Dec 23 2012

An uncommon path: Reflecting on the Prince of Peace – not even God can use violence successfully

Original post at http://www.dionforster.com/blog/2012/12/23/reflecting-on-the-prince-of-peace-not-even-god-can-use-viole.html

My friend Alan Storey gave an address (a sermon) at the 2012 Peace Conference in Lake Junalaska. I was fortunate to get a transcript of his sermon. It challenged and moved me deeply. I was reminded that at Christmas I celebrate the birth of the Prince of Peace, and that His birth and my faith in Him has radical consequences for my life. The way of Jesus is a bold, loving and gracious way. It subverts the culture of power and dominance that occupies the popular mind of our time. It reminds me that Jesus came for peace, yet so much of the resource of this world, both financial and human, are spent on war. The best of our minds, the majority of our budgets, are not applied towards peaceable aims - they are applied in the interests of vengence and violence. This is an affront to the Prince of Peace who came to live among us, living our life and dying our death in order to overcome both sin and death by His love. Please can I encourage you to read Alan's powerful message? I had to face myself and my own denial honestly as I read it. Some of what you read may not be easy to hear - it was not easy for me. But, I would rather face my lies, and the lies of our world with honesty and courage, than be party to deception and simply tell myself that all is well. The text below comes from 'The War Crimes Times' newsletter (Winter 2013, pp. 5-7 and are republished with Alan's permission). Here is the editor's introduction: This is a transcription of the final presentation of a four-day peace conference held at Lake Junaluska, NC, November 8-11, 2012. It was delivered on a Sunday morning, at a United Methodist conference center, by an ordained minister, to an audience largely consisting of religious folks including a good number of clergy men and women (many retired – well “past half time”), and it began with a scripture reading. By all indications, it was a sermon, a lecture on a topic of morality. But the lesson, the moral, of this sermon was intended for more than the flock of faithful, mostly Christians, gathered that morning. This lesson needs to reach people of all faiths, people of no faith, and people in the highest offices of governments around the world. It is a lesson of peace. At its conclusion, this sermon received a standing ovation. But not everyone rose. The few who didn’t were, I suspect, clergy too stunned by the bold challenges of Alan Storey’s concluding remarks. The speaker made references to other conference presenters. The Rev. Dr. Bernard Lafayette, a co-founder the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, who endured many beatings and arrests as a civil rights activist, had spoken of how the kindness and trust bestowed on him as a 14-year-old in a multi- cultural neighborhood helped form his character. Liberian activist and Nobel Peace Prize winner, Leymah Gbowee, had remarked on the importance of channeling anger into a proper container. (A documentary film on her work was also shown.) Michael Nagler , author, teacher, and founder of the Metta Center for Nonviolence, had shared his definition of “nonviolence.” Alan Storey’s remarks were introduced with a reading from Genesis (excerpts of chapters 6 through 9) – the account of the Great Flood, when God punished the evil people and spared the righteous. But when the waters receded, God promised to never again resort to such destruction, setting God’ s rainbow in the clouds as the sign of his covenant. Here is the transcript of Alan's message which was entitled 'Not even God can use violence successfully' by the newsletter. I wonder what you have just heard during the reading of those Hebrew scriptures. I wonder what you heard. What did you hear? Did you hear Sunday school children singing, singing about animals going in two by two? Or did you hear children screaming panic-stricken, terrified, gasping for breath; people fleeing to higher ground, pleading, praying to be let into that ark – and if not me, then take my child. Knocking, banging, banging on the ark, let me in! Yet the doors of the ark remained sadistically closed. What did you feel when those words were read? Did you feel the desperation, the despair, the drowning, the death? And then after the 40 days, what did you see? The sunshine? Green lush, beautiful blossoming? Birds and bees? Or decomposing bodies, swelling, smelling – disease, decay gathered in every single nook and cranny? The cruel results, the inevitable cruel results of divid- ing up a world with the simplistic notion that there are some who are wicked and others who are righteous, that there are two types of people in the world: good and bad. And if we can just get rid of the bad people, then we will have peace. There is an axis of evil in the world and if we can just destroy the axis of evil, then all will be safe and secure. The persons who act on this notion of dividing the world into wicked people and righteous people should be brought before the International Court of Justice for crimes against humanity and all of creation – even if that person is God. This deathly division between good people and bad people continues today especially in my faith tradition – especially in my faith tradition. The Christian faith, more than any other faith, has participated in this deathly division – dividing the world into good and bad, saved and unsaved, those who will be ushered into heaven and those who will be cast into hell. That thought process is nothing less than hate speech. We go back to the text. These Hebrew narrators were incredibly courageous, risky in the extreme. You see, what these Hebrew narrators are trying to do is not endorse this primitive, partisan God or world view, but rather to cleverly, and with great risk, subvert it. They knew that the common world understanding of God was that God was some almighty superhero that would punish the wicked and bless the righteous. They knew that was the dominant religious world view and understanding of their time. So they risked casting God in that light in their narrative. They don’t believe it, they know that’s not so. But they cleverly start where the audience is. There were righteous ones, just a few. God saved them and the wicked were punished and the audience applaud. Because that was their world view. Justice has been done, the wicked got what they deserved, and the righteous what was promised. And then the narrator moves to Act II. And we read that once the flood had subsided, wickedness remained. Wickedness remained. In other words, God failed. God failed to eradicate evil through this weapon of mass destruction called the flood. The narrator is bold to pen those words, “God failed.” God fails when God uses violence. Not even God can use violence successfully. Not even God. God’s war on terror became a war of terror. And God repents. Listen to these words: “I will never again destroy every living creature as I have done.” And then God is converted and God takes God’s bow, not a rainbow, but a weapon, God’s bow, and hangs it up in the sky, just as a boxer hangs up his gloves – and says, “Never again will I fight.” It’s the great narrative of the disarmament of God. God can do all things. God can do all things – except use violence successfully. And you and I will not be converted to nonviolence until we first realize that God has long since been con- verted. It is impossible to be a peacemaker if we serve a violent God, an angry God, a God who needs blood to be satisfied. If the God we serve, if the God we worship, has blood on his hands (I use that male pronoun deliberately), then the likelihood will be that we will too. Using violence, God fails. So how much more will we fail if we use it? And you and I witness the failure of violence all around us all the time. Violence fails to deliver on what it promises – peace and security. Since 9/11, billions and billions and billions of your dollars have been invested in violence, military might. And this country is less safe than it ever was. It doesn’t matter how long you have to stand in line to wait to get onto an airplane – it is less safe, less secure. And if it is not more afraid, it is definitely more feared. Ask the people of Pakistan who scan the skies for drones... where the people who fly them can have breakfast in the morning with their family, go to the office and sit in a comfortable chair and go to war in Afghani- stan; and then can come home and have lunch with their family, and then in the afternoon they can go to war in Pakistan. There is no victory in vengeance. Satan cannot cast out Satan; violence cannot cast out violence. War is a poor chisel to carve out a peaceable future says Martin Luther King, and yet it remains our biggest investment.

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Dr Dion Forster

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