Copy-cat Revenge

 

“How many children around the globe, we continue to ask, are growing up with “jihad,” “war,” “crusade,” “revenge,” “hatred” not only inscribed in their names but woven into the very fabric of their lives! For reconciliation to take place, the inscriptions of hatred must be carefully erased and the threads of violence gently removed. This, I think, is one important lesson of Jesus’ proclamation of the reign of God”.  – from Miroslav Volf’s book Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

~~~

“Here Comes Revenge”

Little grave I’m grieving, I will mend you
Sweet revenge I’m dreaming, I will end you

I’ve been here since dawn of time
Countless hatreds built my shrine
I was born in anger’s flame
He was Abel, I was Cain
I am here
I’m hell unbound
Burn your kingdom to the ground
To the ground

Here comes revenge, just for you
Revenge, you can’t undo
Revenge, is killing me
Revenge, set me free
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
A life for a life, it’s my burden of proof
Revenge, just for you
Revenge
You ask forgiveness, I give you sweet revenge

I return this nightmare, I will find you
Sleepless, cloaked in despair, I’m behind you

Man has made me oh so strong
Blurring lines of right and wrong
Far too late for frail amends
Now it’s come to sweet revenge
Desperate hands
That lose control
Have no mercy on your soul
On your soul

Here comes revenge, just for you
Revenge, you can’t undo
Revenge, is killing me
Revenge, just set me free
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
A life for a life, it’s my burden of proof
Revenge, just for you
Revenge
You ask forgiveness, I give you sweet revenge

Here comes revenge, just for you
Revenge, you can’t undo
Revenge, is killing me
Revenge, set me free
Eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth
A life for a life, it’s my burden of proof
Revenge, just for you
Revenge
You ask forgiveness, I give you sweet revenge

Sweet revenge

 -Metallica, Here Comes Revenge

 

Revenge has media backing. Entertainment media is suffused with violent images of revenge. Is not most of what is called action and drama cable programing and movies about taking revenge? Gladiator and Kill Bill come to mind but there are hundreds of revenge programs and movies. Tough guys and gals go settle scores via jihads, wars, crusades, etc., and pander to the basest of emotions for entertainment dollars. Revenge is valorized. 

Revenge is shown as what the character (and the viewer vicariously) must do to obtain closure. So, the ‘victim’ becomes the avenger. After killing the perpetrator, the avenger walks off mollified that he or she has justifiably killed another. Yet, in reality, taking revenge is never the end of the story. Revenge never brings the curtain down. How is this impulse for revenge, as depicted so often on the screen of black box, inscribed into our lives?

On Twitter a while back I engaged a woman in a conversation. As the thread became about control gun around a school shooting, I jumped in with a reply and stated that the media and those who consume those things are also blameworthy. I said that what is shown on TV and in movies and video games reinforces the idea that violent revenge is the answer to injustice.

In her replies to me, the woman was adamant that the media was benign. She replied with several of her Google search findings which she felt supported her position. I could tell from her responses that she also had a vested interest in saying the media was harmless. I learned that the kids she was caring for played video games. I ended the conversation with her mentioning that the sheer volume of programing that depicts violent revenge as the answer to a wrong must influence a person’s behavior subconsciously. She was resistant to the notion.

What I wanted to add: commercials are made to influence consumer behavior. The hourly and daily repetition of the same commercial will soon have a person, in Pavlovian response, finishing its jingle or its phone number or reciting the words of its comical product sketch at the office. Clearly, those who want to influence behavior use the media. The nightly newscasts that talk about “gun violence” are meant to stir up emotions against guns and their owners. Consider what the volumes of violent revenge images in the media do to the viewer, especially to the lone viewer and to the viewer with unresolved anger at some perceived offense? The scenarios do not depict reconciliation. The scenarios depict anger and rage fulfilled.

Consider also the effects of the news media’s attention to mass killers.

Most copycats have their private agenda in a rampage killing but seek to tie it in to other events that received a lot of publicity. In this way, they bask in the reflected publicity, so to speak. In many cases, the rampage killer wants to commit suicide but opts to take others with him…it is difficult to escape the conclusion that copycat killings are partly inspired by the publicity surrounding the original. Quote from Copycat Killings: Making sense of the senseless

 

As I thought about revenge and the incessant revenge depictions, the image that came to my mind was the one invoked by Jesus:

You heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you: don’t use violence to resist evil! Instead, when someone hits you on the right cheek, turn the other one toward him.  Matthew 5: 8-39

As I try to wrap my mind around those words, I come to some conclusions:

A slap of my face would be a stinging rebuke. A slap of my face means someone is in my face about some matter and it is personal.  A slap of my face is a challenge prodding me to answer back with equal force or to walk away in shame. A slap in my face is a show of power.

A person acting out ‘An eye for an eye’ revenge says to himself, “There is no God who will hold the other accountable and therefore I must avenge myself.” Or, “There is a God but he is off somewhere. I will have my vengeance.” A person acting out revenge says to himself, “I am not responsible for what happens next.”  A person acting out revenge says to himself, “I will not stop the cycle of violence until I have conquered the other and have brought them to their knees.”

A person acting out revenge rejects the words of Scripture…

Don’t take revenge, my dear people, but allow God’s anger room to work. The Bible says, after all, ‘Vengeance is mine; I will replay, say the Lord.” Romans 12: 19

 

I am told by Jesus to turn my other cheek into the line of fire. Doing so is the real show of power – restraint with the knowledge that God sees the offense. My Father in heaven, who also sees me when I pray in secret, will make things right. How can I be sure? Jesus, with servant-restraint, made it clear as he stood before Pilate that there is a Kingdom not of this world where he reigns as king. Jesus let Pilate know that there was a new power in town and with it comes a new justice system based in truth.

How can I be sure? Jesus endured whipping and slapping and mocking – evil’s stinging rebukes – and yet Jesus did not retaliate. Jesus did not call down angels to annihilate his accusers and torturers. Revenge would not reconcile the world to himself.

This is how it came about: God was reconciling the world to himself in the Messiah, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting us with the message of reconciliation. 2 Corinthians 5:19

 

Turning the other cheek is about the ministry of reconciliation. To take revenge is to reject reconciliation. To not forgive as a means of revenge is to reject reconciliation. To copy-cat violence back onto another is to reject reconciliation. To take revenge with words is to reject reconciliation.

The message of reconciliation will be offered out of red swollen cheeks. Keep that image in mind and reject the images of revenge. The inscriptions of hatred must be fully erased and the threads of violence yanked from the media. End “sweet revenge”.

 

Interactive media has influence over you if you let it. Added 6/19/2018:

What is gaming disorder?

Gaming disorder is defined in the draft 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a pattern of gaming behavior (“digital-gaming” or “video-gaming”) characterized by impaired control over gaming, increasing priority given to gaming over other activities to the extent that gaming takes precedence over other interests and daily activities, and continuation or escalation of gaming despite the occurrence of negative consequences.

For gaming disorder to be diagnosed, the behaviour pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.

 

The Gift That Keeps on Forgiving

 

Love prospers when a fault is forgiven,
but dwelling on it separates close friends.

-Proverbs 17:9

~~~

If anyone had a right to settle accounts it was the young dreamer Joseph. Cast into a hole in the ground by his brothers over a dream he relayed to them and a love gift his father imparted to him, Joseph had every right to be up in arms.

 

Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more.  He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had:  We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

His brothers said to him, “Do you intend to reign over us? Will you actually rule us?” And they hated him all the more because of his dream and what he had said. …

 

So Joseph went after his brothers and found them near Dothan. But they saw him in the distance, and before he reached them, they plotted to kill him.

“Here comes that dreamer!” they said to each other. “Come now, let’s kill him and throw him into one of these cisterns and say that a ferocious animal devoured him. Then we’ll see what comes of his dreams.” (Genesis 37)

  

The dream and the ornate garment where not prompted by Joseph. The God of Jacob gave Joseph the dream. Jacob, Joseph’s father, out of love for the son of his old age, gave Joseph an ornate garment. As father he had the prerogative to give whatever he wanted to whomever he pleased. But, the brothers decided that such a dream and such a gift to one member, a younger brother at that, and not to the many represented a horrible injustice. So, they brought about their version of justice: kill Joseph and dump the object of their resentment into a dry cistern. After Reuben’s pleas they dumped Joseph alive into the dry well. Joseph’s flesh and blood did not want flesh and blood on their hands. So, it was decided by the brothers that Joseph should be sold as a slave instead of done away with. To throw their father off the trail of Joseph’s whereabouts, the ornate garment yanked off of Joseph was dabbed with blood. The brothers wanted their father to think Joseph had been eaten by wild animals

What the brothers didn’t know, and didn’t know all along, was that in spite of the being tossed into a pit, Joseph had a different perspective. Sure, he questioned his brothers from the pit. “Why have you done this? What have I done to you?” Joseph had every right to be up in arms. But in that pit Joseph laid down his claim for justice and looked to the Sovereign God for resolution.

The resolution brought Joseph to Egypt and away from his father. We never hear of Joseph griping about the injustice done to him, though. Over time God would reverse Joseph’s slave status making him a master of much of the Egyptian people.

The resolution also brought his brothers to Egypt. There, they would not stand trial before Joseph for their crimes. But they would be tested by him to see if they could be trusted anew. 

After the testing, a reconciliation would ensue, brought about by Joseph. It happened when their father Jacob died:

After burying his father, Joseph returned to Egypt, together with his brothers and all the others who had gone with him to bury his father.

When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?” So they sent word to Joseph, saying, “Your father left these instructions before he died: ‘This is what you are to say to Joseph: I ask you to forgive your brothers the sins and the wrongs they committed in treating you so badly.’ Now please forgive the sins of the servants of the God of your father.” When their message came to him, Joseph wept.

His brothers then came and threw themselves down before him. “We are your slaves,” they said.

But Joseph said to them, “Don’t be afraid. Am I in the place of God? You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives. So then, don’t be afraid. I will provide for you and your children.” And he reassured them and spoke kindly to them. (Genesis 50: 15-21)

 

We read in Genesis 39:2 that, “The LORD was with Joseph, so he succeeded in everything he did as he served in the home of his Egyptian master.

 

Alternative ending: After being thrown into a cistern and then sold as a slave, Joseph vowed to take vengeance on every last one of those who did him wrong. Once in Egypt, he slaughtered the slave traders who bought him there. He slaughtered their families and his task masters and their families. He returned home and slaughtered his brothers and their wives and children. He threw their bodies into a cistern. He became a warlord and began ransacking and raping those he came upon. He rode into towns wearing the ornate garments he stole from those he killed. He slew anyone who looked at him the wrong way. His father Jacob would not bless Joseph after Joseph’s murderous rampage. Joseph slew his father after he forced a blessing out of him with torture. Nothing would stop Joseph’s quest for justice. Accounts had to be settled.

 

I don’t have to tell you that we live in a litigious world. There are caseloads of lawsuits in the courts. Closer to home, in the social media realm of words, the hyperbole used to describe offense taken is akin to that of an attorney who makes his case to the public.

Certainly, there are legitimate offenses that occur. Just as certain, there are also illegitimate offenses that are drummed up for the sake of personal benefit. Much of what is on TV is highlighting offenses taken. You never see forgiveness highlighted on TV. It is as if forgiveness is a sign of weakness in a world where power is the most sought-after commodity.

 As mentioned in my last post, people hold grudges. Many will take an offense if any one looks at them the wrong way or drives the ‘wrong’ way or words are not received in the manner given. There are those who generate their own offenses by their very nature. Some are envious. Some are covetous. Many, as seen this last presidential election, take offense that some folks have what they consider a bigger piece of pie, which they translate into a larger share of power over circumstances. Their form of social justice is not much different from Joseph’s brother’s. The envy-driven will call for the wealthy to be taken down and to have their costly ornate ‘garments’ removed and given to others before throwing them into a financial pit.

 

Parenthetically, it is important that I use both Old and New Testament accounts in my posts. I’ve learned from social media that many people consider the Old Testament a relic, outmoded, and archaic.  They contend that Jesus came to throw away all of those rule-ish books. But, nothing could be further from the truth. All of Scripture is one narrative about God’s interaction with His creation, from Genesis to Revelation. As you read Scripture from cover to cover you will come across many parallel situations revealing God’s relationship with man. You will have to come to Scripture to find highlights of forgiveness. The world’s narrative is about highlighting those maintaining power.

The story of Joseph contains a dramatic turnaround – from victim of the merciless to merciful forgiver. The next account contains another dramatic turnaround – from mercifully forgiven to merciless.

 

Then Peter came to Jesus.

“Master”, he said, “how many times must I forgive my brother when he sins against me? As many as seven times?”

“I wouldn’t say seven time,” replied Jesus. “Why not—seventy times seven?

“So, you see,” he went on, “the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle up accounts with his servants. As he was beginning to sort it all out, one man was brought before him who owed ten thousand talents. He had no means of paying it back, so the master ordered him to be sold, with his wife and children and everything he possessed, and payment to be made.

“So the servant fell down and prostrated himself before the master.

“’Be patient with me,’ he said, ‘and I’ll pay you everything!”

“The master was very sorry for his servant, and let him off. He forgave him the loan.

“But that servant went out and found one of his fellow servants, who owed him a hundred dinars. He seized him and began to throttle him. ‘Pay me back what you owe me! He said.

“The colleague fell down and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I’ll repay you!’

“But he refused, and went and threw him into the prison until he could pay the debt.

“So when his fellow servants saw what had happened, they were very upset. They went and informed their master about the whole affair. Then the master summoned him.

“’You’re a scoundrel of a servant! He said to him. ‘I let you off the whole debt, because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have taken pity on your colleague, like I took pity on you?’

“His master was angry, and handed him over to the torturers, until he had paid the whole debt. And that’s what my heavenly father will do to you, unless each of you forgives your brother or sister from your heart.”

        Matthew’s Gospel account 18: 21-35

 

I suspect like many in his day and in our day, Peter wanted to know if there is a limit to enduring an injustice. He likely wanted to know when he could settle accounts. Perhaps he was wondering to himself, “How long do I have to keep my anger in check?’ Jesus responded with the multiplicity of forgiving with mercy as the gift that keeps on forgiving. Jesus would not only tell the crowd that his kingdom encompassed those who forgive over and over the myriad offenses taken in. Jesus forgave those of the world their myriad offenses. About the matter of settling accounts, The Lord God spoke these words through Isaiah the prophet to the descendants of Jacob:

I, even I, am he who blots out your transgressions, for my own sake, and remembers your sins no more. Review the past for me, let us argue the matter together; state the case for your innocence. Isaiah 43: 25-26

A truly good Man was sentenced to die the horrific death of the cross. I wonder. Did Jesus think of Joseph in the cistern when he said, “I am counted among those who go down to the pit; I am like one without strength.” (Psalm 88:4)? What we do know is what the Only Begotten Son said from the cross:

“Father, forgive them. They know not what they do.”

 

 Those of us who call Jesus “Lord” are a ‘storied’ people. Our narrative is Scripture, from Genesis to Revelation. Our narrative contains the Creator and Creation, the life of Christ, the Cross, the Resurrection, and the Kingdom of God. Our narrative highlights forgiveness. Our narrative contains the Lord’s teaching prayer. From that prayer we learn that we settle accounts with one another by forgiving one another.

Our story reveals that the Mercy shown to us is the Mercy we freely offer to the world around us.

Mercy, the gift that keeps on forgiving.

 

 

  

~~~

 “Where do wars come from? Why do people among you fight? It all comes from within, doesn’t it – from your desires for pleasure which make war in your members.” James 4:1

A lack of forgiveness is absent in détente. Tit for tat aggression is the rule: you affected the means of our pleasure and now we will deal with you.

How can there be peace in this world? Holding up a placard and the peace sign doesn’t work. Holding up a palm branch of forgiveness just might. But, to not forgive is to say there is no sovereign God who will put things right someday. Because there will be the ultimate putting right of things, forgiveness does not seek revenge. Forgiveness can let go of control because there is One who will ultimately bring justice and put things right. And, don’t forget: “Vengeance is mine. I will repay says the Lord”.

 

Coming up: To Remain the Church, The Church Cannot Remain Tolerant

 

 

 

 

 

 

  

 

Vanishing Point

Vanishing Point

(Homage to the brothers and sisters in Christ at Emmanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC, 2015)

Lines converged

At the front of Emanuel AME church.

UnWise Blood, brooding in the back, ran cold.

 ~~

Lines converged

As Emanuel AME-“God with us”-black brother and sisters.

Wise Blood sought the unconditional, indiscriminate embrace of the Other.

~~

Lines converged

While prayers ascended

UnWise Blood descended…into hell.

~~

Lines converged

A fine point emerged (but not from prayer),

A trajectory of bile aimed at neighbors on their knees.

~~

Lines converged and Wise Blood flowed out

Wooden cross braces could no longer bear its sacred weight.

New Life arose away from earth’s downward pull.

~~

Lines Converged

As showers of prayers began descending:

“I forgive you.” “I pray that you repent.” “May God have mercy on your soul.”

~~

Lines Converged

When I was told “White Privilege is your name.”

“You are excluded, neighbor”.

~~

Lines Converged

When credence for exclusion beget civil war anarchy,

When credence for exclusion became Dogma from a bully pulpit.

~~

Lines Converged

When Evil handed UnWise Blood the means to destroy the spiritual growth of the Other.

At twenty-one.

~~

 Lines converged

Dylann Roof emerged.

Civil War meet God.

 

 

 

© Sally Paradise, 2015, All Rights Reserved

~~~~~~

Charleston Victims Forgive the Shooter

Forgiveness at the Threshold of Mercy

So You Want to Give World Peace to Your Mother for Mother’s Day?

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

World Peace. Now there’s something your mother would love-the kids not fighting! But it will take some doing. FTD is not showing this item on their webpage. Hallmark may have a singing “What a Wonderful World” gift card. Good luck finding that one right now.

In the meantime-between War and Peace, that is-I suggest that you at least call mom and thank her for her wisdom, her support and her prayers on your behalf.

 

World Peace. If you think about it world peace comes when the world is ordered in such a way that man, a free moral agent, doesn’t repeat the history of self-centered reason leading to violence and to exclusion. I’ll tell you what I mean a little bit later in the post.

To better understand man’s secular attempts at world order read former Secretary of State Henry Kissinger’s new book “World Order.”

As a foreign diplomacy expert and an experienced and well-read confidant of several presidents and policy institutes, Kissinger provides the reader of “World Order” years of insight into centuries of cultures, societies and homogenous people groups that have formed political entities. In the aggregate, these entities whether during strife or in peace, would become known as the “world order.”

World Order by Henry Kissinger

World Order by Henry Kissinger

Out of a political will based mainly on reasons of security through power, countries with formal boundaries and armies would form. But, this did not happen without the give and take of diplomacy and frequent battles over territorial claims. The flux of national wills would determine the world order at any given moment.

Today’s tenuous world order, as viewed from the U.S., includes aggressive-always seeking to expand Russia, passive-aggressive imperial China, the tinder-box known as the Middle East and the ever obtuse North Korea.

Today’s world order also includes the incendiary radical Islamists who are central to Iran’s deployed political will of “do or die” theocracy. There are non-state terrorist groups aligned with Iran. All this and sectarian strife: neighbor against neighbor.

As I see it, the stability of today’s world order borders on chaos. Cyber black-hat communities and international terrorists may hack, steal, deface and destroy information systems necessary for a nation’s financial and political security. There are no territorial borders in cyberspace, no rules of engagement, no easily determined policy of retaliation and only a faint hope in a firewall as means of deterrence. As technology rapidly advances, Kissinger warns, so do the implications of world order rapidly taking a turn for the worst.

In talking about the role of internet as it affects human consciousness by tailoring truth to the user Kissinger notes, “Western history and psychology have heretofore treated truth as independent of the personality and the prior experience of the observer. Yet, our age is on the verge of a changed conception of the nature of truth…

The concept of truth is being relativized and individualized-losing its universal character. Information is being presented as being free. In fact, the recipient pays for it by supplying data to be exploited by persons unknown to him, in ways that further shape the information being offered to him”

On the same page Kissinger asks, “Where, in a world of ubiquitous networks, does the individual find the space to develop the fortitude to make decisions that by definition, cannot be based on consensus?

AND thanks to nebulous foreign policy decision-making by the Obama White House, nuclear proliferation is increasing! Nuclear armament is now considered a necessity by countries such as Sunni Saudi Arabia. The Saudi are concerned about Shia Iran and nuclear asymmetry.

Currently, U.S. foreign policy appears to be a policy based primarily on President Barack Obama’s vision of himself and his desired legacy. Could it be that Obama wants to see himself as egalitarian with Iran to the point of doing to Israel what he does to America over and over?

The only sure thing we have learned about Barack Obama’s World Order policies which effect both domestic and foreign issues is that Obama’s allegiance is to his far left political ideologies and has never been with America and its lessons-learned traditional values. Oh sure, nice ‘flowery’ speeches are made in kabuki theater-like moments but his passive-aggressive actions and his evocative denigrating words are reminders of his early-60’s radicalized mindset. He is not for peace. Obama is a divider of classes, races and genders. World Peace is the last thing on Obama’s mind. He wants “transformational change”, whatever that is. It could mean that the U.S. becomes the People‘s Republic of Obama.

Remember, Obama was mentored by radical leftists, leftists who pledged their allegiance to the “Goddamn America!” flag. Barack Obama was taught to denigrate America within a vision of world order that does not embrace our historical roots. Those roots are of no value to him.

Obama mentions Abraham Lincoln and Martin Luther King and yet has no clue as to the depth of moral character or the extent of sacrifice each of these larger than life men had brought to America. These two men so endeavored with their prayers and decisions to bring about reconciliation and peace, not Obamic division for political gain.

Obama’s “Dreams from My Father” reveals to us that he is always looking over his shoulder, looking for Jim Crowism, for colonialism, for unabashedly proud Americans. He wants to shame America and Israel into submission to his political will, a will that only knows a radicalized world order. Little wonder he ‘empathizes’ with the Iranians, giving them the benefit of many realized doubts. But, that’s enough writing about our lame-blame President. He will be out of office in twenty months. Mothers, rejoice!

 

  1. Let’s start over.

So you want to give World Peace to your mother for Mother’s Day? It will take some effort on your part to make this happen.

First I recommend to you Miroslav Volf’s book, “Exclusion and Embrace: A Theological Exploration of identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation”. This book is mentioned in a video within my post “The Problem of Evil, A Good God and a Different Way to Be Human“. N.T. Wright brings up the book while discussing forgiveness.

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf

Exclusion and Embrace by Miroslav Volf

Here is one passage from the chapter, “Violence and Pain”:

The Enlightenment has left us with an alternative: either reason or violence. Nietzsche and his postmodern followers have demonstrated aptly that reason itself is violent (Nietzsche 1990, 43), adding in their honest moments the horrifying thought that violent reason can be transcended only in the violence of un-reason (Foucault 1988, 285). The cross of Christ should teach us that the only alternative to violence is self-giving love, willingness to absorb violence in order to embrace the other in the knowledge that truth and justice have been, and will be, up held by God. Does the cross teach us to abandon reason along with violence? Is its message that the immediacy of self-donation is the only antidote to the immediacy of violence? Certainly not. We cannot dispense with reason and discourse as weapons against violence. But the cross does suggest that the ‘responsibility of reason” can replace neither the “consciousness of sin” (Apel 1988, 17f) nor the willingness to embrace the sinful other. Instead, reason and discourse themselves need to be redeemed to the extent that they are implicated in the agnostic and sinful relations of power. Only those who are willing to embrace the deceitful and unjust as Christ has done on the cross, will be able to employ reason and discourse as instruments of peace rather than violence.” (emphasis mine)

Second, in the same video mentioned above N.T. Wright discusses forgiveness in light of Volf’s book.

Is forgiveness weakness? Is forgiveness capitulation of power, a loss of reason? Or, is forgiveness true power, true freedom and true embrace of the other. Is forgiveness the means to true World Peace?

Forgiveness is part of a larger reconciliation package: where evil has happened, it needs to named for what it is and in a sense shamed and then dealt with. “Where real evil has happened it needs to be addressed.” Forgiveness and reconciliation addresses what has actually happened. Within this context of embracing the “other” people are brought together. New life, new order is restored. Amazingly powerful and new possibilities including healing of communities will occur. World Peace ensues.

As Wright describes in the video, shutting the door of your heart to God’s forgiveness leaves us on inside looking out. I would add that a root of bitterness begins growing down through the floor boards making you decision to move through the growth to open the door difficult and then, later, almost impossible.

These are heavy concepts but you love your mother so take on these truths and become a peacemaker for Mother’s day.

“Blessings on the peacemakers! You’ll be called God’s children”-this Mother’s Day.

~~~

Added 8/12/2015: “Every politician who is involved in this (#IranDeal) will have blood on their hands.”

The Problem of Evil, a Good God and a Different Way to Be Human

Recently, on my daily train ride into the city, I had, for me, a ‘typical’ conversation with those standing in the vestibule. The subject:  going to church.

A fellow passenger brought up the fact that he attends to a certain church. Another passenger then mentioned that she attends a Catholic Church. I mentioned that I attended church near my town. A fourth passenger, a young woman carrying a black bag decorated with astrological and satanic symbols and the word “Spirituality” written boldly across the bag, looked up from her hand-held device and said, “I don’t go to church…Too much hypocrisy.” She said this looking directly at the woman who mentioned her attendance at a Catholic Church. The young woman went on to mention the priests and young boy abuse scandals.

I regrettably glibly said, “We are all hypocrites. Some people realize this and attend church to change their ways.” We then went on to discuss other things.

A deeper and honest and loving discussion on my part would have brought up the truth about God and the hard questions that she and I and all of us face in our daily lives. There are certainly questions of man’s brokenness, his hypocrisy and profound questions about evil, suffering and… a good God?

If you have read the ancient Book of Job then you would have come across man’s earliest known and hardest life question as the basis of Job’s story: Why does a good God allow suffering and evil?

And, if you have read Fyodor Dostoevsky’s (a Russian novelist (1821-1881)) “The Brothers Karamazov” you will have come across thought-provoking questions of the problem of suffering and evil. There, one would find man’s most pressing concerns in story form; concerns about God, good, evil, suffering, doubt and faith.

The Veritas Forum video below presents an insightful conversation at Duke University. Issues of war, pacifism, suffering, evil, moral ambiguity, hate crimes, death, the UN, International law, forgiveness and the Kingdom of God are broached by N.T. Wright, a well-known New Testament Scholar and author. He provides answers to many universal questions and places the answers in the context of the Kingdom of God and not the society at hand. The video introduces N.T. Wright and his book “Evil and the Justice of God”.

A conversation with Professor N.T. Wright at Duke University:

Exclusion & Embrace in the Garden of Good & Evil

Tomorrow, before I receive the Body and Blood of the Lord I will again kneel and pray the Lord’ s Prayer:

Our Father, which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name.
Thy Kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
As it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.
And lead us not into temptation,
But deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,

The power, and the glory,

For ever and ever.

Amen.

(Traditional, taken from the Anglican Book of Common Prayer, 1662).

And forgive us our trespasses,
As we forgive them that trespass against us.

Wow, Lord, you want me to forgive that person or that group who has done me so much harm and who even now shows so much hatred towards me?!

When someone wrongs us often our first thought is to retaliate, to lash out and to return to the ‘other’ the same pain caused to us. But, then, at other times, our response may be to become silent and later, perturbable to others. We will constantly gripe and complain, projecting onto others the self-justifying anger and resentment that we bear from the original hurt. The inception of unreality quickly takes shape. It’s not the reality from above.

The story of revenge is as old as the Scriptures but Jesus put an end to this cycle of anger born out of an unforgiving spirit.

Think about the following words in the context of personal relationships and also in the unfolding drama of human relationships across the globe.  Global warming, as a public ‘issue’, is silly compared to the rage, hate and evil which turns brother against brother in a continuing cycle of violence.

Quotes from Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion ~ without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous inhumanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.” (p.124)

“Only those who are forgiven and who are willing to forgive will be capable of relentlessly pursuing justice without falling into the temptation to pervert it into injustice.” (p.123)

“When God sets out to embrace the enemy, the result is the cross. On the cross the dancing circle of self-giving and mutually indwelling divine persons opens up for the enemy; in the agony of the passion the movement stops for a brief moment and a fissure appears so that sinful humanity can join in (see John 17:21). We, the others ~ we, the enemies – are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other and therefore make space for us within their own eternal embrace.” (p.129)

Volf on the Parable of the Prodigal Son:  “relationship has priority over all [moral] rules” that reconciliation ~ the ultimate goal of justice – could be made complete.” (p.164)

“Without entrusting oneself to the God who judges justly, it will hardly be possible to follow the crucified Messiah and refuse to retaliate when abused. The certainty of God’s just judgment at the end of history is the presupposition for the renunciation of violence in the middle of it. The divine system of judgment is not the flip side of the human reign of terror, but a necessary correlate of human nonviolence. (p.302) (emphasis mine)

Also consider forgiveness as practiced…

Cornelia “Corrie” ten Boom (April 15, 1892 ~- April 15, 1983) was a Dutch Christian Holocaust survivor who helped many Jews escape the Nazis during World War II. Listen to her story here and this short video about her forgiveness.

How to stop evil:

“To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.”

– Miroslav Volf
The End of Memory, Remembering Rightly In A Violent World

 *****

Romans 12:21: “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”

*****

“The only way to overcome evil is to let it run itself to a standstill because it does not find the resistance it is looking for. Resistance merely creates further evil and adds fuel to the flames. But when evil meets no opposition and encounters no obstacle but only patient endurance, its sting is drawn, and at last it meets an opponent which is more than its match.”

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship

Two Thieves Out of Time

Looking over the strata of my life, I can see very clearly now that growing up I had an Old Testament (OT) view of life.  Early on I began to indoctrinate myself with lists of things which were not right for a person to do.  If I erred, which I often did, then subsequently I would receive in my conscience the requisite judgment and punishment. Basically, I saw myself as a sinner in the hands of an angry God. My life was abundant with shame and lacked mercy toward myself or others.  My thoughts on the rightness of capital punishment fell in line with this uncompromising understanding of my sinful self and the judgment I deserved. I thought, “An eye for an eye?  So be it. It is just.”  But now, though I continue to be politically and socially conservative, I have since changed my view on this life and death matter.

A lot of my early misconceptions about God and the balance sheet I thought that he kept came from my own projections onto God, my father’s own upbringing being infused in me and from the churches we attended.

 My father was raised in a strict Dutch Christian Reformed home. He knew even more shame and punishment under his father’s iron rule of their home.  My dad’s family dutifully attended a Dutch Christian Reformed Church (CRC) situated at the end of their street. The church’s moral code was much like River City, Iowa’s morally proper society as portrayed in the musical The Music Man. Movies, dancing, pool halls were all considered taboo. Sunday was considered the Sabbath and no work was to be performed on that day. Unlike River City, Iowa though, drinking, smoking pipes, cigars and cigarettes were openly enjoyed right after the church service.

In his twenties my father broke away from the Dutch Christian Reformed Church and started attending a Baptist church in the  Andersonville area in Chicago. He soon met my mother at this church.  They married and later attended the Moody Bible Institute together. I was born while they were students.

Over the years our family attended a Baptist/Bible church. There were still OT rules and regulations but the boisterousness of the Baptist church (as compared to the almost absolute silence of the Reformed church service) sounded merciful and more accepting of one’s sins and foibles. To redeem yourself from destruction, there were the constant pleas from the pulpit to walk the aisle and to repent of your sins or to come forward and rededicate your life to Christ or to come forward and vow to become a missionary. Those were the options I remember.  Dealing with personal shame and guilt, the inner man, never seemed to be on the agenda. But, knowing your Bible in and out and cover to cover was on the program. And, in those days, talking about the Holy Spirit was almost taboo. Everything still had to be done decently and in order, every jot and tittle of your life was parsed against the black and white of the Scriptures.

 I am thankful that my dad walked away from the Dutch CRC and not from the Lord. I am thankful for the grace and mercy he has shown to me.  My father never acted in anger or in harsh judgment of me.

I am thankful for some of the time I spent in the Baptist church and for my immersion in the Scriptures. It was in the Baptist church as an eleven year old that I believed and called Jesus my Lord.  I was baptized not long afterward. But I too would later walk away from what I had been brought up in to look for more grace and mercy, to look for the REAL and not the pretentious. In my case, a load of sinfulness and a sense of reckoning ever mounted.  Walking down the aisle of a church was fruitless exercise. Over time, though, I found these two paramours, grace and mercy, in a close relationship with the Lord. And, I found my REAL self by taking the Eucharist every week.

My intimate relationship with Jesus was born out of a lot of personal suffering.  Some of the pain came out of my own sin and folly and some of it came Job-like out of the blue. I have incurred some major crippling losses in my life including the death of a child. I realize now that some of those hard times were acts of mercy – losing what was precious to me at the time but not losing everything as I rightly deserved.  These and other losses helped me to see that mercy and grace were always there with me. And because the weight of what I was dealing with was so enormous I could finally feel God’s hand beneath me. With this safety net underneath I began to cast out my fear.  I was able to give up my sin, my shame and my anger. I began to have mercy on my self and toward others. All of this past reflection brings me to my current view of capital punishment:  no capital punishment, no death penalty.

Without going into balance sheet retribution or what’s owed to society or to the victim’s rights or into capital punishment as a crime deterrent or into the enormous cost of operating the penal system I simply believe that every person should be shown mercy, whether they are in the womb (the most innocent) or on death row (the most guilty).

Mercy is not the absence or negation of justice. Mercy is the outcome of justice which acknowledges the wrong-doing before both parties (the perpetrator and the victim) and demands retribution. But instead of giving the criminal what he fully deserves mercy, instead, hands the perpetrator the noose of time.

“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life.” I believe these OT words from Psalm 23 accord with a New Testament (NT) response to man’s violence against his brother:  a perpetrator of a crime and the victim may both find goodness and mercy if they turn to God’s Truth – Jesus Christ. The eye for eye retributive justice of the Old Testament has been replaced by a NT call to a relationship with Jesus Christ:  goodness and mercy incarnate. 

The Sacrifice of Jesus on the cross showed God’s solidarity with victims throughout all time. Through His sacrifice the power of violence was renounced and the power of love and truth were advocated.  But not only has the self-giving God shown solidarity with the victims but He invites the perpetrators into the same divine circle of love with the victim. He does not abandon the godless to their evil.  “Christ died for the ungodly, the Just for the unjust.” He has loved our enemies when we could not. In a divine relationship with Him we are able to show mercy, repeated mercy and mercy again.

A life sentence should be given for a heinous crime such as murder.  Life in prison would be a just sentence.  It would allow for the possible redemption of the murderer. We don’t know whether a murderer will repent when he is given a life sentence but we do know from Scripture that the same goodness and mercy which follows you and me all the days of our lives also follows him all the days of his incarceration.  Giving a murderer a life sentence is merciful. Time is mercy for the condemned.  I now see capital punishment as being opposed to the Cross and the act of mercy

Two thousand years ago, two thieves, one on each side of Jesus, received capital punishment for their crimes. One repented.  One did not. The onlookers and the victims and accusers of the thieves had also been followed by the same goodness and mercy as were the thieves.  And like the thieves they would also have to decide where they stood in relation to the Cross of Christ. So would Barabbas. Time as mercy would tell.

*****

The ‘new’ “Eye for an eye” justice:

 “For you will be treated as you treat others. The standard you use in judging is the standard by which you will be judged.”

 Jesus as recorded Matthew’s gospel (7:2)

 “So what makes us think we can escape if we ignore this great salvation that was first announced by the Lord Jesus himself and then delivered to us by those who heard him speak?”

 The writer of Hebrews (2:3)

The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest:
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.

Portia in The Merchant of Venice

Shakespeare

Exclusion & Embrace

Quotes from Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace: A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness, and Reconciliation

“Forgiveness flounders because I exclude the enemy from the community of humans even as I exclude myself from the community of sinners. But no one can be in the presence of the God of the crucified Messiah for long without overcoming this double exclusion – without transposing the enemy from the sphere of monstrous inhumanity into the sphere of shared humanity and herself from the sphere of proud innocence into the sphere of common sinfulness. When one knows that the torturer will not eternally triumph over the victim, one is free to rediscover that person’s humanity and imitate God’s love for him. And when one knows that God’s love is greater than all sin, one is free to see oneself in the light of God’s justice and so rediscover one’s own sinfulness.” (p.124)

“Only those who are forgiven and who are willing to forgive will be capable of relentlessly pursuing justice without falling into the temptation to pervert it into injustice.” (p.123)

“When God sets out to embrace the enemy, the result is the cross. On the cross the dancing circle of self-giving and mutually indwelling divine persons opens up for the enemy; in the agony of the passion the movement stops for a brief moment and a fissure appears so that sinful humanity can join in (see John 17:21). We, the others – we, the enemies – are embraced by the divine persons who love us with the same love with which they love each other and therefore make space for us within their own eternal embrace.” (p.129

Volf & the Parable of the Prodigal Son:  “relationship has priority over all [moral] rules” that reconciliation – the ultimate goal of justice – could be made complete.” (p.164)

“Without entrusting oneself to the God who judges justly, it will hardly be possible to follow the crucified Messiah and refuse to retaliate when abused. The certainty of God’s just judgment at the end of history is the presupposition for the renunciation of violence in the middle of it. The divine system of judgment is not the flip side of the human reign of terror, but a necessary correlate of human nonviolence.” (p.302)