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sharing god

The Truth about God and Interfaith Relationships

Can we share God?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

beware of god

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Clearing the Confusion about God, Transgender, and Bathrooms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

be the change

Making A Change For Peace

If you have visited our Facebook page recently you know that we have not been shy about announcing that a change was coming to the Raven Foundation. Well, here it is! The change is a snazzy new header for our homepage. From now on our blog site will be called “The Raven ReView” and it comes with a new tagline, “Change your view. Change the world.”

We hope you like the change. Our idea was to give our homepage an easily recognizable identity as a blog site that provides mind-blowing commentary on a wide range of issues. Our mission is to shift people’s perspective on violence, scapegoating and the things that make for peace. Changing our view on who and what the obstacles to peace are is the surest way to give peace a fighting chance (pun intended!).

The Change Game

Changing the header was easy. Changing our view, that has always been a bit trickier. Because when we think about making the world a better place, a safer place, a more peaceful place our minds immediately turn to an ancient formula: seek out and destroy the scoundrels who are the obstacles to change we seek. That has been the strategy of politicians, generals, power brokers and strong men across time and place.

“Change” is a familiar campaign slogan, as we are all painfully aware right now. But when politicians call for change, all they want is to change places with the person currently in power. Nothing actually changes except the name on the door because no matter their political party or status as an insider or outsider, they all subscribe to the ancient formula of destroying the scoundrels who stand in their way.

Too harsh? I’m afraid not. I can offer as evidence a very simple proof. It has to do with the words politicians use to talk about violence – words we too often accept without question. When violence is being used against us, our leaders use words like aggressive, unprovoked, unlawful, barbaric. However, when the violence is being deployed by us against someone else, we all too willingly agree to use words like necessary, just, defensive, lawful, moral duty. What we conceal by this word play is that we are involved in a dangerous game in which good people will continue to see violence – their violence – as good and necessary while continuing in all sincerity to condemn the violence of their enemies.

The Game Changer

Here’s the catch: Everyone, even the rotten scoundrels we love to hate, thinks of themselves and their cause as good! It’s only in the movies where the enemies of good self-identify as bad! You see, violence is not a problem caused by bad people. Quite the contrary. Violence is a problem because people are so completely convinced of their own goodness that they – we – do bad things without qualms, moral ambiguity or remorse.

Which is why our new header wisely proclaims that if you want to change the world, you need to change your view. And we are not talking about a change of scenery out your window! We are talking about changing your view of your violence as good. If we want to start playing a different game, one that makes peace a real possibility here and now, we need to recognize that our perception of ourselves as good people blinds us to the ways in which we have instigated and provoked violence and in the process become the very obstacles to peace we are seeking to overcome.

René Girard, the founder of the theory of violence which guides our work here at Raven, helped us to understand that in this moment in history humanity faces a terrible alternative: either good people will renounce their use of violence or we will be the authors of our own destruction. Bad guys don’t control our destiny; we do.

Image: Stock Vector by Mihai Maxim via 123rf.com. Quote by Mahatma Gandhi.

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Blood Stains: Rituals of Recovery in “The Women of Lockerbie”

“The clothes are contaminated. They’re covered in blood.” – The Women of Lockerbie, Deborah Brevoort

“He was about to make great sacrifice when his own herald Lichas came from home bearing your gift to him, the robe of death.” – The Women of Trachis, Sophocles

“Ritualistic action… has only one axiom: the contagious nature of the violence encountered by the warrior in battle – and only one prescription: the proper performance of ritual purification. Its sole purpose is to prevent the resurgence of violence and its spread throughout the community.” – Violence and the Sacred, René Girard

 

In her play about a modern tragedy, Deborah Brevoort deliberately evokes the ancient Greek dramatists. In fact, she takes them as her model for the structure of her play, employing a chorus of women, poetry, odes and even a section called “The Agon.” Agon is the root for agony and it refers to a dramatic contest between main characters vying to outdo each other. It’s the verbal equivalent of physical combat and it can be as agonizing to witness as a bloody battlefield, and the outcome just as lethal.

When terrorists blew up a plane over Lockerbie, Scotland in December 1988, violence invaded like a trespasser, transgressing the peace, disrupting the rituals of daily life. People were going about the mundane things we do without thinking much about them when the plane exploded, dropping bloodied debris and severed body parts on a small town. The characters in the play tell us that washing clothes, cooking, mopping the floor, running errands – all were contaminated by shock and horror.

Loss, grief and recovery are part of this story, and though the play has provided many opportunities for the exploration of psychological issues such as these, I do not think that they are Brevoort’s chief concern. She takes us into the deeper, cultural shock that is the scandal of violence invading our mundane lives. This is the concern of Greek tragedy and her play offers us an opportunity to bring into consciousness something that was all too present in the ancient world: the contagion of violence.

In the days of Greek tragedy, the violence played out on battlefields far from home. Warriors returned with spirits stained by blood letting. Rituals designed for decontamination were performed with care because violence is contagious, liable to spread and infect an entire community. Warriors must be cleansed, their hearts purified, and this happened around sacrificial altars. Holocausts were offered to the gods, blood was properly spilled to cauterize the soul of the warrior so that no more blood would be spilled by his hand.

But rituals meant to purify the warrior sometimes went awry. The ritual fires, if they failed to cleanse the violence and madness, could instead rouse them to a fever pitch. That danger, always hovering over the sacrificial flames, is the subject of a play by Sophocles, with a title that echoes our own, The Women of Trachis. In Sophocles’ play, the warrior Heracles performs his duty, making a sacrifice of a bull to the gods that is required of all returning warriors before they can reenter daily life and cross the threshold into their homes. Unwittingly, Heracles has been given a gift stained with the blood of a creature he killed long ago, a tunic that becomes an instrument of revenge. The sacrificial fires that were meant to cleanse him of the blood of his victims activate a victim’s blood instead and consume him in an agonizing death.

Brevoort takes great care in her drama to make us aware that there are risks involved in rituals of cleansing. The central image, one that brings Heracles’ fate to mind, is that of 11,000 pieces of contaminated clothing from the airplane that were collected as part of the recovery effort. They have been waiting for seven years on the Shelves of Sorrow, hermetically sealed like the highly contagious objects they are. Now the decision must be made whether to incinerate them, as the authorities desire, or return them to the families of the victims as the women of Lockerbie desire. Contact with the blood stained garments could open wounds or cauterize them – which will it be?

With an ancient sensibility worthy of Sophocles, Brevoort draws audiences into the search for a ritual cure to the risks posed by close proximity to violence. AstonRep has brought this remarkable play to Chicago, a long overdue opportunity for audiences here to bear witness to the fate of the Women of Lockerbie.

If you are in the Chicago area, join Suzanne Ross, director Robert Tobin and cast members for a post show discussion at The Raven Theater on April 24. Tickets available here.

Image: The Women of Lockerbie

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

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Quiz #3: Who’s the Terrorist?

We all know who the terrorists are, don’t we? I mean, isn’t it obvious? Those evil people who indiscriminately kill innocent civilians, justifying it in the name of some greater good, but we know their “greater good” is just plain evil.

Many in the United States are afraid of the next terrorist attack on US soil. We fear that terrorists “out there” are trying desperately to get into the US in order to destroy our way of life, including our sense of safety and security. And so we feel that we must keep the terrorists out! Here’s a little true or false quiz that may change your view:

  • Since 9/11, the United States has accepted 784,000 refugees. During that time, three refugees were arrested for attempting to plot terrorist activities – and two of those three refugees were falsely accused.
  • Jihadist attacks from 2005-2015 years have killed 24 people (if you add extremists it goes up to 71) whereas in the same time there have been 301,797 gun deaths.
  • 2,996 people were tragically killed on 9/11. In response, the United States enacted the War on Terror, which has killed a conservative estimate of 3 million people in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Pakistan.
  • Drone strikes kill far more than their intended targets. In one 5-month period between 2012 and 2013, nearly 90% of American drone strikes in Afghanistan killed people they were not intended to kill, including civilian guests at a wedding party.

Change Your View: If you answered true to all of those questions, you would be correct. Of course, we mourn all deaths at the hands of terrorism. To change our view is to recognize that though we denounce their terrorist actions, we rarely see our own acts of violence as terrorism.

That’s because we hide from the truth that our own violence terrorizes our victims. All humans think that their violence is good and just, while their enemy’s violence is evil and full of terror. In other words, nobody thinks their use of violence is evil; rather, we all view our violence as a just means to a just end.

But what if we changed our view? What if we began to realize the truth that all violence is an act that terrorizes? We might realize that all acts of violence, including our own, lead to a cycle of retributive violence that will continue to terrorize the world. If we changed our view, we would be much more critical of terrorism, especially our own.

Image: “Stop Terrorism” by bykst. Public Domain via Pixabay

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

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Theology and Sacrifice in Batman v. Superman [Spoilers]

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

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

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

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

Superman, Jesus, and Sacrifice

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

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

Superman and Evil

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

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

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

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

Jesus and Evil

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

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

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

Conclusion

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

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

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

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

Photo: Screenshot from YouTube.

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

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

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The Naked Mole Rat Foundation

We chose the raven for a symbol because it is a scapegoat  — a harmless bird still associated with evil. But ravens aren’t the best scapegoats; many people think they’re cool! So we’ve found an animal so off-putting that it makes everyone recoil. Therefore, we are transitioning to “The Naked Mole Rat Foundation.”

APRIL FOOLS!

Seriously, we know our readers are smart. We doubt any of you were actually fooled.

But the truth is, we fool ourselves all the time.

We humans are creatures of self-deception, much more than we would like to admit. We build up myths about who we are and what we do, and live according to false, incomplete, or clouded understandings of ourselves and the world. All too often, our narrow viewpoints are not only fundamentally deceptive but dangerous. Like walls built for protection that instead entrap us, we humans have a tendency to enclose ourselves – whether in tribes or families, nations or ideologies – away from “others.” Over time, our skewed perspectives have made our beautiful but fragile planet a violent, volatile place.

I want to explore three basic myths that are so deeply entrenched in our cultural DNA that, even as I attempt to expose them, I myself am susceptible to them. These are myths of identity, judgment, and violence.

Identity:

We live in a culture of hyper-individualism. We think of ourselves as singular persons complete unto ourselves. Yet though we have individual bodies, we are more deeply and fundamentally connected than we realize. And despite our socio-cultural emphasis on independence and autonomy (at least for adults), we need each other.

As mimetic creatures, we, more than any other species, have transcended being ruled by instinct to learning by imitation. As infants we learn what foods to eat, what to touch, what to say, what to do, from the adults and older children in our lives. Learning from others never stops! And beyond what we need for mere survival, we learn desire from one another. We learn to want what others want, and to pursue an identity from the values we perceive that are manifested in innumerable ways in the people who surround us.

Learning from imitation does not mean we are carbon copies of one another. We would be more alike if we were guided by the same instincts for the same basics of survival. As it is, we are unique amalgamations of experiences and relationships, and our ability to learn from and imitate one another make connection, empathy, and relationship possible. Our need for each other is fundamentally good. And yet our shared desires – for material possessions, for identity, and sometimes for people – are also sources of conflict and often the roots of violence.

So we deceive ourselves when we underestimate the influence of others and when we imagine ourselves fundamentally different from those with whom we are in conflict. We like to think we have nothing in common with our enemies, but we share fundamental yearnings, often beyond the material. And in the midst of hostility and violence, one thing we share with our enemies is an increasing desire for security, for protecting our loved ones, for insuring safety and freedom… and this very desire keeps us fighting! The more we fight, the more any differences we once had fade away as we lose ourselves in the violence. Perhaps this is part of what Jesus meant when he said that those who seek to save their lives will lose them.

Judgment:

Our judgment is skewed by our skewed understandings of ourselves. The less we are aware of our dependency on others, the more likely we are to judge with severity and without compassion. When we deny our own vulnerability and need, we reduce our capacity for mercy; yet our own need for mercy never ceases.

We marginalize, other-ize, push aside, criminalize and harshly punish through a lack of understanding. When we are on the receiving end of such treatment, we may think to ourselves “If only they knew the ‘real’ me.” We are hardly aware of ourselves when we extend the judgment to others that we hope to be spared from them. When we’re cut off in traffic or annoyed by someone squeezing into a check-out line ahead of us, we become angry and judgmental. Of course, we are guilty of the same offenses!

With our limited understanding of ourselves and each other, our judgment, which can be put to good — even wonderful – use, can be warped from a tool of justice to injustice. Judgment in practice is often the opposite of compassion, but for judgment to function for good requires mercy. A deeper awareness of our interconnection would help us to understand a collective responsibility for each other that would draw us together, helping us to dismantle systems of poverty fueled by indifference and punitive judgment. A deeper awareness of our vulnerability would foster the compassion so desperately needed to transform a world of violence into one of mutual care and concern.

Violence:

Directly connected to our skewed judgment, which comes from a limited perspective of not only others but of ourselves as well, is our propensity for and our understanding of violence. Judgment against others is often a form of violence in itself, and the path from violent thought to violent action is clear.

We have a dangerous tendency to justify and mythologize our violence. We know, of course, that violence, when wielded by others, is wrong, but we justify it, or even refuse to recognize it as violence, when we wield it ourselves.

I have already discussed how the sources of violence are often our similarities rather than our differences, and how the differences we do have tend to dissolve in the fog of our violence. And just as our skewed judgment can lead to violence, violence itself further skews our judgment so that we fail to recognize how we perpetuate the vicious cycles that destroy others and ourselves.

Of course, we are often the victims of wrong, sometimes deliberate and more often not. Just as we ourselves commit wrong, sometimes deliberately but most often not. We may believe we have a “right” to our violence when we are wronged. But only forgiveness stops violence in its tracks and prevents us from perpetuating further wrongdoing. Of course, forgiveness is hard. But it can facilitate greater understanding, repair  relationships, and ultimately restore justice. Many people think forgiveness is naive. In reality, it is not only a path to peace… it is the only path to peace.

Changing Perspective

So the picture at the beginning of this article may not have fooled you. But we are all fooled by fundamental misunderstandings about who we are, how much we need each other, our sources of conflict and the righteousness of our violence.

At Raven, we seek to deepen and broaden our own perspective, even as we share what we learn and what we believe with you, dear Readers. We are continually learning and growing, seeking to more deeply understand what it means to be human in a deeply interconnected world. With the fully, truly human one — Jesus — as our model, we seek to deepen our awareness of our interconnection, that we may live for (rather than over and against) each other and together build a vibrant and lasting peace.

And while we strive to change our own perspective, we are making other changes as well! You may have noticed our header, “Change is Coming,” as well as our countdown clock. Stay tuned, as later today we will have more information. And it would be foolish of me not to thank you, dear Reader. We are in this work of peacemaking together.

 

Image: “Naked Mole Rat in a zoo” by Roman Klementschitz. Available on Wikimedia via Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike 3.0 Unported license.

last-supper-1167634_640

In Remembrance Of Me

I am this broken and bleeding world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I am slain from the foundation of the world.

 

Absorbing the fear and hate of thousands of years,

I clothed myself in flesh and vulnerability

And came back to my plundered home.

 

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

The cast off and thrown away.

I took the leper into my arms.

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

I opened the eyes of the blind.

I fed the starving with bread and wisdom.

I took the children on my knee.

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

 

A sick and aching world takes time to heal.

And in that time, fear moves fast.

The Powers that build their empires by exploiting divisions –

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

Have named me the enemy.

 

So now I come to you, my friends,

As we gather around this table.

And you quarrel about who among you is the greatest.

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

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

For one evening, let us put aside the bitter bickering

And enjoy one last feast, one final fellowship.

 

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

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

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

To show you love you’ve never known.

You will never know how blessed and beloved you are,

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

 

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

Nation set against nation,

Selfishness erupt in violence, converging upon victim after victim

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

If you want to be great, be for others,

Even as I am for you.

 

I am this broken and bleeding world.

This bread is my broken body.

This cup is my spilled blood.

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

So it is done to me.

I give my broken self to you.

 

Take in my life.

Let me nourish you with my love

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

Until you become a new creation.

 

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

Embrace the outcasts,

Reconcile enemies,

Feed my sheep.

 

Unite in me, with me in you.

I give my broken self to you –

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

Let this bread bind you together,

Let this wine wash away your divisions.

 

I am broken for a broken world

A world that needs your love

To be made whole again.

Take me into you and become my body.

Eat this bread.

Drink this wine.

Do this in re-membrance of me.

 

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

butterbattledraw2

The Butter Battle Redemption

Happy 112th Birthday to Dr. Seuss!

At the Raven Foundation, we love Theodore Seuss Giesel. Our 5-part series on The Gospel According to Dr. Seuss is only part of it! We have tributes and parodies and analyses of his beloved characters. We love us some Seuss/ You know that it’s true / We love us some Seuss, by golly! / We do!

One of my favorite books by Dr. Seuss is The Butter Battle Book where the Yooks and the Zooks battle over, you guessed it, butter! It doesn’t take long for adult readers to notice that this is a satirical commentary on the arms race and the Cold War, and even children who don’t know the history can see that it’s a book of mimetic doubling and rivalry (though children might not use those terms) over something ridiculous. When it all comes down, nothing that we fight over is worth the lives of the people fighting. There are things worth laying one’s life down for, but not worth taking another life. That is part of why I love “The Butter Battle Book,” for pointing out the farce behind war. It also deftly illustrates the contagion of violence and the blindness we have to our own sins in the heat of battle. Of all the Seuss books I have read, this one is the most intuitively Girardian.

As a child, however, The Butter Battle Book scared me, because it goes from silly to frightening in a few short pages. By the end of the story, the Yooks and Zooks both stand on the brink of nuclear annihilation! Is there any hope for either of them?

I dare to imagine that there is hope for them, and hope for us. If violence is contagious, so is compassion. If violence can build up, love can build up too.

With that, friends, I give you, in honor of Dr. Seuss, The Butter Battle Redemption. But please read the Butter Battle Book first if you are unfamiliar with the story. This text is missing a few lines, but it will do to give you an idea of what the story is about. I pick up right where Seuss left off…

 

“Grandpa!” I shouted. “Be careful! Oh, gee!

Who’s going to drop it? Will you…? Or will he…?”

“Be patient,” said Grandpa. “We’ll see. We will see…”*

 

And there they both stood, on that wall way up high,

Looking the enemy square in the eye.”

On sore, aching feet, they each found the power

To stand tall on that wall, hour after long hour.

I watched their legs quiver, I watched their hands shake

And I feared they might fall, or drop their bombs by mistake.

 

Then my brain was besieged by a terrible notion,

“Grandpa!” I shouted, choking back my emotion,

“This Boomeroo plan, why, it never will do!

If you drop your bomb, VanItch will fall too!

And his bomb will explode, blowing me and you too

And all Yooks and all Zooks clear to Kalamazoo!”

 

Grandpa, still keeping his eyes on VanItch,

Said, “You may be right, Son, but I don’t trust him one stitch!”

“And I don’t trust you” VanItch snarled and sneered,

“But the kid’s got a point, though to say so feels weird…

And even if you don’t butter your bread upside-down,

It’s not worth blowing up my beautiful town!”

 

After hemming and hawing, without turning their backs,

Grandpa and VanItch agreed not to attack…

“Not yet,” Grandpa scoffed, “but when you’re off your guard,

You can bet we will hit you and we’ll hit you hard!”

“On that day,” VanItch laughed, “pigs will fly to the moon!

Cause we’re watching you Yooks, and we’ll get you guys soon!”

 

Matching each other step for step, they retreated,

Vowing the other would soon be defeated.

Down the wall, down the hill, to their camps underground

Grandpa and VanItch headed back to their towns.

Grandpa told Chief Yookeroo the whole story.

“Those Zooks still remain, Sir,” he said. “I’m so sorry.”

 

Chief Yookeroo shook his sad, wrinkled old head,

His raspy voice choking back pain as he said,

“Those Zooks are yet worse than I thought could be true,

Threat’ning us Yooks with their own Boomeroo!

Don’t you worry, Ol’ Chap. We will soon make them pay,

And how fine we will feel on that glorious day!”

 

We made and we stored even more Boomeroos

Though I didn’t know why. Surely just one would do!

Our school issued large books, much more than we could carry

On defense against evil Zook upside-down dairy!

And now and again, a great whistle would sound

A butter drill issuing us all underground.

 

But one day, when that drill shrilly pierced my sore ears,

I refused to succumb to our town’s butter fears…

I was tired of hiding away from the sun,

And determined to finally have me some fun.

So while the Yooks marched underground, one and all,

I held back, and then made my way to the Wall.

 

Though the thought of those terrible Zooks made me shudder

To think of the foul things they did with their butter,

I wanted to see them, I wanted to spy

Perhaps then, I’d finally learn some reason why…

Why butter your bread with the butter side down

And threaten our good, honest, butter-up town?

 

So I went to the Wall. Up I climbed, stone by stone,

Til I suddenly realized I wasn’t alone!

I saw a small hand reaching over the top.

So I tried quick to hide! Down I fell with a drop.

But before I could run, a young Zook, just my age,

Shouted down at me, his voice full of rage,

 

“What are you doing here, sneaking into our town?”

“Look who’s talking,” I cried, as the young Zook climbed down.

There we stood, face-to-face, both as mad as could be,

But I was shocked to discover, he looked so much like me!

Perhaps he noticed too, for the look in his eye —

The harsh scowl — disappeared, and he started to cry…

 

“Why do you hate us? Why are you so mean?

Why do you try to smash us to small smithereens?

You’re the reason I hide in an underground cave,

With my mother and father and brother named Dave.

With your slingshots and goo guns and Big-Boy Boomeroos,

You’ve ruined our lives, yucky Yooks! Yes, it’s true!”

 

I wanted to protest, I wanted to shout,

But I knew all too well what he was talking about.

And that poor, scared, sad Zook, with his eyes full of tears

Said the same things I’d wondered through all my young years.

“What does it matter, to your hateful town,

If we butter our bread with the butter side down?

 

“All I want is to spend one more day in the sun,

Climbing trees! Swimming rivers! And having some fun!

But thanks to your lot, I cannot play outside.

‘It’s too risky,’ Mom says. And so I have to hide.

Well, I’m tired of hiding! So I’ve come here to say,

I won’t be afraid of you Yooks, come what may!”

 

“And all that I want,” I cried, “is to play

Like I did before that dark, horrible day

When your big Boomeroo threatened our land,

So I came here today so I could understand

Why it is you hate us!” Then through salt-tears I sputtered,

“Frankly, Zook, I don’t care what you do with your butter!”

 

IMG_3455And as we stood there sobbing, a feeling so strange

Washed over my heart. I felt myself change.

As I looked at that Zook, looking right back at me

All my anger was gone. And my heart felt pity.

I did not want to fight him. Right there, as I faced him,

I found my arms reaching right out to embrace him!

 

We found ourselves talking about all sorts of things

About football! And summer! And homemade paper wings!

We had much more in common than I’d ever thought

Despite all the terrible things I’d been taught.

How much time, we agreed, we had wasted to fight

Over who buttered better. It just wasn’t right!

 

We fast became friends, that young Zook and I.

It turned that he was a good, decent guy.

We met by the Wall during underground drills

When no one would find us. We had great fun, but still

We wished we could meet right outside in the open

With no wall between us. We kept wishing and hoping

 

For a day in the future when no one would care

How the other guys buttered their bread over there.

We longed for the day when we could introduce

Our new friend to our families. We longed for a truce.

But our families kept right on hating each other.

So I had to keep sneaking to meet my Zook brother.

 

Until one day in school, I was feeling quite bold,

And the anti-Zook ranting was getting quite old,

So when my teacher told us, for the 400th time

Just why buttering bread upside-down was a crime,

I stood up and shouted, “With respect, Mr. Krout,

I don’t think you know what you’re talking about!”

 

The whole classroom gasped, and old Mr. Krout staggered,

“Young man, that was rude,” he yelled at me in anger.

“I should wallop you now for insubordination,

And I would, if your Gramps had not fought for our nation.

Now sit right back down, cause its high time you learned

Those who question the right way to butter get burned!”

 

But I didn’t sit down. I stood looking around,

At my trembling classmates, at old Mr. Krout’s frown.

And I said, “All this anger, all this fear, all this hate…

Can’t we stop it all now, before it’s too late?

How long have our spirits been stuck in the gutter

Over something as silly as how we all butter?

 

“Mr. Krout, and my friends, don’t you all miss the sun?

Don’t you miss the old days, when we played and had fun?

Now we’re stuck inside worrying, preparing for the worst

And planning on how we might strike the Zooks first.

Well, I’ve met a Zook, and he’s nice as can be.

You should meet them yourselves! Come and look! Come and see!”

 

Mr. Krout shook with rage, and he said, “That’s enough!

I’ll take no more lip from you! I’ll take no more guff!

I ought to have you locked up in the stocks for a week

For the terrible things that we all heard you speak!

This is your last chance, foolish boy, understand?”

Then to my great surprise, timid Todd raised his hand.

 

He was shy and soft-spoken, but trembling, he stood

And said, “These last few months haven’t been very good.

I’m so tired of fighting. I just want it to end.

What if, just what if, Zooks could be our friends?”

And to my great amazement, one by one all my mates

Stood up and stood with us! It felt really great!

 

“I don’t know about Zooks,” said my friend Jenny Jane,

“But I sure wish I could play outside again.

Maybe they’re not so bad. Maybe it isn’t worth

Making bombs that could easily destroy the whole earth.”

“And I’d love to explore to what’s beyond that old wall,”

Said my buddy Big Billy-Boy Benson McGall. “Maybe those Zooks are ok after all.”

 

One by one all my friends expressed their desire

To break down that old Wall and the fear it inspired.

And I looked up, and then, to my great surprise,

I saw Old Mr. Krout there with tears in his eyes!

“I once had a Zook friend,” he sobbingly confessed

“Before all this fighting and fear and unrest….

 

“Before that old Wall, before our whole town

Got so picky about buttering bread upside-down.

For years I’ve let hatred turn my own heart quite rotten.

But you’ve brought me to my senses! Oh, how I had forgotten!”

And then he said words that made my heart flutter,

“We must end this bitter old battle for butter!”

 

So at the next drill, gathered deep underground,

We called all fellow Yooks to come gather around,

And we said it was time that we ended our fight.

The Zooks weren’t so bad! They were really alright!

Most Yooks were horrified, but some started to say,

“What if they’re right? What if Zooks are okay?”

 

And as time went on, as if some spell had broken,

We came closer to peace with each word that was spoken.

Until Grandpa spoke up, not so angry as sad,

“What have we all come to?  Have you Yooks all gone mad?

Oh, think of the butter! It just isn’t right!

Oh to think of the years I put up the good fight!”

 

I went up to my grandpa. I put my hand in his,

“Grandpa,” I said, “You’re the bravest there is.

You put yourself on the line to serve and protect.

You have my love and you have my respect.

But is it worth living in anger and dread

To hold onto a grudge over buttering bread?”

 

I didn’t quite convince him. But he gave me a hug.

“I want you to be happy,” he said with a shrug.

“But I don’t trust those Zooks. So please, Son, take care,

If you try to make friends with those kooks over there!”

And though plenty, like grandpa, were skeptical at best

We decided to put our good will to the test.

 

We chose some Yooks for a peace delegation

And I led the way forward to our destination,

To the Wall we were going, with great hope in our hearts.

We would begin fresh! It would be a new start!

A banner of peace I held high in my hand,

Large enough to be seen way far out in Zookland.

 

And we sang as we marched, “Let us all put away,

Our bitter butter madness! Let us end it today!

Let us tear down this Wall and live free in the sun

Yooks and Zooks all together! Let us all be as one!”

And as we approached, why, what did we hear?

A Zook song of peace rang out loud in our ears!

 

And I saw a flag, just like mine, waving peace!

Zooks too, it seemed, wanted our fighting to cease!

I climbed the wall and saw my friend leading the way

With a Zook troop behind him! Oh what a fine day!

He climbed up the wall and said, “My Yooky friend,

My people all agree that this fighting should end!”

 

We embraced one another. Then we heard a great clatter.

And we looked all around to see what was the matter.

A giant machine was barreling toward us

Without slowing down, it was headed right for us!

For a moment I thought we were under attack.

Then I saw Grandpa driving. And he shouted, “Stand back!”

 

“I’m going to drive a big hole through this Wall!

It’s high time this war ended, once and for all!”

So we all cleared the way, and Grandpa plowed right on through.

No longer were we all divided in 2!

We ran through the hole as Gramps came to a stop,

Dismounted the machine and lay down with a plop.

 

I ran to my Grandpa. I ran to his arms.

He embraced me and said, “Son I’m tired, but unharmed.

I think I’ve regained a part of my spirit.

Tearing down that old Wall. Oh that crash! Did you hear it?

You – you were right, Son,” he breathlessly stuttered.

“Life’s too short to fight over silly old butter!”

 

And what happened next? Well, we all gathered round,

To tear the rest of that dreaded Wall down.

Yooks and Zooks came together; we embraced, one and all.

Friendships break barriers while fears build up walls.

Now we look at each other without apprehension

Ever since the great Butter Battle Redemption!

 

———

*This lines are lifted from the original Butter Battle Book.

For more on Dr. Seuss, see:

Dr. Seuss and the Gospel parts 1, 2, 3, 4, and 5

Green Eggs and Love: A Tribute To Dr. Seuss

How The Grump Stole Thanksgiving

The Redemption of the Grinch