I believe in the nonviolent love of Jesus. Active peacemaking worked for him, worked for my ancestors and is my hope for my children.
Jesus’ most profound and challenging statements are found in the Sermon on the Mount. The beatitudes challenge us to remain centered in love in the most challenging situations. More than the simple justice of an eye for and eye or a tooth for a tooth; the radical love of Jesus turns the other cheek, goes the second mile and shares one’s last coat to overcome evil.
When viewed through our modern American lens, this radical love appears passive or fool-hearty. However if we view Jesus’ love through the eyes of a first century Palestinian, we find that these simple acts are radical and active peacemaking. In Jesus’ cultural context, turning the other cheek meant treat me as an equal not a slave. Going the second mile for a Roman soldier put that soldier in danger of a court marshall. Sharing one’s last coat left one naked thus shaming on lookers. This was active peacemaking and active nonviolent resistance.
Active peacemaking worked for Jesus to bring about a just and loving world through a on-going community called the church.
For my ancestors it has worked as well.
My grandfather took his direction from the Biblical text. Each morning and evening he and my grandmother said devotions. They sandwiched all of their worldly interactions within devotion to radical love as shown by Jesus.
This helped him make choices that others wouldn’t or couldn’t. Grandpa took great care of his land. He carefully tended his farm so that it produced food without abusing it and draining the land of its natural resources. He valued creation.
Grandpa and grandma entered voluntary service after retirement. Few retirees did that in our home community. Grandma and Grandpa went beyond their comfortable home to learn about other cultures and to see the world. They worked for Mennonite Central Committee where they saw that if we continued to live the way we were living, we would endanger the lives of our neighbors. Grandpa’s mantra became, “Live simply so that others may simply live.” Grandpa always drove an ancient powder blue pickup.
Grandpa also practiced radical hospitality. Whenever we had a family meal, he would always push the potatoes saying, “Take some more potatoes.” “Eat, eat”. What can we pass you?” Such a giver was my grandfather that before his death he made arrangements to donate his body to science. Even his physical body could not go to waste.
My grandparents lived through World Wars. They actively supported the young men who decided not to enter military service, but chose instead to serve their country by building it up. These young men built hospitals, mental health facilities, and other institutions.
While I never heard that my Grandparents were faced with direct violence, they actively lived out their Christ-centered peacemaking.
Honestly, I’m afraid for my children. The evil that we face today is great. Not just the threat of terrorism, but also the threat to our environment. I also feel a pervasive anxiousness in our culture. We are skeptical and suspicious. Such anxious suspicion inhibits our care for each other.
My hope rests in Jesus Christ and his life and message of peace. My hope springs from watching people actively live out this radical love. I believe radical love will save my children.
When my children become aware of the dangers in our world, I want them to be surrounded by people who believe and at least try to practice the love of Christ. I believe they will see examples of such love overcoming evil.
On Thursday, three Christian Peacemaker Team members were released from Iraqi captivity. No shots were fired. They did not appear physically abused. I can’t help but believe that their faith at least sustained them, but I suspect that it also had an affect on their captors. Yes, one team member died. Yet he too left a legacy of writings and life experiences that pointed to a better way than retaliation or ‘an eye for an eye’. I believe that radical nonviolent love is the only way to combat terrorism – and that the greatest battlefield for that struggle may not be Iraq but our very own hearts.
When my children become aware of the state of the earth, I want them to be surrounded by people who believe that simplicity and nonmaterialsim open up more of life’s blessings than anything money can buy. I want them to have a heart of cooperation and community so that they can survive whatever the earth needs to rebalance her body.
I know that such community and simplicity is in our hearts. When our neighborhood in east Lawrence had damage two weeks ago, neighbors streamed from their homes checking on each other, dusting off chainsaws and getting down to work. This is what I want my children to experience and find hope in.
When my children become aware of the complexities of human love, I want them to be surrounded by people who love others regardless of sexual orientation, race, social class or political persuasion. I want them to grow up learning what it means to be respected and to respect others.
I see at Plymouth church a group of people willing to practice radical hospitality. Here everyone is invited to the table. This is most clearly seen in the decision to become an open and affirming congregation. However, it is also seen in how careful people are to talk about how we are on a journey of faith – and that we haven’t made it. Such careful talk shows acceptance of people where they are – and each of us struggling to do the best we can to live out the hospitality of Jesus. Only Jesus’ love can hold opposed people together.
I believe in the nonviolent love of Jesus. Active peacemaking worked for him, worked for my family and is my hope for my children.
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