Tag Archives: reconciliation

How Do You View the Heart of God?

feltbrokenheart.jpgIt sounds like a theoretical, obtuse question. But I don’t think it is. How we answer that question impacts how we view the world and our place in it. Different answers to that question getting played out in concrete situations with real people.

For example:

  • Wheaton College has moved to terminate a tenured professor of political science because she publicly expressed agreement with Pope Francis’s statement that Christians and Muslims worship the same God.
  • The Anglican Communion has suspended the Episcopal Church in America for resolution to change language that defines marriage as between a man and a woman.
  • The international refugee crisis is fostering vigorous disagreement about whether we should welcome Syrian Muslims as refugees
  • Disagreement within the Christian community over the use of handguns.

I continue to marvel over how sharply divided people of the same faith can be. I wrote about this a few months ago with reference to the Kentucky county clerk who refused to issue marriage licenses to gay couples. Now, it’s the issue of gun safety that has me thinking about it again.

A friend posted a few sentences critical of President Obama’s recent executive orders about gun safety; when I read some of the discussion that followed, I ran across this: . . .the entire point of Christianity is that the human race is overwhelmingly corrupt and evil. . .

This gets at the crux of the divide. How do you view the heart of God? And consequently, how do you view the world and your own place in the world?

I view the world as full of good. It’s not a place to be feared, but to be embraced. God’s creative dynamism fashioned a world full of beauty, full of goodness, and full of people whom God has created in God’s image. Sure, there is plenty that is wrong, and my heart often aches over it. War, violence, brutality, starvation, suffering — all of that is real. And none of that is God’s intention. God is at work bringing healing and restoration; God is working through God’s people to bring things to that fulfillment. And I want to do everything I can to push violence and suffering and death to the edges of our life together with the hope and expectation that they will eventually fall off the cliff. It’s our job as the Body of Christ to get out of the churches and into the world to be a part of God’s big work of reconciliation, redemption, and peace.

And there are brothers and sisters who see the world as a “corrupt and evil” place. There is much to fear. God’s big work in the world is to judge the people and the forces that are evil. All this evil will continue to accumulate until God finally gets fed up with it and destroys the whole thing. Then all the good people will be taken to that paradise in the sky. It’s the work of the church to deliver the profligates from their hellbent eternal destiny and the church has to take a defensive and righteous posture over against the world in order to remain free of it’s corrupting influence.

Admittedly, I’ve polarized here to illustrate a point.  Have I oversimplified it too much?  What do you think?

In a Moment in Time

redwoodsIn a moment in time, early on this Christmas Eve, I crawled out of bed to greet this new day. In a moment in time, in the morning darkness of my kitchen, I ground beans, boiled water, and made a cup of coffee with an ancient Melitta pour over coffee cone. In a moment in time, I sit in a quiet room watching out the window as the sun peeks over the horizon. Moments of time stacked one upon another in a progression compose an individual life.

In a moment in time Mary and Joseph came to the difficult conclusion that there was no other place to bed down for the night. In moment in time the labor pains could no longer be ignored.  In a moment in time Mary gave birth, not in her mother’s home surrounded by matriarchs and a midwife, but in a cattle stall surrounded by beasts. In a moment in time, a moment marked not by the idyllic tranquility of O Little Town of Bethlehem, but by the terror of giving birth in such a place and the wonder of giving birth in such a place.

In a moment in time the Eternal put on the limiting cloak of chronos.  The Infinite became finite. In a moment in time God entered our world in an utterly dependent baby. In doing so, that moment in time would become the pivot point of all human history. In that moment in time, God took on all that it meant to be human, our tears, our sprains, our sniffles, our disappointments, our dashed dreams, and eventually our death.

The splinters of that crude manger would one day become the splinters of a cruel cross.  The One who entered time would endure death for our sakes. All of this in a moment in time.

God entered our times and our places and our flesh so that we could know God. In the baby of the manger and the crucified man on the cross, we discover God’s true disposition towards us, indeed towards all creation. God entered our world in a moment of time so that we could live in the confidence of divine grace and mercy.

God entered our time so that there are no moments of time in which we are abandoned to our own self destructive ways, to the evil of our lashing out at on another, to the ways of death we seem so determined to follow. We live trusting that even now, God is bringing all things to fullness in Christ.

Regardless of what any particular moments of time may bring, of this we can be sure:  they are embraced and redeemed by a loving and gracious God who at Christmas became one of us. In a moment in time.

Merry Christmas.


At What Price?

tsarnaevBob and Marty had lived next door to each other for years. They had raised families, talked at the driveway, even borrowed each other’s rakes and shovels occasionally over the years. They weren’t friends, but there was at least casual good will between them.

One day, for no apparent reason, Bob throws a rock through Marty’s living room window. There’s no question. Bob did it. Marty saw it. Fritz across the street saw it, too. Bob was guilty.

So, what does Marty do next?  A) Nothing? Hope it doesn’t happen again?

B) Call the police? Press charges? Wait for the case to wind its way through court, hoping that at some point, Bob will be fined, forced to make restitution, and maybe even do community service?

C) Wait for an opportune moment to take not one, but two rocks, and throw them through Bob’s living room window, but also the dining room window, just to make sure he gets the message?

One might well ask the question, “What’s the point?”  What does Marty hope to accomplish in holding Bob accountable for his crime?  If the answer is to make sure Bob knows how egregious his crime was, then maybe C) is the best. If he wants the whole community to know how angry he was, how upset he was, and what kind of terrible impact the rock through his window had, then option C) might be the best. It’s It fulfills the emotional requirement. It’s makes the perpetrator pay. It fulfills that tit for tat, mathematical formula for crime and punishment.

If Marty were to throw the retributional rocks through Bob’s windows, he might feel an adrenaline rush, some satisfaction that now Bob knows what it feels like; he may even feel a bit of twisted pride that he went one better, breaking not one window, but two. But in the long run, Marty has done nothing positive for anyone. The retribution doesn’t take away the anger, it doesn’t bring back his window; it doesn’t erase the trauma of that original sound of breaking glass. In fact, it may even make things worse because now Marty lives in the fear that Bob may try to do him one better, and God only knows what that might be.

Really, none of the three options recognize the human relationship that is at stake regardless of what Marty chooses to do. Another way to say it is that Bob and Marty will be living next to each other regardless; they will be in community regardless. At some point, if there is to be any peace in either of their lives, they will have to face the breach in the relationship and reconcile. They will have to talk to each other. Making Bob accountable for his actions is only the very first and very minimal step in repairing the breach that a violent act causes between people.

The criminal justice system in the U.S. seems to be aimed overwhelmingly at one aspect of the equation, making criminals pay for their crime. Mostly, the payment is in time; you commit a crime, and we will take years away from your productive life. The worse the crime, the more years we will exact from you. We will make you pay. And if the crime is really bad or violent, then we will make you pay the ultimate price. We will take your life from you. It’s the ultimate expression of Marty throwing those rocks of retribution through Bob’s windows.

But taking years away from people’s lives does nothing to repair the breach. It doesn’t bring back the car that was stolen and turned into parts, it doesn’t restore the trauma that the bank clerk experienced at the holdup, and it doesn’t bring back the murdered victim. The only thing it does is somehow give us the impression that we have done something good and satisfying by making the perpetrator pay for his or her crime.

What I fear is that this obsession with payment — another word for vengeance — is rotting our national soul. We never have to pay any attention to the more important things, like healing breaches, like restoring community, like recognizing the inherent value of human life, even the life of the person who has committed acts of great violence that have led to great loss of life. There is still value in that human life.  In our push to make sure we punish criminals, to make sure the punishment fits the crime, to make sure the bad guy pays for his wrongs, we haven’t paid nearly enough attention to what vengeance is doing to us. How it’s making us collectively callous to the value of a human life. And how it lets us off the hook, brushing aside the hard, painful, but ultimately valuable work of reconciliation.

And I think that’s true, even for such egregious crimes as that of Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He should not get the death penalty. No one should. Regardless of what he has done, he is human, and his life has value.

And there’s a bigger issue, a much more significant issue, an issue that affects all of us regardless of how many degrees we are removed from the Boston Marathon bombing. Our human community is much more valuable than the internal eating away of our soul that happens when vengeance is the only thing on our agenda.  Vengeance is not worth what it’s doing to us.

Have you ever heard this story?  A prayer was left beside the body of a dead child by a prisoner at the Ravensbruck Concentration Camp.  “O, Lord, remember not only the men and women of good will, but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted on us:  remember the fruits we have brought, thanks to this suffering — our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, our courage, our generosity, the greatness of heart which has grown out of all this, and when they come to judgment, let all the fruits which we have borne be their forgiveness.”