Monthly Archives: May 2017

A letter to a hypocrite

Dear sir,

I hear, again, you’ve been talking about “peace,” that the word closes your letters and that you say it warmly with an exhortative knowing smile whenever your conversations or gatherings conclude. I hear you’ve been taking about “social justice,” and that you wince and lead prayers whenever some new great injustice has been committed in the world, committed by the powerful against some poor, helpless group.  I hear you’re still preaching to your listeners that the proper Christian life is one which promotes “peace” instead of “war” and “social justice” instead of the abuse of power.

I suppose all of these are good.  I can’t argue with them.

But, I have begun to think that peace and justice are, for you, all about presidents and congressmen, nations and civilizations, policies and laws.  I think the only wrongs you see are those done by the great big powerful people and systems—and this is why you encourage us to sign official petitions, write to our congressmen, and march in protests.  You see peace and justice only in terms of power.  Peace must be infused with power if it’s really going to “work.”  We’ve got to be strong if we’re going to defeat the powers in the name of justice.

Nevermind that this is the same rationale the powers use to wage their wars and commit their atrocities.

Yet, with all this talk of peace and justice, you do not talk to the people around you well.  You talk over them.  You interrupt them.  I’ve seen you use them and manipulate them.  You have no patience for them.  They are not sheep in your eyes, but obstinate mules testing your patience by resisting your efforts to build and support the powerful solutions which you think will bring peace and justice to the world.  So, you rail against them and get angry.  You push them out of the way.  I have seen you shout at them, lie to them, and hate them—justifying it as “peace.”

Oh, and others.  I have seen others who occupy positions of authority in “institutions,” who post articles about justice and peace and mercy, who teach lessons and read books about these things.  But, ultimately, their boss decides what is just and unjust, and they go right along.  And I have watched the ones deemed “champions of peace and justice” quietly fade into the background while the boss climbs over people and hurts people and uses them up to seek his ends.  The champions will not speak up; they will not share that cross.  They tell themselves, “See, if I get fired, I won’t be here any longer to do justice.”  So, they sit quietly and approvingly while violence is done to their neighbor.  They put up with and, by defending it, commit injustice—in order to do justice.  They do evil for the sake of good.  “Better that one person should die for everyone than that we all should die.”

It is because, sir, like you, their love for “peace” and “social justice” is about issues, not people.  It is about power and control, not truth.  They, like you, do not understand the words of Micah: that what is required of God’s people is not big acts of power but “to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.”  This, of course, takes one inevitably to the cross: the ultimate injustice.  And you…you have decided you won’t end up there.  No, you put your neighbors on it.  You put your friends on it, your brothers and sisters, church members, coworkers…your children.

All because you still do not believe that Jesus’ peace is one which bears a cross.  You still agree with the powers.  You still don’t know the story.  You don’t know what peace is because you agree with the crucifiers and not the crucified.  You believe in the powers and not the cross.  You have convinced yourself that God’s way of doing peace is not good enough.  If only he had asked you.  You are opposed to God, against him.  And, because of that, you are lost.  I feel sorry for you.

You may still be standing now.  You may rack up your accomplishments and even “succeed.”  But you will never, ever do peace.

God forgive you.


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Flowers for Vangie

It is entirely possible
that in the near future
I find myself holding
my last ten dollars.

And I have already decided
that I will buy
flowers for Vangie.

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I finally said it: “I love Jesus, but today I’m done with his ‘church.’” More precisely, I am no longer interested in the institutions and structures that I have spent the last 46 years of my life calling “the church.” Today I concluded that there is no problem of Christianity in our culture that is not directly tied to the church’s status as an institutional structure. For, as soon as the church is institutionalized, as soon as it is wrapped up in buildings and programs and tax-exempt status, it stops being the alternative community it was at its inception and becomes an organization which functions by the exercise of power, power that is all-too-frequently pursued by manipulative, control-hungry sociopaths with minds full of ambition and willingness to do violence to meet their ends. And this power is inherently at odds with a movement which, at its inception, began with a God who submitted to humanity, a rightful king who submitted to a criminal’s death.

I believe this analysis to be vindicated by history.

I was thinking about the Hebrews passage, “do not forsake the assembling of yourselves together.” These words were not written to manipulate parishioners from skipping the sermon for camping trips and football games. Rather, they were written to Christians who were suffering at the hands of empires and institutions persecuting them for being an alternative community. They were written so that those who were suffering and thinking of returning to their old lives might find the strength to remain faithful by finding peace in that community. That assembly was a necessary support to survive the empire, the institutions.

Ironically, it has been my experience, almost universally, that in the institutionalized church one needs a support structure to survive the assembly. The standard dismissive rebuttal, “no church is perfect,” rings astonishingly hollow when one takes seriously that the call of being a follower of Jesus was intended to set one at odds with the empire and its institutions, the church being the antithesis of the resulting persecution: a respite community. The anti-church, however, is persecutor, not respite.

As an alternative to the empire, to the institutions and power-structures, the church is meant to be the ever-present community of God, a light on a hill in a dark valley, and much needed salt in a world of decay. As an institution, it is just one more violent power-structure, one more status-oriented cultural system, and one more source of pain and hurt in a dark world. It is a citizen of the empire.

And I am done with it. I will turn, instead, to expressions of my faith which are communal and eschew those which are established.

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To read a holy text,
Though with best intent,
Tenacious for anything
Other than a humble pursuit
Of authorial intent,
Be it inherently good:
Equality or justice,
Will do violence
To that text
And will hide its truth.

To do so is
To read it supposing
One’s own superiority of
Enlightenment and ethic,
To ignore its time and place
And judge its people
Against the present,
Against oneself.

I’ve been present
When a passion for “truth”
Made seeing it impossible.
And I have seen
A desire for justice
Foisted on the text
Do such injustice to
Its story and its people
That God’s loving effort
To create a place for the
Marginalized without
Marginalizing the enfranchised:
To create community,
Was dismissed as naïve,
Primitive, powerless misogyny
By the deconstructor.


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