Posts Tagged ‘violence’

I was asked to provide a list of resources I have found helpful in thinking and shaping issues concerning racism and privilege. I’ve added resources that also deal with contextual theology because we all read from a place, a position, a framework. Privilege is often assumed and is typically hidden from our eyes, especially when we benefit from those systems. As such, it is helpful to be made aware of our position and its underlying assumptions.

Many of these titles have been very formative for me. Some of the ones I will list have been good to read just to hear dissenting voices from my own. I don’t necessarily agree with every position taken in every book, but I have learned something from each one and therefore offer them as helpful starting points to further conversation and learning. I will also try to categorize each book so that they can be held together with other books that approach privilege, racism, and contextual theology through a particular lens (i.e., preaching, community development, etc.). Some of these resources do not deal with privilege directly, but I certainly see application and overlap. I hope these are helpful!

Preaching

Dem Dry Bones: Preaching, Death, and Hope by Luke Powery

Preaching as Weeping, Confession, and Resistance: Radical Responses to Radical Evil by Christine M. Smith

Toward a Womanist Homiletic: Katie Canon, Alice Walker, and Emancipatory Proclamation by Donna E. Allen

They Like to Never Quit Praisin’ God: The Role of Celebration in Preaching by Frank A. Thomas

Listening to Listeners: Homiletical Case Studies by John McClure

Decolonizing Preaching: The Pulpit as Postcolonial Space by Sarah Travis

Blue Note Preaching in a Post-Soul World by Otis Moss III

The End of Words: The Language of Reconciliation in a Culture of Violence by Richard Lischer

The Liberating Pulpit by Justo Gonzalez

The Word Before the Powers by Charles Campbell

Preaching at the Crossroads: How the World – And Our Preaching – Is Changing by David Lose

Preaching as Local Theology and Folk Art by Leonora Tubbs Tisdale

(There’s plenty more resources in the preaching section, but I don’t want it to be more overwhelming than it already is. I can add more for a preaching section, if anyone is interested.)

Hermeneutics/Interpretation

Reading from this Place, Vol. 1 by Fernando F. Segovia (collection of essays)

Soundings in Cultural Criticism: Perspectives and Methods in Culture, Power, and Identity in the New Testament by Francisco Lozada, Jr.

Interpretation Theory: Discourse and the Surplus of Meaning by Paul Riceour

Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation by James K. A. Smith

Community Development/Parish Ministry

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor… And Yourself by Steve Corbett

Making Neighborhoods Whole: A Handbook for Christian Community Development by Wayne Gordon

The New Parish: How Neighborhood Churches are Transforming Mission, Discipleship and Community by Paul Spark

Theology/Ethics/Memoirs

Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass by Frederick Douglass

Night by Elie Wiesel

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail” by Martin Luther King, Jr. (https://www.africa.upenn.edu/Articles_Gen/Letter_Birmingham.html)

Jesus and the Disinherited by Howard Thurman

The Cross and the Lynching Tree by James Cone

The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race by Willie James Jennings

Naming the Powers by Walter Wink

Unmasking the Powers by Walter Wink

Engaging the Powers by Walter Wink

Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics by Willard M. Swartley

Migrations of the Holy: God, State, and the Political Meaning of the Church by William Cavanaugh

Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire by William Cavanaugh

Theopolitical Imagination: Christian Practices of Space and Time by William Cavanaugh

The New Asceticism: Sexuality, Gender, and the Quest for God by Sarah Coakley

The Blackwell Companion to Christian Ethics by Stanley Hauerwas (collected essays)

Missions

Missions and Money: Affluence as a Missionary Problem Revisited by Jonathan Bonk

Cross-cultural Partnerships: Navigating the Complexities of Money and Mission by Mary T. Lederleitner

Going Global: A Congregation’s Introduction to Mission Beyond Our Borders by Gary Nelson

Serving With Eyes Wide Open: Doing Short-term Missions with Cultural Intelligence by David Livermore

Ministering Cross-culturally: An Incarnational Model for Personal Relationships by Sherwood Lingenfelter

Fiction

Jonah’s Gourd Vine by Zora Neale Hurston

A Lesson Before Dying by Ernest J. Gaines

Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe

Pop Culture

Decoded by Jay-Z (preachers should read this)

Nickel and Dimed: On (Not) Getting By in America by Barbara Ehrenreich

The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz

Documentaries/Films

“13”

“Schindler’s List”

“Le Chambon: La Colline Aux Mille Enfants”

“Of Gods and Men”

“Roots”

“The Mission”

“Mandela: A Long Walk to Freedom”

“Selma”

“Mississippi Burning”

Sermons

(start around 30:38 mark)

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The most devastating waves of hatred exercised in violence betray an underlying sense of fear and fatalism in those perpetrating such atrocities. I sometimes wonder what drives people to the precipice where they no longer see any hope for alternative ways to change their world than to destroy others. Perhaps many of these tragedies might have been avoided if the Church had better articulated its message of hope, if it did not so often succumbed to the same tragic despair that can no longer imagine new possibilities from dead ends? How devastatingly dull our witness is when it is incapable of offering hope to the hopeless. Salt that has lost its saltiness is thrown away and trampled under foot. May God revive the imagination of the Church for these days. May the Church and its disciples be light in the dark places.

 

This is a blog I wrote for the Center for Pastoral Leadership at Nazarene Theological Seminary. Here is a preview of the work: “Preaching from a posture of Wisdom requires dying, which relinquishes the need for acclamation, control, power, violence, and conformity. Wisdom is the way of Jesus.”

You can find the rest of the article at the Center for Pastoral Leadership’s blog: https://cpl.nts.edu/index.php/component/k2/item/430-preaching-when-words-have-lost-their-power

Rev Levi Jones wanted to present a fifth post in order to discuss preaching practice in the proposed theological framework of the first four posts. You won’t find here a one-size-fits-all method for every sermon. Instead, Levi offers some suggestive insights into the proper posture of the preacher in preparing for the task, as well […]

via “Preaching in Practice: Moving Beyond the Violence of Our Words:” Preaching — V Practice — Explorations in Theology

Desmond Tutu once said, “I’m not optimistic, no.  I’m quite different.  I’m hopeful.  I’m a prisoner of hope.”  These words rattled in my head as I heard the devastating news this week.  My heart ached as I asked my black brothers and sisters, “What shall we say?”  My heart ached for my friends who know all too well the deadly sting of racism and the violence that comes with it.  My heart ached for people I respect and love who wear a badge and serve their community as officers.  I cried over a world and a nation that nurtures hate and exercises violence against their neighbors.  I tell ya: “I’m not optimistic, no.  I’m quite different.  I’m hopeful.  I’m a prisoner of hope.”  And, that is the reason I preach today.

 

The sun beat down on the top of his aging head.  The spindly shrub did little to provide shade.  The sun was always unrelenting in the desert.  Moses sat at the base of the mountain; some called it Horeb, some called it Sinai, still others called it the mountain of God.  He sat watching his father-in-law’s sheep graze, much as he had for the past forty years.

His desert life, a hard life, was far removed from the luxury he had known before coming to the desert… escaping to the wilderness.  The sandy hills were barren compared to the lush, fertile soil of the Nile.  The life of the shepherd hardly compared to life as a prince.

Moses had grown up in Pharaoh’s house, although it was pretty obvious early on that he wasn’t Egyptian.  He was a Hebrew – a people enslaved to Pharaoh.  Yet, somehow, Pharaoh’s daughter had taken him in and raised him as her own.  He enjoyed the finest in dining, education, clothing, housing, and sport.  He had power and authority.  His face was recognized anywhere he went.  Heads would bow and nod to show him honor.  But, here in the desert, sheep were the only subjects over which he ruled… and they didn’t seem too impressed by his previous status as a prince.

Moses recalled walking the streets of Egypt, admiring the splendor and wealth of the nation.  Egypt was growing, expanding, swelling ever more powerful.  Life seemed great.  There was so much to enjoy, so much to see, so much to do.

But, over time, Moses began to look more closely, to observe beneath the surface of Egypt’s beauty and power.  He looked past their military strength, their economic prowess, their political power, their social and economic domination.  Moses saw massive construction projects being built by those who lived in the tent cities in the poorest parts of town outside the walls.  He saw the thin, emaciated brown bodies that serving food to rich, fat rulers.  Egypt’s entire society was built on the backs of sun-kissed bodies.  For four hundred years Egypt crushed those bodies and ground them into dust, while Pharaoh and the rest of the Egyptian power-holders profited and prospered – all at the expense of those expendable, sun-kissed bodies.

For four hundred years, Egypt used, abused, and discarded brown bodies in service to economic, political, and Egyptian societal gain.  Four hundred years of injustice visited upon the Hebrews.  Four hundred years of oppression.  Four hundred years of groaning under the whip of Pharaoh.  Four hundred years of resentment building up pressure that might explode.  Four hundred years of Pharaoh building a system that capitalized on the oppression of others.

We might imagine that this is all in the past, by-gone history, water under the bridge.  But, it’s sad to say, Pharaoh is ever so much alive and kicking.  Violence against brown and black bodies has been happening for more than four hundred years in these lands we call home.

We have benefitted from the labor of brown and black bodies.  We have been made more comfortable by brown and black bodies.  We have raised ourselves up on the backs of brown and black bodies.  And, we continue to utilize oppression the world around to maintain our power and privilege over those same bodies.  For well over four hundred years we have enjoyed the well-being of Pharaoh and Egypt, while others languished under our whips.  For over four hundred years anger has festered and violence has been the only way we know to diffuse the growing tensions… But, there is no lasting peace won by the sword.

Moses shook his head, remembering his failure, his inability to change anything.  It was a problem too big to tackle.  It was overwhelming.  He couldn’t overcome the odds.  All of his power had been exhausted in trying to change the system… and he failed.  He had resigned himself to accept that things are the way they are and that nothing would ever change.  Egypt was too powerful.  The desert was a place to hide from the world’s problems, like an ostrich with its head in the sand.

He recalled his anger at the whip masters.  His fist balled up and his jaw clenched as he saw the brutality visited upon the slashed backs hunched over in agony.  His body shook as the rage threatened to swallow him up.  That’s why he was in the desert – he had allowed his rage to consume him.

He was walking through the streets of Egypt one day when he saw an Egyptian dressed in blue, wearing a badge of authority, using a club to beat and batter one of the Hebrews.  Moses didn’t even think, he jumped on top of the Egyptian officer and beat him until the man lay motionless on the ground in a heap.  The man’s head was bleeding and Moses realized the man was dead.  Without ceremony, Moses buried the man in an unmarked grave and swore the Hebrew man to secrecy.

But, Moses’ secret leaked out.  He learned that his sins were live-tweeted online and broadcast on the local news.  Social media blew up and Moses knew his time was short before Pharaoh would kill him.  So, he ran.  He ran away into the desert.  And forty years passed, but the pain and disappointment never faded, they only grew deeper.  Moses had tried to change things but the system was too big.  Moses thought violence was the answer, but that caused him to lose his influence and sent him into exile.  What is to be done when the broken system is so powerful and seemingly impervious to our protests and our call for change?

Do you recall why Israel became slaves?  Pharaoh was trying to deal with Egypt’s illegal immigrant problem.  Israel, in Pharaoh’s eyes, was a huge liability.  They were becoming numerous – quite a voting bloc to contend with if another nation decided to attack Egypt.  The final solution?  Put a burden so heavy on their shoulders that it would break their back.  Kill their children.  Kill their future.

Much like Pharaoh, we don’t mind turning our eyes away while others are used and abused.  We don’t mind being blissfully ignorant of our nation’s oppressive practices, especially if we benefit from the arrangement.  We love living in a nation of political prominence, economic excellence, technological transcendence, societal “superiority.”  We rarely think about the devastating impact we are having on other nations to maintain our escalating hunger for more wealth and comfort.  We sing about those things as if it is God’s very blessing upon us… when in reality, we have grabbed those things like Pharaoh by building our power and privilege on a mound of black and brown bodies.  And, standing in the pile of those bones, we rejoice with pride at the work we claim our hands have made.  But, in turn, we ignore the hands held open asking to receive a small pittance from the table of our comfort – primarily because those hands look so different from our hands, because they might take away some of what we claim as our God-given birthright.

Moses, like the sniper that killed five Dallas police officers, took matters into his own hands.  He was filled with rage at the injustice of the system and killed an Egyptian officer.  The denial of justice in society created a ticking time bomb that erupted in violence and death.  Unlike Moses, Micah Johnson learned too late that violence only births violence, it does not create justice.  Micah decided to live by the gun and he died by the bomb.  Violence did not solve the problem, but only escalated the violence.  Violence in Dallas tore apart six families, destroyed six lives, and still nothing has changed.  We are just as divided and just as violent.  Even if we don’t use weapons for violence, often times our words are weaponized for violent means.  We use our words just as effectively as guns to kill and wound.  Violence will continue to spill out into our communities until we deal with our society’s injustice toward black and brown bodies.  Violence will continue to spill over into our communities until we forsake our thirst for violence and violent retribution.

Something caught the corner of Moses’ eye.  A shrub nearby seemed to have caught fire.  God, it was hot out here.  He sat watching the shrub burn… and burn… and burn.  Yet, as Moses watched the shrub he noticed that nothing really changed.  The shrub remained the same size and shape.  No ash gathered at the base.  In fact, the shrub looked amazingly unharmed.  He stood and walked toward the strange bonfire: “I’ve got to check this out, why isn’t this bush torched?”

God was watching, waiting.  When Moses started moving toward the bush, God called to him, “Hey, Moses!”

Moses replied, “Hey, it’s me!”

God said, “Stop dead in your tracks! Take off your shoes, this ain’t no regular dirt.  This ground is different because it’s set apart, holy.  Allow me to introduce Myself: My name is I’M GONNA BE WHO I’M GONNA BE.  I AM the God of your family, the God of your people all the way back to Abraham.”

Moses dropped to the ground and buried his face in the sand.  He was deathly afraid to catch a glimpse of God.

God continued: “I’ve been taking notes on my people in Egypt, their cries are like a megaphone blaring out their suffering under their slave-masters.  I have experienced their pain and suffering.  Now, I’m jumping into the fray to pull them out of this pit and to bring them to a better living space.  You better believe Israel’s tears and wailing have caught my ear and my eyes have spied Egypt’s violent and hateful treatment of them.  And, guess what!?  You, Moses, are going to be the person that rescues Israel for Me from Egypt.

Moses was probably ecstatic to hear that after four hundred years, God was going to deliver Israel.  I can imagine tears of joy streaming down his face.  Then, like a deer in the headlights: “’Scuse me, You’re sending who?  I hate to throw a wrench in Your machine, God, but I’m nobody.  I’m not powerful anymore.  I’ve got no juice.  I don’t have the same swag I used to.  I don’t have that kind of influence.  I’m a criminal on the run, marked to be shot on sight.  Maybe You need to find somebody else for Your dirty work.”

God told Moses, “Stop sweating! I’m going with you. That’s how you’ll know I sent you.  And when you’re done freeing Israel, bring them back to this mountain to celebrate with Me.”

Moses wasn’t done giving excuses yet.  “Well, God, what do You expect me to tell everyone when they ask who sent me?  When they ask me the Name of the One I’m representing, what should I tell them?”

If God had eyebrows, they would’ve been raised: “Look, ‘I’m Gonna Be Who I’m Gonna Be.’  Tell ‘em ‘I’m Gonna Be Who I’m Gonna Be’ sent ya.  Tell Israel, ‘Gonna Be,’ the God of your family and people since Abraham sent ya to them!”

God didn’t stop there: “Go, get the people together, grab all of the leaders and tell them: ‘Gonna Be,’ the God of this family since the time of Abraham showed up and told me: ‘I reviewed the video footage of what’s happening to you in Egypt.  I’m busting you outta there and taking y’all to a place with plenty of good things for everyone.  They’ll feel what you’re saying, Moses.  Then, take Israel’s leaders with you and go on up to talk with President of Egypt, Pharaoh.  Tell Pharaoh, ‘God showed up.  Let us go out to the wilderness to celebrate with God.’”

(Pause)  God takes note of the marginalized and oppressed.  Their suffering is engraved in the palm of God’s hand.  Their cry pierces God’s heart like a spear jabbed in the ribs.  Their spilled blood runs down like red rivers down God’s thorn-pricked brow.  God knows the suffering of the destitute and dispossessed; the down-and-out and the downtrodden; the denigrated and the denied.  God knows their suffering as God’s own suffering.

And God wanted Moses to know it, too.  Sure, it was a bush on fire – nothing particularly special about that.  But, that fiery bush erupted in images of bodies lying cold on the pavement.  And God stood right in the middle of that fire so that the bush wasn’t consumed.  When God is present in the midst of the fire, even when the heat is most intense, God can preserve a dried up branch from being consumed.

God catches Moses’ attention with the fiery bush.  God draws Moses’ vision to the fires that seek to destroy God’s Creation, God’s people.  Moses begins to observe and pay attention to the flames of oppression, the flames that destroy community.  And, in seeing the fiery climate that threatens a vulnerable community, Moses’ heart is ignited by God’s Spirit to move.  Moses’ move toward the flaming bush is a step toward God.  But, God isn’t interested in just one step: “Take off your shoes, Moses, because I’m going to need both of your feet for this job.”

The news over this past year may be our burning bush.  Ferguson.  Baltimore.  Orlando.  Baton Rouge.  Charleston.  St. Paul.  Dallas.  God may be trying to get us to recognize our addiction to violence.  God may be opening our eyes to the deep-seated racism still entrenched within us and within our society.  God may be calling our attention to the fire-storm of hatred that leads to violence against others and the ambivalence which permits it to continue unchecked.

In recognizing, instead of ignoring, the fires that threaten to consume us all, we take one step toward God, but God says, “Now, I need both feet.  I’m sending you to represent me and to set my people free.  Free from violence.  Free from hatred.  Free from the denial of our responsibility for these problems.  Free from ignoring our responsibility to change our way of life.  Now, I need both feet, not just one foot… You’re standing on holy ground.  Quit hanging your head in the desert, avoiding the problems of Egypt.  Get in the game – the flames won’t consume you, I’m going with you!”

God warns Moses, despite God’s presence on this journey, it’s going to be hard work.  God says, “Don’t be shocked.  I know Pharaoh isn’t going to budge and let you leave.  He won’t change his mind unless he sees something greater than himself.  And, I’m about to reach out and slap Egypt upside the head with wonders, then Pharaoh will let you go.  And you won’t leave empty handed either.  I’m going to help you leave this place with Egypt’s wealth on your wrist, and new threads on your body and kicks on your feet, both you and your kids are going to be dressed to the nines, while Egypt will be stripped buck naked.”

God warns Moses, God warns us, confronting Egypt is difficult, dangerous work.  Don’t be shocked at the resistance to changing the way our society operates.  Confronting our broken system is hard, dangerous work because not everyone wants it to change.  Some are happy to keep the present arrangement – like Pharaoh – and will even use violence to protect it.  Protesting the wicked corruption of a society that gives advantage to some through the disadvantage of others, may result in crucifixion.

But know that God has already declared victory over the powers of injustice, violence, and death.  God has announced victory over systems of oppression that maintain those systems of injustice.  God says that those society’s will one day be stripped naked, laid bare.  Their glory will be their shame.  Their pride will be their ruin.  Their violent power will be turned back on itself.  Pharaoh wouldn’t relent from his ways until he saw something greater than himself; his arrogance kept him from seeing anything greater than himself.  It led to his ruin.  Let’s not be so prideful as to think that there is nothing greater than ourselves – lest we be stripped naked and our shame laid bare for all to see.

Where do we find God in the midst of such tragedies as we have witnessed this week?  If we wonder where God is at work, we will find God right in the heart of the fires that threaten to consume.  Where lives are being torn apart, God is working to mend them.  Where people are being torn down, God is working to build up.  Where people are being destroyed, God is working to bring new life.  It may be dangerous work, but there’s riches untold in joining our hands with God’s hands, which then joins our hands with the hands of those who are oppressed and marginalized in our world.

God is taking note of the violence and the oppression in our own neighborhoods and communities.  God knows that suffering as God’s own suffering.  God has jumped into the fray.  God wants us to know that suffering as well and to jump with both feet into the fires of injustice to free God’s people.  And we will know it was God that sent us because God will go with us, preserving us through the flames unto everlasting life.  “I’m not optimistic, no.  I’m quite different.  I’m hopeful.  I’m a prisoner of hope.”

 

Ask an American to tell the story of America and they will begin, perhaps, with the story of the American Revolution where freedom from tyranny was secured.  It will progress to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery.  Naturally, the story will weave its way through World War I and II, where the tyrannical powers of the world were halted by our military might.  Vietnam and Korea.  The Cold War, Desert Storm and the Iraqi War will all make their appearance.  Our imagination, our identity as a country has been shaped by the marking of our history – a history littered with violence.  Some have gone so far as to say that the ethos of our dominant narrative is war. 

        Of course, our violence is not limited to national warfare.  Our history includes the dark shadow of slavery, sexism, and colonialism.  The poor have always and continue to be oppressed by unethical financial practices… just ask Wall Street and Wal-Mart.  Manifest Destiny was thinly veiled genocide hailed as progress.  This fails to mention human trafficking, child and spousal abuse, school violence, and political mud-slinging.  If we have only mentioned our human relationships, what list might we build if we considered violence done to the environment and to the rest of Creation?

The prevailing praxis flowing out of our ethos of violence is necessary to understand.  Our conceptions of power are built on the notion that “might makes right,” no less if by majority vote.  Power is used to attain what one desires and to maintain what one has acquired.  And, if something should be desired or my possessions threatened, then force, violence – even war – are deemed acceptable options to our desired end, no matter who or what might be destroyed.  This “will to power” objectifies the Creation, which includes other humans, for manipulation and exploitation for personal gain, pleasure or benefit.

From this perspective, everything is a commodity to be consumed.  Our consuming is never satisfied.  Our demand continues to climb higher while those commodities becomes fewer.  It is the crisis of the market.  Supply and demand create scarcity, which produces fear, which turns into violence to grab those precious resources.  That’s only one reason nobody wants to be a Wal-Mart door greeter on Black Friday.  Violence is a natural outcome and by-product of consumerism because it is based upon competition for limited resources.  All of Creation suffers as a result.  We are a culture characterized by violence.

The American church has been significantly impacted by this prevailing cultural narrative.  We have engaged in our own methods and forms of violent behavior.  Schism and division.  Proclaiming “truth” without tempering it with love.  We enforce our “rights,” using our power (both individually and corporately) for political posturing and the securing of our “freedoms.”

We have rendered people as commodities to be counted to bolster our attendance numbers to reach the next plateau of growth or what they can do for our ministry until they are used up and discarded, instead of seeing each person as inherently valuable as God’s creation.  We exercise violence through our words against our enemies, by demonizing our opposition.  We do violence to the Gospel when we make it about us.  We do violence to the name of God when the Church cannot be distinguished from the murderous world.

Because our dominate narrative is violence, it is difficult for us to imagine a world otherwise.  After all, how is it possible for our world to change when there is such an extensive history of violence?  Plus, if everyone is looking out for themselves, who’s looking out for me?  The answer, it seems, is obvious.  Kill or be killed.  It’s about survival.  If someone puts out your eye or knocks out your teeth, then it is your right, not only to get even, to exact revenge.  Violence begets violence… and the cycle continues.

Micah, a prophet during the height of Judah’s power, lives in a world filled with violence.  Micah paints a picture of his contemporaries: “Alas for those who devise wickedness and evil deeds on their beds! When the morning dawns, they perform it, because it is in their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and take them away; they oppress householder and house, people and their inheritance” (Mic. 2:1-2).

The leaders of the community are unfamiliar with justice.  Micah testifies against them saying, “[you] tear the skin off my people, and the flesh off their bones, [you] eat the flesh of my people, flay their skin off them, break their bones in pieces, and chop them up like meat in a kettle, like flesh in a cauldron” (Mic. 3:2-3).  The prophets are also culpable.  Micah says they proclaim “’Peace’ when they have something to eat, but declare war against those who put nothing into their mouths” (Mic. 3:5).

God’s people do not look much different than the Assyrians, who had recently destroyed Israel.  They take advantage of the poor, do violence to one another, and misuse the gifts that God has given to them.  Neighbor mistreats neighbor.  The weak of society are trampled under foot.  The powerful and the affluent hoard and oppress to the detriment of the community.  As such, they misuse God’s name.

Micah, however, imagines an alternative script for the ways in which Judah might faithfully live as God’s people again.  Hear what Micah says, “[God] will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths… They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks.  Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore.  Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the Lord Almighty has spoken.”

Weapons of violence are re-shaped as instruments of cultivation.  Power is re-oriented to the sustaining of life and the protection of the weak, not for the exploitation of the poor and the elimination of our competition.  Power is re-directed from “might makes right” to purposefully seeking the “good of all.”  Micah invites a new world into their midst, not as a pipe dream… as an open invitation to live into God’s future now.  It is a future where power no longer resembles the warrior garbed in battle attire.

Rather, it is a future where they are empowered to live in right relationship with one another, enjoying the fruits of Creation which they help cultivate together, and where fear is but a memory.  No longer is their identity to be found in being a warrior, using power for their own security.  God’s people will be those that till the soil, utilizing their power to add value back into the Creation and into the lives of others.

But, of course, it does seem like a pipe dream.  Israel and Judah both fail to live into this future that God is providing.  Several centuries after Micah, Jesus shows up on the scene.  Things haven’t changed much for Israel.  They live under the pax Romana, peace maintained with the keen edge of a sword.  Power politics rule the day.  Rulers, like Caesar, Pilate, Herod, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, all play by Rome’s rules.  Some placate more than others, but Rome dominates the landscape and the way of life.  It is Rome’s way or the proverbial highway.  Violence is the basis for this so-called “peace.”

Jesus begins preaching, “Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven has come near.”  He offers an imaginative alternative to Caesar and Herod, to the prevailing violence of politics and religion and business-as-usual.  Fortunate are those who are pure in heart, the peace makers, the meek, the merciful, the poor in spirit, those hungering and thirsting for righteousness, and those that are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.  The world claims that power is for the fortunate.  Jesus re-arranges power and what it means to be fortunate!

Jesus challenges the violence that neighbor committed against neighbor.  He even calls for everyone to love their enemies!  But, in a culture and world where imagination is dominated by violence, it is nearly impossible to see God’s light dawning in the midst of such darkness.  The world’s violence against one another turns to violence against the Creator.  Though the Word  became flesh and tabernacles among us, we do not know him and want to put out his light.  And, so, Jesus is crucified.  The world takes up sword and spear against the Creator and slays him upon the cross.

Yet, that was not the end of the story.  By the power of God, Jesus was raised from the dead.  Death is crushed to death.  Light pierces the darkness, scattering it.  Sin and death are defeated foes.  When confronted by the violence of the world, Christ lays down his life… “[He] was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed” (Is. 53:5).

Christ transforms the cross, the world’s instrument of violence, into God’s instrument of peace.  Beating swords into plowshares.  The cross which was the world’s means of violence, became the very means by which God cultivates and prunes the Creation… readying it for the harvest of salvation.  Jesus, like Micah, wasn’t offering a pipe dream… He is calling us to re-imagine the world, to see God’s future that is even now breaking into our present… offering hope in the midst of violence, offering life instead of death.  And, calling for us to live into that future hope.

St. Francis of Assisi penned a well-known prayer that is very appropriate.  May it be our prayer.

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace;

Where there is hatred, let me sow love;

Where there is injury, pardon;

Where there is error, truth;

Where there is doubt, faith;

Where there is despair, hope;

Where there is darkness, light;

And where there is sadness, joy.

O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek

To be consoled as to console;

To be understood as to understand;

To be loved as to love.

For it is in giving that we receive;

It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;

And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

When we gather at the Lord’s Table, we are confronted by our own propensity toward animosity, hatred, and violence.  Yet, it is at this Table that we are offered a new way, God’s way of being in this world.  Jesus breaks bread with his disciples.  He breaks bread with his betrayer.  The Risen Christ stands among us with pierced hands and feet, saying, “As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you.”

The Eucharist reminds us that Death is not the worst thing that can happen to us… precisely because it is a conquered foe.  At this Table, we remember that “on the night that Christ was betrayed, he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, ‘This is my body that is for you.  Do this in remembrance of me.’  In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in my blood.  Do this, as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.’  For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes” (1 Cor. 11:23-26).

Ask an American to tell the story of America and they will begin, perhaps, with the story of the American Revolution where freedom from tyranny was secured. It will progress to the Civil War and the abolition of slavery. Naturally, the story will weave its way through World War I and II, where the tyrannical powers of the world were halted by our military might. Vietnam and Korea. The Cold War, Desert Storm and the Iraqi War will all make their appearance. Our imagination, our identity as a country has been shaped by the marking of our history – a history littered with violence. Some have gone so far as to say that the ethos of our dominant narrative is war.
Our violence has not been limited to national warfare. We endured a dark history of slavery, sexism, and colonialism. We continue to be affronted by unethical financial practices that oppress the poor. Manifest Destiny was thinly veiled genocide hailed as progress. This fails to mention human trafficking, poor waste management, child and spousal abuse, and school violence. If we have only mentioned our human relationships as part of Creation care, what list might we build if we considered violence done to the environment and to the rest of Creation?
The prevailing praxis flowing out of our ethos of violence is necessary to understand. Our conceptions of power are built on the notion that “might makes right,” no less if by majority vote. Power is used to attain what one desires and to maintain what one has acquired. And, if something should be desired or something of mine threatened, then force, violence – even war – are deemed acceptable options to our desired end, no matter who or what might be destroyed. This “will to power” objectifies the Creation, which includes other humans, for manipulation and exploitation for personal gain, pleasure or benefit. Thus, we practice violence.
Micah, a prophet during the height of Israel’s power, lived in a world filled with violence. He imagines an alternative script for the ways in which we might faithfully employ power. Hear what Micah says, “[God] will teach us his ways, so that we may walk in his paths… They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation nor will they train for war anymore. Everyone will sit under their own vine and under their own fig tree, and no one will make them afraid, for the LORD Almighty has spoken.”
Weapons of violence are re-shaped as instruments of cultivation. Power is re-oriented to the sustaining of life and the protection of the weak, not for the exploitation of the poor and the elimination of our competition. Power is re-directed from “might makes right” to purposefully seeking the “good of all.” Micah invites a new world into our midst, not as a pipe dream… as an invitation to live into God’s future now. It is a future where power will no longer resemble the warrior garbed in battle attire. Rather, it is a future where we will live in right relationship with one another, enjoying the fruits of Creation which we have helped cultivate together, and where fear is but a memory. No longer will our identity be found in being a warrior, using power for our own security. We will be those that till the soil, utilizing our power to add value back into the Creation and into the lives of others. May it be so!