Saturday, March 25, 2006

Christian Peacemaking Team's Elephant

Pacifism is an honorable position. However, not all pacifists are honorable. Those who believe that Christ’s teachings preclude any violent response under any circumstance are in good company. I am greatly respectful of my Mennonite brothers and sisters and find their arguments helpful. Unfortunately, many self-proclaimed “peacemakers” are not consistent with their arguments.

Jesus tells Peter that “those who take the sword will perish by the sword” (Matt 26:52), yet the Scriptures also acknowledge that the state does not “bear the sword in vain” (Rom 13:4). To reconcile these two positions, Christian pacifists have traditionally accepted that Christians had little role in “bearing the sword.” Church Fathers argued back and forth whether it was legitimate for Christians to serve in the military. For these pacifists, God would ultimately judge Rome (or Washington, D.C.). Today, such a position would prevent Christians from serving in the military, the police, or the president who serves as Commander-in-chief.

The alternative to Christian pacifism is the “just war” position. Where pacifism is simple, “just war” is messy. One has to make judgments about legitimate power, just cause, and the rules of warfare. Good Christians can vary in the application of these principles. Thus, Roman Catholic hierarchy has been critical of the current Iraqi War and the Southern Baptist Convention has not. Although I am not a pacifist, occasionally I tire of the messiness and long for the simplicity of the pacifist's arguments.

I’ve been following the story of the Christian Peacekeeping Team who was kidnapped in Iraq. CPT believe that the war in Iraq is illegal, and multinational troops are destabilizing the region. They are there in Iraq to protest the war and to “get in the way”. A team was captured by insurgents and one member was killed. Based on a tip, multinational troops rescued the team.

On March 23, CPT released a statement, and I was more surprised at what was not mentioned. They gave thanks to God for the release of their members which is right and good. They even had a wonderful statement about Christ’s demand to love our enemies. However they never mentioned the elephant in the room--the actual troops who rescued them. CPT prefers the term “release” rather than “rescue,” and they blame the presence of troops for the instability which led to the kidnapping. To me, there seems to be some ingratitude, and a willingness to excuse the evil acts of the insurgents. I also sense some self-righteousness. I don’t expect their position on the Iraqi War to change, but I wonder if there has been some serious reflections on the proper use of military force. Is this an example where the state was rightfully “bearing the sword”?

In contrast to CPT's rather dissatisfying response, I found the words of Roman Catholic peace activist, Rose Marie Berger, more humble and more helpful. She continues to believe that the Iraqi War is wrong and agrees with CPT. Still, she mentions the troops. After praising and thanking the troops, She writes,
“It would be easy to pit the peacemaker against the soldier - but it would be wrong to do so. There are soldiers who serve ‘the least of these’ in Iraq. It was an unknown American soldier who decided to drape Tom Fox's casket with a flag to honor his sacrifice. And there are peacemakers who thrive more on their own anger, self-righteousness, and personal purity, than on authentic deeply rooted sacrificial love.”
An acknowledgement of the good and evil in us all. Makes this Calvinist’s heart proud.

UPDATE: CPT finally has thanked the troops.

UPDATE: The CPT hostages have decided not to cooperate with coalition forces for debriefing--information which could lead to the rescue of other hostages.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Essential to the Life of the Church

Here is a letter I just sent to Presbyweb concerning the denomination's "Joining Hearts and Hands Campaign."

Dear Editor,

I must concur with Arthur Kinsler in his recent Presbyweb viewpoint, "Fish, or Cut Bait!" If memory serves me correctly, the "Joining Hearts and Hands Campaign" began in response to budget cuts of missionaries. As missionaries retired, the PCUSA was not planning to replace them. Some good intentioned folks felt that the solution was this $40 million dollar campaign.

Beyond the problem of missed goals and restricted funds, the campaign was misguided in the first place. It suggests that new church development and international mission is something extra--beyond the normal stewardship of our denomination.

Most of our churches do not have campaigns to raise money for the electric bill. Those costs are part of the normal budget of the church. Which is more intrinsic to our identity as the church of Jesus Christ--missions or electricity? For all the good work that will be accomplished with the "Joining Hearts and Hands" money, the campaign suggests that mission is something less than essential to the life of the church.


What Does a Pastor Do?

Someone recently asked me, "What does a pastor do?" Here are some of my thoughts and the beginning of an answer...

First I am a minister of Word and Sacrament. That means that I must speak God's Word when no one else will. I must also baptize those new to the church, break the bread and pour the wine, and pray for my people. God calls me to build up his church.

I visit parishoners in their homes or at work. I make hospital and emergency visits. I study Scripture and theology. I write. I help with a variety of ministries--as a coach, as a resource person, or as an extra pair of hands. I teach, preach, and lead worship. I volunteer in the community. Finally, I attend tons of meetings.

Every week is a little different especially if there is an emergency. A funeral may mean that I will be with the family for long stretches. I may have little time to do anything else.

A pastor friend says that we are professional lovers. (I know that sounds strange.) A pastor loves the Lord and shares that passion with the congregation through sermons and lessons. A pastor is also around for the most of the important events of life--birth, graduation, wedding, crisises, death. All of these occasions are opportunities to share God's love with others. We are called to love our parishoners and walk with them through life being a constant witness to Jesus Christ.

Where others may be unable or unwilling, we must ask, "What is God up to in this situation?"

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Aslan and Atonement

Not only is this blog rarely original, but it is rarely timely as well. For instance, I almost never read the Presbyterian Outlook on-time. I catch major articles highlighted on Presbyweb and then receive the dead-tree version second-hand from a parishioner. (She is so nice to give me her copy when she finishes it.) Nonetheless, I get my copy fairly late. Today, I happened to be reading the December 26, 2005 issue of the Outlook.

Inside was a review of the movie, "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe." Now, C.S. Lewis was a life-changing author for me. I am inclined to like the movie, and despite quibbles, which I won't describe here, I thought it was a decent adaptation of the book. What I found strange was the reviewer's choice of words.

If you don't know the story, there is a witch who has wrecked havoc on a magical place called Narnia. Aslan is a lion, Narnia's protector and savior. When I was young, I didn't catch the Christian imagery. Now that I am older, I see that the whole book is drenched in it. Here's how the movie reviewer described the climatic scene.
What the evil Ice Queen [the witch] doesn't understand is that even if she defeats the lion, she still loses. His sacrificial death serves as such an inspiration to his followers that he remains alive to them (a thinly-veiled Christological reference."

The only veil I see is the one that the reviewer is using to cover up traditional soteriology. In the book (and the movie for that matter), Aslan offers himself as a sacrifice. He is killed, and he comes back to life. His death is more than an "inspiration to his followers." The success of their battle against the forces of evil are dependent on the much alive Aslan.

Some dislike the book and the movie for the overt Christian symbolism. They believe C.S. Lewis had an agenda, but this reviewer reveals his own. I wonder if this obvious misreading of the Aslan's death and resurrection belies attitudes about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Too many times I have heard people (including clergy) suggest that Christ's death was important because it inspired the disciples. His great sacrifice of love was so powerful that the apostles believed that it was like Jesus never died. Jesus was alive in their hearts. You can believe that if you want, but that has not been the position of the Church or the Scriptures. Clearly, Christians have believed that Jesus rose bodily from the grave. The tomb was empty.

Is it possible that the author is interpreting Aslan through his own understanding of Christ?

Wednesday, March 01, 2006

Newsletter: Luck Has Nothing to Do With It

I don’t think I have a drop of Irish blood coursing through my veins. Nonetheless, I will be beaming with pride this St. Patrick’s Day. I won’t be drinking green beer or wearing a “kiss me I’m Irish” button. I won’t be looking for leprechauns or pots of gold at the end of the rainbow. What I will do is offer a little prayer of thanksgiving for Patrick, the evangelist of Ireland. Here was a man of strength and passion, yet also humility. He grew up in a Christian home in England, on the outskirts of the Roman Empire. Patrick’s father was a deacon in the church; his grandfather was an elder. He was baptized in the church, and like some who grow up in the church took his faith for granted. At less than sixteen, he was kidnapped during a pirate raid and taken to Ireland. He was made a slave, and in this crisis, he rediscovered his faith. Patrick writes, “And my soul was restless within me so that in a single day I would say as many as a hundred prayers, and almost as many in the night…”

After six years, Patrick heard a voice in the night directing him to escape. Following the voice, he made his way to the coast and obtained passage on a ship bound back to England. His family welcomed him home, but somehow he remained restless. In England, he dreamed that the Irish were calling him back, not as a slave, but as one who proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ. Patrick trained for the pastorate, and he returned to Ireland. His Latin was never very good. His writing style was never very accomplished. Patrick called himself an “ignoramus.” Despite these shortcomings, thousands came to know Jesus through Patrick’s preaching and teaching. Patrick loved the Lord, loved the Scriptures, and loved the Irish. Through Patrick, God brought about the peaceful conversion of many of the warring tribes of Ireland. In a few generations, Irish warriors with the skulls of their victims hanging from their belts were replaced by Irish monks with copies of the Bible and the Church Fathers hanging from their belts.

Ever since I heard his story, Patrick has been a hero of mine. His love, his compassion, his humility, and his missionary zeal are lessons for all Christians. We don’t have to be Irish to claim Patrick, just Christian.