Liturgy for Peace

I continue to wrestle with how we as Christian people might respond with wisdom, compassion, and integrity to the world at war (and otherwise lacking peace).

The combination of rightly identifying God as a God of peace, of crying out to God to make that character known in the real world, and of confessing our own failures to be a peaceable people is woven into this “Liturgy for Peace” that we read together at our church’s worship service last night.

A Corporate Confession and Prayer for Peace

We gather in the name of the God of Peace
May grace and peace be ours from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ
We gather in the name of the Prince of Peace
The one who says, “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you.”
We gather in the Spirit
Who is our life and our bond of peace.

May peace be upon this place
May we be found worthy, that this blessing might to rest upon us.
Give light to those who sit in darkness and the valley of the shadow of death
To guide our feet into the way of peace
Open our eyes, Lord,
So that we might know the things which make for peace

We confess that we have not been peacemakers
But have sought our own good rather than the good of our neighbor
We confess that we have not been agents of your goodness and grace
But have looked out for our own interests rather than the interests of others
Gracious God, forgive us, your beloved children
In the name of Jesus, extend to us your reconciling peace
May we yearn for peace within our homes, in our neighborhoods, and in San Francisco
May this desire bear fruit in our lives through initiatives of love.

Mother of the world, and of all those who live within it,
You have reconciled this world to yourself in Christ
While were yet enemies, aligning ourselves against you,
You gave your Son Jesus to die for us, that we might be at peace with You
Teach us how to live into the reconciliation created by Christ
So that we might learn what it is to be reconciled to one another

We confess that in our desire for peace, we often assume the postures of conflict
We have taken sides and set up ourselves as judges
We have listened to one side of the story,
And decided in its favor without waiting for the voice we have not heard
We have yearned for victory
And have believed that one side must lose for the other to win
We have seen the conflicts in the world, spurred on by an economy of scarcity
And we have not allowed the upside down economy of your Kingdom’s
abundance to create fresh vision for a world suffused with peace.

Hear our cry on behalf of the Palestinians:
may they know the fullness of life that you have created this world to provide
May they know absence of war
So that they might have hope for their children
May they know freedom upon their own land
So that they might know the dignity of fruitful work
May they know security in their homes
So that they might remember the value of their precious human lives.

Hear our cry on behalf of the Israelis:
may they know the fullness of life that you have created this world to provide
May they know peace upon their own land
So that they might raise their children in a place free from fear.
We pray for the peace of Jerusalem
May they prosper who love her
For the sake of sisters and brothers of all faiths who live within her walls,
We say: “May peace be within her.”

You have promised, O God, that love and faithfulness will meet
That justice and peace will kiss each other.
As your justice and peace kissed in the reconciling love of Jesus,
May we see in the world the joining of justice and peace
Make faithfulness spring up from even the desert ground,
And may righteousness rain down from the sky
Make a way of life in the midst of the desert
Where it seems that only death will reign.
Yours is the Kingdom of extravagant abundance,
And so we ask for vision to see how there is enough for all.

As we cast our eyes around the globe,
we confess that our nation is not innocent.
As we mourn the deaths in Gaza,
our own nation’s war in Afghanistan has cost lives this very week
While we protest the aggressions of our allies
we turn away thousands who come to us for safety and comfort

Forgive us, Father above, for we have confused the absence of war at home for the presence of peace.

Of old you warned the people who called themselves yours,
But were greedy for gain at any cost.
Of old you warned those who did not attend to the wound of your people
But said, “Peace, peace,” when there was no peace.
Of old you warned your people not to rest in unjustly gained security,
And summoned us to be ashamed when we failed in justice and love.
Of old you warned your people not to speak falsely in your name,
And to hold our tongues from saying “peace,” where there is no peace.
Of old you warned your people, not to build up diving walls,
Or to white-wash them with in the name of the Lord.

And so, when we build,
May we build on the foundation of the reconciling love of Jesus.
And so, when we speak,
May our speech be seasoned with salt, to give grace to those who hear
And so when we seek security,
May we pursue it for those who are truly insecure:
For the alien at our borders,
For the civilian at the other ends of our guns,
Even for those whom we have labeled enemies.

Through the work of your son, Jesus, make us blessed peacemakers
So that we might be called children of God.
May our light of making peace upon the earth so shine before people
That they might see our good works and glorify our Father who is in heaven

Silent Meditation

Now may the God of peace, who brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, make you complete in everything good so that you may do his will, working among us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory forever and ever. Amen. (Heb 13:20-21 NRS)

All Flesh (ΠΑΣΑ ΣΑΡΞ)

The writer of Luke-Acts is committed to the idea that the Gospel is for all people. Like Paul, he insists that it is first of all for God’s people Israel, and like Paul he insists that God’s plan for the message of Jesus is world-wide.

He embeds this concern from the earliest moments of his story. At Jesus’ dedication in the Temple, Simeon celebrates the baby Jesus, calling him God’s salvation… “a light for the revelation of the nations” (Luke 2:32).

There’s another signal Luke uses as well.

In both Luke and Acts the story transitions into the ministry of the main characters in a pericope that includes a biblical prophet anticipating God’s work on behalf of “all flesh” (πᾶσα σάρξ).

In Luke 3 we meet John the Baptist. Like Mark and Matthew, Luke cites Isa 40 in its identification of John: “A voice crying in the wilderness, prepare the way of the lord.”

Luke, however, continues the citation through the bit about valleys being filled and mountains razed, concluding “and all flesh will see the salvation of God.”

At the beginning of Acts, Peter begins his sermon on Pentecost with a citation of Joel 3: “And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out from my spirit upon all flesh.”

With these two biblical citations, Luke signals that the story of Jesus is not just about Israel, but the nations. It is not just about the sons, but also the daughters. It is not just about the the youthful but also the aged. It is not just about the powerful and free but also about the weak and enslaved.

When Jesus teaches his disciples how to read the Bible in Luke 24, he tells them to look and see there an anticipation of the crucified and risen Christ. And he also tells them to look and see the anticipation that repentance for forgiveness of sins will be proclaimed to all nations (beginning from Jerusalem).

Luke models his interpretive guidance.

At the beginning of each book, we hear from the voice of the biblical prophets. God has a plan. And that plan is for all nations and all peoples within them.

The vision and the spirit are for all flesh.

God of Peace and Justice

This weekend I’m giving a talk on the God of Peace and Justice.

As if on cue, the writing of this talk is now punctuated by news that Israel has launched a ground invasion into Gaza and rumors are swirling that a passenger (!) jet was “blown out of the sky” by a missile near the Russian-Ukranian border.

I find myself at a loss.

As someone whose citizenship and home lies within the nation that has created unprovoked war in Iraq, that ensconced itself in over a decade of combat in Afghanistan, and that is in the business of killing people around the world by dropping bombs by remote controlled “drones,” what can I possibly say?

America has no moral ground to stand on in opposing violence around the world. We have not found a better way to be agents of peace.

It is times like these that underscore the impossible dream that is the reign of God. The idea of power that does not seize power, the vision of a people who do not take their own revenge, who believe that life is found in giving it away rather than seizing it–that vision is an impossible dream.

We’ve caught glimpses of it, though. Gandhi opened up a better world in India. Martin Luther King, Jr. pushed opened the door to a better world here in the U.S.

I ask the question of where God might be in all this. What difference does God make?

One answer comes from the mirror that gets held up to us as American Christians when we want to speak, but the hypocrisy of doing so shines forth in headlines about our own country’s drone activity.

We cannot speak because we have not pursued a better way. We have not pursued a better way because we have baptized the story of militarism and of nationalism rather than telling a better story enlightened by the narrative of Jesus.

Put differently, if the Christians in America believed that God’s route to peace and justice was the way of the crucified Christ rather than the crucifying Romans, America, and we who are Americans, would have some sort of footing from which to critique the devastation that other countries cause.

This beings me to a second dynamic.

I sub-titled my blog “Telling the story of the story-bound God.” God did a dangerous thing when God bound Godself to humanity. It was a decision to allow God’s name, God’s character, God’s reputation, be bound up with God’s people.

If God appears absent on the world stage due to the inflammations of war and injustice, it is because God’s people have not embraced and lived out the story of God as king of peace.

Finally, I don’t think that any particular conflict is proliferating due to a misapprehension of the identity of God by one or both parties. These wars are not clearly wars about religion or driven by religion.

However, there is a transformation that the gospel story demands of us in how we see the “other.” There is a call to be like God who causes the sun to shine and the rain to fall on the just and the unjust.

We are not called to the naive denial that there is injustice, or that we have a true enemy, but we are called to pray for and love such perpetrators.

More than that, we are to follow in the way of the God who, in Christ, reconciled all things to himself, and be agents of such reconciliation. The gospel story looks like enemies being won over through sacrificial love.

We need to be wary of taking sides in these conflicts, and in so doing accept the economies of power that the world is handing us.

That is to say, there is a gospel answer in there, somewhere. There is a way that God has made Godself known which says both that the world is not, right now, the world as God would have it to be, and which says at the same time that God has shown us a better way and patiently woos us toward it.

If only we will listen. If only we will follow.

The complicated question of how we as not only Christians but citizens are to live in a world where this dream of Kingdom come has not been realized, well, that’s another question as well.

Frozen: A Story of Christian Love

There’s this brand new movie that just came to theaters. It’s called Frozen.

Ok, so the truth of the matter is that we never go to the theater, so it takes me 6-9 months to catch up on what everyone else is talking about. But I digress.

The upside to my tardiness, however, is that this contains spoilers which will not spoil the movie for just about anyone…

Before singing the movie’s praises, I must confess that it has its downsides as well. My Twitter stream blew up when I made this my day’s prayer:

Screen shot 2014-07-15 at 9.34.03 AM

But there are two very powerful and beautiful dynamics in the Frozen story world that capture love as it’s defined within the Christian story–and we do well to notice.

First, the great act of love that saves the day is not romantic love.

The film actually does a fantastic job of deconstructing “Disney love”: the alleged “love” of two people who know nothing about each other but simply find each other attractive. (Or, worse yet, the “love” of the man who acts to save a completely passive woman as though his work is somehow “true love.”)

Kristoff mocks Anna for thinking she can love someone she just met. “True love” doesn’t work like that. FROZEN

How, then, does it work?

The movie beckons us to ask that question, and plays with our expectations. We’ve been trained to think that “true love’s kiss” is the ultimate act of love.

Not only does Anna realize that she didn’t have true love to bestow such a kiss, the expectation that romantic love will save the day is, itself, thwarted.

The act of true love, instead, is an act of self-sacrifice. Anna throws herself in front of the sword that is aimed at her sister Elsa.

Not only is this not an act of romantic love, it is an act of self-sacrificial love, a willingness to die so that the other might live.

When I watch this, I have two thoughts simultaneously: (1) Yes, yes, and a thousand times yes! (2) Why can’t the church consistently work this reinterpretation of what true love actually consists of?

If I have one frustration with the genre of contemporary praise music, it is that it has adopted the cultural notion that heart-aflutter romantic love is the highest form of love. We act as though our culture has rightly identified what the greatest form of love is, and then we cast Jesus into that role. (“Heaven meets earth like a sloppy wet kiss and my heart turns violently inside of my chest,” anyone?)

Frozen, however, took the high road: reinterpreting the act of pure love as self-sacrificing love, enacted so that the other might live.

Second, the plague that provides the dramatic tension in the film is empowered by fear. The fear, in turn, feeds on itself, until the horrors of an eternal winter spew forth out of Elsa.

Until, that is, Elsa discovers that the remedy for fear is not concealment and cowering, but love.

She articulates this realization baldly, and the instant it comes to her, she gains the power to control the powers she had been given.

And as she says that love over comes fear, I hear echoing in my mind, “Perfect love casts out fear” (1 John 4:18).

Love lies at the heart of the Christian story. There are lots of ways to think about and depict love. The story told by Frozen captures this better than we have often found ourselves capable of doing on our own.

Shaving as Slow Spirituality

I don’t really know why I felt like I needed to change. Perhaps I’m just susceptible to advertising. But I was running out of cartridge refills for my shaving razor, and options started bombarding my mind.

I could join the Dollar Shave Club. Why? Because it’s relatively cheap and I always forget to get new cartridges, and I really don’t care about shaving–so I could not care, someone else could care on my behalf, and razors would just show up.

But in the back of my mind, I knew that the really cool kids were doing something else. They were “wet shaving.” They were using something called a “double edged safety razor” that seemed to me anything but safe. Merkur 38C

And I always wanted to be one of the really cool kids.

So now I am in the 10+ minute per day shave club. When the two roads diverged in the yellow wood, I chose heightened attention rather than outsourcing concern for my shave.

There is a whole experience involved here: not only the fearful blade of the double-edged safety razor, but also the badger-hair brush creating shaving foam from a block of shaving soap.

And the experience must be repeated. Not just the next day, but three times in succession. Talk to anyone who uses a double-edged safety razor: you do three passes of lather and shave.

And, strangely, I begin to care.

Not just to care in the moment–something absolutely essential as you take an exposed blade to your face. But to care more generally about my shaven face. To care about what my state of being clean-shaven communicates in contrast to my default mode of lackadaisical disinterest.

In the slow business of shaving, I’ve found myself falling in with a broader theme of my life: slowing down.

(As evidence of my slowness, behold the eight years it took me from the time I read Andy Crouch’s article until the time I adopted his shaving practice! But I digress…)

In a fast-everything society, we prize speed. I like speed. I like to act quickly, to speak quickly. The spiritual discipline I have been striving toward for the past two years is to embrace slowness.

I do contemplative prayer, no words, to slow down my mind enough to listen. To remind myself that I don’t have to say everything that comes into my head.

My blogging has been turned off, and only restored at a trickle, to remind me that I don’t need to tell the world every thought that comes into my head.

So I sit. To be. To listen. To shave.

Fast food presents the same problem as the fast shave: not taking time to do it feeds a lack of concern about what it is, which in turns feeds the desire to get it over quickly.

Taking time and caring go hand in hand. They each feed the other.

There is a depth of being that we cannot attain by quickly devouring everything in our way–every song, every book, every bit of knowledge. There is a depth of being that comes only from being slow.

There’s another word for that depth of being. It’s called “wisdom.”

The book of James encourages us to attain to it by being slow. Yes, we should be quick to listen, but slow to speak.

There is an important place for slow.

I embrace that reality in the 10 minute ritual that is my morning shave. No, don’t think I’ve gone a day, yet, without cutting myself.

It looks like wisdom lies yet in my future.

(Update: I changed the link on the Andy Crouch article to one found freely available on his own website:

The Dangerous Act of Reading

I operate with deeply Protestant sensibilities. I read, work with, and respond to scripture anticipating that it will challenge, even upend, the paradigms that I bring with me to the task.

As banal as that might sound (the idea that a 2,000 year old book is free to disrupt what we’ve come to know), I actually think it’s quite a radical posture.

Reading is dangerous.

A month or so ago, Greg Carey’s Huffington Post Article made the rounds again. It’s title, “Where Do ‘Liberal’ Bible Scholars Come From?” The short answer to his provocative question is this: from reading the Bible.

The best way for conservative churches to produce “liberal” biblical scholars is to keep encouraging young people to read the Bible.

Over the past couple of week Peter Enns has been hosting a series on “Aha Moments,” those times when folks encountered something that transformed how they understand what the Bible is.

Nobody in Pete’s series is a “liberal” bible scholar, but the theme recurs: reading the Bible opens up our eyes to things that actually are contained in scripture which the theologies about scripture that we cut our teeth on typically did not allow for.

Today on Seth Godin’s blog he talked about “Literacy and Unguided Reading.”

Controlled, or guided reading, is all well and good for those who want to control. That control is lost, and with it the stable present that they want to preserve, when people are free to read:

Unguided reading is a real threat, because unguided reading leads to uncomfortable questions.

Reading is a dangerous act.

With reading comes learning. Godin looks at this with giddy anticipation:

Teach an entire culture to read and connections and innovations go through the roof.

“Innovations go through the roof.”

This is, in fact, what happened in the wake of the Reformation. It’s still what happens when people read today.

Are we ready for the innovation? Are we willing to change? Are we willing to not be in control?

Are we ready for people to read?

My Aha

Over at Peter Enns’ blog I have a guest post. When did my understanding of the Bible begin to shift?

I sat there on the shore for about three hours a day with nothing to do.
So one day I decided that the logical way to spend my time would be to create a chart of what each Gospel says about the last week of Jesus’ life.

Read the rest: My “Aha moment”.

Vines: God and the Gay Christian

Matthew Vines is out to show that the Christian case in favor of same-sex relationships is not the exclusive purview of the liberals.

As an Evangelical, who seems to me to hold a view of scripture that is something akin to inerrancy, Vines writes God and the Gay Christian in order to establish what he calls, in his subtitle, “The Biblical Case in Support of Same-Sex Relationships.”matthew-vines

The way in which Vines is committed to scripture means that the whole thrust of the book is to open up new ways of understanding passages that people have long taken to stand in condemnation of same-sex relationships. The problem, in short, is not what the Bible says, but how we have been interpreting it.

Vines precedes his scriptural argument by making three important appeals: (1) the “fruit” of the traditional position on sexuality has been destructive to people who know themselves to be gay; (2) in the ancient world, the idea of sexual orientation was not the same as our idea–in Rome people assumed most men would be attracted to both men and women; and, sexual rules assumed a patriarchal view of the superiority of men; and (3) the church’s understanding of celibacy has always been that it is a state entered into voluntarily by those who know themselves so gifted and called.

Point 2 is important, and I anticipated awhile ago that it would come to take an increasingly central place in debates about homosexuality.

Point 3 also needs to be weighed: are we “changing the definition of celibacy” by demanding such a way of life for those who are not so gifted, and feel no call to such a life?

Vines’ first two chapters of biblical exegesis examine the Sodom and Gomorrah story and the prohibitions against same-sex intercourse in Leviticus. He rightly distances the Sodom story from specific connotations of homosexual attraction or desire and does a fine job contextualizing Leviticus within a framework of laws and of cultural ideas that we no longer see binding.

Vines’ exegesis of Romans 1 is a mixed bag.

He brings in a number of important points, including some cultural considerations. The “unnaturalness” of same-sex intercourse might well be seen as a problem of “excess desire” rather than “wrongly directed” desire as such.

The problem, however, is in showing that “excess” desire is what Paul himself had in mind. And here’s where we get to a running undercurrent of the book that I did not find persuasive.

Vines regularly distinguishes between Paul’s understanding of homosexuality as expressive of “lustful” desire and our modern ideas of it as something that can be expressed in love, even within relationships of fidelity and commitment.

The implication seems to be throughout that if Paul had only known about the kind of homosexuality we’re talking about he would have been on board. I’m not sure that this argument holds. It might very well be that he would continue to say that there is an inherent problem here, that it is by definition an expression of lust due to the fact that it is wrongly ordered.

Vines says, “We have to remember: what Paul was describing is fundamentally different from what we are discussing” (italics original). I’m not sure that works. Or, if it does, we have to be very careful how we wield such an instrument–we might find that it’s so blunt that it destroys the Bible’s capacity to address us about much of anything. God-Gay-Christian-Book-Cover-Matthew-Vines1

In this chapter, and the following on 1 Cor 6, Vines puts some important pieces in place. We often read “nature” in Rom 1 as referring to an order of creation; however, in 1 Cor 11 that same word is used to talk about appropriate length of hair. One of the best pieces of interpretive advice I received came from a classicist who said, “For ‘nature,’ read ‘culture.’” Vines opens up the importance of recognizing how cultural mores are possibly shaping Paul’s discourse in ways we would fundamentally disagree with.

But Vines’ argument has a number of weaknesses. While it is true that we have an idea of homosexual orientation that the ancients did not share, it is also the case that Romans 1 and 1 Cor 6 largely delineate actions that typify people’s behavior. He complains about translations that capture this, such as “men who have sex with men,” but the complaint seems to arise largely from his wanting to have room to say that same-sex sex itself isn’t the issue.

This seems to be the point at which Vines is never quite able to pin down the biblical writers. There is a gap between the cultural milieu he establishes and what the scriptures say, and his argument is not quite up to the task of demonstrating that this gap is filled by the former being the reason for the latter.

Matthew Vines has put a good deal of important information on the table. And his is one of a number of significant voices in the new chorus of evangelicals who are committed to scripture while advocating for the full inclusion of same-sex relationships. In many ways, I see this volume as indicative of where the argument for same-sex relationships is moving among more conservative Christians.

And, Vines frames the argument with some issues that might, in the long run, be the sorts of questions that help create a culture in which Evangelicals read the Bible differently.

For those who are waiting for a book to come along and tell them what to do with irksome passages that seem opposed to same-sex relations, this will no doubt be received as a God-send. For those demanding a higher degree of argumentation, this book will not likely persuade, but it might outline a way that others (such as James Brownson) have or will yet fill in with greater skill.

**In compliance with Federal guidelines, I hereby disclose to you, the unsuspecting reader, that I was supplied a free copy of this book by the publisher.**

Loving Our Job-Seeking Muslim Neighbors as Ourselves

In this month’s Christianity Today there is an article by Bradley R. E. Wright (a sociologist at UConn) summarizing his study of religious discrimination by potential employers.

The results of the study, in brief, were that any religious affiliation at all being indicated on the résumé (even a fictitious affiliation) could significantly hurt one’s chances of being called back about a job. “Pagan” affiliation cost potential applicants the least, and then Jewish, Evangelical, Catholic, and the fictitious “Wallonian” cost applicants a bit more. Atheist affiliation fwas more costly still.

But the most impressive drop came from Muslim affiliation. Whereas the control group had a 20% call back rate, and Jews, Evangelicals, and Catholics were all in the 16% range, Muslim résumés were only called back 12.6% of the time.

The beauty of this article, run in an Evangelical Christian magazine, was its final section, where it called attention to this disparity as an opportunity for discipleship–for Christians to ask the question what it means to love our Muslim neighbors.

Wright pinpoints Islamophobia as a present reality that we need to become more aware of. And this “awareness” should lead us to engage the issue in Christ-like love: we do not grasp and cling to religious freedom just for ourselves, but we demand it for our neighbor.

I would put it like this: the way of Jesus is the way of the cross, which means refusing to secure power and freedom at the expense of the other; and, instead, securing power and freedom for the other (even my enemy) even if, in the process, it costs me my life.

Wright says:

We weren’t saved to make special deals for fellow believers but to bless the entire world. Christianity shines bright when it is looking out for the interests of the socially marginalized, and our research suggests that American Muslims are the most marginalized in hiring.

Or, as Jesus said: “Let your light so shine before people that they can see your good deeds and glorify your Father who is in heaven.” And that by “Loving your [Muslim] neighbor as yourself.”

“Your faith might cost you your next job.” That’s what the headline said. But inside was a more important story: it might cost your Muslim neighbor her next job. That’s where the call to follow Jesus came through.

Telling the story of the story-bound God