I am a walking story–
A collection of memories and
Reflections on experience
Stored loosely in neurons and
Running through neural pathways:
A worldview at once shaped,
Shaping, and being shaped.
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I am a walking story–
I finally figured something out that’s been bugging me for years…
A week ago I said something stupid to one of my closest friends. It was hurtful and thoughtless. We both thought about it for a couple of days and then sat down and worked it out. I owned my responsibility for what I said and asked for his forgiveness. And he gave it. I confessed what I had done, said I would be more careful in the future, and we moved on. We resolved the offense. There is peace between us again.
Identifying as a Christian and understanding that identification as a commitment to peacemaking means confronting the evils that we do to each other and working to resolve them. “Forgiveness” is not “pretending” that someone didn’t do something hurtful when they did. In fact, it requires acknowledging it in order to release them from the burden of repayment. The peace of Christ requires us to recognize the evils and seek restorative justice. Restorative justice isn’t justice at all unless there is an effort to recognize what is wrong and seek to make it right.
The hardest part about identifying as a Christian and trying to have relationships with others who do, as well, is that most people who also identify as Christian simply don’t understand this. In fact, I’d say most don’t realize that their Christianity isn’t supposed to look like the power structures of the world. This is the reason that it hurts so much to have Christian friends who show honor to people who have treated me or someone I love like complete crap.
They’re convinced that we’re “unforgiving” because we think that making peace means making real peace and not ignoring the fact that people do evil and claim to do it in God’s name. Ignoring it or pretending it’s not evil isn’t peace: it’s enabling abuse.
Several weeks ago a friend of mine made a FB comment about someone who had done just such crap-treatment to me. He said, “So-and-so is just a great guy, reasonable and good-hearted. I think highly of him.” (I’m paraphrasing some.) My experience with him had been very different. So, I commented, “I don’t.” My comment was instantly deleted by the owner of the convo, as he had every right to do. But he never asked me why I said it or felt that way. It was clear that the only reason I might say something like that is that I’m a jerk, or unforgiving. I’ve been called that a lot.
I can tell you, it is excruciatingly painful to watch people continue on in relationships with people who crucified you or someone you loved as if it never happened. Watching people who love us go on with the people who treated my wife like something they stepped in as if nothing ever happened hurts in a way I simply can’t express.
I think it’s also one reason we’ve had such a hard time imagining a church to go to.
I’ve been called “harsh” a lot. I’m “too confrontational.” I need to have fewer “expectations” that people will do what is right. I need to pretend they aren’t hurting people so that they can go on hurting people as comfortably as possible.
I’ve been told that I just can’t handle being “disagreed with” (a comment I’ve heard a thousand times and will adamantly deny it until I die). I’ve been told that I’m “looking for the perfect church” because I’m “judgmental.” I’m not. I’m looking for the church. I have only found snippets of it so far.
I, too, have wondered
Why I’ve spent so many words,
So much effort,
Describing the injustices
I’ve seen done
By people of power
In places called “Christian.”
Believe it or not,
It’s not bitterness,
I just keep thinking
Maybe someone will care.
Soldiers have sacrificed for my religious “freedom,” therefore I am required by the masses to worship a flag regardless of my convictions. To not do so is frequently called “sacrilege.”
The “American Dream” is a gift given to the most faithful. Some black men (who, because of their status, have more to atone for than we white people) have achieved playing football, therefore expressing the injustices others experience means they are ungrateful to be allowed their high social status…it is to turn the nose up at the gift.
Police “lay their lives on the line” to protect us, therefore they ought to be able to kill us with impunity—and we must be grateful to them. I sometimes wonder if I should be happy if a firefighter decided to burn my house down with my family in it. He does, after all, make great sacrifices to protect me from fires.
The cult of “freedom” is the American version of the Emperor cult of the Caesars of ancient Rome. Its salvation (freedom) requires me to revere its totems (flags), genuflect for its songs (anthems), tithe to its temples (establishments), worship its messiahs (providers of freedom), venerate its martyrs, fund its priests (politicians), honor its patriarchs (forefathers), and exegete its scriptures (constitution). It has all the ceremonies, rites, rituals, traditions, orthodoxies, and heresies of any religion—and like many theocracies, it wars with others to maintain its position. Every war is somehow, inexplicably, a battle for my freedom. Any foreigner (non-citizen) is a faithless pagan and somehow, less. To become a proselyte, one must pay an awful price. And just like in the Emperor cult of Rome, you can have any other “religion” you want, as long as you make sure it plays second fiddle to the Empire—because don’t forget that the Empire makes your religion possible. Your god must always honor the Empire cult.
And for the blind, following masses, to question the civil religion, to refuse to worship its flag by pointing out injustice is to question this salvation, to blaspheme its messiahs, its totems, and its anthems.
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.
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,
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
Marginalizing the enfranchised:
To create community,
Was dismissed as naïve,
Primitive, powerless misogyny
By the deconstructor.
if you only knew
the hurts behind the faces,
the disappointing chases,
their solitary spaces….