Sunday, April 29, 2012

AM I READY TO RIDE A BICYCLE 600 MILES IN KENYA?

On May 6, our team heads for Kenya--and our preparations become a lived experience

Well, I’ve done just about everything I can to get myself and eight other team members ready to pedal 600 miles in Kenya.  We board international flights on May 6 (next Sunday), arrive in Nairobi on the evening of May 7, and take an initial tour around the Kenyan capital on Tuesday, May 8.  That begins twelve straight days of covering between 40 and 70 hilly miles per day in a loop that takes us west and north of Nairobi.

I hope you will follow our journey via our blog. Here’s the address: http://bikekenya2012.blogspot.com.  I intend to post photos, videos and updates each day.  I also plan to share tweets from Kenya.  If you use Twitter, follow @BikeKenya2012, or you can view all my comments and photos at www.twitter.com/bikekenya2012.  These are my sincere attempts to bring friends along for the ride, to share the experience, to thank you for your prayers and support and, somehow, to plant seeds for understanding, vision and growth among us all.

There are a thousand details to sweat for planning and leading an excursion like this.  As for training, our team members are making a real attempt at getting ready for riding at mile-high+ altitudes and anticipating major ascents and generally hilly terrain.  But there is a preparation of mind and heart that matters as much to me as logistics and physicality.  Here’s what I’m thinking about that.

I am contemplating the faith reality that in grace God ever goes before us and meets us where we go.  With that, I am free to bracket my detail orientation and penchant for on-timeness and follow-through in order to be open and empty enough to experience and receive what no one can anticipate.  I can set aside presuppositions regarding cultures and critique of varying expressions of Christianity in order to observe, take in and appreciate the diverse dynamics of people, relationships, communities and faith we may be privileged to experience.  I am conditioning myself to slow down, focus on being there (a FISH principle) and, as much as possible within my role as team leader, to practice what in Swahili is known as “hakuna matata” – no worries.  I am extending my practice of contemplative prayer – making/taking more time than usual to think and pray reflectively through the Scriptures and the daily experiences of life.

So, this is more than just a fundraising cycling event (it IS that; have you yet sponsored us with a per-mile donation to build the new ICCM school?).  It is something of a spiritual journey.  I invite you along for the ride.  I welcome your prayers.  I welcome your support.  I welcome your responses.  And I hope not to return unchanged.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

SURVIVAL OF THE COMPASSIONATE

"There is nothing inevitable or divinely willed about social and economic inequality. [Our faith] rejects the almost universal belief in antiquity...that hierarchy and divisions of class are written into the structure of society.  What human beings have created, human beings can rectify.


"Greatness, even for God, certainly for us, is not to be above people but to be with them, hearing their silent cry, sharing their distress, bringing comfort to the distressed and dignity to the deprived. 


"The message of the Hebrew Bible is that civilizations survive not by strength but by how they respond to the weak; not by wealth but by how they care for the poor; not by power but by their concern for the powerless. What renders a culture invulnerable is the compassion it shows to the vulnerable."


-- Rabbi Jonathan Sacks in To Heal a Fractured World

Sunday, April 22, 2012

10 WAYS TO PRACTICE CREATION CARE

In observance of Earth Day, here are 10 ways to bring faith and environmental responsibility together beyond this day

The following suggestions are offered by Dr. Howard Snyder of Asbury Seminary from an essay titled “Salvation Means Creation Healed” (now an incredible book by the same title):

1. STUDY THE BIBLE WITH CREATION-CARE EYES. Learn what the Bible teaches about the creation, earth, God’s covenant with the earth (Gen. 9), and God’s plan for creation restored. Key biblical themes worth studying are earth, justice, land, shalom, the poor, the nations, Sabbath/Jubilee, and reconciliation.

2. PRAY FOR THE HEALING OF THE LAND AND THE NATIONS. We can pray for reforestation in Haiti; peace in places where war ravages the environment; God’s sustenance for frontline earth healers; and for discernment: “Lord, what would you have me to do?” “We do not know how to pray as we ought, but [the Holy Spirit] intercedes for us with sighs too deep for words” (Rom. 8:26).

3. RECYCLE. Recycle things rather than throwing them “away,” realizing that waste products never really “go away.” Support community-wide recycling efforts. Remember that it is about 90% cheaper and more ecologically responsible to make recycled pop cans than to make new ones. Recycling has an economic as well as ecological benefit. It is a way to slow down rather than speed up the entropy of the created order.

4. PROTECT. Support local, state, and federal legislation and international agreements that protect the environment and promote creation care. Strengthening the Endangered Species Act, supporting sound environmental legislation, and working for international accords to limit greenhouse gases are good places to start. Locally we might work for bike lanes on city streets, for more parks and footpaths, and expanded recycling.

5. OBSERVE SABBATH. Make Sundays (or another day) real Sabbaths by spending at least an hour reading good books and articles on creation and on creation-care as a part of mission and discipleship. Combine this with walks (alone or with friends) in fields and woods, paying attention to God’s other creatures.

6. STUDY TOGETHER. Form a group that focuses on the creation-care dimensions of mission and discipleship—prayer, study, conversation, action.

7. WRITE CREATIVELY. Write a poem, hymn, song, or meditation celebrating the greatness of God as seen in his creation. The books of Psalms and Job provide wonderful models.

8. CHANGE YOUR HABITS. Form some creation-affirming habits—moderate eating, regular exercise, walking (if possible) instead of riding or using elevators, bird-watching, nature photography, gardening—whatever best fits your own situation. Use personal disciplines and exercise for the benefit of creation and others, not just for your own health.

9. CONSERVE. Practice energy conservation—for the sake of the planet and the poor, not just to save money—in home-building or renovation, transportation, entertainment, and daily habits.

10. NETWORK. Become active in an organization or network that promotes the healing of creation from a biblical standpoint. The Evangelical Environmental Network is a good place to start and a source of information on various networks, resources, and programs. The book Redeeming Creation by Van Dyke, et al., lists numerous Christian groups devoted to creation care in an appendix.

SUBVERSIVE HOSPITALITY


Offering hospitality to those whom society rejects is both subversive and healing

Books like Making Room by Christine Pohl don't let me go very easily. I read it first well over a decade ago, but its principles and practices are still working on me.

In my inductive way of reading the Bible and my meandering way of thinking, I circle back again to Pohl's insight about the power of recognition and subversive nature of hospitality.

The catalyst is the story of a stranger with two of Jesus' disciples on the road to Emmaus on the afternoon of the day of Resurrection (Luke 24). As they make room for the stranger--first on the road and later in their dwelling and at their dinner table--they receive a most unexpected gift: the stranger they welcome (or at least didn't dismiss or shun or ignore) is revealed as none other than their beloved Jesus.

This storyline, principle and practice repeats itself in the Bible, from Abraham welcoming strangers at the Tree of Mamre to the writer of Hebrews imploring: "do not neglect to welcome strangers, for in doing so some have entertained angels unaware." Among many aspects of this reality that can be lifted up (and she lifts up many), Pohl particularly points to the subversive and healing power of recognizing strangers.  She writes: 

“Although we often think of hospitality as a tame and pleasant practice, historic hospitality has always had a subversive, countercultural dimension.  ‘Hospitality is resistance,’ as one person from the Catholic Worker observed.  Especially when the larger society disregards and dishonors certain persons, small acts of respect and welcome are potent far beyond themselves.  They point to a different system of valuing and an alternate model of relationships.”

“Many persons who are not valued by the larger society are essentially invisible to it.  When people are socially invisible, their needs and concerns are not acknowledged and no one even notices the injustices they suffer.  Hospitality can begin a journey toward visibility and respect.”

Friendships forged in hospitality contradict contemporary messages about who is valuable and 'good to be with,' who can 'give life to others.'  Such communities are also signs of hope that love is possible, that the world is not condemned to a struggle between oppressors and oppressed, that class and racial warfare is not inevitable.  The gift of hope embedded in these communities of hospitality nourishes, challenges, and transforms guests, hosts, and sometimes, the larger community."

Those who offer hospitality are not so much providing services as they are sharing their lives with people who come to them.  This is an important distinction because it affects the nature of the relationship.  If hospitality involves sharing your life and sharing in the lives of others, guests/strangers are not first defined by their need….Respect is sustained in relationships in two related ways--by recognizing the gifts that guests bring to the relationship and by recognizing the neediness of the hosts.”

“The practice of hospitality forces abstract commitments of loving the neighbor, stranger, and enemy into practical expressions of respect and care for actual neighbors, strangers, and enemies.  The twin moves of universalizing the neighbor and personalizing the stranger are at the core of hospitality.  Claims of loving all humankind, of welcoming ‘the other,’ have to be accompanied by the hard work of actually welcoming a human being into a real place.”

Friday, April 20, 2012

CHRISTIAN, POLITICAL, NONPARTISAN

As a Christian, I carefully distinguish political engagement from partisan politics.


The Good News of Jesus is political--profoundly so. The politics of Jesus are pointed. Jesus has something powerful to say about wealth, poverty, justice, the value of life, our regard for aliens and strangers, our responsibilities to our local and global neighbors, communities and governments, etc. (for a kickstart, read Matthew 5-7; read on if you're still standing).


The politics of Jesus are such that they, if taken at face value, necessarily prevent partisanship among those of us who make it our goal and pattern to follow him. It is not that Jesus is not specific in regard to critical social issues and Biblical justice. It is not that Jesus' politics are otherworldly. It is that Jesus' way is not merely a program, not a point-by-point platform, not a coercive agenda.  It is that his words and way defy and transcend every fallen ideology.


Still, the church is not above politics (rightly understood), for, when we are at our best, we emphatically value people and principles and processes in a way that Jesus demonstrated and taught--and these are, more often than not, in contrast to all partisan politics and policies. The idolatry of ideology (along with images and institutions) is one the fallen "principalities and powers" which William Stringfellow identifies that are to be called out and redeemed.


Jesus' politics unmistakably challenge all fallen ideologies and status quo, including the institutional micro-ideologies of churches and faith-based groups. The politics of Jesus, however, do not and cannot be claimed or harnessed by mere political parties or politicians--or church representatives who favor one party or politician over another or think their chosen party is God's instrument.

At this point in time, I do not see any partisan ideology that is worthy of any Christian's adherence. At the same time, each of us as citizens have a responsibility to engage fully in civic discourse and wrestle with what we feel is best for our communities and world amid fallen people and systems.



It should be the burden of each of us as Christians to guard our own hearts, fully contemplate the matrix of what Jesus lived and taught in the context of our own times, and carefully and caringly enter into civic discourse from a clearly nonpartisan perspective. But avoidance of reflecting Jesus' values, assessments, priorities, etc. in the public arena is not a valid option, it seems to me.


For more on this perspective, read "The Politics of Jesus" by John Howard Yoder, "The Politics of Spirituality" by William Stringfellow, and "The Upside Down Kingdom" by Donald Kraybill.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Wonder of Our Loved Ones

We must strain to see, nurture and celebrate the wonder we experience in our loved ones

Thinking of our family, with its particularities and peculiarities, with each one's uniqueness and struggles and possibilities, with the dynamic of life that we share--gathering and scattering, coming and going, I penned the following in gratitude.

Loved ones deserve our effort
to nurture their wonder.
Against the tide of sameness
and routine familiarity,
against presumption of predictability,
we strive to discern and celebrate
what is unique to each and evidently a gift to all.

Though all the world may see merely
a name, a number, a commodity,
we must strain to see originality –
and life and hope and promise –
in those to whom we have been given
and who have been given to us.

Even and especially after years
of companionship and common life,
when it might seem there are no surprises
and nothing new to be known of the other,
when change is no longer a harbored expectation,
our loved ones deserve earnest contemplation –
as if we have yet to discover the
source of their shining light.

The world may or may not discover
the wonder of our children
or the glory of our spouse,
but we will have not fully lived
until we have perceived and guarded
and fueled their unique graces.

Nurture the wonder in loved ones
when they cannot see it for themselves,
or do not believe in themselves,
or sell themselves short.
Perhaps the reminder will
turn the tide and hold them fast
in dark and disillusioning days.

Nurture their distinct wonder--
not what you wish they would become
or desire for your own gratification.
And when they shine as a light
to those whose ways they are intended to brighten,
let your blessing flow unbridled,
trusting to wonder the glory
that will come through them.

Monday, April 9, 2012

DAY AFTER EASTER

I penned this prayer-poem on a Monday after Easter Sunday

O God,
removed a day from celebrating Resurrection,
I wonder if I have yet begun to grasp
but a fraction of its meaning and power
for my life,
for the church,
for the world?


I press on presumingly,
speaking Resurrection words
but do I carry on as if little had occurred?
I got stirred up about the Empty Tomb
but how much have I changed?
I don't want Easter to dissipate into
minor adjustments,
shallow commitments,
tepid dreams.


I dare to hold to Easter faith,
to believe that on that morning
no mere rustled resettling occurred,
but a tectonic plate shifted reality
for a world without transcendence,
people without hope,
life locked in death.


Help me to explore and live the Third Day
in the face of my own doubts.
Believing you live and go before me,
meeting me in unlikely moments,
I go forward into this day,
this work,
these relationships,
your world.


Amen

Thursday, April 5, 2012

MAY I WASH YOUR FEET?

Why do we resist this central act of the Christian story and servant leadership?

"AS I HAVE DONE FOR YOU."  Later this evening, some of our family will participate in the Maundy Thursday liturgy at St. John's Episcopal Church in Breckenridge, Colorado.  The little church will be half-full and it is likely a quarter of us will be out-of-towners.  No matter.  Not used to the turnings and citings and readings of formal liturgy, we may fumble our way through the service.  The part in which I feel particularly connected will be the foot washing.  We will be invited to do for another what Jesus did for his disciples that night of their last meal together.  After the pastoral team, we will be invited to wash each other's feet at the front of the sanctuary.  During the foot washing, the congregation will sing:

Brother, sister, let me serve you,
Let me be as Christ to you;
Pray that I might have the grace to
Let you be my servant, too.

HOMELESS NEIGHBORS' FEET.  The radical humiliation of washing another's feet first struck me in 1989, when a nurse asked me to help with the foot soaks and foot massages she weekly offered the homeless men who visited Horizon House.  I initially volunteered to assist, but when the hour came, I found myself strangely resistant and made excuses not to be available to wash their feet.  The next week, Nurse Anne wouldn't let me off the hook.  I found myself kneeling before the dirty, gnarly, swollen, smelly feet of a homeless man.  Still resistant but yielded, I gave myself to the task, pushing thoughts and inner protests aside.  One after another I washed and massaged feet until there were no more feet to wash.  I felt relieved and released and somehow strangely at peace.  From that point on, I have always viewed people without homes as neighbors, recognizing and accepting my connection, complicity, and challenge in their condition.

LEADING PARADIGM.  During my 2,000-mile bicycle ride through India in 2007, we were honored in Bangalore by foot washing.  The Free Methodist Bishops of India knelt down and washed each cyclist's feet in front of all their pastors, parishioners, and non-christian friends and community members who gathered to welcome us to that city (we, in turn, washed their feet).  Knowing the strong sense of caste and social role that pervade the various Indian cultures, I can only begin to imagine the radical--even offensive--action of a leader washing anyone's feet.  But this is likely close to the context of Jesus' action on what we now call Maundy Thursday.  He is the Servant Leader and this is the primary image for Christian leadership.  The towel and basin stands alongside the cross.  Those who dismiss or stray from this central paradigm mislead.



IT'S NOT ABOUT FEET.  I have not fully identified the points of my resistance to wash either the feet of homeless neighbors in a day center or the feet of a friend in a Holy Week foot-washing liturgy. I'm not nearly as interested in analyzing my resistance as in simply recognizing it and overcoming it. It's really not about foot washing; it's about doing the necessary, menial, and helpful things for one another without reference to "who's who," social role, or fear. I want to continue to move in that direction in my life, breaking resistances and hesitancies and excuses with helpful actions for whomever they are needed.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

NONVIOLENT OVERTHROW OF VIOLENCE

Walter Wink's insights deserve our attention and responses


WHEN THE POWERS FALL. The following excerpts are from When the Powers Fall: Reconciliation in the Healing of Nations by Walter Wink (Fortress Press, 1998). These quotes/notes are from the first section of the book, which critiques power and offers the alternative Jesus expressed. Wink’s insight and proposals for reconciliation among nations has a particular ring of truth and challenge since 9/11. Wink has taken up where William Stringfellow left off in grappling with “the principalities and powers.” His trilogy--Naming the Powers, Unmasking the Powers, and Engaging the Powers--is essential reading for those who take the future of the world seriously.


JESUS VS THE DOMINATION SYSTEM. Wink points out that a world-wide system of domination is the problem, not just periodic expressions of it, like Rome in Jesus’ day. “Jesus’ message has traditionally been treated as timeless, eternal, contextless teaching proclaimed in a sociopolitical vacuum,” writes Wink. “But his teaching and deeds are directed at a specific context: the Domination System. Jesus’ message is a context-specific remedy for the evils of domination. God is not simply attempting to rescue individuals from their sufferings at the hands of an unjust system, but to transform the system so as to make and keep human life more human.”


CHANGING THE VALUES. “Jesus does not condemn ambition or aspiration; he merely changes the values to which they are attached: ‘Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and servant of all.’ He does not reject power, but only its use to dominate others. He does not reject greatness, but finds it in identification and solidarity with the needy at the bottom of society (Matt. 5:3-12/Luke 6:20-23). He does not renounce heroism, but expresses it by repudiating the powers of death and confronting the entrenched might of the authorities, unarmed.” Jesus’ words and deeds “repudiate the very premises on which domination is based: the right of some to lord it over others by means of power, wealth, shaming, or titles.”


ENDING ECONOMIC EXPLOITATION. “Economic inequalities are the basis of domination. Domination hierarchies, ranking, and classism are all built on power provided by accumulated wealth. Thus Jesus’ gospel is founded on economic justice. Breaking with domination means ending the economic exploitation of the many by the few. His followers were to begin living now ‘as if’ the new order had already come, seeking first God’s reign and God’s justice. It is not described as coming from on high down to earth; it rises quietly and imperceptibly out of the land. It is established, not by aristocrats and military might, but by ineluctable process of growth from below, among the common people.”


NONVIOLENT OVERTHROW OF EVIL. “An egalitarian society presupposes nonviolence, for violence is the way some are able to deprive others of what is justly theirs. Inequality can only be maintained by violence. The root of violence, moreover, is domination. Turning the other cheek to a ‘superior’ who has backhanded an ‘inferior’ is an act of defiance, not submission; stripping naked when a creditor demands one’s outer garment brings down shame on the head of the creditor causing the poor debtor’s nakedness; carrying a soldier’s pack a second mile would put him in violation of military law (Matt. 5:39-41). These acts do not at all mean acquiescing passively to evil, but are studied and deliberate ways of seizing the initiative and overthrowing evil by the force of its own momentum.”


WITHOUT BECOMING EVIL IN THE PROCESS. “The last supper and the crucifixion display Jesus’ nonviolent breaking of the spiral of violence by absorbing its momentum with his own body. What Jesus distilled from the long experience of his people in violent and nonviolent resistance was a way of opposing evil without becoming evil in the process. He advocated means consistent with the desired end: a society of justice, peace, and equality free of authoritarianism, oppression, and ranking. His method and his goal incarnated God’s domination-free order.”


GOD’S REIGN DESCRIBED. “What is God’s reign? It is the transformation of the Domination System into a nonviolent, humane, ecologically sustainable, livable environment fashioned to enable people to grow and grow well. That is a message so elementary that even a child can understand it. For children it means, among other things, no more beatings; for women, as a bare minimum, no more battering and rape; for men, as a gospel imperative, no more exploitation, violence, and war.”


DOMINATION AND THE CHURCH. “The failure of churches to continue Jesus’ struggle to overcome domination is one of the most damning apostasies in its history. With some thrilling exceptions, the churches of the world have never yet decided that domination is wrong. Even in countries where the churches have been deeply identified with revolution, there has been a tendency to focus on only one aspect of domination, such as political freedom, and to ignore economic injustices, authoritarianism, the immorality of war, domestic violence, gender inequality, hierarchicalism, patriarchy, and the physical and sexual abuse of children. We have tried to take on evil piecemeal.”


SEEING A SINGLE FRONT. “While it is true that we cannot take on everything, we have not always located our struggles within Jesus’ total project: the overcoming of the Domination System itself. Jesus’ vision of a domination-free order enables us to see every struggle against injustice, illness, and greed as part of a single front, and gives us a perspective that links us to everyone engaged in similar struggles.”

CLUELESS ABOUT PASSOVER?

Though I think I know more than most Christians about Passover, I am still pretty clueless about the heart of it.

Do I have any real clue about the meaning of Passover?  I confess, I do not. 

Not in any way that grasps the heart of its meaning which my Jewish friends and associates annually experience and express.  Not in any way that intimately appreciates the collective soul that resonates in Passover's passages and symbols.  Not in any way that grasps the depth of bondage and release that are wrapped up in the journey of a people.

I say this having participated in "Christ in the Passover" Seder meals on numerous occasions.  I say this having studied in seminary and dialogued ecumenically and celebrated Passover's exodus themes in liberation theologies.  I say this having heard comparison after comparison to the Christian story, particularly relating to Holy Week.

Still, I am convinced that, apart from filtering its meaning through Christian reinterpretations, I am pretty much clueless about the meaning of Passover.  At age 52, I am embarrassed to say that I mostly hold only barely-informed notions and ideas about Passover.  Granted, I will put the little I know about Passover as more information and perspective than 90% of Christians.  But that's not saying much.

For the sake of understanding my Jewish neighbors and celebrating the heart of Passover, for the sake of genuine solidarity and heartful knowing, I hope in coming years to have some experience, some firsthand relationship, some breakthrough that will deepen and broaden me in this regard.

Even then, I imagine it will be with a sense of observing reverence and respect that I will "know."  And always as one being grafted in.

To all my friends who are engaging in the Celebration of Freedom , God bless you.

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

THE DEATH OF PREDATION

I like Howard Snyder's description of atonement in his new book "Salvation Means Creation Healed"

"Atonement is not primarily about punishment, not most basically about penalty. It is fundamentally about overcoming the results of sin, the hurt of violation--which necessarily involves suffering the consequences. It is the death of predation. This is what Jesus, and Jesus alone, accomplished through the cross and resurrection. Jesus is thus the great healer, and by his Spirit he summons the church to join in both the suffering and the healing"


 -- Howard A. Snyder & Joel Scandrett in Salvation Means Creation Healed, 2011, Cascade Books, Eugene, Oregon

Sunday, April 1, 2012

PALM SUNDAY AND NONVIOLENT LIVING

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


WATCH CLOSELY NOW. It is not likely you have ever before heard this take on Palm Sunday. Here it is: in theological and anthropological terms, I imagine Palm Sunday to be as much about ushering in nonviolence as anything. 


NAIVE SOCIAL MOMENT? Palm Sunday is at once an outwardly na├»ve social moment and at the same time an inwardly authentic signal of a new way of living and leading.  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 ever so closely now. Strain to observe as he faces his foes and darkest hours having completely renounced violence inside and out.


SIGNAL AND CONFIRMATION. His disarming and symbolic procession into the city on a colt amid shouts of "Hosanna!" isn't just a stunt. Renunciation of violence is heard in Jesus' voice and seen in his actions throughout his last week. The profound shift Palm Sunday signals is confirmed in what we call Holy Week. The nonviolent way of living and leadership Jesus has taught in the towns and rural areas is manifested in the city center and in the crucible of power. Even Jesus' effort to drive religious profiteers (mere pawns of a corrupt system) out of the temple should be taken as a near comical expression of the futility of violence. What does it accomplish? 


STRENGTH TO LOVE. 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. His chosen response to intimidation, pressure, accusations, betrayal, desertion, condemnation, suffering, violence, and even death is a nonviolent nonresistance based on love. It is not about giving in to fate or conceding anything. Instead, 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, journey and mission.


ON AN EXCEPTIONAL PEDESTAL? When it comes to thinking of nonviolence as a way of life, it is a mistake to set Jesus on a heroic pedestal. It is a mistake to think of his actions as exemplary, exceptional, unique, and unrepeatable. It is a mistake to surmise that Jesus' pattern is not intended for our own lives or social and political behaviors. It is a mistake to sentimentally accept Jesus as personal savior and Lord, but immediately bracket and set aside the very core of his witness and pattern. It is erroneous to think of Jesus' nonviolence as limited to--and intended only for--his redemptive acts on our behalf.  How can it be that we want his forgiveness and laud his sacrificial life, but are not willing to live nonviolently, nonresistantly, lovingly, trustingly, powerfully ourselves?  Is this not, 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, do we imitate Jesus? We say we trust God, but do we make a mockery of faith in God's name before the world? We act as if 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 making decisions, facing violence, and exercising power. 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 transformation, 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--personally and collectively? This remains an open question for me. It puzzles me. It keeps me looking forward.