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clinton trump

Let’s Make America Meh

Donald Trump wants to “Make America Great Again.” Hillary Clinton claims America has never stopped being great. But maybe we should just try to make America meh.

Here’s a question, how do we define American greatness? In politics, American greatness is usually described in comparison with other nations. This comparison is part of human nature. As René Girard states in his masterful book on human social dynamics called Deceit, Desire, and the Novel, to be human is to have a tendency “to compare oneself with others.”

What’s true on the personal level is also true on the national level. Historically, the United States has compared our greatness to other nations – England, France, China, Germany, and Russia, for example. But now we also compare ourselves to terrorist organizations. Our greatness as a nation is being defined by our ability to destroy al-Qaeda and ISIS.

To make America meh would be to stop defining our “greatness” in comparison with other nations. On an individual and national level, comparing ourselves with others leads to relationships of constant and escalating rivalry.

Many of us are addicted to that rivalry. We gain a sense of “greatness” by being against our enemies. But that’s a false sense of greatness. It may give us a temporary high, a sense of meaning in our lives, but we will always need another fix, another enemy to be against.

True greatness isn’t formed in a relationship against our enemies. Rather, true greatness is formed in a relationship with our enemies. Or, as Jesus put it, “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”

When we are addicted to rivalry with our enemies, loving them might give us a sense of meh. Or, even worse, some may claim that Jesus’ command to love our enemies is naïve. But in an age where weapons of mass destruction can be obtained by almost anyone, it’s naïve to think relationships of escalating rivalry will make us safe.

Girard ends his book The Scapegoat with this apocalyptic warning, “The time has come for us to forgive one another. If we wait any longer there will not be time enough.”

Love? Forgiveness? They might make us feel pretty meh. But at this point in human history, they are our greatest hope.

Image: Flickr, Donkey Hotey, Hillary Clinton vs. Donald Trump – Caricatures, Creative Commons License, some changes made.

The vessel final

The Vessel: God Wears a Pink Dress

She sat in the emergency waiting room, hoping that the doctor would come with some good news. Her husband just suffered a massive stroke. And I stood outside the waiting room door, trying to think of the perfect thing to say to this wife in the midst of her pain.

I was the hospital chaplain that evening. In my brief time as a chaplain, I learned that nothing can prepare you for such moments. What’s the right thing to say during such an unexpected tragedy? Sometimes there’s nothing you can say. Sometimes the most important thing you can do is listen.

When I opened the door, I was greeted by the woman and her teenage daughter. After building some rapport with them, I asked how they were doing. The woman’s response was odd, but it also amazed me. She told me a story about a time she was at a local amusement park.

She was walking through a haunted house when a toddler started screaming in fear of the darkness. The child’s mother looked around for a way out, but she couldn’t find an exit. She started to move back towards the entrance, but the park employee managing the house stopped her. “Ma’am,” the employee began. “You can’t go back. The only way out is through.”

The only way out is through.

The woman whose husband just had a stroke repeated that phrase. She told me that everyone has options during times of tragedy. We can seek to blame someone else. We can hide in the dark corners of the “haunted house.” We can numb the pain with drugs or alcohol. But she told me that she only had one option in the face of her tragedy: the only way out is through.

That’s good wisdom and it’s reflected in the move The Vessel, starring Martin Sheen, who plays a priest named Father Douglas. To be released in theaters later this year, The Vessel is about a tragedy that strikes a small coastal town in South America. A tsunami sends an enormous wave that engulfs the town’s school, tragically killing all the town’s children.

The Vessel is a story about the different ways this community moves through the darkness of their tragedy. It begins with a classic example of scapegoating. The women manage their pain by creating a prohibition that none of the women are allowed to wear color; they must wear black and they must refuse to have children. The main character, a young man named Leo, explains the situation like this,

They all agreed that the first woman to wear color again is the worst mother in town. Well, my mother wears pink.

Pink is a sign of hope in the darkness of tragedy. It’s a sign that they can move through their tragedy, but the women largely ignore Leo’s mother. Since the wave killed the children, she no longer talked and she isolated herself from the other women. It’s Leo’s new girlfriend, Sorayah, who receives the wrath of the crowd. After finding love with Leo, she decides to wear a bright blue dress. The women and men of the town manage their pain by uniting against her, attacking her at night with torches. Fortunately, Leo comes to her rescue.

The people were stuck in their pain. They were victims without a path toward healing. So they inflicted their pain on a scapegoat. And soon, they would blame God. A woman cries out to Father Douglas,

If a man murders a child, we sentence him to death. But when God kills 46 children we are told to praise him. Sometimes it does feel like God has abandoned this place. If we only had a sign. Just the tiniest glimpse that He still cares…

Where is God in such tragedies? Did God cause the tsunami? Does God cause strokes? Where is God in the darkness? Theologians call these kinds of questions the problem of theodicy – if God is all powerful and good, then why do bad things happen?

The Vessel’s answer to that question is partly found in a vessel. Leo creates a boat from the wood that remains from the school. Father Douglas thinks the vessel could be a sign of hope for the community, but after Leo saved Soraya from the crowd, the crowd marched to the boat and set it ablaze. Just then, Father Douglas ran to the boat, attempted to save it, but he was too late. He reprimanded the crowd. The people then witnessed their destruction of the harmless vessel that could have given them so much hope. They repented of the violent destruction that they caused.

God is like that vessel, but God is also like Leo’s silent mother who wears pink. Why is God silent? Why doesn’t God answer our questions? Maybe God’s answers wouldn’t be helpful. Maybe the most helpful thing God can do is show up through a mother who doesn’t talk, but who listens. Maybe God is like a mother who wears a pink dress – pointing us to a more colorful world.

Eventually, the people do move through their pain together, not by uniting against a woman who wears pink or blue, or against a vessel. Rather, they move through their pain by uniting for a common purpose. Their new form of unity includes all the people of the town.

The Vessel symbolizes hope in the darkness. The boat holds us together in community, not united in scapegoating, but united in reconciliation. That’s where we find God in the midst of our darkness. We also find God in one who is like a mother wearing a pink dress in the midst of dark times, and moves with us through the darkness of tragedy into a more colorful world of hope.

For more on The Vessel, read Jason Jones’s article A Resurrection Movie: The Vessel. Jason is the president of Movies to Movement, a nonprofit that seeks to promote “a culture of life, love and beauty through the power of film.”

jesus colt 1

The Political Subversion of Palm Sunday

Make no mistake: the Gospel is political.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That’s the politics of Rome.

But that’s not the politics of Jesus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A version of this article appeared in 2014.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy St. Patrick’s Day!

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

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Risen & SNL: Is Jesus Out for Revenge?

Note: “Risen” will be released in movie theaters later today. I look forward to watching and writing a review next week, but I thought this would be a good time to remember why the resurrection is so important. In that spirit, here’s an article I wrote a few years ago about a Saturday Night Live sketch called DJesus Uncrossed, a parody of Djengo Unchained. It’s about the resurrection, but this time Jesus is out for revenge. Its over the top violence shows the foolishness of believing in a violent Jesus, while at the same time it points us toward the total love and nonviolence of God revealed in the resurrection. May “Risen” do the same!

Whenever I talk with people about Jesus and nonviolence, a curious thing often happens. Someone raises his hand (and it’s usually his hand), call me a wuss, and then accuses me of making Jesus-Christ-Our-Lord-And-Savior into my own wussy image.

First, the accusation that I’m a wuss is totally true. No one can surpass my wussiness. I run from confrontation and if I ever get into a fight my money is on the other guy.

Now to the second accusation that a nonviolent Jesus is a projection of my own wussy imagination. That is false and, in fact, the reverse is true – a violent Jesus out for revenge is an idol, a god made in our own violent image. As a self-professed wuss, I would love a bad-ass-machine-gun-toting Jesus who violently defends me against my enemies. I want the Jesus depicted in Saturday Night Live’s sketch DJesus Uncrossed. (A sketch about the resurrection that satirizes Quentin Tarantino’s Django Unchained.)  As David Henson brilliantly states in his post DJesus Uncrossed: Tarantino, Driscoll and the Violent Remaking of Jesus in America, the sketch “pulls back the curtain and shows us just how twisted our Jesus really is: We want a Savior like the one SNL offers. We want the Son of God to kick some ass and take some names. Specifically, our enemies’ names.”

David goes on to quote Mark Driscoll, a former mega church pastor from Seattle whose theology of hate has had a major influence on American Christianity. Driscoll states,

In Revelation, Jesus is a prize fighter with a tattoo down his leg, a sword in His hand and the commitment to make someone bleed. That is a guy I can worship. I cannot worship the hippie, diaper, halo Christ because I cannot worship a guy I can beat up.

But there’s a big problem for Driscoll and all Biblical inerrancy believing Christians who quickly go to Revelation 19:11-16 to proof text a violent return of Jesus. If they’re going to honestly hold to Biblical inerrancy then they have to deal with that nagging passage in Hebrews that insists “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (13:8). Hebrews continues, “Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings; for it is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace.”

It is well for the heart to be strengthened by grace, not by violence. The point of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection is precisely that the Christian version of God Incarnate was beaten up, crucified, and killed by human hands. As James Allison says in his course The Forgiving Victim, “there is an angry divinity in this story, needing sacrifice, and it is us.” Jesus resurrected, not to enact violent revenge (what we often call “justice”) against his enemies, but rather to offer God’s grace, peace and forgiveness to those who betrayed him. Anything else is a strange teaching that Hebrews warns against.

But let’s take it a step further than “strange.” Jesus’ disciples actually had a lot in common with Driscoll and much of American Christianity. They protested when Jesus began to act like a hippie, diaper wearing, halo Christ that they could beat up. Jesus said that he would have to suffer and be killed. Then Peter rebuked Jesus, “God forbid it Lord! This must never happen to you” (Matthew 16:22). I don’t want to scapegoat Driscoll on this point. After all, Peter didn’t want to worship a guy he could beat up, either.

Jesus, never one to mince words, replied to Peter, “Get behind me Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; for you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

The word Satan has two meanings: Adversary and Accuser. Please notice the distinction Jesus sets out between “divine things” and “human things.” Satan is the human thing, the human desire to accuse one another, to cause suffering to others rather than endure it for others, to kill others rather than be killed for others. Satan divides humanity into warring camps of “us” and “them.” When we do this we become adversaries and hurl satanic accusations against one another, all too often in the name of God.

When Christians use Jesus to justify violence by dividing the world into us and them we no longer worship Jesus. We worship Satan.

Jesus, the One who calls us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us, the One who offered peace and forgiveness to those who betrayed him, is the same Jesus yesterday and today and forever. That’s what the resurrection reveals.

Still, what should we make of that passage in Revelation? What we need to know, contra Driscoll’s violent fantasy, is that Jesus does not carry the sword in his hand. This is Revelation’s symbolism at its best, because the sword comes from his mouth. The sword that Jesus carries is the spoken Word of God. There can be no doubt that a day will come when Jesus will judge the world with that sword. His words of judgment will cut through our lies, hatreds, and betrayals. The Word of God will pierce our souls with words of forgiveness that embrace everyone, including our enemies.

Will we resent God’s forgiveness? Will we continue to make accusations against one another? In the face of God’s universal forgiveness revealed in the resurrection, will we continue to demand violent justice against our enemies? If so, we risk damning ourselves to a satanic hell of our own making.

The only way out of the possible hell then is to follow Jesus by practicing nonviolent forgiveness now.

 

(For more on Satan, listen to this great discussion called “the satan” between Michael HardinBrad Jersak, and Raborn Johnson in the Beyond the Box podcast.)

Image: DJesus Uncrossed (Saturday Night Live, Screenshot from Vimeo)

Unequal Opportunity

Black History (And How We Teach It) Matters

As February began, I wondered how best to observe Black History Month with my 6-year-old daughter.

I have discussed race with her before, yet these infrequent conversations are not enough. I know that intentional, age-appropriate education is essential to raising aware, compassionate children who can create positive change. I am hoping my husband and I can use this month to lay some groundwork for ongoing conversations about race with our children.

Knowing where and how to begin, though, is a challenge. Racism is so deeply embedded in our national structure that the vast majority of it goes unnoticed. The horrors, the brutalities, the macro and micro aggressions, the structural inequalities that run so deep and yet are so easy to ignore in the myopia of privilege… all of this is so shameful and painful, it is difficult to know how to present it to children. I know that having the time to prepare my words carefully and the ability to put difficult issues aside when the subject matter becomes too intense or bewildering is in itself a privilege. As I wrote in my “Dismantling Racism” series last year, “As I strive to find the right ways to tell my daughters about the evils of racism in this country, I haven’t been forced into a conversation before they, or I, am ready, as far too many African American families are.”

Yet ready or not, I have become painfully aware last week that my daughters must at least begin to understand structural racism while they are young, so that by the time they are able to comprehend more deeply they can cope with the reality and resolve to make a positive difference, rather than be in denial. This became clear to me as I saw some disturbing news out of my hometown in Virginia trending on Facebook.

Glen Allen High School came under fire last week for showing a video supporting Affirmative Action. The video, entitled “Structural Discrimination: The Unequal Opportunity Race,” uses the metaphor of a track competition to present the systemic brutalities and hurdles facing African Americans as they make a living alongside white people in the United States. As the video begins, four people, two white and two black, are poised to run. Yet, as the race starts, the black people are detained by a stop sign. A ticker in the corner counts away the years, beginning at 1492. As the decades and eventually centuries tick by, the white runners complete lap after lap, accumulating wealth, while the black runners remain impeded. Explicit references are made to slavery, genocide, broken treaties, Manifest Destiny, Jim Crow laws, segregation and more. The years continue to tick away until 1964, when the Civil Rights Act was passed. Finally, black runners are allowed to enter the race. The significant wealth disparity between white people and African Americans (now that they are included as Americans) that has accumulated over the centuries is only one handicap the African American runners face. As they run, they encounter further obstacles such as housing discrimination, poor schools, high unemployment, the school-to-prison pipeline and shortened lifespan. It is well worth watching the video in full.

This is about as honest a depiction of the systemic racial inequalities built into the structure of our nation as a 4-minute video can be. The creators of the video, the African American Policy Forum, clarify that it is meant to emphasize not the runners themselves but “the conditions of the track – namely, the lanes that have been littered with race-based obstacles.” It highlights the conditions, created by past and present policy, that impede progress, conditions that those running in relatively uncluttered lanes may be inclined to ignore. It explains privilege in a way that is easy to understand and hard to deny. Most importantly, it names problems that might be mitigated, if not completely solved, with awareness (and thus a shift in the national consciousness), political will, and targeted policy.

Yet many parents decried The Unequal Opportunity Race as a propagation of “white guilt,” prompting the Henrico County school board to censor the video. Such a reaction only underscores the necessity of teaching youth, from the time they begin to form their worldviews, the truth of our history in all of its ugliness. An accurate depiction of history, taught with sensitivity and compassion, does not “poison race relations” as some accusers say. Race relations are already poisoned by past and present policies and culturally-conditioned attitudes, and reinforced by denial and white defensiveness. The staggering rates of African American incarceration, employment gaps at all levels of education, growing disparities in household wealth, and much more can attest to this truth. Recognition of continuing race-based societal inequalities can inspire collective responsibility and hope for a future that uses the lessons of the past to improve societal conditions for everyone.

Yet defensive posturing impedes social progress as much as any discriminatory policy. Defensiveness is understandable, but indefensible. It is human nature to want to believe in the mythology of any dominant nationalism – the victim-denying propaganda of the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” At most, many people are willing to admit the faults and sins of ancestors as mistakes of the past that have been overcome. The ongoing legacy of slavery, segregation, discrimination, and dehumanizing lies are impossible for African Americans to ignore but uncomfortable for white Americans to acknowledge. The effects of prejudice, violence, opportunity denied and progress destroyed (like the US-interstate system deliberately cutting through prosperous black communities) cannot be easily erased, and the prejudice and violence are ongoing, as Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, Freddie Gray, Sandra Bland and too many other stolen black lives can attest. To deny this reality, to claim that the playing field is leveled, is ultimately to reinforce the lie that the undeniable racial gaps in wealth, health, living conditions, employment, education, incarceration, etc., are existential or character flaws rather than systemic, conditional inequalities. It feeds prejudice to those who believe themselves above prejudice, reinforcing negative attitudes, ignoring underlying causes, and exacerbating problems that are already unbearable.

Defensiveness poisons race relations, and denouncing educational material that speaks the truth does all of our children a disservice. My hope for my own generation and generations to come is that we may repent of our defensiveness, cast off our blinders, and do the difficult work of examining and dismantling the racist structures within our society. When my own children are old enough to see a video like The Unequal Opportunity Race, I want them to be prepared and edified, not shocked. So how do I begin the uncomfortable but necessary work of telling the truth of our X-rated history and ongoing evil to my children?

The main lesson I want them to learn is twofold: that people are created equal, but opportunity is not. The first part of this lesson – teaching them essential equality, is something they know intuitively. But I can reinforce this by modeling and encouraging interracial relationships. I am fortunate to have good friends of different races, and my older daughter is as well. I can also make sure the books she reads and shows she watches feature characters who are diverse in race, as well as religion, gender, culture, language, ability, etc. For example, I will encourage my daughter to pick a few books to read from this list. I can make sure her toys are multiracial as well. A monochromatic media and culture can plant prejudices and stereotypes; it can take intentional effort to counter the images that children absorb from a society that still enforces white standards and values.

The second part of this lesson is more difficult because it confronts the systemic injustices that we wish did not exist: opportunities are not equal. The chances we have in life have been shaped by the people and events that have come before us and by our communities. I want to teach them the virtue of responsibility, but also refute the myth of total individualism and self-reliance. Helping them learn interconnection and the skills of cooperation and teamwork will go a long way in this regard.

With this background, I want to help my children to understand that the historical failure of white people to understand the inherent equality of people with darker skin has caused terrible wrongs that have affected generations and continue to affect us all today. But we have a collective responsibility to build each other up. We have a responsibility to understand the wrongs of the past and how they contribute to the injustices of the present. I do not want my children to feel conflicted about their own race; I want them to feel collective accountability for the welfare of the human race.

And so when my children are able to learn more about the privileges they enjoy and the violence that has been inflicted on others because of race (or creed, or ability, or any other reason), I want them to feel not guilt but responsibility, not defensiveness but an urge to listen, learn, and help. I want them to understand that a video like The Unequal Opportunity Race is not about white guilt but black experience, and that awareness can be the first step toward solving problems, but defensiveness lets problems fester and exacerbate. To help curb the natural human tendency toward defensiveness, I need to model, well… not being defensive myself. I need to show them how to take criticism, suggestion, advice and negative feedback with grace and gratitude. This is one of the most difficult things in the world for me, but I think this is where faith can really help.

Teaching my daughters, not just in words but in actions, that they are unconditionally loved should help mitigate defensiveness. Defensiveness is rooted in fear, and perfect love casts out fear. When it comes to white defensiveness to exposures of racism, I believe reluctance to admit privilege is rooted in a revulsion to the abject horror and blatant injustice of racial violence, a fear that such crimes are unforgivable and a distancing of ourselves from those crimes. While the horrors of slavery and lynching and Jim Crow might belong to the past, there are ongoing effects of white privilege and ongoing manifestations of racism. Racism is willful blindness to privilege and an unwillingness to change it; racist attitudes are manifestations of fear – not only fear of the “other,” but also fear to admit the worst within ourselves. But if we can surrender our defenses and face our fears, we can join in building a better world with our brothers and sisters of every race. Knowing that we are loved is the only way we can face, rather than compound, our fears. So one of the best ways to teach my children about racism and how to dismantle it is simply to love them, and show them how to use the love they receive to love others.

These are some of my initial thoughts about teaching my children about racism. But I have so much more to learn! I would love to hear your thoughts and continue the conversation in comments.

Image: Screenshot from Youtube: The Unequal Opportunity Race by Erica Pinto.

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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)

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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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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.