Archive for February, 2010

In his intriguing book, Help: the Original Human Dilemma, Garrett Keizer speaks of “The Dream we No Longer Admit”.  The dream, summarized in an essay by Joan Didion, is the “Howard Hughes dream of being “asocial”, of being totally private, of having “absolute personal freedom.”  Keizer goes on to say that, perhaps, this dream is now one we actually do admit–indeed, it is increasingly one which we “dream with a vengeance.”

Autonomy

Personal Freedom

In contrast to the “dream” we have the story of the “good Samaritan” or the community of Le Chambon (read it and marvel) that stand as alternative narratives to the dream.  And yet, the dream is powerful and, arguably (as Keizel admits) an increasingly dominant theme in our current downturn/recession/deep recession/mild depression/depression (your choice).

And this brings us to Ayn Rand. I will admit that I can’t get through her writings (Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged), less because of their philosophy and more because the “heroes” are plastic people–props–in a morality tale that is far from anything I can relate to.  And yet, Rand IS important today as recent biographies, reviewed in the New Republic and Harpers (only available to subscribers) reveal. Okay, these are “liberal rags” but they do a good job dissecting Rand’s lasting influence today (including the fact that Milton Friedman was a devotee).

Rand expressed the “dream” as morally superior to the slave religion of Jesus.  This excerpt from the Mars Hill Audio interview with one of the biography authors (Jennifer Burns) by Ken Myers reveals both her project and the major influence on her writing:

Why does all this matter?  Read the reviews and you will see… Bottom line–popular commentators who command a significant following (yes, I am talking about Glenn Beck and Rush Limbaugh) have lauded Rand’s work. In a recent speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference Beck (while not quoting Rand directly) reviled any notion that community (i.e. Good Samaritan type work) matters, and that all talk of community is actually the vanguard of a socialist takeover.  Beck, eerily channeling Rand from beyond the grave, conflated the idea that a concern for the effects of one’s actions on the community matters, with socialism.  You may consider Beck a “nut-case”, or worse, but his ideas carry weight with many and he is willing to support Rand’s thought while championing some form of “Christian ethics” in a way that gives his acolytes permission to feel no compassion for anyone while claiming some vague moral high ground.  Yes, the gospel of Rand is alive and well and her work merits our attention.

What kind of society will we be?  Will we succumb to “the dream”? These are important questions.  Rand believed that altruism was not merely misguided but that it was morally wrong.  Is it in this spirit that we will face the days ahead?  I hope not.  Otherwise I don’t know what to do with Jesus’ life and teaching… “When he saw the crowds he felt compassion for them…” These “crowds” were the people Rand (and presumably Beck et. al.) revile–the poor (who clearly deserve it), the sick (who never thought it necessary to buy health insurance), the weak (who wait for the hard working to meet their needs).

Where does Rand’s brand of “freedom” lead?  As Kim Phillips-Fein asks in her review of two books about Rand in the December 2009 Harpers (Ayn Rand and the World She Made, by Anne C. Heller and Goddess of the Market: Ayn Rand and the American Right, by Jennifer Burns.)

Should there be any lingering shame or sadness at our modern Gilded Age, at the material gaps that place some in luxury skyscrapers and others out on the streets, she (Rand) encourages her readers to renounce that discomfort as the true immorality. Her work offers a way of making sense of a profoundly unequal society, of making it tolerable, even virtuous.

In just under a week our little town will have the privilege of hosting a delegation of city officials and activists from another town who are coming our way to learn a bit about our bike friendly city.  We have a great tradition of biking here and we realize that it is thanks to the commitment of a good number of people who came before.  Our “biking ancestors” here in Davis (most of whom are still alive) made it possible for those of us who came later to develop alternatives to how we transport ourselves around that are, arguably, healthier for us and for the planet.

We owe these people many thanks. Their commitments to conceptualizing not just a “city plan” but also a “way of living” may not seem like much after all these years but in their time they had to work very hard to lay the foundations of what we have.  How do we thank them?

Well… my thinking is that we pass on the “blessing” by helping our neighbors here more fully enjoy the benefits and also by encouraging others to do the same in other places.  Sometimes history and relationships and casual dreaming turn into something that contributes to the latter.

About 6 years ago I met a group of people in a small Virginia town who were doing something pretty cool: they were voluntarily taxing themselves for every mile they drove in their cars and using the proceeds to help build a better community–including trying to create a more bike friendly city.  I was inspired and mentioned that I lived in a town that was not nearly so progressive as theirs (at least vis-à-vis the gas tax thing), but one that had a long tradition of creating and maintaining good biking infrastructure and making it safe and fun for people of all ages, shapes and sizes to spend more time on bikes.  We started out casually dreaming about these people maybe, someday, sending a group out to visit us on the other end of the country.

Well, that “loose talk” has led to a full-blown trip of seven people coming out to spend some time with us engaging in mutual learning and encouragement about how to live differently on the planet.  Now I know what some people will think… “Hey, aren’t those guys flying out and dumping all sorts of CO2 into the atmosphere in the process?  Doesn’t sound very environmentally friendly to me.”

People who say that are… absolutely correct.  We are being totally inconsistent about this whole thing.  Okay, I admit it.  Still… if their visit helps them make fundamental changes at home that in 5, 10 and 25 years leave in place a city in which few people need or use cars then maybe the inconsistency will have paid off.  Trying to keep the true “ends” in view here.

I may be wrong but I am willing to make a trade-off here in order to help promote some longer term vision.  Because, after all, that is what this is all about.  This is not about some sudden impact that can be measured in weeks or months.  This is a long-walk-in-one-direction type of project.

While the visitors are here we will pedal all over town viewing the infrastructure we have in place: bike lanes, bike paths, specially marked crossings, bike and pedestrian bridges, bike stoplights, etc…  They will get to see traces of the historical development of all these things that, today, make up the landscape of our town.  Not one of them was developed in a day or a month and collectively they have taken a generation or more to put into place.  A long term project that visionary people–looking into a future that they might not even be part of–decided would be good for those who came after them.

Of course, our major challenge here, now, is that we cannot just sit back and soak in the grandeur of what we have (and it is pretty grand).  And that is the other good thing about this trip: the coming of the visitors reminds us of what we have and how we need to keep working at it.  Our excitement in telling our story will help focus our attention on the reality that we can’t just “party on”,  but that we have to keep at it… Keep working… Keep envisioning what we want to leave behind for those that come after.

The organization of the trip has all been a grassroots effort and I am estimating that the whole thing in terms of actual CASH outlay will be less than $400 (send me a comment and ask how we did it and I will tell you).  We have worked hard and used the things we have.  I did an interview about the trip and the person interviewing me asked “why” we would go to the trouble.  Here is an excerpt of my response (with a little explanation added).  I apologize if it sounds self-serving–it was not meant that way.  I just want to model what Paul Farmer of Mountains Beyond Mountains fame taught me when someone asked him about the sustainability of his work.  He said, “we can sustain it if we can sustain our passion.”  I agree and I hope you hear a bit of that in this short response.

Today’s local paper had an intriguing feature entitled The Age of Limits.  It is the story of Brett Tracy, a man on a mission to chronicle the demise of our industrial way of life–an anthropologist laying the foundation for the research of future “colleagues” who will reconstruct this demise after the fact.  The article will likely raise eyebrows because of the various “extra-legal” activities in which Tracy engages as he crisscrosses the nation on his quest (various forms of trespassing and shoplifting–only food and only from big box grocery stores), but the real story lies in his critique of our modern religious project.  Here’s Tracy:

And people think humanity’s sheer intellectual prowess will carry the species ever higher until “we’re living in space colonies, taking space cruises to Mars and driving in flying cars,” Brett says, laughing.

This idea of inevitable human “progress” is “the dominant religion (of) our time.

But that world will end as oil, natural gas, coal — what he calls “stored, ancient sunlight” and our “one-time allotment of hydrocarbon resources” — run out.

The decay won’t happen in an apocalypse. Instant world destruction is our other major myth, Brett says, and it takes many forms: asteroid impact, annihilation by aliens, a wildfire, virus or some other event where “everyone’s getting raptured off the face of the Earth.”

Unstoppable progress and apocalyptic doom — we view the world and ourselves through these two stories. They tell us who we are as a species, why we do what we do, and where we’re going. (emphasis mine)

I wonder if Tracy has read Wendell Berry?  A man whose methods are quite distinct from Tracy’s but whose message and broad critique of our modern faith is similar.  Berry, writing in “Faustian Economics: Hell Hath no Limits” Harpers, May 2008 ” said:

The dominant response (to the end of the era of cheap oil–a subject very much on Tracy’s mind as well), in short, is a dogged belief that what we call the American Way of Life will prove somehow indestructible. We will keep on consuming, spending, wasting, and driving, as before, at any cost to anything and everybody but ourselves.

In keeping with our unrestrained consumptiveness, the commonly accepted basis of our economy is the supposed possibility of limitless growth, limitless wants, limitless wealth, limitless natural resources, limitless energy, and limitless debt. The idea of a limitless economy implies and requires a doctrine of general human limitlessness: all are entitled to pursue without limit whatever they conceive as desirable—a license that classifies the most exalted Christian capitalist with the lowliest pornographer.

Our national faith so far has been: “There’s always more.” Our true religion is a sort of autistic industrialism. People of intelligence and ability seem now to be genuinely embarrassed by any solution to any problem that does not involve high technology, a great expenditure of energy, or a big machine. (emphasis mine)

Much more needs to be said on these topics–especially the idea of what it means to live within limits, thereby defying the dominant religious dogma of our time which states, simply, that there is no such thing.  For now, let me suggest that what both Berry and Tracy are calling for is the development of a new way of being.  For Berry it is found in the soil, on the farm, in the way we produce our food.  Others who refer to Berry (Patrick Deneen for one) add the importance of being in community.  For Tracy it comes down to “honing a post-industrial skill set” that involves living seasonally and not using tools that we can not “understand by looking at them.”

To me, both of these and many others over at “Front Porch Republic” (see blogs I follow at the right) are calling for us to start “rehearsing” for a collective future that is coming our way.  In calling for the kinds of changes they feel are necessary they must logically reject that there is some “grand scheme” out there that will save us.  No, that is what the dominant religion suggests must come.  Rather, we need to get busy living out the implications of limits; finding our liberation in accepting boundaries; learning who we are as individuals by submitting to group decision making…

So let’s start practicing, start rehearsing.  For me this implies thinking more seriously about the primary things: food and water to begin with.  Then moving on to thinking about distribution in a way that considers not the ends of “progress”, “growth” or “profit” but the true ends of human dignity in which the basic needs are met.  That is why I am going to keep climbing trees to harvest fruit and help build groups committed to growing food on land that is waiting to play that role.

A few weeks back David Brooks decided to enlighten all of us about why Haiti is just so damn poor.  Sitting in his sheltered world of privilege he stooped to the streets of Haiti (virtually yet assuredly) and proclaimed that certain cultural deficits (everything from voodoo to child rearing practices) were at the heart of this country’s problems.  Paying scant attention to Haiti’s historical specificities he proclaimed with a certain blithe finality that “history” could not explain why Haiti remained so poor.  His argument boiled down to this: “Hey, lots of countries have had slavery, lots of countries are victims of natural disasters, but none of them is doing as badly as Haiti”.

And so off he went on the “cultural deficits” argument to explain Haiti’s dysfunctionality, concluding that what Haiti needed was

…self-confident local leaders who will create No Excuses countercultures in places like Haiti, surrounding people — maybe just in a neighborhood or a school — with middle-class assumptions, an achievement ethos and tough, measurable demands.

Thank God for David Brooks and his in depth knowledge of this country…

David Brooks meet Yvrose.

We (Brooks included) need to listen to her story and then go to Haiti and meet with the committed workers at Fonkoze and listen to the stories of hundreds of other “Yvroses” in that country.  Then, for the real history of that land grab a copy of The Uses of Haiti by Paul Farmer and learn why Brooks’ simplistic historical analysis may work for his column but comes nowhere near telling of the reality of that place.

Richard’s Lemons

Posted: 17 February 2010 in Riding
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Richard's Lemon Tree: Before

Start to finish it took about 45 minutes.  Lemons that would never be harvested by a man too old to climb a ladder to get them

(“They won’t let me up there anymore.”)

packed up and shipped off to a local food bank.  As I worked, Richard talked.  It started when he realized that I would trim his tree as well as pick his fruit (he was like a kid at his birthday when I offered to get up on the roof and do some serious hacking–“Let me get the ‘loppers'”).  It had galled him for some time that his tree was growing over the roof of house and shielding his solar panels.

My son just got into that business–hooked me up with water heater for the pool and got one back there that generates my electricity.  My whole bill last YEAR was only $100 dollars!  They pay you back for what you make.

The more I trimmed, the more animated he got–hauling branches off to the sidewalk to be picked up later.  He was energized and, as Gerry Rafferty wrote in my youth (slight paraphrase)

And he asked me where I’d been
I told him who I’d seen
And we talked about anything…

Richard's Lemon Tree: After

Richard walked me through a life (after I asked about his “USS Bush” hat and told him my dad was a navy man in WWII) that was a story of a generation:  Placed in a boys home at 14 because his widowed mom couldn’t take care of him (result of the last depression), he learned he could earn extra money in the service to support his mom and so ran away (again and again) until they let him join.  Already the military was the one place a poor, homeless kid could go to try to get something. Proto-military-industrial-complex…

Richard worked and lived all over–from Bismarck, to Jackson; from Omaha to Manhattan, from Dayton to Davis.  Dayton was the important one because that was the home of NCR–National Cash Register.  That is where Richard worked all those years and as I picked and trimmed his story and the story of NCR flowed together through time.  Ironically, in all those years of him moving around for the company, it stayed put… Until recently that is… (see Deneen). He moved

I couldn’t keep up with the changes so I got into management.  You know they invented the ATM?  I couldn’t do that.  Management was my way.

and moved and made a life and the company helped save the world from Hitler and the Japanese and then just kept growing and making and innovating and he stayed until retirement.  When he asked what I “do” and I told him (as I always do–it’s easier–to find a one sentence answer than to tell people what I really do) that I work in child health–nutrition, his response was curious but apt for a man thinking back over life that had somehow brought him to this point–to this lemon tree that needed pruned and harvested.

Nutrition, that’s important.  Raised four boys–always tried to feed them well.  Think we did okay but you never knew.

Richard’s story–his life–made me forget the picking (lemon trees have nasty thorns and I have the cuts to prove it) and before I knew it we had a two full boxes and were up the present day with his reminder

They won’t let me up on a ladder anymore.

When we left (after harvesting another lemon tree AND a large grapefruit tree), I thought Richard might cry.  He put a hand on my shoulder and thanked me–thanked me–for taking his fruit away.  Inside I wondered if Richard was so glad to have his trees cleared of fruit (“Will you all come back for apples in the fall and more citrus next year?”) or whether there was something more…

A narrative of a life that had stayed mostly in his head had found a way into the sun–thanks to a lemon tree.  And we all left with a sense that it was a story that was worth hearing.

And the lemons were fantastic.

Richard's Lemons For the Foodbank

For some time I have been thinking about the issue of power and “the powers”.  These “spiritual” realities in our world are, as John Howard Yoder described them (in The Politics of Jesus), “an inclusive vision of religious structures…intellectual structures (-ologies and -isms), moral structures (codes and customs), political structures (the tyrant, the market, the school, the courts, race, and nation).”  Of these structures Willard Swartley (in Transforming the Powers) says: “Structures that are deemed good and that provide the basis for natural or social order that enables life… are turned into ultimate values, ends in themselves, and thus are elevated to the powers over one’s life and then worshiped as gods.”

To engage the powers (or transform them) requires us, first, to acknowledge their reality and then to describe their modus operandi in the world.  In other posts I will delve more into what they “are” but the Swartley and Yoder quotes suffice here to lay a foundation for describing a couple of ways in which they work.  The short podcast below articulates an important element of the operation of the powers in our world–how they speak.  The clip comes from a talk by Dr Eugene McCarraher of Villanova University given at “Faith, Film and Justice 2008 (and annual film festival and conference at the Mars Hill Graduate School in Seattle. See the 2009 program here: Film, Faith and Justice, 2009)

In his talk McCarraher is reviewing and commenting on two films to be shown at the festival: “Letter to Anna” and “US vs Al-Arain” (see full descriptions at the bottom of this post).  Though the clip features his comments on these films, it is not necessary to have seen them to appreciate what McCarraher has to say about the “dialects of power”.  He describes three ways they “speak to truth”:

  1. Via physical violence and intimidation
  2. Via obfuscation, duplicity and denial
  3. Via banality

I was reminded of these three as I read “The Guantanamo ‘Suicides'” in the March 2010 issue of Harpers.  Without a “whistleblower” the powers–in this case the US Justice Department and Pentagon–would have spoken in all three ways in relation to three prisoners who died at the US camp on the Island of Cuba.

As I listen to McCarraher I am reminded of how William Stringfellow in An Ethic for Christians and Other Aliens in a Strange Land describes the tactics of the powers.  After challenging Americans (and especially Christians) to not be naive about the powers, Stringfellow lays out the following tactics that they use to acquire and maintain control.  It is interesting how many of them have to do with the way the powers “speak”.

The point in all of this is not to create fear or a sense of overwhelm but to deepen our understanding of how the powers work so that we might reveal them for what they are while calling them to the justice that is their God-given role in the world (see Romans 13–but only after reading Romans 12 and in light of Revelation 13).  More on all of this later.  For now, I close this with Stringfellow’s characteristics of the powers.

The Denial of Truth: In the place of truth and appropriating the name of truth are data engineered and manufactured, programmed and propagated by the principality. The truth is usurped and displaced by a self-serving version of events or facts, with whatever selectivity, distortion, falsehood, manipulation, exaggeration, evasion, concoction necessary to maintain the image or enhance the survival or multiply the coercive capacities of the principality.

Doublespeak and Overtalk: The preemption of truth with prefabricated, fictionalized versions of facts and events and the usurpation of truth by propaganda and official lies are stratagems of the demonic powers much facilitated by other language contortions or abuses which the principalities and authorities foster. These include heavy euphemism and coded phrases, the inversion of definitions, jargon, hyperbole, misnomer, slogan, argot, shibboleth, cliché. The powers enthrall, delude, and enslave human beings by estopping comprehension with “double-speak,” as Orwell named it.

Secrecy and Boasts of Expertise: An aspect of the delusive aura enveloping the demonic powers is the resort to secrecy. Secrecy in politics is dehumanizing per se; political secrecy begets a ruthless paternalism between regime and citizens which disallows human participation in government and renders human beings hapless against manipulation by trick or propaganda or other babel.

Surveillance and Harassment:Ancillary to secrecy in politics and commerce and in other realms is surveillance and the abolition of human privacy…  (T)he monitoring of shoppers and elevator passengers and similar, now commonplace, so-called security precautions affecting ordinary business; the everyday atmosphere of apprehension in which people have come to live…all have worked to enlarge greatly the tolerance of citizens toward political surveillance and the loss of privacy.

Exaggeration and Deception: In certain situations principalities act or overact so as to engender a belief that their conduct is warranted though no empirical justification exists. It is the audacity of the deceit, the grossness of the falsehood, the sheer excessiveness of the stratagem, the massiveness of the exaggeration which works to gain public credence or acquiescence.

Cursing and Conjuring: The demonic powers curse human beings who resist them.  I mean the term curse quite literally, as a condemnation to death, as a damnation…  In earlier times, American Indians were cursed as savages in order to rationalize genocide. Somewhat similarly, chattel slavery involved cursing blacks as humanly inferior.

Usurpation and Absorption: A somewhat more subtle tactic which principalities initiate against humans who do not conform involves the usurpation of human resistance in various ways.

Diversion and demoralization: There are numberless other diversions convenient to the demonic powers, some of which may be thought of as dividends which accrue when other ploys are at work. The relentlessness of multifarious babel in America, for example, has wrought a fatigue both visceral and intellectual in millions upon millions of Americans. By now truly demoralized, they suffer no conscience and they risk no action. Their human interest in living is narrowed to meager subsisting; their hope for life is no more than avoiding involvement with other humans and a desire that no one will bother them. They have lost any expectations for society; they have no stamina left for confronting the principalities; they are reduced to docility, lassitude, torpor, profound apathy, and default. The demoralization of human beings in this fashion greatly conveniences the totalitarianism of the demonic powers since the need to resort to persecutions or imprisonments is obviated, as the people are already morally captive.

USA vs. Al-Arian
Line Halvorsen—Norway—2007—98m—35mm—doc
In Arabic with English subtitles

A passionate, outspoken pro-Palestinian activist, university professor Sami Al-Arian was charged in 2003 with funding and supporting a Palestinian terrorist group and held in prison awaiting a trial for two-and-a-half years. USA vs Al-Arian is an intimate family portrait that documents the strain brought on by Al-Arian’s trial, a battle waged both in court and in the media. A tight-knit family unravels before our eyes as trial preparations, strategy, and spin consume their lives. This is a nightmare come to life, as a man is prosecuted for his beliefs rather than his actions. Director Line Halvorsen presents democracy in a new light—in a post-9/11 culture of fear, “security measures” trump free speech, and punishment is meted out in the name of protection.

Letter to Anna
Eric Bergkraut —Switzerland—2008—84m—video—doc
In Russian and English with English subtitles

Anna Politkovskaya was a brave and tenacious journalist for one of Russia’s only independent journals, Novaya Gazeta. Anna used her journalist platform to strongly criticize Russian military actions in Chechnya. On October 7, 2006, she was shot dead in the stairwell of her Moscow apartment building. A few years before her untimely death, filmmaker Eric Bergkraut met Politkovskaya while making his documentary Coca: The Dove From Chechnya. Bergkraut filmed some powerful, frank interviews with the late reporter. In Letter to Anna these are interwoven with a tantalizing search for her likely killers and insightful contributions from colleagues and loved ones who discuss her work while celebrating the life of an extraordinary woman and mother, a fearless defender of the people, “the conscience of Russia.”

Jesus, the only good man (truly good, tested in ways familiar to all of us yet he never fell down), stands before his judge.

The judge represents all the judges of all the kingdoms that have or ever will rule this world. Ordered by God to provide justice and parameters that will protect the least, these kingdoms overstep their bounds and aspire to God-status–omnipotence, omniscience, the object of worship and allegiance. And so the judge, fearful of what he does not understand, releases a violent man–a killer–and in his stead kills the only good man.

But we know the rest of the story because the only good man came back to life and showed the empire for what it was, showed the judge for who he was, showed us all the kingdoms of this world for what they are: dispensers of violence rather than justice; oh-so-willing to carry out evil rather than risk losing their place; happy to go along with those who whisper in their ear or cry in the streets “we have no king but Caesar” to maintain their grip, their Lordship, their rule; ready to enslave in order to retain autonomy of action.

This is how the kingdoms of this world act and they will call upon all of us to pay them tribute. They will promise us anything–security, all the goods of the world, happiness and endless growth–to maintain our allegiance. They will use any pretext and our well meaning attempts to navigate our way through our lives to protect and project their power–the aspiration to eternality.

If they will kill the only good man…

And Jesus made a public spectacle of all of this. His words (and the words of his followers about how to live in this kind of world) leave us no room to escape:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay, “says the Lord. On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Do to others as you would have them do to you. “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ love those who love them. And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ do that. And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even ‘sinners’ lend to ‘sinners,’ expecting to be repaid in full. But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

Any attempt to compromise these standards can only end up serving the purpose of the kingdoms of this world. And this is the problem with the so-called “just war theory”. It is a compromise of the fundamental teaching stated in unambiguous terms here for the sake of permitting the state–the kingdom–to do what it claims it must do. Unfortunately, just war theory uses these same verses to say that violence, at times, IS necessary in order to show love towards one’s neighbor. In other words–kill a few who would kill the many. Classic Augustinian argument and one that has given succor to kings, presidents, parliaments and legislative bodies ever since it was articulated.

Just war theory is a loop-hole, a “time out”, an exception that allows Jesus’ clear teaching to be suspended in order to allow the state to have its way. It also allows us to have OUR way–our way of exploitation, our way of oppression, our way of following Jesus with caveats, conditions and adaptations to “how the world works”.

Just war theory has no place for the work of the Holy Spirit–it is not trinitarian in the least. It excludes God’s Spirit from acting and let’s the church off the hook to be an instrument of God’s power in the world by allowing us to “play along” with the violence of the God-imitating state. It takes no spiritual discipline and its supposed “rigor” is a fig leaf to let the state get on with its real business (and to allow us to get on with ours–consuming, compromising and shrugging our shoulders at the death dealing reality of a power that is supposed to be God’s instrument to assure justice).

By contrast, the way of peace is… impossible. It can only be held to in faith. It can only “work” by the power of God working through its utter weakness. For that is what the way of peace is: a weak, silly, ineffective way of facing the terrible fallenness of our world. The way of peace must lead to a cross.

But, just as in Jesus’ case, that cross becomes just another testimony in the case against the failure of a world system set up to deny the needs of the poor, to oppress and to kill.

The way of peace (some call it pacifism in an attempt to dismiss it in derision) is not a “position” that one holds like one would hold a position on health care reform or immigration or land rights. The way of peace is a spiritual discipline. It is a way of walking that recognizes its own folly (in human terms) and holds on awaiting a promise and expecting the miraculous. It is naive. And yet those who hold to it–those who attempt to follow the clear teaching of Jesus (outlined above)–draw their strength from observing the “great cloud” of witnesses who followed God when doing so looked, well, pretty stupid. After all, ark building, home leaving, warring with broken pitchers, and things of this nature are silly. They are ridiculous. And yet, somehow, those who participated in them are called great people of faith. They are called beloved of God.

They never fully achieved what they had been promised but they continued to walk and to carry out the crazy things that they were called upon to do. Like loving jihadists and praying for them. Like not taking vengeance but waiting for God’s justice. Like speaking a kind word to a hostile neighbor. Like listening to those who dehumanize and choosing to walk with them as a friend. This can only be done through a prior commitment to walk the path of love.

And so, when I am asked

what would you do if a man were raping your wife?

or

you mean you would let someone kill your grandson and not lift a finger?

I answer…

I don’t really know what I would do. But I have asked God to show God’s power in my weakness. I have asked God to honor my prior commitment to following the clear teaching of Jesus. I EXPECT, like Abraham, that God can raise people from the dead. I KNOW that there is nothing that can separate me (or my wife or my grandson) from the love of God.

And then each day I try to build the discipline of walking in the way of peace knowing that Jesus’ way will be the only way in our collective future. I want to prepare myself for that.

It should be clear from the foregoing that the way of peace will never be a geopolitical strategy or one that has “relevance” to international decision makers. The way of peace, like the way of the kingdom of God is not accomplished via a master plan for civilization that the followers of Jesus assemble, promote and then maneuver into place. While the way of peace IS where “this” is all headed, most followers of Jesus accept that it can only come in its final form when he is present with his followers. But in our lifetimes… the way of peace if the ultimate local act. In the face of global forces bent on dehumanization and violence, the way of peace operates in the daily acts of love and compassion in the “nearby”–in the neighborhood, the school, the city council meeting, the street. It does not seek global relevance but local faithfulness. It is a yeasting process that works its way through society by hourly acts of love.