St. Paul’s Church
April 21, 2013
“Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” This line from the Baptismal Covenant in the Book of Common Prayer I have pledged, and then answered “I will” to at many a ceremony marking young children as Christ’s own forever. But more often I behave as my anti-hero protagonist of the novel I have in progress. I’ll share with you it’s opening: “He was a slumbering man. Not a sleepwalker, or awake, slumbering, eyelids droopy to the world, all its corruption, its death march with violence and bad religion, the corpratocracy pulling all the strings, a non-conspiracy, conspiracy of bloated power, where things just happened, and bombs were dropped, and oceans were poisoned, and people of the land were pushed off their land, and so much more doggerel went down in the name of “human progress”, that really meant flowing all the money up to the top until, what? ten rich guys in New York City, who weekend in the Hamptons and summer in Aspen, have 99% of it¾to hell with the planet¾to hell with 9,000,000,000 everybody elses. This great white whale, this Moby Dick, was so big who was going to stop it? Nobody could turn things around now. And that’s why he slumbered purposefully, and with exuberant style. That, and he had a job to keep, a family to be a partner in feeding, a reputation that had never been built.”
Like my slumbering man, I do violence to myself in being overwhelmed with striving so hard to overcome my inadequacies. They can easily turn in on me, and yet the thing of it is, I’m doing the driving. But it is through our wounds that sacred flowers can blossom. This gardening of the soul takes more awareness and patience than striving. Franciscan Richard Rohr says, “Faith does not need to push the river because faith is able to trust that there is a river. The river is flowing. We are in it.”
A sticky wicket here is that pesky word “faith”, and the concept of really having much if any of it. Oftentimes when I’m hurting I don’t feel close to God, and when I’m feeling stronger I tend to think I’m the one in charge. But Jesus helps us here with not requiring much faith of us at all. In Mathew 17:20 Jesus says, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to here,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible to you.”
So let us ask ourselves, what is it are we going to move within ourselves, with our close by neighbors, and/or with our neighbors all across the globe?
Perhaps Henry David Thoreau most constructively addressed our smallness in the scheme of things when he penned these words: “One is not born into the world to do everything but to do something.”
And, of course, Jesus showed us how by walking peaceably all the way to the cross in face of the violence and fear that was sparked over the imperial system being threatened by his Way. For all the words he spoke, it was this almost wordless walk that changed everything, and can change us. When we dare to place ourselves on the cross, look out at humanity, and nonetheless find it in our hearts to say, as Jesus did, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,” we get a glimpse of what it means to live out loud something Jesus did say in the Gospel of John, “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.” I say “get a glimpse” of the cross experience because I cannot even come close to fully getting on the cross with Jesus.
Walter Wink in his book, Jesus and Nonviolence: A Third Way states, “… Jesus did not advocate non-violence merely as a technique for outwitting the enemy, but as a means of opposing the enemy in such a way as to hold open the possibility of the enemy’s becoming just as well. Both sides must win. We are summoned to pray for our enemies’ transformation, and to respond to ill-treatment with a love that not only is godly but also, I am convinced, can only be found in God.”
One of the most giving men I have known was Jack Deforest. When I met Jack he was an emeritus priest at St. John the Devine Episcopal Church in Houston, Texas. He took an inordinate amount of time at the bank teller window every time he went to the bank. One day one of my fellow parishioners, who had the misfortune of being behind Jack in line at the bank, later asked him what he had been doing that took so long. Jack preceded to tell him that he co-signed small personal loans at the bank for homeless people he would meet, befriend, and then take into the bank with him to help them get a little sorely needed cash. Jack explained that his homeless friends almost never paid the loans down, so on a monthly basis he came to the bank and made payments in their behalf. Well, one day, when I was feeling very much like my “slumbering man”, at a Tuesday morning bible study breakfast, Jack disclosed that he didn’t think he had ever done even one single act that didn’t have dual motives. With his admission, a light came on for me. If the most giving man I knew had never done anything truly selfless, there had to be hope for me.
When the Iraq war broke, Shock and Awe, my son was eighteen and he and his friends were concerned that there could be a draft, also wanting to be macho and good, they spoke of smiting the enemy, and the troubling thing was, there is a certain amount of joy that can come with righteous indignation dreaming of violent retaliation in the name of justice. I felt it and it freaked me out. So, I took my son aside and explained that there was something called “conscientious objector status” in case there was a draft, and that although each person needed to seek their own conscience on whether to fight and in what ways, that it would be a courageous decision, possibly more courageous than fighting with violence, to do so instead with the walk to the cross nonviolently. Once I had made that big-mouthed statement, I asked myself if I really felt this way, which I did and still do, and so then what was I going to do about it?
Over the course of the ensuing years I found out about Christian Peacemaker Teams, who believe nonviolent peacemaking can be a powerful testimony, especially in areas rife with oppression through violence. I went on a delegation of CPTers to Israel/Palestine for two weeks, and we met with Jewish, Muslim, and Arab Christian peacemakers. We escorted Palestinian schoolchildren to and from school whose only way there is to walk right by illegal Jewish settlements in the Palestinian West Bank, where they are sometimes violently attacked by settlers. We monitored checkpoints in the city of Old Hebron, where kids going to school are herded through caged pens at gunpoint, and are on a regular basis singled out and detained for hours before being released. We met with Jewish ex-military who have formed an organization called Breaking the Silence, who do video testimonies about fully armed raids of Palestinian families’ homes for practice, violent treatment of kids at checkpoints, etc. In July-August of this year I am planning on attending CPT’s month long non-violent peacemaking training, and then becoming part of their reserve corp., in which for three years I’ll spend a month to three months each year on probably the team in Old Hebron. Pray for me, please, for I have never done anything without dual motives. –Amen