Peacebuilding as Spiritual Discipline

Posted: 12 February 2010 in Faith and Life
Tags: , ,

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.

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