating the event that has saved the community from its own violence, which is killing a victim.”*  Soon, mythological stories and a theology emerges that claims that whenever the community experiences a crisis, the gods demand a violent sacrifice so that peace will return.

Indeed, this sacrificial formula is ancient, and yet it remains the dominant formula of our modern world. Its logic claims that sacrificial violence against an evil enemy is the surest way to peace. We see this logic in our politics, economics, religions, newscasts, and in the cinema. One of the most obvious examples of it is portrayed by Superman in the latest blockbuster film, Batman v. Superman.

Superman, Jesus, and Sacrifice

Superman is referred to as “God” throughout the movie. He seems to fit common assumption of the divine role quite nicely – Superman is all-powerful and miraculously seeks to save people from harm and death.

Many have suggested that Superman is a Christ-like figure. Superman and Jesus are similar in that they both seek to save humans from evil. The similarity becomes even stronger as they both save the world from evil through an act of sacrifice. But there is also a fundamental difference between the two. Superman saves the world through the ancient formula of sacrificial violence, whereas Jesus flips the ancient sacrificial formula and saves the world through an act of sacrificial nonviolence.

Superman and Evil

Near the end of the movie, Lex Luthor unleashes “Doomsday,” a monster that is a nearly perfect representation of evil. Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman unite to destroy Doomsday, but the more they attack the evil monster, the more it feeds the beast with energy. With every violent blow, Doomsday grows stronger.

And that’s why Doomsday is a good example of evil. Paradoxically, the most reliable way to ensure the growth of evil is attempting to defeat it with violence. But violence only gives evil more energy. Tragically, we are witnessing this truth about evil in our current War on Terror. We attacked Saddam Hussein as part of the War on Terror. When Saddam was overthrown, al-Qaeda moved in to fill the power void. Once we weakened al-Qaeda, ISIS became our biggest threat. There is a clear pattern emerging. U.S. violence against terrorists is only planting the seeds for more terrorists. Apparently, we’re on the verge of defeating ISIS, which only begs the question – What terrorist group will emerge next?

In the end, Doomsday isn’t a perfect example of evil. Superman soon realizes that he and the monster share Kryptonian DNA, which means they are both vulnerable to Kryptonite. Superman sacrifices himself by seizing a Kryptonite spear and impaling the weapon through Doomsday, killing the monster. Unfortunately for Superman, holding the Kryptonite weakens him just enough for Doomsday to impale him with a spike, leaving them both dead.

And, you know, since Superman destroyed Doomsday but didn’t destroy evil, there will be a sequel. And I will watch. Hopefully the next movie won’t have as many plot holes…

Jesus and Evil

Indeed, Superman and Jesus have the same goal of saving the world from evil. They also sacrifice themselves in order to defeat evil. We want a Superman-like-Christ who will keep us safe from evil, by any means necessary, including violence.

But we don’t have a Superman-like-Christ. We have a Jesus-like-Christ. Superman believes if he just has the right weapon – a spear made of kryptonite – then he can finally destroy evil. But Jesus didn’t believe that. He knew that no matter the weapon, violence only feeds the evil beast.

Jesus came face to face with evil when he went to the cross. It was his “Doomsday” moment. And like Superman, it was a sacrificial act that led to his death, but there’s an important difference. Jesus didn’t feed evil by using violence against it; rather, he starved evil by a radical act of forgiveness. From the cross he prayed that God would not avenge his persecutors. Instead, he prayed for their forgiveness, saying, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”

Conclusion

It’s interesting to note that Batman v. Superman was released in theaters on March 25, which happened to be Good Friday. Many think this was just a coincidence. That may be true, but what an odd coincidence to release the story of a god who dies to save the world from evil with an act of sacrificial violence on the day that Christians commemorate the death of Jesus, who saved the world from evil by sacrificing himself in an act of nonviolent love.

Batman v. Superman tells a contemporary mythical version of the ancient sacrificial formula. The heroic god-like figure saves the world by violently killing an evil enemy. This story has been told since the beginning of human culture. Unfortunately, it’s not working. Evil continues to threaten our world. With the advent of nuclear weapons and chemical warfare, violence threatens our world like never before.

But Jesus tells a different story. In a world where violence only feeds evil, Jesus offers the only alternative of nonviolence. Turn the other cheek. Love your enemies. Forgive those who persecute you.

This year, Good Friday put two stories before us. One was based on the ancient sacrificial formula of violence, the other was Jesus’s alternative sacrificial formula of nonviolent love. Which story will we choose?

Photo: Screenshot from YouTube.

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*Michael Hardin, ed, Reading the Bible with Rene Girard: Conversations with Stephen E. Berry (Lancaster, PA: JDL Press, 2015), page 40. 

Change is coming! Be sure to enter the random drawing to win a $50 gift card at the online store Ten Thousand Villages. For 65 years, Ten Thousand Villages has been a leader in the fair trade movement, connecting artisans in developing countries with markets in North America. Every dollar spent on their site helps a family in poverty build a sustainable future. Visit Raven on April 15 to see what’s new on our site and to find out the winner of the drawing.

jesus resurrection

The Resurrection is No Myth, But It Is Dangerous

The resurrection is often packaged around cute little bunnies and plastic Easter eggs full of candy.

But resurrection isn’t soft and cuddly. Resurrection is dangerous. It is risky. It is not safe.

Resurrection is dangerous because it transforms how we relate to our fellow human beings, specifically to our enemies. And it transforms our understanding of the divine.

Throughout human history we have been caught up in cycles of violence – and we thought the gods were caught up in the same cycles of violence.

For example, the resurrection of Jesus is often compared to myths of resurrected gods throughout the ancient world. One such myth is about an Egyptian god named Horus and his father Osirus. Horus is portrayed as a good god that fought against the forces of evil, namely, an evil god named Set, who killed Horus’s father, a god named Osirus. Fortunately, Horus and his mother were able to resurrect Osirus. But the question remained, what should they to do about Set?

The resurrected Osirus asked Horus a question, “What is the most glorious deed a man can perform?”

Horus answered, “To take revenge upon one who has injured his father or mother.”*

And that’s what Horus did. Once he defeated Set in violent battle, Horus was acclaimed to be “lord of all the earth” and “once again established order and justice.”

There is a certain amount of truth within this myth. Throughout history, humans have thought that the only way to contain evil and violence is with our own violence. Horus wanted to destroy Set in order to establish peace, order, and justice. But the myth is honest about another motivation – no matter how good and just our violence seems to be, it always carries with it a motivation for revenge.

Ultimately, violence cannot be contained. It always escalates into cycles of increasing revenge. We see this cycle in ancient myths, but we also see it in the modern world. Just like the violence between Horus and Set, the United States believe that the way to deal with evil is to violently defeat our enemies. How does the United States respond to ISIS? We seek revenge by killing them.

In other words, Horus is our divine model.

The resurrection of Jesus tells a radically different story than the myth of Horus. Jesus was resurrected not to seek revenge against his enemies. No, the resurrection of Jesus is not a violent myth. The resurrection of Jesus is the Good News that God isn’t out for revenge. Rather, Jesus was resurrected to reveal God’s radical offer of peace and forgiveness.

After his death, the disciples were consumed with fear and locked themselves in a room. The resurrected Jesus suddenly appeared to them. While there, Jesus repeated the phrase, “Peace be with you” three times.

Why did Jesus have to repeat that phrase? Because if this was a myth like other resurrection myths, the disciples would have thought that the resurrected Jesus would seek revenge. The disciples had a lot to fear; after all, they just betrayed, denied, and abandoned Jesus to his death.

But the resurrection of Jesus was no myth. It was Gospel. It was the Good News that God doesn’t hold our sins against us, but forgives us, offers us peace, and invites us to extend that peace to others.

Most of us don’t believe in Jesus. We believe in the gods of myth. We believe in Horus. We believe in violence. Whether our next president is Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, or Hillary Clinton, if our enemies hit us, we will hit them back. And we will fool ourselves into believing that we will hit back so hard that our enemies will never even think about hitting us again. And the cycle of violence will continue. And Horus will be our god.

Unless we decide to believe in the resurrection of Jesus. But faith in the resurrection is dangerous because the resurrection is God’s alternative to the myths of violence. When you believe the resurrection of Jesus, you can no longer fight violence with violence in the name of God. Rather, you “fight” violence with forgiveness. You don’t engage evil with more evil, but with love. Resurrection is dangerous because our enemies may respond to our offer of peace with violence. That’s the risk of faith in the resurrection of Jesus.

But that risk is also our greatest hope for a more peaceful world.

*Told in World Mythology, second edition, edited by Donna Rosenberg, pages 165-168

Image: Flickr, “Resurrection 60,” by Waiting for the Word, Creative Commons License, some changes made

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Jesus, Peter and the Sword

Editor’s Note: This article was submitted by guest author Ellen Corcella.

The horrific and inhumane terrorist attacks in Belgium should weigh heavy on our hearts and souls during Holy Week as we mourn the death of too many more innocents.  The looming question is how will Western Europe and the U.S. respond to this latest round of violence.  There is already a competition among leaders and politicians to see who can talk the toughest against terrorists.  This is because we prefer to meet violence with greater violence.  Violence is contagious.  Rather than condemning it, we promote violence as the only courageous, rational and responsible way to defeat violence and attain peace.

During Holy Week, Christians re-enact Jesus’ arrest, torture and crucifixion by the Roman Empire. We should make no mistake about it. As Richard A. Horsey recounts in his book, In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance, the Romans were adept at using violence and terror to spread Pax Romana throughout its Empire.  The Empire raped the women, murdered the men and destroyed entire villages to subdue the populations of Palestine, Galilee and Jerusalem.  The challenge of this Holy Week, for me and for those of us who try to follow Jesus, is to grasp the true meaning of Easter, that Jesus wholly and utterly rejected violence.

Jesus met the terrorist culture of the Roman Empire with non-violent resistance and generous grace.  This is the most evident when Jesus, after his last Passover meal, retreated to a quiet garden to pray as night fell.  We know Jesus felt particularly vulnerable that night as several times he asked his small group of disciples to stay awake and pray with him.  The ruling authorities took advantage of Jesus’ vulnerability and sent a mob armed with torches, swords and clubs, to seize and arrest Jesus.  The mob’s display of force was designed to intimidate their target into blanket submission or death.

Peter, like we are today, was well schooled in the ways of the world.  Peter immediately and instinctively knew that the mob’s violence must be met with violence.  So, in defense of Jesus, Peter drew his own sword and sliced off the ear of the servant of the High Priest.  The significance of what happened next lies as much in what Jesus did not do as it lies in what Jesus did.  Jesus did not cheer Peter.  Jesus did not lead a charge into the warring mob.  Jesus did not bolster Peter’s violence by urging the other disciples to take their weapons and attack.

Instead, Jesus rebuked Peter and instructed him to put his sword back into its sheath (Matt. 26:52).   Jesus then told his disciples there would be “no more of this” (Luke 22:51) violence. If Jesus had not rejected the disciples’ imitative violence, the disciples and Jesus would have been clubbed and beaten to death by the crowd, who would see no other choice but to respond to Peter’s violence with deadly violence.

Then Jesus did something incredible.  Jesus reached out his hand, touched the wound of the High Priest’s servant and healed his ear. In that gesture, Jesus taught us not only to reject violence, but also to show grace to those who would violently attack us.

I often wonder what might have happened in Syria if  — early in the conflict — the U.S. and other nations dropped food supplies to the Syrian people.  Five years ago, before ISIS and before the splintering of opposition groups, the Syrian people simply wanted their own Arab Spring, their own freedom from a violent despot.  I have never really said this aloud because I know the response – instant laughter followed by strong assertions of my naiveté and unrealistic idealism.  However, like Jesus’ non-violent rejection of the Roman Empire, a humane act of peaceful resistance would have sent a dual message – we reject violence as a form of terror and we wish to extend a healing hand to a wounded people.  Sadly, instead of care packages, we sent bombs and drones.  ISIS emerged to radicalize demoralized individuals who now carry out deadly suicide missions.  And, so the cycle of violence continues.

Holy Week offers us a time for serious reflection, meditation and prayer about whether we can earnestly and truly follow Jesus when we would rather act like Peter.

Image: “The Arrest of Christ” by the Master of the Evora Alterpiece. Public Domain.

Ellen-CorcellaEllen Corcella has a M.T.S., M.Div. from Christian Theological Seminary, a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center; her Master’s Thesis explored mimetic theory.

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.” Articles published do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the staff at the Raven Foundation, but are selected primarily because of the way they enhance the conversation around mimetic theory.

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In Remembrance Of Me

I am this broken and bleeding world.

I am Brussels, blown apart, the strewn limbs, the piercing wail of a mother for her baby.

I am Yemen, at the marketplace, charred bodies of children face-down in the dust.

I am Syria, families cramming into boats as guns and missiles chase them from the shore.

I am Afghanistan, Pakistan, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, pockmarked by bomb blasts, orphaned children hiding away from clear blue skies.

I am the growling of empty bellies drowned by the sound of gold pouring into the bottomless coffers of the war machines as they devour their sustenance and spit out death in return.

I am generation upon generation of silenced and vanished victim buried in the ground and trampled.

I am slain from the foundation of the world.

 

Absorbing the fear and hate of thousands of years,

I clothed myself in flesh and vulnerability

And came back to my plundered home.

 

I walked among those whose pain I had shouldered from the beginning of time,

The cast off and thrown away.

I took the leper into my arms.

In my eyes the used and exploited found their humanity reflected back to them.

I opened the eyes of the blind.

I fed the starving with bread and wisdom.

I took the children on my knee.

As I walked, I scattered the Love in which I was born before time began.

 

A sick and aching world takes time to heal.

And in that time, fear moves fast.

The Powers that build their empires by exploiting divisions –

Only to reign in the sprawling chaos by uniting the deceived people against someone –

Have named me the enemy.

 

So now I come to you, my friends,

As we gather around this table.

And you quarrel about who among you is the greatest.

Don’t you see, it is this me-against-you attitude

That has brought me here, to the brink of my destruction?

For one evening, let us put aside the bitter bickering

And enjoy one last feast, one final fellowship.

 

If you want to be great, cast off the shackles of self-doubt that choke out your love for each other,

If you want glory, make it manifest in acts of service.

I come among you, I come below you, washing your feet,

To show you love you’ve never known.

You will never know how blessed and beloved you are,

Until you let the love within you pour out to others.

 

From the beginning of time, I have seen brother set against brother,

Nation set against nation,

Selfishness erupt in violence, converging upon victim after victim

All sprung from the same seed of desire for greatness against someone else.

If you want to be great, be for others,

Even as I am for you.

 

I am this broken and bleeding world.

This bread is my broken body.

This cup is my spilled blood.

As it has been done to victims from the beginning of time,

So it is done to me.

I give my broken self to you.

 

Take in my life.

Let me nourish you with my love

Until the spirit of compassion bursts the old wineskins of your brittle hearts…

Until you become a new creation.

 

Let the body of my work become the work of your body.

Embrace the outcasts,

Reconcile enemies,

Feed my sheep.

 

Unite in me, with me in you.

I give my broken self to you –

Only in coming together can the fullness of my life be manifest again.

Let this bread bind you together,

Let this wine wash away your divisions.

 

I am broken for a broken world

A world that needs your love

To be made whole again.

Take me into you and become my body.

Eat this bread.

Drink this wine.

Do this in re-membrance of me.

 

Image: “Last Supper”; Public Domain via Pixabay.

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The Political Subversion of Palm Sunday

Make no mistake: the Gospel is political.

Politics refers to “the affairs of the city” and “influencing other people on a civic or individual level.”

Throughout his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus was political. He influenced people to live into the politics of the Kingdom of Heaven. For Jesus, Heaven is not essentially some place off in the distance where you go after you die. No, Heaven is a way of life to be lived right here, right now. We see this clearly in the prayer he taught his disciples:

Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.

When Jesus entered Jerusalem riding a colt on Palm Sunday, he was performing a political act of of subversion.

Let’s contrast the politics of Jesus with the politics of Rome. Rome spread its Gospel, its “good news,” in a very deliberate way. As Fr. John Dear points out,

We’re so used to that word “Gospel,” that it’s lost its original meaning. But in those days, when the Roman empire went off and conquered another land in the name of their god Caesar, and killed all the men, raped all the women, and destroyed all the homes, the soldiers would come back parading through the land announcing “the Gospel according to Caesar,” the Good News of the latest victory of Caesar, that another land has been conquered for their god Caesar, and that Caesar’s enemies have been killed.

Now, I don’t want to pick on ancient Rome because ancient Roman politics was essentially like the politics of every other nation. Ancient Roman politics was about influencing others through power, coercion, and violence.

In spreading its Gospel, Rome was spreading the Pax Romana. Rome genuinely believed that it was spreading peace and its method for spreading peace was violence. They praised their gods that they were able to kill the enemies of Roman Peace.

That’s the politics of Rome.

But that’s not the politics of Jesus.

On Palm Sunday, Jesus revealed an alternative way of being political. A political ruler’s entry into a city was of great importance in the ancient world. Roman rulers would enter a city on a powerful war horse to show their domination. Jesus rode on a colt – a young horse that had never seen war.

As Jesus rode the young horse, a large crowd spread their cloaks on the ground and waved their palm branches as they shouted “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven!” The Jewish Annotated New Testament states that the cloaks and branches were meant “to connect Jesus to the kingship of Israel.” The term “Son of David” was also a clear messianic reference that hoped for a new political ruler, but just what kind of king was Jesus?

When Jesus rode into Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, he was revealing that the reign of God is in stark contrast to the reign of Rome and every other political system that seeks triumphant victory by influencing people through violence and coercion.

The Gospel of Jesus subverts the politics of violence because the Gospels is the politics of humility, service, forgiveness, and a nonviolent love that embraces all people, but especially those we call our enemies.

Tragically, we tend to live by the politics of Rome, not the politics of Jesus. Whether we are Republicans or Democrats, American or Russian, whenever we seek to influence others through coercion and violence, we are following the politics of Rome.

Fortunately, Jesus revealed the alternative. He called it “The Kingdom of God.” It’s a political way of life based not on triumphant violence, but rather humble service. The politics of Jesus makes sure everyone has daily bread, it seeks to forgive debts and sins, it avoids the temptation to commit evil against our neighbors, and it calls us into a life of forgiveness.

But this is risky. We know that the politics of Jesus led him to Good Friday, where he suffered and died. And yet he stayed true to the Kingdom of God, speaking words of forgiveness even as he was murdered, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.”

The Kingdom of God is not just a call to a personal ethic; it’s a political ethic. Indeed, the politics of Jesus seeks to influence our personal lives, but it also seeks to influence our political lives. Wherever personal or political systems use violence, power, and coercion to be triumphant and victorious, Jesus beckons us to follow him into a different kind of politics – into the Kingdom of God that lives and dies by love, service, and forgiveness.

Image: Painting by Hippolyte Flandrin, 1842. Public Domain.

A version of this article appeared in 2014.

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Bad Analogies, Good Relationship: Thoughts On The Trinity On St. Patrick’s Day

I can’t observe St. Patrick’s Day without watching this modern classic from Lutheran Satire:

Hilarious, isn’t it? I think so. But there was a time when I wouldn’t have been so amused.

The Trinity has caused me much anxiety throughout my lifetime. Or perhaps I should say, not the Trinity itself, but the desire to understand it, the need I felt to grasp it intellectually in order to be able to trust in my faith. I wanted assurance for my salvation. I wanted my identity to be marked by a confidence in my beliefs, a confidence that long alluded me. Being bewildered about the core doctrine of the Christian faith felt like being adrift in a sea of uncertainty, with waves of fear and doubt crashing all around and threatening to overwhelm me.

So there was a time when a video mocking all the ways to misunderstand the Trinity would not have have amused me at all. And for those struggling to understand the Trinity, there is little comfort in condemnation and accusations of heresy for people who work hard to wrap their minds around this mystery only to come up with imperfect understandings. At worst, these condemnations not only victimize people struggling to understand God, but reinforce the idea of God as a tyrant who requires adherence to strict and rigid dogma. And nothing could be further from the truth about the Trinity.

The Trinity is a mystery that cannot be grasped or pinned down, cannot be encapsulated in words or formulas. But it can be experienced, embraced, and enjoyed. It can also unfold itself to us as it dissolves our fears. For if the Trinity is God and God is Perfect Love, then the Trinity should cast out all our fears, not be their source. But trying to pin the concept of Trinity down in words will only entangle us in confusion. That’s why the Triune God revealed God’s self to us not in words but in a person, the person of Jesus.

Jesus, the Word of God made flesh, is God’s love letter to humanity. When humanity was confused about who God is and what God requires, Jesus clarified our vision with the revelation that God is Love and Light, in whom there is no hatred or violence. When humanity was blind in a fog of confusion, projecting our own violence onto God and finding transcendence from our violent passions in the false peace of sacrifice, Jesus showed us the depth of God’s mercy. In his life he healed the brokenness of our bodies and our societies by embracing the marginalized and pulling them in from the margins. In his death as scapegoat he became the magnetic target of all our hatred, pulling our violence onto himself so we would not direct it at each other. In his resurrection he proved that love triumphs over hate. In all of this, Jesus revealed to us a power greater than violence and thus redefined God in our understanding. The understanding of the Trinity came about over time as the life and meaning of Jesus not only reshaped our perception of God, but drew us deeper into relationship with God. Jesus’s perfect love cast out all fear and showed us that fear, violence, and vengeance have no place within God. Jesus’s revelation that God is Love is the key to entering into the mystery of the Trinity.

Love is not solitary isolation, but relationship. For God to be love means that God is ever giving and receiving of Love. Love permeates inward and reaches outward. The love that Jesus extended to the world, to reveal the true nature of God, ever flows between God the Father and God the Son. Jesus drew his love for the world from the Father, the inexhaustible Source of Love, who sent his love into the world in flesh, the embodied Love of Jesus. At Pentecost, the Spirit of Love – the perfect Love in and through which all of creation came into being — was poured out that we might more fully embody love. From the beginning of time, Love has been dancing in perfect harmony, leaving stars and planets in its footsteps. We who have been made from Love in the image of Love are called to join in the dance.

This may seem like a poetic jumble. But it is the clearest way for me to understand the Trinity, to understand Love, to understand God – and the clearest way for me to understand what it means to be human. While I have a single body, my identity is bound up in my relationships. I am not Lindsey without my husband, without my daughters, without my mother and father, without the dear friends who have made me who I am. I am not me without you. I am who I am because of what I have learned through and from others and the desires that have seeped into my consciousness and the people upon whom I depend both known and unknown to me. To be human is to be in relationship, and it is to be made in the image of God, who is relationship.

But whereas our relationships are marred by rivalries and jealousies, by miscommunications and desires at the expense of others, the relationship of God is perfect harmony, perfect communion, perfect Love. Jesus as the fully human one was also the fully loving one, and until the perfect Love found in the Triune God casts out our fear, we are not yet fully human. We are being molded by God into God’s image, following Jesus who modeled for us the perfect relationship with Love and showed us how to extend the love we receive in ever-flowing abundance to a hurting world.

The Trinity is the relationship of Love. Relationships cannot be defined or pinned down, but they can be lived and strengthened. I find value in studying the theology of the Church Fathers and Mothers who dedicated their lives to exploring the depths of this mystery, but if talk of the Trinity leaves your head spinning, it’s okay to let the talking go for a while. Focus instead on loving your neighbor and enemy, and you’ll find your footing as you’re swept up in the dance of Love.

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

Image: Screenshot from Youtube: St. Patrick’s Bad Analogies by Lutheran Satire.