Raven-YourVoice-9

True Nature

Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest author Dave Hernandez.

Living from a sense of identity means I can discover and live out the specifics of my life without feeling that I am in competition with anybody else. I celebrate when others find their place in the world alongside me.
This sense of identity is found through the self-emptying way of Christ (which is the way of the Trinity) and is then sustained as self-emptying becomes our lifestyle.

Remember, though: self-emptying also means that we must lend ourselves to an emptying of garbage and toxic thoughts we’ve believed about ourselves for a long time. We must confront and dismantle the lies, fear and shame that the self-elevating way of the Adamic Nature has taught us. It’s a long process of healing. There’s a lot of stripping away: it’s like peeling away the layers of an onion. Not only does it make one cry, but it also seems to never end!

Be encouraged, though! You don’t have to peel off every layer to begin to enjoy doing life well. You begin to recover your true nature early on in the process. The more peeling away of the old ‘self-elevating’ ways one experiences, the more of the ‘self-emptying Christ-like’ nature one regains.

Here are some of the things I’ve discovered about our true nature, things that I am slowly recovering as I pursue my authentic self in Christ.

Paul writes: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” (Galatians 5:22-23). Paul is pointing out to the church of Galatia the elements that constitute their authentic nature: elements (or fruit) discovered and evidenced as the Spirit teaches us all about who we really are. Let me unpack them a little.

Love! 

I won’t say much about Love, not because it is irrelevant. Au contraire; it is such an important part of our true nature that one small paragraph will not suffice. I’ll simply say: Love is the nature of God. We are created in God’s image. We have been wired to love and be loved. It’s at the core of our true nature. We would all agree to that…

Joy! 

Joy comes from the awareness of our God-given, Christ-modeled identity. We are children of God. When I live in the awareness of this grace, joy naturally permeates my being. Guilt and condemnation are identity thieves designed to rob me of my joy. As I express my genuine character I display joy. I find that gladness increases as I discover how to live and protect the sense of who “I AM” in Christ!

Peace! 

I am designed to live in Shalom – Jesus is the Prince of Peace! Jesus said that the Shabbat was made for man: it means that my true nature is “productivity from a place of rest”. If I begin to strive, stress and show anxiety, I am living outside of my authentic self. This is useful to know. As soon as my inner peace – as well as my joy – is violated it’s because identity thieves are pressuring me, from within or without, to step out of the Christ-like identity into the old self-elevating Adamic pseudo-me! I won’t give in! If the pressure is internal, I will seek its source and ask for healing. If it’s external, I identify its origin and establish appropriate boundaries.

Patience!

Patience is, in my experience, and in the context of this post relating to identity, the outcome of knowing who I am. Why? Because I don’t need to prove who I am to anybody. In that knowledge, I don’t succumb to the pressures to demonstrate, coerce, force or manipulate desired outcomes – which, in my opinion, are at the heart of impatience.

Kindness, Goodness and Gentleness! 

And let me add Generosity… They are all part of my original nature. I know that because when I demonstrate these ‘attributes’ a sense of deep joy and satisfaction fill my heart. Jesus says so himself: “there’s more joy to give than to receive!” It’s true that identity thieves have robbed me of this capacity in many ways. Past hurts caused me to shut off the river of kindness. I wasn’t equipped to protect myself then so I closed myself down. Rediscovering my ability to be genuinely kind, gentle and generous is liberating. I must admit, though, showing these traits to certain people makes me feel awkward, as if I’m disclosing something I don’t want them to see – I feel a little vulnerable. The truth is, acting in stinginess and withholding my kindness is a sign I’ve lost sight of my authentic self! Sometimes I need to do some deep digging to unclog these wells.

Self-Control! 

The original word in the Greek means, “true mastery from within!” I am learning this ‘mastery’ and I’m excited about it. I am finding how my emotions are great allies but bad masters. Emotions speak to me and reveal to me internal and external pressures. Emotions are an integral part of our original make-up. Unfortunately, we’ve given them the power, through fear mainly, to control our actions, decisions, attitudes and behaviours. I find that as I recover the original purpose of emotions, that is, to warn me of what’s happening around me; to increase my awareness of what’s transpiring in my internal world and the world around me; I can master my reactions. This awareness is embedded in my true nature.

I will be honest with you. Do I succumb to the temptations and pressures of self-elevation? Sometimes! Am I living 100% according to my authentic nature and self? Not yet! Are there layers that still need peeling away? Obviously! Is living this way worth it? Absolutely!

Dave HernandezDave Hernandez is an author, speaker and blogger. He has been a student, preacher and teacher of the Bible for 30 years. Dave is married to Laurence and has two sons. He is a lover of all cultural expressions.

 This article first appeared on Daves personal blog You can access the blog via: http://www.iamsonofgod.net/blog.html and http://iamsonofgod.blogspot.com/

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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Bible Matters: Ezekiel’s Political Theology

The United States is in the midst of a presidential campaign. How should theology inform our politics? The prophet Ezekiel provides important answers that may surprise liberals and conservatives.

Ezekiel gave a clear political theology. He spoke during a time of national crisis in Jewish history. The Babylonian Empire conquered Jerusalem, destroyed the Temple, killed many people, and exiled others throughout the empire.

Those who survived asked the question of theodicy. If God is good and just, then why did this tragedy happen?

(Watch the video for more!)

Ezekiel’s political theology claims that the nation fell because the political leaders failed to care for the needs of the poor, the weak, and the marginalized. Ezekiel speaks directly to the leaders of his day:

You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. (Ezekiel 34:4)

Ezekiel’s political theology tells us that any nation whose rulers that neglects the needs of the poor, weak, and marginalized will fall because God is just. God’s justice demands that those who are scapegoats of culture be cared for.

The good news is that the imperial violence of Babylon didn’t have the last word. Ezekiel’s vision of the dry bones receiving life is a sign that the nation will have another chance to live into a new social reality. The rulers of Israel will “Put away violence and oppression, and do what is just and right.” (45:9) To do what is “just and right” means that rulers are to stop their violence and oppression. Instead, they are to meet work for justice by meeting the needs of the marginalized.

For more in the Bible Matters series, click here.

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My Foray Into The World of Death

I am currently writing my second book, which I have entitled, From the Blood of Abel: Humanity’s Root Causes of Violence and the Bible as an Anthropological Solution. In the first chapter, I discuss various manifestations of violence, the most overt being that of war. This has not been an easy task, as I have read so many tales of brutality. So many different cultures and religions—Christianity not exempt by any means—ruining so many lives. One people group stripping another of their humanity, epoch after epoch after epoch it seems. Trails of tears, forced cannibalism, extermination camps, human sacrifice by the thousands, and torture—my G-d the torture! Honestly, it has made sleep much more difficult to find as of late. However, it has not been all negative. It has also helped clarify and strengthen some things. I am going to share both the positives and negatives of my recent foray into the world of death.

I will begin by simply stating that life is so very fragile. It really is. I knew that before, and I’m sure that you do too, but when you dive headlong into the sort of research I have been doing, and at the pace I have been doing it, your thoughts and feelings about this are only reinforced. You feel intensification in your realization that each and every moment could be your last, because of the simple fact that many of us still live with an “us vs. them” worldview. And when you’re a “them”—and all of us are to some—the angel of death lurks around many more corners than he should. Fragility and anxiety—which we all already have—in fact transform to sheer terror for many because of how we view the “other.”

It is reasons like this that initially made me realize how much of “traditional” Christian eschatology and soteriology seemed, well, awful. I know: great theological argument eh? But, for instance, in some schools of Christian thought, one could “achieve salvation” without having loved. One could “have faith in Christ” that they are saved, all-the-while causing fear and terror and torment and pain and humiliation in others. History has shown this. And many times, these “others” are not “saved,” in spite of the fact that they are vastly more loving than the “saved” that cause them such horror. So yes, that is awful. None of it makes sense. Christian justification just seems to boil down to a giant contract, in which our own rationale leads to “making the correct choice” so that our best self-interests are met.

That being said, I don’t want to remain negative any longer. Actually, quite the opposite! What I really want to say is that somehow, we are lucky enough to have a God who still loves us. At times, I may say that I do not know how the hell he does it, but in reality, I do know. It is because God is love and beneath the muck and grime, the hatred and bigotry, the racism and sexism and homophobia, and underneath all the fear that leads us to these things, we are made in God’s image. All of us are. Genesis 1:26 tells us that (I know, proof-texting, yuck!) We must then think God loves all of his children, even if they remain prodigal unto death. Dare we think that death can stop God’s love? I scoff at the notion. Thus, no matter what we do—to ourselves and to each other—in the end, all will be well. And when I say all, I really believe all.

As I have pondered my own death over the past few months, I have become increasingly grateful that I believe in a God who will always work toward my good. Death still causes anxiety at times (I’m not quite ready to follow Paul in mocking death itself), but there is comfort in knowing that it will also be what brings me to God and therefore, toward reconciliation with everyone. Isn’t that the greatest hope we can have? To live in perfect harmony with everyone who has ever lived, to have perfectly restored relationships, to see Christ in each and everyone, for God to truly be “all in all.” I think it is. But realizing this would not have been possible without understanding the truth that God will save everyone whom he wants, which is indeed everyone. Anything short of that, as St. Silouan the Athonite might say, would be unbearable for love. We are just too interconnected, anthropologically and psychologically. And because love is the reason for all of this, we must hope that love wins in the end.

Image: Afresco da Anastasis, Ressurreicao – Liberacao do inferno (The Harrowing of Hades) photograph by José Luis Bernardes Ribiero via Wikimedia Commons. Available via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

Wheaton College

A Request For Prayer

Editor’s Note: As mimetic creatures, we are connected to one another not only in the present, but also across time. Being able to think historically helps us to understand how we are shaped by what we have deemed worthy of memory, while an understanding of mimetic theory helps us to look back at our history and search for the unheard voices. Dr. Tracy McKenzie’s articles provide us with a rich, complex understanding of the past that neither romanticizes nor scapegoats those who came before us. This deeper understanding can inform our present.

In this article, rather than go deep into historical analysis, Dr. McKenzie is simply requesting prayers for God’s wisdom and grace as the Wheaton community undergoes a crisis in the matter of the pending termination of tenured political science professor, Dr. Larycia Hawkins. In his link to the thoughtful essay of Dr. Chris Gehrz of Bethel University, he expresses admiration for Gehrz’s refusal to scapegoat either side. Learning empathy for all involved in a conflict is how we will release the mimetic power of compassion modeled to us by Christ. 

I have intentionally not commented on the uproar currently swirling around Wheaton College.  Probably most of you are at least vaguely aware of the heart-wrenching controversy that has been unfolding since Wheaton faculty member Dr. Larycia Hawkins made statements interpreted by some as effectively equating Christianity and Islam.

My purpose now is not to defend either Dr. Hawkins or the Wheaton College administration.  Frankly, I don’t think I know nearly enough to speak confidently about the matter (and I am mystified by the cacophony of voices from across the country who claim to know exactly what’s going on and why).

What I do know is that I love Wheaton College, and I grieve for both Dr. Hawkins and for our president and provost, all of whom have been subjected to vicious abuse online and in print.  The faculty met this morning to pray that God would bring a glorious resolution to this crisis, and I would love for you to join with us.  We are fallen individuals laboring in a fallen institution and acutely aware of our need for God’s wisdom and grace.

In closing, let me recommend a recent piece by Bethel University’s Chris Gehrz who tries to think about the controversy in a broad historical context.  Even more than Professor Gehrz’s thoughtful assessment, I was impressed by his even-handedness and touched by his closing exhortation.  “Please try to show grace and empathy towards fellow evangelicals,” Gehrz urges.

. . . While I continue to think that Hawkins is being treated unfairly and unwisely by at least some of Wheaton’s administrators, I want to trust that what they’ve done is motivated not by anti-Muslim bigotry but by their commitment to take theology seriously, understanding that what we believe has implications for what we do.

Conversely, I hope that those who fervently support Wheaton in this matter are willing to entertain the possibility that Hawkins is being entirely truthful when she describes herself as an evangelical and professes her continuing affection for Wheaton and her commitment to the project of Christian higher ed. (As are those of us who support her.)

Grace and peace to you all.

Image: Wheaton College by Stevan Sheets. Image available through Flickr via Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic license. 

Dr. Robert Tracy McKenzie is the chair of the Department of History at Wheaton College. He is the author ofThe First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from History ​from Intervarsity Press, along with two books pertaining to the American Civil War (published by Cambridge University Press and Oxford University Press). He blogs at http://faithandamericanhistory.wordpress.com. 

DocHawk

Let Us Know You Are Wheaton By Your Love

Dear Wheaton College Administration,

On this day, the Feast of the Epiphany, the day of the manifestation of the True God to the whole world, I ask that you come to an epiphany of compassion, understanding and love, and fully reinstate Dr. Larycia Hawkins.

Today we celebrate the journey of those from outside of the Jewish tradition who were guided by wonder and love stirring in their hearts to seek God’s glory. When we consider the journey of the wise ones to Jesus, we must acknowledge that God speaks beyond our understanding and familiarity. Without the cultural context of Jesus’s contemporary Jewish followers, without the tradition of the Church that guides many of Jesus’s followers today, people came from outside, guided by God’s revelation of love and mercy. How they discerned the message is a mystery, but the Source from whom it came is clear. At Epiphany, with the story of outsiders from afar, we acknowledge that God has revealed Godself – beyond our traditions, beyond the narrow confines we use to separate ourselves from others – to the whole world.

So Epiphany is a day to recognize that God speaks to all of us, and thus it should be a day to recognize that the same God speaks not only to Christians and Jews, but also to Muslims, to Hindus, Buddhists, atheists, agnostics, the whole world. The wise ones from the east were representative of the whole world to whom God came in love and mercy. None of us understand this God fully, but when we respond to the stirring in our hearts and souls that God initiates, we worship One God.

What is revealed to the world at the Epiphany in the Incarnation is that God’s language to the world is embodied Love. Jesus, whom Muslims revere as a prophet, is the message of God’s love for those who were previously deemed beyond love’s boundaries. What Jesus reveals through his life, death and resurrection is that it is we humans who cast out, and God who draws in. God’s love excludes no one. Jesus is God’s revelation that Love has no boundaries.

Dr. Larycia Hawkins embodied this all-inclusive Love, embodied Christ, when she donned hijab to stand in solidarity with Muslims, who are experiencing unprecedented persecution and violence both in our nation and throughout the world. She put herself at risk socially and physically to do something to which we all are called: to be the image of God and magnify God’s love to the world. She did not expect that her actions and her explanation for her actions would also put her employment at risk, as she had faith in Wheaton College to understand her, to recognize her act for the embodiment of discipleship that it was. She expected more love from you because she believed that you share in the same calling to magnify God’s love. But your response to her has been decidedly unloving, and thus, unChrist-like.

I know you don’t see it that way. You believe you are defending your integrity as a distinctly Christian institution and balancing compassion and theological clarity. But in your quest for theological clarity you have left compassion behind. You took immediate action against Dr. Hawkins, putting her on leave, before requesting clarification. You interpreted her claim, that Christians and Muslims worship the same God, in an uncharitable light. You refused to believe that there could be interpretations of her statement compatible with your statement of faith, even if you do not share those interpretations. You made it clear that an affirmation that Christians and Muslims worship the same God is incompatible with your understanding of faith, thereby making denial of Muslim salvation crucial to your sense of identity. Your sense of who you are therefore requires the exclusion of others.

As I said before, however, exclusion has nothing to do with God. And when you exclude others who are embodying the love of Christ to the marginalized, you exclude Jesus himself. That is the lesson of the parable of the sheep and the goats and the conversion of Saul. You most likely do not see your actions against Dr. Hawkins in this light; our own violence is the hardest to see. But Jesus shows us that when we exclude others, we exclude him. Jesus is a gate-opener, not a gatekeeper.

Furthermore, the act of excluding the only tenured black female professor on your campus for her explanation of an action of solidarity with Muslims is an act that compounds rather than heals suffering, an act antithetical to Christ. The context of the Black Lives Matter movement, along with the marginalization of Muslims, cannot be ignored, especially when considering an incarnational faith. Jesus is acting in our messy world through Dr. Hawkins. And going unrecognized in your sight.

Your concern for theological clarity is valid, but your own vision is clouded. Theological clarity, without love, is clearly theologically wrong. Jesus shook the theological understandings of his contemporaries, and continues to shake ours today. In the light of his love, we are continually being “transformed by the renewal of our minds.” Theological clarity is a goal on a horizon, ever present, ever distant, because our understandings are meant to grow in the sunlight of God’s Love, not stagnate.

It is possible to interpret your statement of faith in a light that includes Muslims. Even acknowledging salvation exclusively in Jesus, one can ask, what does Jesus save us from and what does Jesus save us for? If we understand that Jesus saves us from human violence, for the love of God that we have not yet recognized, then we can acknowledge that Muslims also received a revelation that showed the love of the same God for all, especially the poor and marginalized. We can believe that they do not fully understand this revelation, and that it is mixed with human error, but we must understand that our own understanding of God is likewise incomplete and imperfect. We can believe that ultimately, it is the love of Jesus that saves us all by gently guiding us away from violence to mercy, without believing that our salvation is contingent upon our full understanding. We can acknowledge Jesus as a “representative and substitutionary sacrifice” to our own violence rather than God’s justice. After all, Jesus told us: “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice.”

Yet I believe that the heart of the problem is that a narrow interpretation of scripture is holding you hostage to a statement of faith that should be a guidepost – a point signaling where you are on a journey toward God — rather than the destination itself. You are clinging so hard to your identity based on a statement of faith that you are suffocating the living Lord. You are losing your life as you seek to grasp it. I ask that you let the spirit of Jesus stir your hearts to compassion. Let the content of your identity be following Jesus. Reinstate Dr. Hawkins. Let us know you are Wheaton by your love.

Your neighbor and sister in Christ,

 

Lindsey Paris-Lopez

 

Image: Screenshot from Youtube: Dr. Larycia Hawkins speaks about her recent suspension from Wheaton College by slow911.

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Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast: Episode 10: Epiphany, Fear, and the Journey to God

In this episode, Lindsey Paris-Lopez and Adam Ericksen discuss the season of Epiphany. Epiphany means “manifestation” and is the season after Christianity that celebrates the manifestation of the Christ child to the Magi.

MP3

Video

Show Notes

Epiphany is a journey through fear that leads us to hope.

The Magi brought gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. Myrrh is especially interesting because it was used in burial. It’s a kind of “death oil.” (Thank you Lindsey!) So, at the very beginning of Jesus’ life, his death is foreshadowed.

Herod was fearful when he heard there was another “king of the Jews.” He feared death by a rival king and managed his fear through the sacrificial mechanism of violence – he killed innocent children. Jesus provides a radical alternative. In the Garden of Gethsemane, he managed his fear not by violently projecting it onto others, but by going through it to the cross. He revealed God’s radical and nonviolent love for all people. As Paul would put it, “In Christ, God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting us to the ministry of reconciliation.”

If we don’t go through our fear, if we don’t face it, then we will project it upon others. And that’s how we get into scapegoating.

It’s easy to scapegoat Herod, but that’s because there’s a little bit of Herod in all of us. It’s easy for us to go to the sacrificial mechanism, to blame someone else, because it is hard work to do the kind of soul searching that Christ calls us to do. That is the soul searching that will lead us to a better world.

Copyright: Krisdog / 123RF Stock Photo

ayatollah

Divine Revenge? Islam and Khamenei’s False Doctrine of God

Iran and Saudi Arabia cut diplomatic ties yesterday after a weekend of escalating violence. On Saturday, Saudi Arabia executed a popular Shiite cleric named Nimr al-Nimr, who angered the Saudi Royal Family by calling for their removal in 2011. The Saudi Royal Family claims that the execution was an act of national defense, because it accuses Iran of creating “terrorist cells” in Saudi Arabia.

In response to the execution, Iran requested that the Saudi ambassador condemn the execution. Saudi Arabia said, “Hey, two can play that game” and requested that the Iranian ambassador “vehemently object to Iran’s condemnation” of the execution.

Then Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Khamenei, took to Twitter (as apparently you do when you are a supreme leader) to proclaim God’s vengeance! “Divine revenge will seize Saudi politicians.”

Ouch.

There is a definite pattern of revenge to this story, but it has nothing to do with God. As René Girard has taught us, revenge is human, not divine.

Girard claimed that humans are mimetic, and we are particularly mimetic when it comes to violence. In other words, humans imitate violent words and actions, passing them back and forth. But the violence escalates because each side in a conflict wants to deliver the final blow. In this sense, the Saudis and the Iranians are just like the majority of human beings. According to Girard, humans tend to believe that,

Only violence can put an end to violence, and that is why violence is self-propagating. Everyone wants to strike the last blow, and reprisal can thus follow reprisal without any true conclusion ever being reached. (Violence and the Sacred, 26)

Throughout his long career, Girard revealed the human aspect of violence. Like the Saudis and Iranians, it is we who condemn one another with escalating threats of condemnation and violence. According to Girard, violence is purely human.

Which means that God has nothing to do with violence or vengeance or revenge.

Girard was a Christian who claimed that the long trajectory of the Bible reveals the distinction between human violence and God’s nonviolent love. He challenged any notion that God is associated with violence. Girard only made a few comments about Islam during his career, but I’d like to show how the Islamic tradition offers a similar challenge to associating God with violence.

Because I want to be clear that I am not imposing my Christian theology onto Islam, I’ll tell you about Mouhanad Khorchide, professor of Islamic Religious Education at the University of Munster in Germany. As with the Bible, Khorchide knows that there are different images of God in the Qur’an. For him, the question is, “Which image of God are we talking about?” Khorchide says that some Muslims choose to believe that God is a dictator who acts like a violent tribal leader that cannot be challenged.

Political leaders, like the Ayatollah, promote this understanding of God because they view themselves as “shadows of God on earth.” Khorchide says, “This sends out an unequivocal message: anyone contradicting the ruler is also contradicting God.” This makes God into a tribal deity, who pits “us” against “them.”

Of course, one can read any holy book, including the Koran and the Bible, and find images of a violent tribal deity. But Khorchide asserts that the God of the Koran is not like that. “I have a different reading of the Koran. God is not an archaic tribal leader, he’s not a dictator. Of the book’s 114 suras, why do 113 of them begin with the phrase ‘In the name of God, Most Gracious, Most Merciful?’ There has to be a reason for this.”

The reason is that the God of the Koran is Grace and Mercy. For Khorchide, “The Koranic God presents himself as a loving God. That’s why the relationship between God and man is a bond of love similar to the one between a mother and a child.” The God of Grace and Mercy radically transforms the human understanding of God and violence.

Khorchide talks specifically about the Islamic concept of Hell. For many, Hell is the ultimate example of God’s violence and revenge. This is where evil doers will burn forever as a result of divine vengeance. But Khorchide states that idea is a complete misunderstanding of Islam’s view of Hell. “Hell is nothing other than the confrontation with one’s own transgressions. It’s not a punishment that comes from without.”

The Ayatollah is wrong to associate God with revenge. And so are we whenever we associate God with violence. The God of Islam has nothing to do with revenge. Rather, the God of Islam, the God of Mercy, wants us to stop the cycles of vengeance that threaten the future of our world. In fact, God wants us to transform our bitter enmity with friendship. As the Koran states that God’s goal for human relationships is reconciliation – “Good and evil cannot be equal, repel evil with what is better and your enemy will become as close as an old and valued friend” (41:34).

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Image: Flickr, Khamenei poster in Persepolis, by Nick Taylor, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

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A Prayer For The New Year: No More Dead Children; Come, Prince of Peace, and Reign

The boy had to die.

He wasn’t a boy at all; he was a threat, at least in the eyes of the man who was determined not to be his victim. “I must kill him,” the man thought, “before he destroys me.”

Am I speaking of Officer Timothy Loehmann and Tamir Rice, or King Herod and the infant Jesus?

Their stories will be forever intertwined in my mind, as the exoneration of Officer Loehmann for his shooting of 12-year-old Tamir Rice fell on the Feast of the Holy Innocents. Two thousand years ago, a disturbed and distraught king, perceiving a danger to himself, ordered the slaughter of all male children under two born in or near Bethlehem. This past week, a disturbed and distraught officer was absolved of the murder of a 12-year-old boy who was given no chance to prove the truth: that he was a harmless child. A day of mourning for the infants of the ancient past became a day of weeping for black mothers and fathers throughout the nation as they were once again reminded that their children can be killed with impunity. Their cries rise up and mingle with the cries all over the world of people losing loved ones to violence and apathy – children of God, of all ages, killed by guns or missiles, killed by the disease of enmity that grips the world in a pandemic chokehold. From within the shelter of white middle-class privilege deep within the belly of empire, I also grieve, yearning to understand how to be part of the healing so desperately needed.

The commemoration of the brutal killing of innocents falls in the midst of the Christmas season as an annual reminder of the depth of sorrow and sin into which God enters, and this year the pain is renewed. The wounded world into which Christ enters this year is raw and bleeding. Tamir Rice is another black victim killed without consequence in a line that extends from Trayvon Martin to Michael Brown to Eric Garner to Freddie Gray to Rekia Boyd and on and on and on far too long. More names than these are known, but in countries like Pakistan, Yemen, Afghanistan, Iraq and more, most of the names of victims are unknown, even when they are targeted from afar for “patterns of behavior.” Foreign and domestic policies are piling up corpses all over the world, in the name of “defense” and “protection.” Human sacrifice – child sacrifice – is exposed for all to see, and yet the system churns ever on.

A world at war, a world of terrified, hardened souls convinced that everyone else is out to get them, a world where white fear is protected at the expense of black and brown lives, a world where carpet bombing the Middle East and the willingness to kill children by the hundreds and thousands is considered legitimate foreign policy – this tragic world of violence and hate where even those in power live in fear and sacrifice lives by the scores – this is where we welcome you, sweet newborn Prince of Peace.

You came to us poor, born in a barn of filth, born into a patriarchy with questionable paternity, born at the margins, casting yourself out to bring the outcasts in. You are no stranger to injustice, exclusion, violence… you came into the midst of it all and became victim to it to show us that you, God, have always been with the victims. All the violence done in your name was always and ever done to you, not for you. And this world that runs on violence and victimization ran right over you so that we might wake up and see what we are doing to each other. As the world founded on violence crumbles the powers that be cling to this eroding foundation and double-down on their death-dealing. The security of force is making us all insecure. Your voice calls out to us to not be afraid, but fear keeps nervous fingers pulling triggers and pushing buttons to deploy missiles.

Oh dear Jesus, I think of the world into which you were born and I see the world today as you come anew into our hearts and I ache, because this world of tremendous pain and suffering is your home that we have ruined with our violence, most of it mistakenly in your name. You told us repeatedly “Go and learn what this means: I desire mercy, not sacrifice,” and yet we continue to sacrifice on the altars of self-righteousness. Politicians and police officers assume the role of God, of judge, jury and executioner, when they condemn people to death in situation rooms and on sidewalks, ensuring the rest of us that their power to kill those “others,” makes us safe. And I, a beneficiary of this “protection,” feel dirty, enraged, profoundly sad, and yet, relatively “safe,” and, because I am safe, I admit that the anger, pain, and sorrow are relatively fleeting emotions. I do not live with the constant worry that my own children, loved ones, or self could be shot in the street or struck from above, but I know that so many live with that constant fear, and it is unacceptable. And I protest but words are never enough and I don’t know what else to do.

I seek your face and find it reflected in the tear-stained eyes of those crying out to you, mourning the death of their loved ones. I see it in the eyes of the prisoners who were thrown away from society without compassion or mercy, most of whom are trapped more by their poverty than their petty or non-existent crimes. I look from a vantage point of relative security at the immense suffering and know that you are there.

You are with me too, you embrace me, but as long as the world is suffering you do not hold me tight to you. You send me out, into the suffering, because there is so much work to be done. I look to you for guidance and strength as I attempt to be a part of your body, doing the healing work you did when you first walked this bruised and bleeding world.

You tell me first that I am forgiven. I need your forgiveness, dear Lord. I am a child of privilege, a child of empire. Laws designed to help my great grandparents, from which generations on through me have benefited, were made at the expense and exploitation of others. I live on land stolen from natives. My ancestors did not own slaves themselves but benefitted from an economy built on slavery. I feel the weight of collective sin and still benefit from it. I try to awaken myself to the subtle biases that have seeped into my consciousness through culture and media, so that I may dispel my own nervousness, my own sinful fear and ignorance, with healing love. I originated in this world of original sin, my sin is native to this privilege, and all my deliberate wrongs were made in this context of collective, unconscious wrong. You show me that whatever acts of malice or neglect I have done to others I have done to you, but you embrace me with forgiveness.

I am convinced that so many of us live in trigger-eager fear because we have either been victims of violence or because, deep down, we know how violent we are ourselves, and assume the worst in each other because we know the worst in ourselves. I must believe that, for it gives me a degree of hope that we at least know the unsustainable path of violence that we are on. But we are powerless to change course without forgiveness… our own sin is too much to bear without the healing touch of your love. So I look to you for the courage to face all my sin in its ugliness and let your beauty shine through it. Your forgiveness does not absolve me of reparations; it makes reparations possible.

In forgiveness I shed my guilt and fear and turn to the world in love. Let your love permeate through me, let it be my sight, let it fill my thoughts, let it guide my actions. You walked the world in love, healed the sick in love, calmed the raging storms on turbulent seas and in human hearts in love, raised the dead in love, absorbed the strikes and blows and weight of the world’s violence in love. Where clouds of fear distort our vision, making us see enemies in our fellow human beings, you looked upon your own killers in love, with love, for you always saw through the eyes of Love. In perfect Love with the Father, you, Lord Jesus, show us that the world is built by and upon the relationship of Love. O Holy Trinity – Lover, Beloved and the Love that flows between and outward – you show us that the world is not founded upon the violence that our fragile and unraveling order is built upon. The foundation of Love is deeper, it will outlast the shattered remnants of our violence, and we build upon solid ground whenever we relate to each other in Love.

Help us to build upon this sure foundation in this new year and evermore, Lord Jesus. The Christmas season straddles transition into the new year; we end and begin in darkness, we end and begin in hope. We are longing for hope in the midst of so much tragedy, so much sorrow, so much violence, so much war. As it was when you were first born, dear Lord, there are too many dead children, sacrificed to a violent world that is coming apart at the seams. Give us confidence in your forgiveness, assurance of your peace, strength to love through the hate, courage to love through the fear, so our broken world can be repaired, resurrected from death in your everlasting life. Come, Prince of Peace, and reign.

Image: 10th Century Illuminated Manuscript of the Massacre of the Holy Innocents by Kerald. Public Domain.

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Fireproof Your Identity!

 

Editor’s Note: This article was written by guest author Dave Hernandez.

I’ve shared a few thoughts about ‘identity’ on this blog, obviously because that’s one of the main ideas of my book “I AM! The Blueprint of Humanity!” But what do I mean by “identity”? Ideas about ‘identity’ are tossed about quite frequently and offered in many different variations. And often times people’s understanding of ‘identity’ do not exactly coincide with mine. Hence today’s post purposed to clarify the concept.

So what do I mean when I use the word ‘identity’?

It’s obviously a sense of understanding “who I am”: most of us would agree with that. It also encompasses ideas such as self-esteem and self-worth, confidence and assurance. In that we all concur. So where’s the divergence?

It’s in this: the majority of us seek identity through ‘self-elevation’!

‘Self-elevation’ is about making a name (identity) for myself by myself. There is a deep need for recognition or ‘identity’ in all of us and we seek to fulfill that need through our own efforts.

‘Self-elevation’ uses things such as ‘talents’, ‘achievements’, ‘abilities’, ‘appearances’, ‘possessions’ and most above all ‘the things I do’ to create a sense of identity.

We seek to satisfy the identity quest by positioning ourselves above the crowd in one-way or another. We create our status: our identity. The problem is that we revert to mimicking what the crowd has and does in order to be ‘accepted’ and we try to do ‘better’ and ‘greater’ things than others in order to find our unique place. It gives us a sense of identity. But, it engenders all sorts of competitions leading to jealousies, criticism and rivalries. We use our ‘talents’, ‘abilities’, ‘belongings’, the number of Facebook friends, people we know who are considered high achievers, … etc., to make a point: “I have what it takes to be somebody of a certain stature above the crowd!”

It’s what happened to Adam and Eve. The Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil leads to death. ‘Tree-of-Self-Significance’ is the subtitled English name you can give to the tree. It led to jealousies, broken relationships, and murder: read the story of Cain and Abel to start with.

There’s another problem. What happens when you lose your status? If your identity is in what you do, what happens when you can’t do those things anymore? If your identity is in what you have, what happens when you lose those things? Will you become depressed, suicidal, or will your loss express itself in anger and frustration? Think about it and answer the question honestly!

Identity must come from something or someplace deeper than what we do or possess. It must find a deeper source than position and status in society we create for ourselves.

I am not against possessing, achieving, doing, and position. I am simply flagging the fact that these things can be lost and therefore can’t become the foundation of our identity. A person with a true sense of identity will not change when their circumstances in life vary. This person will not lose their ‘self-confidence’ when they can’t prove their value because they’ve been demoted, or cannot be counted among the wealthy, or whatever the change in conditions.

Paul explains to the church in Corinth that “if any man builds (his identity) on the foundation (of Jesus Christ) with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work (1Corinthians 3:12-13 NASB)”.

‘Identity’ and ‘value’ go hand in hand. But one’s sense of value and worth cannot come from anything that can be taken away: burnt in the fire. The intrinsic value that makes me “who I am” cannot come from anything that can lose its value in the first place. A job can be lost; money can vanish; abilities can fade away; people with greater talents can show up on the scene; and you can be demoted and rejected! Anything external to me, that can be removed from me, must not become the basis upon which my identity is formed! The things you use to build your sense of identity will be tested by fire.

Gold, silver and precious stones won’t lose their value when the test comes – and believe me everybody faces the fire!

Identity that cannot be destroyed is built on things that will never lose their value even when you find yourself losing everything this world values. What are those things?

I would point out three valuable truths that affirm my sense of identity:

  1. I am a Child of God and the Trinity’s love for me is based on that fact alone (not on what I do for them!);
  2. I am a Free-Moral-Agent and my decisions belong to me;
  3. I am the incarnation of God’s thoughts, plans and emotions for me in physical form.

These three ‘pillars’ are the gold, silver and precious stones that will not burn away in the furnace of life. It is once I have a firm understanding of these three things that a true sense of identity is formed in me.

I’ve seen too many people caught up in their doing and success stories, their works for God, even the miraculous works they claim for themselves as if their anointing is better than someone else’s… all trying to affirm their identity and yet they are so off the mark: that, perhaps, is the worst kind of sin!

The only way to identity is through ‘self-emptying’: you must stop trying so damn hard, just give up and surrender, lay low and become a nobody, a servant, a child… then you will find yourself in possession of everything that money cannot buy: security in the knowledge of who you are found in the only authority who can affirm your identity: God!

 

Dave HernandezDave Hernandez is an author, speaker and blogger. He has been a student, preacher and teacher of the Bible for 30 years. Dave is married to Laurence and has two sons. He is a lover of all cultural expressions.

 This article first appeared on Daves personal blog You can access the blog via: http://www.iamsonofgod.net/blog.html and http://iamsonofgod.blogspot.com/.

Editor’s Note: Would you like to submit an article for consideration to The Raven Foundation? Find out how in theguidelines 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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Peace On Earth

How can we develop more peaceful communities?

In the video below, I explain how Maria Montessori and the Biblical story offer practical ways for peace. The story of the Magi contrasts their desire to pay homage to the baby Jesus with King Herod’s fear of the baby Jesus. You don’t have to invoke God or theology to understand this story. The contrasts provides an example of two different ways to respond to Jesus and others in our lives: either as a threat resulting in rivalry and fear (King Herod) or a a spirit of welcoming that which is new and greater than themselves (the Magi).

Consumed with rivalry and fear, Herod kills all boys under two years old. As an anthropologist, Maria Montessori would have interpreted this story as a warning about fear, envy, rivalry and holding onto power so tightly that one would kill innocent children. She say the alternative path provided by the Magi – not to fear our “rivals” but to pay them homage and celebrate what others are bringing into the world.

Image: losw / 123RF Stock Photo