Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Rising from Violence

I was stopped dead in my tracks the other night, in conversation with one of my sons. We were watching the 6:30 news, and I was stuck in disbelief at the report of a Christian militia in southern Michigan.

I struggled with even saying those two words in one breath, Christian militia. I sputtered about how it was unthinkable to me, that professed Christians should plot to kill and incite armed conflict. What a name they’re giving to Christianity, I muttered.

“You’re forgetting about the Crusades?” replied my son.

At whatever age, children are such a trip. Perhaps God gives them to us so that we can’t stay too settled in our thoughts and assumptions.

I was left without words at that moment, so I chose to listen to what was being called up within myself: and as I did, the first thing that came to my mind was slavery and how the Church for so long was on the wrong side of that monstrous abuse of power, one more example of Christian violence.

It was through men and women of religious conviction that slavery was outlawed in England, then here. Powerful Christian witness is part of that story, though it took an astonishing 1800 years or more after the first Easter Day for Christians to hear in their Bible and in their evolving consciences the clear call to end such inhumanity that robs human beings of their freedom and dignity.

It is time now for Christians to find fresh, effective ways to disavow armed violence, verbal violence, and emotional violence. It is time, standing as we do nearly 2,000 years after the first Easter Day, to pay close attention to how our Bible calls us to love, including our enemies, and to take apart, piece by piece, the walls of hostility that separate one part of the human family from another.

Haven’t our consciences evolved enough to know that reactive violence—verbal, emotional, physical—is incompatible with our nature as children of God? Is human violence too settled an oppression to be dislodged?

In the account of the first Easter, it takes angels to roll away the stone from the tomb. Surely the point of that detail is to convince us what power is on our side when we do our best to follow Jesus.

What explains the abuse of power by our homegrown American Christian terrorists? What motivates that twisted church family from Kansas who protest at the funerals of young Americans who have lost their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan? They blame these young soldiers for serving their nation, a country these Christians say has angered God in a number of ways, including by recognizing the rights of gays and lesbians. Have these agents of hate experienced such shifting of power sharply away from supporting their world-view, as if the laws of physics had been repealed and their planet is wobbling out of orbit?

However we understand these fellow Americans, or cannot understand them, nothing justifies their resorting to armed violence or verbal and emotional violence.

Why, you may wonder, do I choose to speak of such things at Easter? Why spend even a moment considering extremists like Christian militias and hate-spewing protestors? Aren’t we the good guys and they the bad guys, and never the two shall mix?

Not if you’ve recently renewed your appreciation of Holy Week, when cruel and damaging things happened to Jesus as much through his sworn friends as by his sworn enemies. We may not find ourselves drawn to extremism, but a lively sense of sin ought to remind us that we and they (the extremists) occupy one world, one society, and, it seems, one Body of Christ.

And I speak of extremists today because they do what they do in our name. No, in his name, and that is the more outrageous offense. What Christian witness will counteract and outweigh their message to our society? As fewer and fewer children and teenagers feel any belonging in our churches, what messiahs will our kids meet in the media ether that surrounds them? We know they’ll meet zealots of insurrection whose hallmark is hatred and defamation. Will we find the zeal to make sure that our children and grandchildren meet the Christ of resurrection who makes himself known in the breaking of bread, the washing of feet, the indwelling of hearts and the making of peace?

We may put extremists in a different category from ourselves. But what infects them is at large and free-floating in our society. The same society that has spawned 1700 militias has created a far larger number of school bullies. It was in South Hadley, a town much like ours, where last month 15-year-old Phoebe Prince was taken down by months of emotional, verbal, and physical violence from a few of her peers.

And can you remember a time when members of congress have had their lives threatened and their character defamed as in these past two weeks? A brick through a window, venomous words hurled…it all becomes too easy.

At work in our society, shown by agents of hatred, is a death of the heart and a death of the imagination from which we all are called to rise, called by Jesus Christ who absorbed the world’s venom and defeated it by being true to his nature, true to God.

God is his nature: Jesus Christ is God’s Son. Not another talking head in history, Jesus Christ is divine so that each of us may be a dwelling-place of God, an agent of Jesus’s love. He is in each of us by divine Spirit, our finest hope and our truest nature. God in the DNA of Jesus unites him to God as surely as a compass points to magnetic north. So the risen Christ in us draws us to claim and show our truest nature.

By the grace of resurrection set loose in our world on this day some 2000 years ago, we are equipped to practice and demonstrate a yet more excellent way than reactive violence. Our homes, churches and workplaces, our friendships, politics, and foreign policy are all locations to practice the call of God in Jesus Christ to live by the Spirit of truth and love and reverence, which is our truest nature.

How will we inspire and encourage and expect one another to show this yet more excellent way?