What Does Grace Look Like if God is For us?


In my last post, I explored some alternatives ways of looking at the reason Jesus died to views that say God is out to get you, out to get a pound of your flesh.  I didn’t mention that another way of saying this is, what if Romans 8 is really true when we are told to imagine that if God is for us, none can be against us?

I thought it might be helpful to take a moment and ask — what does God’s grace look like if we believe God is not, nor ever was, out to get us?  If we trust that God’s first word — as well as God’s middle and last word — is love and inclusion, not rejection and condemnation?

I’d love to hear from you, if you have come to such a place in your spiritual journey, how it has changed your own perspective.  Instead of telling you a direct answer to it myself, I’d like to share a poem with you that reflects my experience & the experience of others I’ve seen be touched by God’s grace.

I hope it blesses you, and is a stepping stone to your own inner healing and peace.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here.

Your progressive redneck preacher,



Recovery Festival

Like trumpets of war I heard rough southern drawl

echoing across the pine wood skin

and a fist hammering the untarnished face

of a podium in a storefront southern church.

“Are you saved brother?” he cries,

“The altar is open. Come on down,

we have room for more”.

I remember hearing that cry

amidst thirty verses of “Just as I Am”

feeling my heart pulled like metal scrap to lodestone

though to me it was already clear

Jesus I knew

and Jesus knew me.


Yet I found myself

feeling damaged

broken asunder

like glass upon pavement

now adrift on rainbowed pool of oil,

beautifully tragic beyond all cleansing,

by that preacher’s siren song.


That was not the day I gazed deep

beneath what others saw,

plunging beneath the waters

salty with tears

and cold with fears

that lay beneath

the splintered mirror

of my soul.


It came far later

amidst momma’s scattered boxes,

crates of jewels and receipts

gathering dust

after her manic shopping sprees

revealing my content, as well as their own–

my memories of hiding

little and alone

from the rising tide

her waves of emotion brought

the feeling of hands covering my ears

from shouts that rose

like the rhythmic shaking

of military bombs on Fort Bragg streets

when daddy lifted cups of “special punch”

to his not quite ever parched lips.


That salty wetness

rising from my own tears

was my baptism

which cold and crisp

against my skin

woke me anew.

In that moment I knew myself,

and began a long journey to wholeness.


His echoing shouts of salvation,

Gospel truth be known,

now taste like ash on my tongue.

His calls causing me to recoil

carrying still with them

the lingering smells of brimstone

hanging like a sulfurous cloud

calling me to my imminent end.


I find instead

beneath the wreckage in my soul

piling high as some abandoned lighthouse

rising just like those paint brushes, glue sticks, and cut fabric

borne of her creative projects dropped mid-stroke

and get rich quick schemes gone wrong.


Beneath an edifice that feels as high as the long-leaf pine,

I find



miraculously alive

a sparkling treasure as yet unseen

more precious than the fabled gold

I am told

pirates left hidden off Carolina coast.

Shining like such

long-lost piles of coins

found resting

upon Ocracoke or Hatteras beach

lit by summer sun on Atlantic waves

I find him,

radiant and shining —

a baby boy

somehow untarnished amidst the pain,

unbroken as when he emerged

aglow with the Spirit’s bright fire,

Her original blessing still upon him

like dew resting on the cool grass

of Appalachian hillside in spring.


That plunge beneath

one fateful April morn

led me to this fated find

the treasure of myself

not shattered beyond all fixing

like he with thunderous voice proclaimed


myself as I was before being broken,

as when Spirit breathed me forth

glistening with the starry hues

of divine essence

my only swaddling clothes

floating into daylight from Her

like some glistening bubble lifted on wind

from sudsy tub.


So, keep your words of salvation, sister.

I’ll go with recovery anyday,

recovering who I am

and have always been

in my Maker’s eye

as I learn

to make true the maxim

that “the eye with which I see Godde

is the eye with which Godde seems me”


Is God Longing For a Pound of Your Flesh?

I had thought earlier I was done with reflections on peace, but came across some resources which tie into a theology of peace-making.  They focus on, of all things, atonement theology.

For those not in the know, atonement theology asks the question Why did Jesus have to die?  I am coming to believe our answer to this question has a direct connection with our response to questions of violence and peace-making.


In the Gospel, we find God appearing as one of us in Jesus. Scriptures such as 2 Corinthians 5 tell us that somehow, God coming as Jesus, this human being who died the horrible death of crucifixion for our sins enables a bridge to be built so that people who have been cut off from or estranged by God can be reconciled to God and at peace with God.

To people who feel cut off from God this can be a very liberating message.

I still remember growing up in a very rule-based religion that pictured God as an angry King out for his pound of flesh if you did not live up to his standards. It was overwhelming for me to discover through friends in a Christian club in high school about a God who loves me, no strings attached. I heard about a God who thought I was so worth love, that God risked all – even suffering and death – to embrace me in God’s arms. I remember the turning point when, while listening to the words of a Christian rock song about the cross, I realized Jesus went through what he went through so I might know I am forever loved, forever embraced, and forever accepted by the Creator of the universe. It changed my life and is why I do what I do every day as a minister.

But one thing later bothered me: I understood that in Jesus God risked death to open wide God’s arms to embrace me in love. But why did we so often talk as if somehow it was necessary for God to forgive me for someone else to die? Why did we talk as if God required anything before God would forgive anyone?  Where did this idea that God was out for a pound of human flesh come from? At times our way of talking about why Jesus died made God seem pretty bi-polar to me. I know something had to be off with how I grew up hearing God’s justice and love working together.

ImageI also found many people who were not Christians saying “look, your God you claim is love is a child abuser. He beats and kills his son to save you. That’s not love. That’s sick”.

I would always answer saying “Well, you don’t understand the Trinity – the Son is God, the Father is God, the Spirit is God … so it ain’t like that”. Which, though true, didn’t answer the question – Why couldn’t God just forgive us without someone dying? Isn’t God “God” after all? Can’t God do anything? Doesn’t this picture of God paint God out to be at best a bully, and at worst a really violent person in a pinch?

After all, when we forgive each other, it doesn’t always have to have strings attached.  And certainly I don’t have to wait til someone suffers or dies in your place before I can forgive you.

The last few years I’ve found a number of Christians also asking this. They point to Jesus’ teachings on non-violence in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5-7 and Jesus’ own example of non-violence, and suggest that this picture of a God out for human flesh, who can only be appeased in somebody dies, and only then forgive us doesn’t square with Jesus’ call for us to be nonviolent in order to perfect like God is perfect. Nor does it fit how Jesus extended forgiveness in his earthly life, which we Christians say is out picture of who God is.

A number of theologians have suggested that a picture of God more in line with Jesus’ example is one where Jesus’ death on the cross is not about violence or bloodthirstiness in the heart of God.  They are calling us to rediscover the many other explanations of atonement which Christians have embraced both long before what I heard in evangelical churches growing up appeared, and which now are being forged long after such explanations first became popular.

I want to suggest a few authors we can turn to in order to begin to explore what a God who is not out for a pound of flesh might look like.

First, let me suggest the writings and talks of C. Baxter Krueger, a southern preacher and theologian.  In addition to writing theology in popular language Krueger also has created a line of fishing lures. (You can bet based on my previous posts on fishing that a theologian who makes home-made fishing lures is a man after my own heart).

Krueger calls Christians to rediscover the foundational ideas that the early Christians, who helped put our Scriptures together into one Bible, embraced. Central to these ideas is the understanding of God as a Triune God of love. In his ministry Perichoresis (see http://www.perichoresis.org/)  Krueger points to how losing sight of the idea of God as including in God’s own nature a community of love has led us to envision God as split between extremes of love and justice (by which we really mean vengeance), imaging an angry hateful God who is our Father and a loving caring God who is God’s Son who rescues us from the Father.  This leads us to miss the point in so many aspects of our Christian lives.

Krueger beautifully explains how realizing that from start to finish God is a community of love, fully shared between the Father, Son, and Spirit and now fully available to us transforms our picture of love both on his website and in his books.  A good starting place in exploring Krueger’s thought is the following blog on why Jesus had to die:


 Another author I would encourage you to look at is James Allison.  James Allison is a theologian who explores the connections between the thought of Rene Girard to modern Christianity. Girard taught that we get our theology wrong by thinking God is the one demanding a pound of flesh. Instead, he says that it is we, human beings, who are trying to demand a pound of flesh from each other from the beginning. And when God comes in our midst, it is not God demanding a sacrifice from us but we demanding a sacrifice from God.  It is not sinners in the hands of an angry God, but a loving God in the hands of angry sinners.

James Allison gives a very thoughtful presentation of what the story of Jesus looks like if we understand that it is we, not God, who are the blood-thirsty ones, in his little article, “Some Thoughts on the Atonement”.

Recently James Allison and Brian McLaren both did a talk on this same theme and its implications to contemporary Christianity available as a pdf here  and as a podcast here .

Allison has put some of this material as a Christian education course at http://forgivingvictim.com/. That resource, Jesus the Forgiving Victim, is on my Christmas wish list (hint, hint) because I think re-discovering how the Gospel dethrones violence of the strong to the weak is an important thing Christianity in our day needs to grapple with.

A final resource I would mention on the discussion of the atonement is Tony Jones’ A Better Atonement.  This book explores the in’s and out’s of various approaches to this question of why Jesus died.

My own personal conviction is that the approach that sees in God this drive for a pound of flesh is not just at the heart of some of the mind-crushing legalism so many believers face, but also at the heart of why so many feel they must embrace the slave-holder Christianity mindset I have spoken of before. To feel right with God they feel they must scapegoat some other group, drive them out, sacrifice their humanity. It also I think is at the heart of how easily here in the Dixie-belt we wed our Christianity with calls to warfare or prejudice. It is also why I think too many Christians too quickly are willing to call for warfare against “culture”, against people with different values, or even against people of other faiths.  Ultimately we become like what we worship, and if we believe God is out for a pound of our flesh, it is easy to let such an image of God influence us to feel it is OK for us to be out for the pound of flesh of others.

Discovering that Jesus is in fact the Prince of Peace I think is so important for us finding the way to join Jesus on the path of peace-making, in a world of violence, bigotry, bullying, and war.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

your progressive redneck preacher,



A poem for the start of fall

Here is a poem I recently wrote.  It is more about the end of summer, than the beginning of fall, but appropriate right now anyway.

You may here echoes of my earlier post on fishing.

I hope this blesses you, inviting you to glimpse the sacred all around you.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

your progressive redneck preacher,



= = = =

Cosmological Constant


“Split a log and I am there;

lift a stone and you will find me”

So, they tell me, you have promised.


But I remember my little hands,

fingers growing blackened and dirty

from splitting rain-softened logs,

in which I found

but damp worlds unexpected

grubs and bugs crawling in tiny colonies

dug deep into ancient wood

which were as busy and full of life

as the exhaust filled asphault streets

which are surrounded not by echoing bird song

or crunch of leaves

but the squeal of tire and honk or horn.


Stones I then lifted

only to feel damp earth beneath

full of red worms

that wriggled wrapping round my fingers

as tight as that red forget-me-not string

I once placed on my pinkie

to remember an upcoming birthday.


I cannot but wonder

had I heard you whisper those words then,

while gathering those night-crawlers, crickets, and grubs

preparing to ride with daddy

to the lake behind Uncle Charles’ old place

in search of bass, catfish, and brim,

might I have thought

that those insect eyes

I found staring back at me

were yours,

the very eyes of God?


I remember too,

while sitting with Cecil

in biology class


that drop of water, pressed into thin slide,

expanding under borrowed lens

into a world

where little galaxies

of amoebas, bacteria, and algae

danced as if across some new-found patch of sky

just like the schools of fish

daddy and I watched when, our chore done,

we sat pole, in hand, waiting for our first bite.


Those moments I would look up

surrounded by the song of owl cries and bobcat calls

mingling with the music of overeager crickets

who were unaware of their fallen brothers

hanging like victims of some forgotten war

upon our fishing hooks

and I would witness

the same dance there,

in pinpoints of light

circling a crescent moon

as bright and radiant as the lights

of Los Angeles were

when they gleamed beneath the lookout point

in the La Crescenta hills

where my wife and I later sat

in soft embrace.

Discovering True Peace

Peace can Only Come with Justice; The Opposite of War is Creation

peaceable kingdomI think our exploration of peace would be incomplete, without taking time to recognize that peace is not just about lack of tension or conflict, but instead the presence of harmony, life, justice.

The Biblical term we translate peace is “shalom” and that word was not just the absence of tension or conflict. Rather, as Delwin Brown suggests in What Does a Progressive Christian Believe?, shalom is “fullness of health throughout the whole web of life … a peace that arises out of the interrelated health of all things”1. This Biblical peace is found not just in an absence of conflict but the reconciliation of all things that are out of harmony (2 Corinthians 5). This cannot occur without justice extending to all, even the most put down and outcast. It is the presence of such justice or fairness in our communities and world, beginning with our own personal relationships. For this to be present the real work of reconciliation has to go on.

tutu no futureA compelling picture of such reconciliation work is the one given by Desmond Tutu in his book No Future Without Forgiveness. In it he demonstrates that this requires truth-telling by all sides of those involved in conflict, a willingness for all sides to own their responsibility for the mess they find their selves in, to work to make amends in practical terms while changing future behaviors, and for both sides to extend mercy toward each other without giving up on the importance of remaining open to forging and continuing a relationship of good will. In his book, Tutu demonstrates how this process worked in the time after the dismantling of the apartheid system that crushed black South Africans under its boot, and he shares how such a process can work in our families and communities today. The presence of relationships restored to fair or just ways of relating, especially in relationship to people who were once oppressed, is a key dimension of Biblical peace. This is why again and again the Biblical prophets join Mary the mother of Jesus in celebrating how those on top in the world, the oppressors, will be brought down while those on the bottom, the oppressed, will be lifted up (see Luke 1:46-55). In her song in Luke, Mary is celebrating that restoration of equal footing between all God’s children which Biblical justice creates. So there is no peace without justice.

Progressive Ministry Training  1 a 8But in the Biblical visions of peace, shalom, there is also talk about life-giving powers blossoming. If you get a chance, look up the prophecies of the peaceable Kingdom in Isaiah. In those prophecies, we see deserts blooming with flowers, women who were barren having bawling babies, children who would have died young rising to ripe old ages, wastelands being turned to cities, and people planting fertile gardens. Such images speak to the fact that Biblical peace is also the presence of life-giving forces in our midst which war and violence against each other, and against creation destroy. When we say something looks like a battle-field, we usually mean it is chaotic, it is a mess, and often it is devoid of signs of life. The presence of Biblical peace means ceasing our war with nature, so we make space for nature to become life-giving again so endangered animals and lands with their beautiful plants thrive again.

It also making room for ourselves and each other to tap into such life-giving powers. That’s why the musical Rent says “the opposite of war isn’t peace, it’s creation”.

When we give ourselves as individuals and each other as a community the room to breathe and to tap into our own innate, God-giving life-giving powers that are woven into our DNA just as sure as a our skin-tones, hair color, and sexuality, we will begin to bring life into our world. Though this is pictured in terms of mothers giving birth it is also pictured in terms of planting gardens, writing and singing new songs, building beautiful cities and homes. This is imagery in Scripture is of creativity flowering. The presence of creativity, health, and life flowering is shalom, Biblical peace in action.

When Jesus, in Mark 1, tells us “the Kingdom of God has come near, repent and believe”, it is exactly this image of God’s peaceable kingdom in prophecies such as Isaiah, Micah, and Hosea that Jesus is talking about. It has come near because Jesus is showing us the path to shalom in his own life and teachings. He is inviting us to change our thinking and patterns of life (which is what metanoia, the Greek word we translate “repent” means) and believe that this peaceable kingdom is a possibility we can work toward.  One might even say that Jesus is challenging us to see this peaceable kingdom as already a reality from God’s perspective,  since Jesus has joined the prophets and seers of all times and places in saying God will make this come to pass.

Instead of a warning that disaster is coming, so you better get right, as many understand the phrase “the Kingdom is near, repent and believe”, Jesus is in fact saying something very similar to Gandhi’s call to “be the change you want to see in the world”.  Jesus is calling us to do our part in making this vision of shalom, of peace, of life-giving harmony and creativity, a reality.

Think for a moment, if you truly believed this kind of peace was possible in your relationships, your families, your towns, your community, your world, what would you do differently? What choices might you make?

How would our Christianity look differently if our preachers really preached this, and our churches really believed it?

source of life moltmann

One suggestion that makes a lot of sense to me is what once NAZI soldier turned Christian minister and peace and justice activist Jurgen Moltmann says, in his book Source of Life

“What does this mean for our understanding of Christian mission? Up to now mission as we know it has meant the spread of Christian … civilization, or values of the Western world. Up to now mission as we know it has meant the spread and propagation of the church … Up to now mission … has been the communication of the personal decision of faith and person experiences of conversion. But is citizenship of the … Christian civilization or… Western values already new life in God’s Spirit? Is membership of the Christian church already salvation in the Holy Spirit? Is the experience of conversion and the decision of faith already rebirth out of God’s eternal Spirit? … We need nothing so much as the mission of life so that we can affirm and love life so much that we protest against death and all the powers that disseminate death… Mission doesn’t mean ‘compelling them to come in’! The mission of life … picks up the thread wherever life exists, wherever life is threatened by violence and death, wherever life withers because the courage for living has been lost … [and] makes this life here different2″.

How can we work toward the reconciliation of all things as believers? How can we work toward justice for all? Toward people making amends for inequity, seeking to restore what has become broken? Toward forgiveness and healing? Toward making room for life to thrive in all of creation? Toward all of us giving ourselves and others room in which to tap into our own powers of creation and life?

To close the blog out I’m going to include a video clip of the song “Did You Feel the Mountains Tremble?” which to me is unique among popular Christian music in affirming the fact that our future need not be fatalistic, but rather as Jesus said the Kingdom of God is at hand if we will embrace it. Let us do so, let us take Christ’s hand and in the Spirit’s power work to be the change we need to see in this world.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here!

Your progressive redneck preacher,


2013-07-10 07.19.16

1 Brown, Delwin. What Does a Progressive Christian Believe? (Seabury Books: New York, 2008), 88.

2Moltmann, Jurgen. The Source of Life: The Holy Spirit and the Theology of Life. (Fortress Press: Kindle Electronic Edition, 1997), loc. 282-316.

Peace in the Middle East…?

This series of blog posts on Christianity’s call to peace with justice, in the world of war and violence, which grew out of the International Day of Prayer for Peace also was sparked by seeing the recent violence in Nairobi, Kenya, where the young lady my wife Katharine and I hosted as an exchange student attends classes.

One aspect I had not struck on was how conflict between religions can contribute to such violence and fear.   Brian Mclaren recently discussed the attacks in Nairobi, Kenya, and what we can learn about him in his blog.  I’m including an excerpt of it below.

What is striking to me is that none of the major world faiths were borne out of the desire to create more violence, fear, and disorder in the world.  They were birthed each in unique times, places, and cultures by women and men striving to find paths of inner peace that flowed into communities that work toward harmony and wholeness.  Though people may disagree on which faith tradition resonates with them, and some of us want to argue over which one is right, ultimately based on the reasons these faiths were borne, we can all be certain that any religion is being misused if it is being turned into a tool of violence and terror.

At the heart of every faith is the call to compassion, to love, to charity, and to service to the other.

We need to find creative ways to transform the ways we apply our faith, and relate to people of other faiths, into ways that build peace, understanding, and compassion not fear, loathing, discrimination, prejudice, and violence.

From my limited study of the world religions, I would say all faiths call us on some level to this.  As one who has met God in the shining eyes of Jesus Christ, and been embraced by the love of the Holy Spirit, I know I can say that there is no excuse for any who claim to follow that Prince of Peace to use their faith to justify prejudice and violence.

Later on I may share on this blog where my own thoughts are on how Christians can change our approach to others faiths to one that is more understanding and compassionate, but until then, I think Mclaren’s piece is a good introduction to such a discussion.

Please feel free to add your own thoughts to his words.And by all means, let’s strive to follow in the foot-steps laid by the Prince of Peace.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

your progressive redneck preacher,


2013-07-10 07.19.16



Muslims, Christians, Jews, and Peace (Part 2)

Taken from http://brianmclaren.net/archives/blog/muslims-christians-jews-and-peac.html

See Part 1 here.

If we want to move beyond the vicious cycles of offense and revenge that dominate the status quo – and result in suffering for Christians in the Middle East, American Christians can come together in six ways:

1. We must join together to condemn human rights violations whenever they occur and upon whomever they are inflicted. We must become vocal advocates for the rights of religious minorities – be they Christians, Muslims, Jews, Sikhs, Hindus, or secularists – from Texas to Timbuktu, from Tennessee to Tehran. There can be no double standards.

Here we must be careful to distinguish hateful extremists from peaceable believers. American Christians would be rightly appalled if Muslims were to quote crazy extremist pastors from Florida and Kansas to characterize all Christians as Quran-burning hate-mongers. Israeli Jews would likewise be appalled to be defined by the infamous “kick out all Arabs or make them our slaves” quote from extremist rabbi Meir Kahane. Hundreds of millions of Muslims are equally mortified when horrific statements about killing “first the Saturday people, then the Sunday people” are used to characterize all Muslims. Hateful extremists must be exposed – but never used to create guilt by association.

2. American Christians must stop supporting foreign policies that purchase American security at the expense of the security of others, including fellow Christians in the Middle East who have already suffered so much. And we must face – and publicly admit – the unintended consequences of past policies, over the last decade, and over longer time spans as well. Instead, we need to articulate a creative, positive, progressive, faith-inspired dream for a better world, undergirded by a coherent, constructive foreign policy.

3. We must seek solutions in Israel/Palestine that are Pro-Israeli, Pro-Palestinian, pro-peace, and pro-justice. That will require us to stand strong for Israel’s right to exist in peace and safety while standing equally strongly against the spread of settlements in Palestinian lands, the ongoing occupation, and other actions that dehumanize and oppress Palestinians. To pray for the peace of Jerusalem will also require us to pray for the peace of Palestine and the whole Middle East – a peace that depends upon justice and reconciliation.

4. We must realize that our continued addiction to dirty energy results in dirty foreign policy. The most profitable industry in the history of humanity has great power, and it has found ways to “externalize costs” upon us all. In response, we must become more aware of the true costs of our current energy policy, and we must become advocates of clean, sustainable energy and clean, sustainable foreign policy as well. There is a relationship between filling our gas tanks and what happens to our Christian brothers – and their neighbors – in the Middle East.

5. We must seek to understand religious violence, which will require us to understand violence in general – others’, and our own too. We need to see the close relationship between hate (for them) and love (for us), and between religious identity and hostility (as I explored in my most recent book).

6. We must build relationships – grass-roots, have-a-neighbor-over-to-dinner relationships, with people of other faiths. We must demand that our national and global religious leaders do the same – not only talk about other religions, but talk with their corresponding leaders – not just to solve problems, but also to build friendships, the kind exemplified, for example, by Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. Through this kind of pre-emptive peacemaking, we must set in motion healing cycles of faith-inspired human-kindness that provide an alternative to vicious cycles of offense/revenge/counter-offense/counter-revenge.

When we do so, along with decrying the hateful actions of extremists, we can celebrate the heroic acts of kindness and solidarity of more “normative” people of faith – like the Egyptian Christians who protected mosques and the Egyptian Muslims who protected churches on many occasions over the last few years.

A colleague who has invested in these kinds of relationships recently sent me two photographs. The first is of an official sign warning Israelis not to venture into Palestinian territory:
The second is of a home-made sign that Israeli women activists placed over the official sign:

These Jewish women have an important message for Christians, a message that echoes the words of a Jewish man who himself lived in deeply conflicted, violent times in which extremists were all-too-ready to shed blood in the name of their God or their nation. We can refuse to be enemies. We can choose healing cycles of hospitality over vicious cycles of hostility. That doesn’t mean being silent denial about wrongs, but it doesn’t mean responding to hostility with hostility either.

It is indeed inexcusable for Christians to remain silent about the horrific violence being done against Christians around the world. But it is also inexcusable to respond to that violence in ways that only intensify fear, hatred, mistrust, misunderstanding, and revenge. We must speak out in ways that seek higher ground, a new way of holding religious identity and seeking religious reconciliation. We will often fail and fall short in our attempts, but I would rather fail in this venture than succeed in the alternatives. I hope you feel the same way.

The hate and evil of the Al Shabaab terrorists can not be overcome with corresponding hate and evil. Nor will it be overcome with silence and passivity. There is only one force that can overcome it. That power appears weak, but it is the strongest power in the moral universe, if we dare to believe it and practice it. It simultaneously calls us to speak the truth about evil, and to overcome it – with abounding good. May every new outbreak of evil inspire us to greater counter-action for good, following the way of Christ.

Working Toward Peace in a World of War

Recently I was reminded of the costs of war. First, as I mentioned recently, seeing terrorist violence break out in the city of Nairobi, near where the young lady my wife Kat and I hosted as an international exchange student goes to school shook me up making the real costs of war come home to me. Someone’s son or daughter always is threatened, and often dies in the face of war.

As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, hearing and watching that news made me think of this White Lion song:

Yet also recently encountered the cost of war on soldiers as well. This side is one I saw first hand while pastoring a church in Fayetteville, NC, a military town that supports Fort Bragg, NC. I had parishioners whose partners and family members came home scarred and damaged by the physical scars of war. More than one person I met returning from our recent wars also bore deep emotional scars.

Earlier this year, my wife Kat and I took our family to listen to a number of soldiers who sang and performed music of all kinds of genre about their experience of war. One who gripped my attention is the rapper “Soldier Hard”. Take a moment and listen to some of his songs:

War also has costs for family, as this song pictures so well –

My friend Chuck Fager, former head of the Quaker House, several times has told me that these dual costs of war – of the innocents and soldiers alike – is a part of why, as a Quaker, he has always stood against all war. That ministry, now led by Lynn and Stephen Newson, has a part of its central work being available to soldiers and veterans in the Fort Bragg area and beyond experiencing the emotional fall-out of war and helping them find options for putting their lives together after experiencing the costs of war.
Although I myself am not the radical pacifist that my Quaker brothers and sisters are, but instead relate more with Deitrich Bonhoeffer who opposed violence in all its forms but who when he saw the atrocities being committed by Hitler and the NAZI regime was willing to take on arms to prevent greater evil and greater violence from happening, I think that their witness is important.

Too often we American Christians forget that Jesus calls us to embrace a life of non-violence and, wherever and whenever possible, to stand against warfare and for peace. In the sermon on the Mount Jesus tells us both “Blessed are the peacemakers,  for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9) and “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’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. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.” (Matthew 5:38-45).

Jesus’ call to us as believers is to strive to be people of peace, who live out the promise of the prophets of waging peace not war, by beating swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks.

Too often we take the opposite tack and in our desire to pray for God and country, end up ending up on the band-wagon of almost endorsing wars and violence in the name of patriotism.

In reality, whether like Gandhi and some of my pacifist friends you don’t believe violence is ever the option even when bombs are falling upon us, or like Bonhoeffer that there is a line in the sand where you have to protect innocents, as Christians we cannot endorse violence as a knee-jerk response or a first resort. If turned to it has to always be a last resort, after every other non-violent means has been exhausted.

True Just War

For those of us who are not pure pacifists like my Quaker brothers and sisters, I think we need to consider what true just war theory teaches.

Here are the traditional tenets of just war:

A just war can only be waged as a last resort. All non-violent options must be exhausted before the use of force can be justified.

  • A war is just only if it is waged by a legitimate authority. Even just causes cannot be served by actions taken by individuals or groups who do not constitute an authority sanctioned by whatever the society and outsiders to the society deem legitimate.
  • A just war can only be fought to redress a wrong suffered. For example, self-defense against an armed attack is always considered to be a just cause (although the justice of the cause is not sufficient–see point #4). Further, a just war can only be fought with “right” intentions: the only permissible objective of a just war is to redress the injury.
  • A war can only be just if it is fought with a reasonable chance of success. Deaths and injury incurred in a hopeless cause are not morally justifiable.
  • The ultimate goal of a just war is to re-establish peace. More specifically, the peace established after the war must be preferable to the peace that would have prevailed if the war had not been fought.
  • The violence used in the war must be proportional to the injury suffered. States are prohibited from using force not necessary to attain the limited objective of addressing the injury suffered.
  • The weapons used in war must discriminate between combatants and non-combatants. Civilians are never permissible targets of war, and every effort must be taken to avoid killing civilians. The deaths of civilians are justified only if they are unavoidable victims of a deliberate attack on a military target.

Look over those various tenets of just war. How many conflicts that our country has been in really fall under these tenets? How many are truly justified?

I personally feel that as a society we are too quick to embrace violence, both in our relationships with each other and with other nations. We are too slow to weigh the cost of wars to our soldiers, to their families, and to the innocents effected by our conflict. We are too slow to seek non-violent solutions.

As someone who is not a pacifist, I think ultimately the question of war needs to be thought of in terms of Neimholler’s classic poem which says,

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

I think whenever non-violence can be chosen, it must be. However ultimately we cannot stand by as individuals or society and let people harm innocents un-opposed. And as with the Holocaust, there are certain tragedies that we may not be able to stop without a police force or military to defend the innocents. However I truly believe many more of the conflicts we face can be dealt with nonviolently than we often realize.

Seeking Just Peace-making

Glen Stassen, in his ground-breaking book Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace, argues that we miss the boat by pitting pacifists and just war Christians against each other. In truth both approaches argue for the need to work to limit violence wherever possible. Stassen suggests “just peace-making” as an approach that can unite believers from both perspectives in putting aside differences to build non-violent alternatives to war.

Here are the ten principles of just peace-making he suggests on the website justpeacemaking.org :


1. Support nonviolent direct action.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:38-42 – Turn the other cheek, give tunic and cloak, go the second mile, give to beggar and borrower; Jesus’ way of transforming initiatives

Nonviolent direct action is spreading widely, ending dictatorship in the Philippines, ending rule by the Shah in Iran, bringing about nonviolent revolutions in Poland, East Germany, and Central Europe, transforming injustice into democratic change in human rights movements in Guatemala, Argentina, and elsewhere in Latin America, in South Africa. Governments and people have the obligation to make room for and to support nonviolent direct action.

2. Take independent initiatives to reduce threat.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:38-42 – Turn the other cheek, give tunic and cloak, go the second mile, give to beggar and borrower; Jesus’ way of transforming initiatives

Independent initiatives have several characteristics in common. They: (1) are independent of the slow process of negotiation; (2) decrease threat perception and distrust but do not leave the initiator weak; (3) are verifiable actions; (4) and carried out at the announced time regardless of the other side’s bluster; (5) have their purpose clearly announced in order to to shift toward de-escalation and to invite reciprocation; and (6) come in a series. Initiatives should continue in order to keep inviting reciprocation.

3. Use cooperative conflict resolution.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:21-26 – Go, make peace with your adversary while there is time.

Cooperative conflict resolution (CCR) incorporates practices like: (1) actively partner in developing solutions, not merely passive cooperation; (2) adversaries, listen to each other and experience each others’ perspectives, including culture, spirituality, story, history, and emotion; (3) seek long-term solutions which help prevent future conflict; and (4) seek justice as a core component for sustainable peace. A key test of governments’ claims to be seeking peace is whether they initiate negotiations or refuse them, and develop imaginative solutions that show they understand their adversary’s perspectives and needs.

Examples: (a) President Carter’s achieving peace in the Camp David accords between Egypt and Israel; and (b) peaceful resolution of conflicts with Haiti and North Korea by former president Carter. Unfortunately, Carter’s resolution of the conflict with North Korea was  cancelled at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration, which rescinded the promised delivery of oil for producing electricity so that North Korea would keep their nuclear generation halted. That administration refused to negotiate with North Korea for six years, contrary to the just peacemaking practice of cooperative conflict resolution, and as we see, the result was North Korea’s producing several nuclear bombs.

4. Acknowledge responsibility for conflict and injustice and seek repentance and forgiveness.

Biblical basis: Matt. 7:1-5 – Do not judge, but take the log out of your own eye.

Until recently, it was widely agreed that nations would not express regret, acknowledge responsibility, or give forgiveness. But finally Germany since World War II, Japan and Korea, Clinton in Africa, the U.S. toward Japanese-Americans during World War II, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission, and other actions (described by Donald Shriver in An Ethic for Enemies and by Walter Wink in When the Powers Fall) are being recognized as a crucial new practice that can heal longstanding bitterness.


5. Advance democracy, human rights, and religious liberty.

Biblical basis: Matt. 6:19-34 – Do not hoard, but seek God’s reign and justice.

Extensive empirical evidence shows that the spreading of democracy and respect for human rights, including religious liberty, is widening the zones of peace. Democracies fought no wars against one another during the entire twentieth century. They had fewer civil wars. And they generally devoted lower shares of their national products to military expenditures, which decreases threats to other countries. Ties of economic interdependence by trade and investment also decrease the incidence of war. Engagement in international organizations like the UN and regional institutions is a clear predictive factor that they will be much less likely to engage in war.

6. Foster just and sustainable economic development.

Biblical basis: Matt. 6:19-34 – Seek God’s reign and justice.

“[P]eace is not only an absence of war, violence, and hostility; it is also a state of reconciliation, human flourishing, and natural beauty” (Just Peacemaking, 2008, 134). Sustainable development occurs where the needs of today are met without threatening the needs of tomorrow – where those who lack adequate material and economic resources gain access, and those who have learn to control resource use and prevent future exhaustion.


7. Work with emerging cooperative forces in the international system.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:43ff. – Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors; be all-inclusive as your Father in heaven is.

Four trends have so altered the conditions and practices of international relations as to make it possible now, where it was not possible before, to form and sustain voluntary associations for peace and other valuable common purposes that are in fact working: (1) the decline in the utility of war; (2) the priority of trade and the economy over war; (3) the strength of international exchanges, communications, transactions, and networks; and (4) the gradual ascendancy of liberal representative democracy and a mixture of welfare-state and laissez-faire market economy. We should act so as to strengthen these trends and the international associations that they make possible.

8. Strengthen the United Nations and international efforts for cooperation and human rights.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:43ff. – Love your enemies, pray for your persecutors; be all-inclusive as your Father in heaven is.

Acting alone, states cannot solve problems of trade, debt, interest rates; of pollution, ozone depletion, acid rain, depletion of fish stocks, global warming; of migrations and refugees seeking asylum; of military security when weapons rapidly penetrate borders. Therefore, collective action is increasingly necessary. U.S. citizens should press their government to pay its UN dues and to act in ways that strengthen the effectiveness of the United Nations, of regional organizations, and of multilateral peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peace building. They resolve conflicts, monitor, nurture, and even enforce truces. They meet human needs for food, hygiene, medicine, education, and economic interaction. Most wars now happen within states, not between states; therefore, collective action needs to include UN-approved humanitarian intervention in cases like the former Yugoslavia, Haiti, Somalia, and Rwanda “when a state’s condition or behavior results in… grave and massive violations of human rights.”

9. Reduce offensive weapons and weapons trade.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5:38ff. – Do not set yourself in revengeful retaliation by evil means, but engage in good means of nonviolent confrontational initiatives

A key factor in the decrease of war between nations is that weapons have become so destructive that war is not worth the price. Reducing offensive weapons and shifting toward defensive force structures strengthens that equation. Banning chemical and biological weapons, and reducing strategic (long-range) nuclear warheads from 3,500 to 1,000 each, are key steps. Arms imports by developing nations in 1995 dropped to one-quarter of their peak in 1988. But the power of money invested by arms manufacturers in politicians’ campaigns is a major obstacle to reductions. The need for movement on this front domestically can be seen in many recent incidents of gun violence.

10. Encourage grassroots peacemaking groups and voluntary associations.

Biblical basis: Matt. 5.1-2, 7:28-29 – Jesus taught the Sermon on the Mount to his disciples; Jesus’ strategy of organizing disciples.

The existence of a growing worldwide people’s movement constitutes one more historical force that makes just peacemaking theory possible. They learn peacemaking practices and press governments to employ these practices; governments should protect such associations in law, and give them accurate information.

I want to close by sharing a link to the classic Lennon song, envisioning the future without war we build to.

Peace is a possibility. Let us beat our swords into plowshares, our guns into gardening tools.

And I’m not just whistling Dixie here,

your progressive redneck preacher,

2013-07-10 07.19.16

Psalms for the Psych Floor

This poem is one I shared earlier, but I feel is a good follow up to my post about domestic violence.

I hope it blesses you!

And I’m not just whistling Dixie.

Your progressive redneck preacher,


micah pic

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Psalms from the Psych Floor


“O come, o come, deliver me,”

cried those under Pharoah’s lash.

Their hearts longed to soar free

with eagle-feathers bright and brash.

Staff raised high, Israel did see,

with mighty ocean crash

the flaming light of liberty

their backs freed from burning lash.


Like waves I hear this cry still roar

echoing in many deserted hall

lined with cots for the homeless poor

abandoned by those called great and tall

whose money moved to distant shores

when profits began to fall.

homeless in jesus arms

“Deliver” echoes still in whispering call

where others lie, victims of a hidden war.

Their broken bodies writhe in withdrawal

from poisons that trap them like iron doors

and wrap their minds in darkling pall.

addiction 1

“Deliver” cries children from other homes

whose minds and bodies lie broken by neglect.

Their hearts bear wounds and scars like broken bones

that will not set but must lay wrecked

uncertain for minds what healing comes.

jesus child abuse

Oh God, who set old Israel free and yet brightens our sky

what light in such shadows can you bring

what freedom shine in their eyes.

“Deliver, Oh deliver,” their stories sing,

and I cannot help but question why

and what shape will we see rise on morning’s wings

in answer to their ceaseless cry.

sunrise freedom