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Archive for January, 2011

There is division and dissension in churches across the United States.   While not every conflict ends up in court, there is no shortage of hurt feelings, estranged former members, churches divided along factional lines, coup d’etat, and breakaway factions.   (In fact, ask any person who has “left” Christianity for some other religion or to become atheist, and most of them will be able to point to a specific conflict or offensive incident in their past which alienated them from the church.)

The key issue in every dispute is not whether conflict will happen, but how we will respond to it when it does happen.

Good_Samaritan_(Watts)

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.”John 15:12

Will we respond in love?

And, what does it mean, this commandment to  “love” one another?

pieta

As to what it means to “love one another,” consider first, Christ’s love for us.

Though a love that lays down its life for others is counterintuitive to human nature,  that expression of God’s love for us is the first model for how we are to love one another.

In the example set out by Christ, we observe how we are to treat others.   The Lamb of God has loved each of us sacrificially, paving the way for reconciliation between God and mankind.  We, in our personal relationships, are commanded to do likewise.

In Matthew 5:23-24, we are admonished not to approach the altar of God until we have become reconciled to our fellow humans:

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.  Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.

And Jesus taught us to pray: "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors."

These are not empty words, “as we forgive our debtors.”    Our extension of forgiveness – of compassion–  to others is a condition to being forgiven.   This fundamental attitude toward our fellow human – an attitude of love — does not allow for ostracization, for "other" ness, for building walls and fences.

When we fail to forgive, we risk being like the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:21 – 35.  This servant, after being forgiven a large debt, displayed a lack of compassion toward another who was indebted to him for a lesser amount.  In this parable, when the Master found out about the lack of compassion shown by the servant who had been forgiven so much, he had him thrown into prison and tortured until he repaid back every bit of his original debt.

Truly, the consequences that flow from our own hardness of heart toward those with whom we differ are the consequences we really need to fear.   For, how can we approach the throne of God to ask for forgiveness for our sin, when we fail to extend even a smaller measure of grace to those who have sinned against us?

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The phrase, “deliver us from evil” may, perhaps, conjure up images of an active God plucking a passive self from circumstances of evil.  Is it possible, however, that this “delivery” might, at times,  require us to act on our own behalf? 

This question brings to mind the famous quote, “God helps those who helps themselves.”  This quote, however,  is  not a Biblical quote at all.   Though it appeared in Benjamin Franklin’s text Poor Richard’s Almanac in 1757,  it has been traced further back than that, to Algernon Sydney, writing in 1698.  

In contrast to this, Jesus in Matthew 5:39-40 seems to imply that we should not resist evil, when he says, “But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well.”

These are caricature positions, but they raise the issue, is there any way for  a Christian to take an active stand against evil?  If so, by what means?

The way of nonviolence can give an answer.  In his book, Stride Toward Freedom: The Montgomery Story, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King charts a courageous, middle course that requires our active engagement, as follows:

"First, it must be emphasized that nonviolent resistance is not a method for cowards; it does resist.  . . . [W]hile the nonviolent resister is passive in the sense that he is not physically aggressive toward his opponent, his mind and emotions are always active, constantly seeking to persuade his opponent that he is wrong. The method is passive physically, but strongly active spiritually. It is not passive nonresistance to evil, it is  active nonviolent resistance   to evil [emphasis supplied].

MLK in study

(photo by Flip Schulke courtesy Time magazine)

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A LITANY ON THE TRAGEDY OF GUN VIOLENCE*
(Written for the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day 2010)

We celebrate and give thanks for the life and witness of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Who proclaimed a vision of all people living together, And bore witness to the power of nonviolence,

We gather, to remember his words, his commitment, his life and to rededicate ourselves to addressing the evil of gun violence

which claimed his life

and which continues to plague our country and the world.

Some 30,000 Americans die by guns each year in the United States.

And we grieve.

An average of eighty people is killed by guns every day, including eight children.

And our hearts break.

Guns kill some 1,000 people each day in the developing world.

And we mourn.

An American child is twelve times more likely to die by a gun than are the children who live in all twenty-five industrialized nations combined.

And we weep.

The annual economic cost of gun violence in America is estimated to at least $100 billion. Medical costs, decimated families, the court system, our jails and prisons, and security measures in airports, schools, and public buildings all contribute to this sum.

And sorrow sweeps over us.

Since John F. Kennedy was assassinated in 1963, more Americans have died by gun fire within our own country than American servicemen and women who were killed in all our wars of the 20th century.

And we pray.

Faced with gun violence,

We grieve for those are killed and those whose lives are forever changed; We seek to comfort for those who have lost loved ones; We pray for a change of heart for those who resort to violence.

Faced with gun violence, may we

Educate;

Organize;

Advocate;

And in all the ways we can, work for that day when Guns and weapons of destruction Are transformed into instruments of healing.

May it be so.

 May we so do.

Written by the Rev. W. Mark Koenig,

Coordinator, Presbyterian Peacemaking Program
Presbyterian Peacemaking Program  Compassion, Peace and Justice  General Assembly Mission Council
Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)  Louisville, KY
www.pcusa.org/peacemaking

*The original document may be found HERE

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The stats helper monkeys at WordPress.com mulled over how this blog did in 2010, and here’s a high level summary of its overall blog health:

Healthy blog!

The Blog-Health-o-Meter™ reads This blog is doing awesome!.

Crunchy numbers

Featured image

The Leaning Tower of Pisa has 296 steps to reach the top. This blog was viewed about 1,100 times in 2010. If those were steps, it would have climbed the Leaning Tower of Pisa 4 times

In 2010, there were 32 new posts, growing the total archive of this blog to 45 posts. There were 49 pictures uploaded, taking up a total of 2mb. That’s about 4 pictures per month.

The busiest day of the year was October 1st with 57 views. The most popular post that day was Who We Are.

Where did they come from?

The top referring sites in 2010 were facebook.com, twitter.com, cordless-homephone.info, feeds.feedburner.com, and tripeace.org.

Some visitors came searching, mostly for forest acres green festival, mental health, “race reconciliation” + sc, ingrid reneau, and the reverend w. mark koenig united nations.

Attractions in 2010

These are the posts and pages that got the most views in 2010.

1

Who We Are October 2009
1 comment

2

Pray for Trinity Presbytery’s peace workers at the RECONCILE Peace Institute in South Sudan October 2009

3

What Is Peacemaking October 2009
1 comment

4

Forest Acres Green Festival September 2010
1 comment

5

Loving Our Neighbors: A Christian Response to Muslims August 2010
1 comment

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