Saturday, April 16, 2011

PALM SUNDAY AND NONVIOLENCE

A weaponless, army-less liberating king rides into the violent polis on a colt. Is he crazy?

A NEW WAY OF LIVING. It is not likely you have ever heard this take on Palm Sunday: in theological and anthropological terms, I imagine Palm Sunday to be as much about ushering in nonviolence as anything. Palm Sunday is at once an outwardly naïve social moment and at the same time an inwardly authentic signal of a new way of living and leading.

WATCH CLOSELY NOW. It is not that Jesus has not thoroughly exemplified nonviolence before now. It is that he is now allowing himself to be publicly declared Messiah in the heart of the polis and the stakes are ever so much higher. Watch him closely now. Strain to observe as, having completely renounced violence inside and out, he faces his foes and darkest hours.

POWER AND CONTROL. Renunciation of violence is heard in Jesus' voice and seen in his actions throughout his last week. Even Jesus' effort to drive the religious profiteers out of the temple is a near-comical expression of the futility of violence. What does it accomplish? But never mistake nonviolence for weakness. Jesus is not at all powerless as he enters Jerusalem. It becomes clear as the week advances, even as the cross is planted and the tomb is sealed, that Jesus is the controlling enigma.

CHOSEN RESPONSE.  His chosen response to intimidation, pressure, accusations, betrayal, desertion, condemnation, suffering, violence, and even death is a nonviolent response. It is not about giving in to fate or conceding anything; it is about exercising power that is nothing more or less than faith and trust in a loving God to bring meaning and life to one's existence and journey.

ON AN EXCEPTIONAL PEDESTAL? When it comes to thinking of nonviolence as a way of life, we mistakenly set Jesus on a heroic pedestal. We think of his actions as exemplary, exceptional, unique, and unrepeatable. They certainly are not, we surmise, the pattern for our own lives or social and political behaviors. We sentimentally accept Jesus as personal savior and Lord, but immediately bracket and set aside the very core of his witness and pattern. We say "yes, but…" We want his forgiveness and laud his sacrificial life, but we are not willing to live nonviolently, lovingly, trustingly, redemptively, powerfully ourselves. We want, in the martyr Dietrich Bonhoeffer's phrase, "cheap grace."

SAYING ONE THING, LIVING ANOTHER. For all our words, worship, songs, and altruistic actions, when it comes to the most powerful aspects of Jesus' witness, we do not imitate Christ if we do not embrace his nonviolence. Therefore, we neither truly follow him nor glorify God. Though we say so, we evidently do not trust God and before the world make a mockery of faith in God's name. We are certain the future of the world is best left in our self defending hands and in our calculating control. Better yet, in the hands of self-serving politicians and power brokers who give lip service to Christianity but live and act by the same power sources as did the Pharisees, Herod, and Pilate. And we bless them.

CHOOSE YOUR POWER SOURCES CAREFULLY. In Jesus, particularly in his so-called triumphal entry scenario, we are challenged to continuously renounce our violence every day in every encounter. We are given opportunity to renounce the subtlest uses of threats, intimidation, controlling, fear, and shaming. We are invited to let go of the impulse to be self defensive or to coerce others for the sake of keeping the peace or promoting just causes. Whether the arena is our household or the global stage, the opportunity is the same. We are shown how to live from a different place in our soul when it comes to exercising power or taking authority. It is a place of strength, the strength to love. So, choose your sources of power carefully.

A ROAD LESS TRAVELED. Nonviolence is not easy. Folks try hard to be nonviolent. It takes more energy and determination than going with the flow of violence that defines our culture. It is a road less traveled. It is marching to a different drumbeat. Sometimes we can be quite militant in our vigilant commitment to nonviolence, to the point of taking on a violent spirit. I am convinced that a commitment to and actions for nonviolence are not enough. Renunciation is pointless if not for a surpassing love that transcends violence and endues us with a higher power, a life-giving source.

AN EMBRACED TRANSCENDENT LOVE. Nonviolence apart from an embraced transcendent love remains mere idealism. It is right, but only partly so. Renouncing violence is unsustainable personally and socially in merely humanistic terms. Without a spiritually inward transaction, I am not sure that as a social agenda it will work. It seems to me that nonviolence can only lead to shalom if violence is supplanted by agape love.

LOVE AND VIOLENCE. But why is it that many who claim the name and love of God never renounce violence? Why do we not include personal and institutional violence when we declare, in the great confession, that we renounce Satan and all his works? Why do we continue to live in reflection of a violent god? Why is the spirit and example of Jesus on Palm Sunday and Holy Week not incorporated into the pattern and practice of our lives? This remains an open question for me. It puzzles me. It keeps me looking forward.

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