Valentine’s Day Tip for Parents: Become Your Toddler’s Secret Admirer

This video is my way of saying Happy Valentine’s Day to the parents and grandparents of young children. You know, at the Raven Foundation we often talk about how we can lose touch with our best selves when we get caught up in rivalry. And parents know that the worst form rivalry can take is the dreaded power struggle with our children. How is it that we can become so adversarial with the very ones we love with all our hearts?

Maria Montessori had an explanation for this dynamic and a way to get the love back. She observed, “Yes, of course, we all love children, we love them a great deal, but… we do not understand them. We do not do what we should for them, because we have no idea what it is we should do.” Too often, she cautioned, when we are caught up in power struggles, we act like a dictator who “wants others to obey his will and refuses to take their personalities into account. The principal [parenting] problem as the adult sees it is: How can the child be made to obey? Should he be dealt with tenderly or severely?”

When our chief parenting concern is obedience or good behavior, we have quite unintentionally become our child’s rival! We have accidentally stumbled into a battle of wills with each side going to extremes to come out on top. We see inconsolable temper tantrums on the one side and the desperate use of more and more extreme punishments on the other. Caught in this spiral, we wonder: Where did the love go? In this video, I explain Montessori’s solution: Learn that your toddler has a secret he cannot help but keep from you. Learning to understand and admire that secret is the key to avoiding power struggles because we begin to see our children’s behavior in a new light. Rather than acts of disobedience, we realize that they are following an inner drive that is too powerful to resist. When you become your child’s secret admirer, you will feel the love flow again – I promise! Happy Valentine’s Day!

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Iowa, Ted Cruz, and the Evangelical Identity Crisis

Ted Cruz ended last night with a yuuuuge victory over Donald Trump in Iowa. (Sorry, had to do it!) Religion played a big role in Cruz’s victory. The New York Times reports that Cruz’s victory was “powered by a surge of support from evangelical Christians.”

For his part, Cruz reaffirmed his connection with his evangelical supporters by invoking divine favor upon his victory. “God bless the great state of Iowa! Let me first say, to God be the glory.”

But I can’t help but feel uneasy about the God proclaimed by Cruz and his evangelical supporters. That’s because, when it comes to their evangelical faith, they have an identity crisis.

The word “evangelical” has a specific meaning and history. It comes from the Greek word evangelion, which means “good news.”

Evangelical has become a distinctively Christian term, but during the first century it was used predominantly by the Roman Empire. In fact, when Caesar sent his armies off to conquer new land in the name of Roman peace, Roman soldiers would announce military strength as the “Gospel according to Caesar.” Rome waged peace through violence. In his book Jesus and Empire, Richard Horsley states that,

In the Roman world, the “gospel” was the good news of Caesar’s having established peace and security for the world. Caesar was the “savior” who had brought “salvation” to the whole world. The peoples of the empire were therefore to have “faith” (pistis/fides) in their “lord” the emperor. Moreover, Caesar the lord and savior was to be honored and celebrate by the “assemblies” (ekklesiai) of cities such as Philippi, Corinth, and Ephesus.

Now, a good Bible believing evangelical will instantly recognize the politically subversive language of the New Testament. In the face of Roman military that brought the good news of “peace” by the sword, the early Christians delivered an alternative message of good news that claimed “those who live by the sword die by the sword.” Make no mistake, their evangelical message was political. They sought to reorder the world, not through Caesar’s military strength, but through Christ’s nonviolent love.

The early Christians subverted Roman violence through their use of language and their actions. They claimed that the good news was found not in Caesar, but in Christ. Christ, not Caesar, was the “savior” who brought “salvation” to the world. People were to have “faith” in him as their “lord.” Jesus was to be honored and celebrates at assemblies, which would become known as churches.

But for the early Christians, words weren’t enough. They took Jesus’ command to follow him seriously. Jesus didn’t lift the sword to defend himself against the violence that killed him, and neither did his disciples lift their swords. Rather, they continued to challenge the Roman Empire’s “good news” of achieving peace through violence. The disciples claimed that true peace could only be achieved by following the nonviolent way of Jesus, whose evangelical message commanded that his follower love everyone, included their enemies, including those who sought to persecute them. In following Jesus their Lord, the disciples were murdered, just like their Lord and Savior.

Jump ahead about 2,000 years to last night in Iowa and we discover that Ted Cruz and his evangelical supporters have an identity crisis. They claim that Jesus is their Lord with words, but not in action. Cruz promises to “carpet bomb” America’s enemies. He promises to beef up the American military, a military that spends roughly the same amount as “the next nine largest military budgets around the world, combined.” The U.S. military is already the strongest military that the world has ever seen.

René Girard wrote in his apocalyptic book Battling to the End that Christians must make a decision about violence because Christ has left us with a choice, “either believe in violence, or not; Christianity is non-belief.”

Christianity is non-belief in violence because it believes in the one true God who on the cross responded to violence not with more violence, but with nonviolent love and forgiveness.

“To God be the glory,” a victorious Cruz proclaimed to a cheering crowd in Iowa. But I can’t help but wonder – what God is Ted Cruz and his evangelical supporters talking about? Because “Hey! Good News! We just carpet bombed the hell out of you,” sounds a lot more like the gods of ancient Rome than the God of Jesus Christ.

As long as evangelicals proclaim faith in Jesus as their Lord, but continue to believe in violence as the way to peace and security for the United States, they will suffer from an identity crisis. And rightfully so, because that combination is not the Good News.
Photo: Ted Cruz delivering his victory speech after the Iowa caucus. (Screenshot from YouTube, ABC News)


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.


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 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!


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 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.


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: and

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.




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.”


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.


Love South of Heaven

Write about love, as in love thy enemy, and the social recoil sounds like this:

“There is no nexus at which we can speak with ISIS. Singing Kumbaya while being led to a beheading can’t work.”

Or this:

“Any thug who threatens a cop gets what he deserves. One bullet or ten — I could care less. If a thug will threaten a cop or a prison guard, he will kill or maim me or mine without hesitation for very little reason. You want to give these thugs ‘civil rights’ — I want to give them a funeral. My way insures me and mine do not get killed or maimed. Your way insures I probably will.”

These are responses to recent columns, in which I have tried to address the American and global hell created by the belief that violence, rather than endlessly begetting itself and spewing consequences far beyond conventional perception, actually solves problems in something other than the shortest of short terms. This is tricky. “Love thy enemy,” or words to that effect, may be the foundation of Christianity and every other major religion, but they’re utterly misunderstood and belittled in the realm of popular culture and I doubt they’ve ever been taken seriously at the level of government.

It’s what they do in heaven. Sing Kumbaya, play the harp, love the other dead people (who, of course, went through a vetting process to get in similar to what we impose on refugees from Syria or Iraq). Here on Earth . . . come on, get real. The cynics cry “Trump! Trump!” because he tells it like it is, the way a junior high bully would. It’s simple. It’s linear. A bullet for a thug and the thug is dead. Problem solved.

Of course, a bigger problem is also created, but to relate this problem — ISIS, for instance — to one’s own actions, or the actions of one’s country, is way too complicated, so the cynics choose to stay simple.

How do we counter this simplistic-mindedness?

“The usual way to generate force is to create anger, desire and fear,” writes Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, peace activist. “But these are dangerous sources of energy because they are blind . . .”

Let’s pause mid-quote and summon the memory of our own impulsive emotions, our own anger and fear and blindness. Now let’s arm those emotions. Whether or not we’re “justified” in what we do next, the person on the receiving end is certain to have lost his or her humanity, at least for a terrible instant.

But what could happen next is so much worse: When these emotions become collective, the result is mob mentality. And when they become institutionalized — buried deep in the nation’s soul — the inevitable result is war . . . and war . . . and war. And it’s self-perpetuating. The dehumanized enemy strikes back, perhaps with horrendous actions, which of course justify what we do next. Eventually one side or the other “wins” and “peace” prevails for a moment or two, but it’s always a broken and temporary thing, requiring armed guards at the perimeter. This is peace with fear.

And it’s a way of life, humanity’s normal: being perpetually armed, perpetually terrified, perpetually blind.

But Hanh’s quote continues: “. . . whereas the force of love springs from awareness, and does not destroy its own aims. Out of love and the willingness to act, strategies and tactics will be created naturally from the circumstances of the struggle.”

The force of love springs from awareness. What, oh God, does this mean? What, especially, does it mean beyond personal acts of big-hearted decency? Is love always distorted, often beyond recognition, when it is institutionalized?

Consider, for instance, the idea of the “penitentiary.” With roots in the word “penitent,” it was conceived by early 19th century prison reformers to be a place of resurrection — spiritual rebirth — for wayward souls. Maybe there was always a moralistic lunacy attached to the concept. In any case, it’s no accident that the concept degraded over the decades to the word “pen” and the incarcerated have pretty much lost all their humanity.

“Prison must be something they fear, not just a momentary . . . way station on the road to the next crime,” my correspondent, quoted above, a former prison guard (I think), wrote in his reply to my column from last week, in which I discuss an inmate’s beating death by guards. “Today’s prisons are a joke. The guards live in fear of the inmates — not the other way around. . . . Beatings are all that will keep some inmates in line. Who ever said there is no such thing as a bad boy was a lunatic. There are bad boys — more than you want to contemplate, and all they understand is superior violence.”

I quote him in order to let his words percolate next to those of Thich Nhat Hanh. “The force of love springs from awareness.” Again I ask, what does this mean? What does it mean in a world where violence is the answer to so many of our problems and a large percentage of the population is angry, fearful — and armed? What does it mean in a war- and prison-dependent economy, stoked by a too-often clueless media with a financial stake in more of the same? What does it mean in a world where cynicism rules?

I reach out to the planet’s peacemakers. I know there are millions of you, enduring hardship and risking your lives to free us, to free the planet, from our self-inflicted hell.

“The careless habits of mind and heart that allow us to pollute and waste also allow us to treat other human beings as disposable,” the editors of Commonweal wrote last June, commenting on the papal encyclical “Laudato Si.” “‘A true ecological approach,’ (Pope) Francis writes, ‘always becomes a social approach; it must integrate questions of justice in debates on the environment, so as to hear both the cry of the earth and the cry of the poor.’”

I would add: the cry of the refugees, the cry of the warriors, the cry of the inmates, the cry of the police, the cry of the prison guards . . . the cry of all humanity. Let us listen, let us reach out, let us look one another in the eyes no matter how difficult this proves to be.

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


Image: Copyright Lane Erickson via


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Talk To Me Tuesday: The RavenCast Episode 6 with Dr. Jason Okrzynski on the Saints and Friendship with God

Dr. Jason Okrzynsi, M.Div., PhD, recently joined the RavenCast to discuss why Protestants should reclaim the saints as models of faith by helping us find friendship with God.

Jason is the Director of Christian Education for Children, Youth and Families at the First Congregational Church of Wilmette, in Wilmette, Illinois. Jason earned his Master of Divinity at Luther Theological Seminary in St. Paul, Minnesota and his PhD in Christian Education and Congregational Studies at Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary. He recently delivered a paper titled, “For All the Saints: The Cult of Saints and Theological Imagination in the Art of Liberal Protestant Youth Ministry.”



Show Notes:

  • God as gift giver.
  • Our response to God’s gift is our vocation, which is to be Christ in the world. The two primary places we do that is in our family and in our work.
  • The saints stir imagination that invite us to live out radical lives of love and service. The saints present a different picture than the consumer identity of the modern world.
  • Francis rejects the materialism and privilege of his youth and find joy in serving others.
  • Children and youth yearn for transcendence and the saints offer a witness to what that looks like.
  • For Martin Luther, our jobs are not about personal fulfillment, but is about offering ourselves to care for earthly needs.
  • The saints are called “friends of God.” They find friendship with God by intentionally detaching from certain material goods and gaining social status so that they can intentionally attach themselves to God.
  • Most of the saints carried great pain and sadness and struggled through incredible temptation. Most of them have skeletons in their closet. They are models because they are real people who had real struggles.
  • The Christian faith isn’t about making us try harder to be good or worthy. It’s about God giving God’s self. You can reject the gift, you can receive it poorly, but God gives the gift.
  • Liberal modernity tells us that we need to produce enough and be good enough. But the saints claim that we just need to receive the gifts that God offers to us.
  • We often want to know what we can do to produce holiness, righteousness and justice. But the saints ask what do we have to do to receive holiness, righteousness and justice.
  • Paul says “Imitate me as I imitate Christ.” This is the perfect theology of the saints. It’s not that we need to be more religious. The point of claiming the saints is not to be them or compare our lives to theirs. It’s that here is one example of what it means to be a friend of God.



Love Is…

Love is patient. Love is kind.

Love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.

Love is not irritable or resentful.

Love does not rejoice in wrongdoing. Love rejoices in truth.

Love bears all things. Love believes all things. Love hopes all things. Love endures all things.

Love never ends.


Love does not keep a record of wrongs.

Love does not seek vengeance.

Love will only work for the good.

Love will never forsake you.


Love suffers everything.

Love gives everything.

Love perseveres through everything.

Love unifies everything.


Love is experienced.

Love is tacit.

Love is personal.

Love is the reason for existence.


Love is magical.


Love is gazing into your daughter’s eyes.

Love is kissing her cheek.

Love is tucking her into bed at night.

Love is holding her hand when she is scared.

Love is making her laugh.

Love is consoling her when she cries.

Love is listening to her with empathy.

Love is not condemning when she is wrong.


Love casts out all fear.

Love conquers death.

Love destroys hate.

Love wins.


Now, read God in place of love.


Image: by Ivan Kruk via



In Memory of René Girard: The Truth about Life and Death

Many scholars have claimed that René Girard’s mimetic theory is one of the most important insights of the 20th century. But those of us who have been highly influenced by René know better. For us, it is not an overstatement to state that René’s explanation of mimetic theory is the most important discovery of human nature in the last 2,000 years. That is, since the Gospels.

This morning brought the news that René has passed away at age 91. “Girardians,” as we are called, have been on social media sharing our sorrow at his passing, but also our profound sense of gratitude for this giant among human beings. We stand on his shoulders. And our vision is all the clearer for it.

As I reflected upon the news, I was struck by the fact that René taught us so much about death. Specifically, about the scapegoat mechanism. René confronted us with the truth about being human. We all have a propensity to manage our conflicts by blaming someone else for them. We find unity against a common enemy. In good sacrificial formula, all of our conflicts and sins against one another are washed away as we unite in expelling or sacrificing our scapegoat. Temporary reconciliation and peace descends upon the community, but it is only temporary. For the expulsion or murder of our scapegoat never actually solves our problems. Our conflicts re-emerge and the scapegoating mechanism continues.

But if René taught us about death, he also taught us about life. The solution to our natural inclination toward scapegoating is found in the Judeo-Christian tradition, specifically in the Gospels’ portrayal of Jesus’ death. “Christ agrees to die,” wrote René in his book Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World, “so that mankind will live.”

Many progressive Christians who do not know René’s work will bristle at that statement. Indeed, without reading René’s books, it could sound like a form of penal subsitutionary atonement theory that claims Jesus allows humanity to live by saving us from the violent wrath of God.

But nothing could be further from the truth. The truth that René revealed throughout his career is that wrath doesn’t belong to God. It belongs solely to humans. In anthropological terms, what was revealed by the death of Jesus was the human scapegoat mechanism. Once you read René’s works, you realize how obvious it is that the violence at the cross had nothing to do with God, but everything to do with the human propensity to scapegoat.

Still, at this point, we should warn ourselves not to scapegoat penal substitutionary atonement theory. After all, if René taught us anything it’s that human have been projecting our own violence onto God since the foundation of the world. We justify our violence and hatred against our scapegoats in the name of God or peace or justice or whatever we deem to be a important to our well-being.

René taught us that to truly live is to stop scapegoating our enemies, and to stop justifying it in the name of God. Once at a conference, René was asked what would happen if mimetic theory became wildly successful. He answered, “There would be no more scapegoating.”

To end scapegoating and to truly live we need to follow Jesus by turning away from violence and turning toward our neighbors, including those we call our enemies, in the spirit of love and nonviolence.

René not only taught us that truth, he lived into it. I met him once at a conference for young Girardian scholars. I was struck by the fact that René wasn’t interested in teaching us, or making sure we had his theory “right.” What he wanted more than anything was to talk with us. He wanted to learn about our lives and what interested us. He had a special humility about him – instead of taking glory for himself, he gave glory to others. For example, I remember sitting across the table from him. He smiled as he looked me in the eyes and said, “I’ve watched your Mimetic Theory 101 videos. They’re good.” That’s the way he was. He affirmed all of us and encouraged us to follow the truth, no matter where it led.

René always gave the last word to the Gospels. It’s where he found the truth about life and death. It’s only fitting that I end with this quote that sums up René’s theory about God, violence, and love,

The following is the basic text, in my opinion, that shows us a God who is alien to all violence and who wishes in consequence to see humanity abandon violence:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father who is in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and the unjust.” (Matthew 5:43-45, Things Hidden, 183)

May our brother René Girard rest in peace and rise in the glorious love of God.

Image: Screenshot from YouTube.


Tears of Friendship, Birth-Pangs of New Life: An All Saints Sunday Meditation

(Below is a slightly modified adaptation of a sermon I preached for All Saints Sunday, 2012, based on the Gospel of John, chapter 11, verses 32-44, or “The Raising of Lazarus.”):

Friends, there are at least two themes to this familiar Gospel story: resurrection and friendship. How appropriate for All Saints Sunday, when we celebrate our eternal friendship, united in the joy of resurrection in God’s holy reign! I want to suggest that friendship and resurrection are deeply connected. It is not merely that we will all be friends in heaven. In a very real sense, friendship is resurrection.

Saint Paul says that to be in Christ is to be a new creation. And to be in Christ is to be in friendship, in free and voluntary love, with him. And if we are in friendship with Christ we are also united in the body of Christ as friends.

I once found it strange that Jesus wept moments before raising Lazarus from the dead. After all, he knew that joy was about to conquer sorrow. Why, then, did he weep?

Yet the more I meditate on Jesus, the more I see that he could not have done otherwise. He wept because he was human. He wept because he was God. And he wept because Lazarus was his friend.

To be human is to feel the urgency of human need, even when you have faith that, in the end, all will be well. It is to weep with others, to shoulder their pain so that the weight of sorrow does not crush them.

As God in flesh, Jesus understood the suffering of Lazarus and his sisters more deeply than they themselves ever could. He mourned the pain that Lazarus endured in his final hours. He felt the anxiety of Mary and Martha, missing their brother and facing the double oppression of occupation and sexism. Impoverished women, living without a man under an occupying power, could hardly make a life for themselves and were often left behind by their society.

And Jesus mourned the violence that permeates human nature and creates such unjust systems, which burden people of all times and places.

But beyond all of that, Jesus had lost a personal friend. He had lost someone with whom he had shared laughter and stories and tears. Grief was the only possible response.

We tend to think Jesus wept before he raised Lazarus from the dead. But what if tears were part of the resurrection process itself?

It wasn’t just Jesus’ power that raised Lazarus. It was Jesus’ love. Love is the power, love is the whole being, of Jesus, indeed the whole being of God revealed in Jesus. And love is vulnerability. It is sharing another’s pain. It is weeping.

If Lazarus could not have been healed without Jesus’ love, does that mean that he could not have been healed without his tears? I think so. And I believe the tears are the birth-pangs of the same suffering love that would be fully borne on the cross.

We know that God is Love, and Love is the power that gives us eternal life. But love can seem abstract and fuzzy. We can say we love humanity and truly wish to help all people. But an awareness of the suffering of the world rarely makes us weep, unless we see that suffering manifested in a friend.

God’s love manifested itself for us in the most personal and profound way – in the life of our best friend Jesus, who weeps with us in our darkest hours even as he leads us into the splendor of eternal light and life. We are bound to him at our most vulnerable by mutual tears. What a friend we have in Jesus.

And if our new life in Jesus is this profoundly intimate friendship, then we are bound to each other in friendship as well. I began this article with the word “Friends” because you, dear readers, are my friends. Friends forever. It’s not just a catchy phrase to write in a yearbook; it is our eternal destiny in Christ.

We are united in a love that transcends all bounds, a love not compelled by family bonds or common associations, but freely given and received in grace. This is what it means to be the communion of Saints.

What if, today, we all commit to deepening our relationships with those around us, and journey further into the new life we have received in Christ? This doesn’t mean looking past differences, but exploring them more deeply, with open minds and hearts. It means setting aside judgment and listening with empathy. It means taking a risk, making ourselves vulnerable, as Jesus was when he wept.

We are called by Christ to love all people, regardless of race, language, politics, sexual orientation, or creed. But because we are human, we must wait until we are united in the fullness of God’s kingdom before we can know them all. We cannot offer personal friendship to every single person on earth. But we all know those to whom we can offer it. It is in particular friendships and concrete acts of kindness that we transcend our prejudices and deepen our love for humanity.

We can take the time today to make a new friend, or deepen a relationship with someone we know only by sight or name. The more we open ourselves to others in friendship, the more we will see Christ revealed, and the deeper we will feel ourselves fall into the secure embrace of God’s love.

In the name of God who models the perfect friendship in Triune Harmony and unites us in eternal friendship as the Communion of Saints, Amen.

Image: “The Raising of Lazarus” by Davezelenka. Available on Wikimedia Commons via Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license.

tangled 1

Tangled – Let Down Your Hair

The introduction to Tangled is as heart wrenching as it gets. Within the first moments of the movie, we are introduced to a miserable woman named Gothel who kidnaps an infant princess named Rapunzel. She does so because of the princess’ magic hair—locks that restore youth and heal wounds. For the next 18 years, sweet and innocent Rapunzel would be forced to live in a tower hidden in the woods. Other than Mother Gothel, she would have no contact with the world.[1]

What a horrifying beginning to a story!

To keep Rapunzel hidden, Gothel instills paralyzing fear in the young girl. She deceptively convinces Rapunzel that “the world is dark and selfish and cruel.” This keeps her psychologically trapped, just as the tower keeps her physically incarcerated. However, because of a yearly ritual—one where the King and Queen release thousands of floating lanterns on Rapunzel’s birthday—she remains hopeful that there is more to the world than her “mother” would have her believe.

When an unlikely thief named Eugene Fitzherbert (who goes by the pseudonym, Flynn Rider) stumbles upon Rapunzel’s tower, she finally has her opportunity to experience the world. To ensure her escape, she knocks the intruder unconscious. She then hides his stolen merchandise—a satchel containing the royal crown. With the promise that she will return his “property,” Rapunzel then convinces Flynn to guide her to a place where she can witness the floating lanterns first-hand.

Once out of the tower, Rapunzel openly embraced the world God created—the grass between her toes, the wind in her hair, and the coolness of a babbling creek. It is truly a magical moment, one that captures how one should engage this beautiful planet. Flynn, though, used the moment for other matters. He devised a plan to take naïve Rapunzel to a bar that was a haven for the outcasts of society in hopes that she would scare back to her tower. Then, he could have his stolen goods back and be on his way. However, Flynn’s plan backfires when Rapunzel proves him wrong in every way.

Mural of Rapunzel by Matthew Distefano

Mural of Rapunzel by Matthew Distefano

Once in the “Snuggly Duckling,” as it is ironically named, Rapunzel is met by the local “roughians.” When confronted by the crowd, she does not shy away for long, as Flynn had hoped. Instead, Rapunzel almost immediately inspires the criminal men to consider something other than their violent ways. She inspires them to break out into a song, of all things—a jaunty tune about having yet to be fulfilled dreams. Shortly after the song ends though, the palace guards storm the bar in search of the bandit Flynn. Because of Rapunzel’s inspiring ways, one of the “sinners” helps her and Flynn escape through a secret hatch just before being noticed. However, the guards shortly catch up to them and after a brief entanglement with a palace horse named Maximus and a few guards, the two heroes escape into yet another tunnel. This time though, because of the ruckus created by the chase, a dam breaks and quickly fills the tunnel with water. Unless Rapunzel and Flynn can find a way out, it will be their grave.

While trapped, Flynn admits to Rapunzel that his real name is Eugene. Due to the dire circumstances he was in, his humanness starts to shine through. Because of Eugene’s vulnerability, Rapunzel lets down her guard and mimetically admits something to Eugene: her hair has the ability to glow when she sings. Upon saying this, Rapunzel realizes that if she begins to sing, her hair will glow and the two will be able to see enough so as to escape the pitch black tunnel. She starts to sing a soft melody and because of Rapunzel’s quick thinking, the two narrowly escape with their lives. However, in the process, Eugene badly cuts his hand. Now, the magical gift of Rapunzel’s hair will be on full display—the ability to heal and restore.

During a precious moment shared between our heroes, Rapunzel sings a beautiful tune to Eugene and the power of her hair goes to work. In an instant, the awful cut sustained in the flooded tunnel disappears and Eugene’s hand is restored—apokatastasis![2] He then takes the opportunity to gather some firewood for the night when Mother Gothel—having earlier found the hidden satchel containing the royal crown—enters the scene. And she knows exactly what she’s doing! Gothel talks down to Rapunzel, instilling fear in the young girl the entire time. Just prior to fleeing off into the shadows, Gothel baits her “daughter” with the satchel in hopes that Eugene would discover it and leave Rapunzel behind.

Time would tell if Gothel’s sinister plan would work or not . . .

Upon waking the next morning, Rapunzel and Eugene are greeted by the palace horse, Maximus. However, instead of having a fight on their hands, similar to what takes place at the “Snuggly Duckling,” Rapunzel again turns a potential enemy into a friend when she convinces Maximus to aid them in their quest to see the floating lanterns.

Once inside the kingdom, Rapunzel cannot help but bring life to the people. Her energy is infectious and easily starts a flash-mob of sorts—getting the townsfolk to join her in a lively dance. Shortly after, her dream finally comes true . . . And yet, even witnessing the beautiful lanterns was nothing compared to the love that she was starting to feel for Eugene. Indeed, the feeling was mutual. It was so strong even, that when Eugene is given the satchel, he wants nothing to do with it and attempts to give it back to his ex-partners, the Stabbington Brothers, when he notices them off in the distance. Little did Eugene know that they were working with Gothel, who had plans of her own.

When Eugene attempts to give back the satchel, the wicked brothers instead tie him up and send him off to the city—stolen goods in tow—where he is a wanted criminal. The brothers then go after Rapunzel and her magic hair but in a double crossing, Mother Gothel knocks the two unconscious and is viewed as the savior—Rapunzel’s “messiah.” In Rapunzel’s mind, everything her “mother” told her was true. The world was a dangerous place. It was safer in the tower.

Life now seemed hopeless and so Rapunzel returned to her captivity.

Meanwhile, back in the kingdom, Eugene was set to be executed for the crime of theft. (Perhaps the Queen and King—Rapunzel’s parents—were not as compassionate as they are portrayed in the story.) However, new friend Maximus, along with the crew from the “Snuggly Duckling,” breaks Eugene out just in the nick of time. He then heads straight for Rapunzel, who was in trouble herself.

While Eugene was incarcerated, Rapunzel realized her identity—the true “self” she had been all along. When she confronts Mother Gothel, however, Gothel does not take well to this realization and bounds Rapunzel’s hands and feet. Once Eugene arrives, Gothel would be ready.

Gothel, who had been a liar from the beginning, then became a murderer.[3] When Eugene enters the tower, Gothel stabs him in the back and immediately gets ready to leave off with a resentful Rapunzel and her magic hair. However, Rapunzel, with a true servant’s heart, convinces Mother Gothel to allow her to heal Eugene if Rapunzel promises to willingly stay with Gothel all the rest of her days. Gothel agrees and in an act of true love, Rapunzel openly lays down her life for Eugene, running to his side with the intentions of saving his life.

However, Eugene had other ideas . . .

Just when Rapunzel was about to heal Eugene and thus, be lost to him forever, he dramatically takes a shard of glass and cuts off all of Rapunzel’s magical hair. In doing so, the restorative powers that were keeping Mother Gothel alive ceased and she was revealed for who she really was. In an instant, Gothel shriveled up to nothing in the face of Eugene’s self-giving love and fell like lightening from Rapunzel’s tower.[4] When she hit the ground, nothing but her clothes remained. She was gone. Sadly, Eugene would soon follow.

In a heartbreaking scene, Eugene takes his final breath in the comfort of Rapunzel’s delicate arms. Painfully, he remains in this status for some time until a single tear from Rapunzel’s eyes fall onto Eugene’s cheek and instantly begins to bring life to his deceased body. Love, in its purest form, starts to undo what death could ever hope to accomplish. Like Lazarus, Eugene breaks free from the grips of death and becomes fully restored in the matter of moments.[5] Eugene and Rapunzel joyfully embrace with the realization that because of their love, all would be well.

All in all, this is a tale about how love overcomes all obstacles. In spite of the freedom that was taken from Rapunzel, in spite of a childhood shrouded with fear and torment—in spite of everything!—love conquers the powers of evil. As hopeless as life seemed for Rapunzel and as dim as the light of love must have appeared, it was always with her; always present in some form or another. And because of this, she not only helped transform the lives of the outcasts of society, she transformed her own reality and discovered her true self, grounded in splendid love.

[1] I would like to note that in a real-life situation such as this, Rapunzel would no doubt not become the woman she ends up as in the film. In fact, depending on the severity of isolation, she likely would have died early on. She most definitely would not have learned all she did as there would have been nobody to imitate.

[2] Apokatastasis is the restoration to the original state. In terms of theology, it means the restitution and reconciliation of all things to God. The word is found once in the New Testament, namely, Acts 3:21.

[3] John 8:44 describes the devil as a “liar and a murderer” from the beginning.

[4] Luke 10:18

[5] For the story of Jesus raising Lazarus from the dead, see John 11: 38 – 44.

Image: Rapunzel’s hair grows and shines while she sings. (Screenshot from YouTube)

For more in Matthew’s Disney Princess series, see:

Cinderella: Happily Ever After

Beauty and the Beast: Tale As Old As Time

The Little Mermaid: Under the Sea

Alladin: A Whole New World

Frozen: Love Will Thaw a Frozen Heart

Tangled: Let Down Your Hair