Tag Archives: Violence

Not an Excuse

Read Luke 13:1-9

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Jesus told him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through Me.’” (John 14:6 NLT)

mass-crucifixion-appian-way-2I am sure everyone who has been consistently reading these devotions knows that I am a huge fan of The Walking Dead. For those of us who watch the show faithfully, we know that the opening to Season 7 was a doozy. I am not going to give away any major spoilers; however, I am going to discuss this first episode in a way that I think will lend itself to this devotion. The season kicked off where the previous season left off, with Rick Grimes and the leaders from the Alexandria community grouped together in a circle bound up and on their knees.

In the previous season, the Alexandria community decided to help the Hilltop community in fighting against a common threat: The Saviors. These supposed “Saviors” were anything but. They were some pretty bad dudes who were forcing other communities to either work for them or, if the community refused, killing them in brutally awful ways. So the Alexandria community attacked the Saviors outpost and killed everyone there, only to find out that the outpost the attacked was merely one outpost among many. There were far more Saviors than Alexandria could handle, and the plan ultimately backfired. The Alexandria leaders were eventually captured and grouped together in the circle we see them in at the start of Season 7.

What happened following that can only be described as horrific,  brutal and extremely hard to watch. To sum it up and spare you the emotional trauma that TWD fans had to endure, unless you are already among them, a bloodbath ensues. Negan (pronounced Nee-gan), the leader of The Saviors, plays a twisted game of “eeny meeny miny moe”, where he selects the person who is going to die. When he arrives at the person, he brutally bludgeons him to death with a barb-wire wrapped bat that Negan has nicknamed “Lucille”. Trust me when I say this, it wasn’t pretty. It was graphic, numbing, scarring, and certainly painful to watch. But it was not pretty. What’s more, Negan didn’t stop with the first victim, but ended up choosing a second one to kill in the same fashion.

The point of my bringing this up is because we can very easily imagine such violence existing in our world. As much as we try to pretend it doesn’t exist, we know it does. Honestly, it doesn’t take a zombie apocalypse for that kind of stuff to happen. Yet, while such senseless, brutal violence exists in our world, it is also true that most of us (in Western Civilization anyway) have the choice to be sheltered from it. We can choose to not watch the news, to not open our eyes to the suffering of others around the world, and to live as disconnected from such violence as we choose to be. Yes, I realize that some suffer domestic violence and that not everyone has this choice, but most of us do.

With that said and out there, there are many in our world who think that we can excuse ourselves, as Christians, from following in Jesus’ footsteps. We think that Jesus’ teachings were good for his time because he didn’t live in the age of terrorism. We think that Jesus lived in a golden age that allowed for him to be all “tree-huggy” and “hipster” like. First, Jesus was no tree-hugger nor was he a hippie. Those things come from our world not his. Second, if we truly think that Jesus’ world was less dangerous and less violent than ours, it is time for us to head back to World History 101.

God’s honest truth is that while the actions of Negan shock us because we NEVER see anything like that on a regular basis, Jesus and the people in 1st century Palestine would not have been shocked in the slightest. Growing up, Jesus would vividly remember the forest of crosses, upon which thousands of Galilean men and women were crucified on because of their trying to revolt against King Herod. He drew a reference to, and clearly was aware of, Pontius Pilate slaughtering the mob of people he lured to the public square to “talk” to them about their grievances. It is true, Jesus’ world was not like ours. It was much, much worse.

So, the challenge for us today is to show both a bit of honesty and a lot of humility. Comparing the things we face in our world to that of Jesus’ is NOT AN EXCUSE for us not following the Christ. If we believe in Jesus, then it is clear what we ought to be doing. If we don’t believe, or we don’t think that Jesus’ teachings make sense for us today, then at least be honest and admit that you don’t follow Jesus. This is not meant to push anyone way, but to draw the line so that we can honestly evaluate ourselves. As Christians, everything we do, say and believe ought to be measured by THE ONE who is THE WAY in which we follow. I pray that we all have a heart-to-heart with Jesus during this Lenten journey and choose to follow The Way, The Truth and the Life.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“We must not reduce the bosom of the universal church to a nest protecting our mediocrity.” – Pope Francis I
PRAYER
Lord, help me face the truth and shed the excuses. I am yours. I follow you. Amen.

Vehement Prayer

Read Psalm 137

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Depart from evil, and do good; so you shall abide forever. For the LORD loves justice; he will not forsake his faithful ones. The righteous shall be kept safe forever, but the children of the wicked shall be cut off.” (Psalms 37:27-28 NRSV)

BesideTheRiversOfBabylon_VehementPrayer2This is an incredibly hard text to deal with. I mean, what can be possible said to justify the words that we’ve just read. What can possible be said to defend the horrifying imagery that the psalmist has forever etched into our heads? What can possibly justify the killing of innocent babies and/or children? Why would that even be in the Bible? What constructive good could possibly come for such atrocious and violent rhetoric? What’s more, what can I possibly say about this text that will transform it into something relevant for our lives in today’s time?

First, I always think it is important to understand the historical context of the text before trying to understand the text itself. We are blessed with this Psalm because it actually dates itself, which gives us a really good place to start in understanding what was going on there. The psalmist opens the Psalm in the following way: “By the rivers of Babylon–there we sat down and there we wept when we remembered Zion” (Psalms 137:1 NRSV). So we know where this Psalm takes place, “beside the rivers of Babylon”, which means that the Psalm was written by a Jew within Babylon.

What this ultimately means is that this is a Psalm that comes out of the Exilic Period in Jewish history. This period happened in three waves between 605 BCE and 538 BCE. The Exile of the Jews lasted until the Persian king, Cyrus II, decreed that the Jews could return to their homeland following the Persian takeover of Babylon a year earlier in October of 539 BCE. (NOTE: Before Common Era (BCE) years count backwards.) This means that the Psalm had to be written sometime between 605 and 539 BCE.

The dating of this Psalm is further evidenced by the fact that the psalmist is “remembering Zion, implying that it was laid to waste. What that means is that this psalmist was among those taken captive back to Babylon during the third exilic wave (July or August of 587 BCE), following the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple built by Solomon. Let’s put this into perspective. When Babylon came in and seiged Jerusalem for the third time (due to Judah rebelling against King Nebuchadnezzar), they were made a bloody example of for anyone else who would dare challenge and conspire against the Babylonian Empire who they were previously conquered by and subject to.

So, to be precise, at the time of the Babylonian attack on Judah, there was an estimated population of 75,000 people living in Judah, and Jerusalem was probably much of that population being that it was the main city. Of that population, 20,000 people were deported and brought back to Babylon in exile. That’s over 25% of the population. Now, we all remember what happened on 9/11, just imagine if, on top of the attacks, 25% of all Americans were taken to another country to live.

Just put that into perspective of how horrifying, how awful, and how humiliating that must have been. Twenty-five percent! The remaining 75% were either dead, or were left in Judah to watch their countryside, villages, and the city of Jerusalem smolder, literally. Jerusalem itself, destroyed and depopulated, lay largely in ruins for the next 150 years. Many of their men, women and children were dead, the rest exiled to a foreign land or left to rot in a smoldering land, and they were the utter and absolute laughing stock of an empire.

This psalmist is letting out his or her violent reaction, and getting it out in the open, and that is perfectly okay. Does God condone violence, or dashing infants’ heads on stone? No, I do not believe that God does. Nor does this psalmist even claim that God states that. The violence in this psalm is really a vehement prayer of anguish to God and God does understand the wounded heart of the anguished psalmist and of all people who suffer injustice and pain. God not only understands the oppressed, but stands in solidarity with them, working to bring about justice to those who are suffering under the weight of evil.

It is important for us to know that it is okay if we cry out vehemently to God when we are desperate for justice, for God knows our pain and is working to bring about justice in our situations and in the world. What’s more, we are also challenged to check to see where our own allegiances lie. Are we standing in solidarity with the oppressed, just as God is, or are we among the oppressors who are adding insult to injury? In the end, justice ALWAYS prevails. It did eventually in Babylon, and it will in our world too. Evaluate yourself. Which side are you on?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“Prayer is the tearing open of your rib cage so that your heart can breathe.” – Rob Bell
PRAYER
Lord, hear my own vehement prayers anguish and also lead me to become an answered prayer for those who suffer. Amen.

The Sermon, part 11: Fifth Antithesis

Read Matthew 5:38-42

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Anyone who injures another person must be dealt with according to the injury inflicted—a fracture for a fracture, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth. Whatever anyone does to injure another person must be paid back in kind.” (Leviticus 24:19-20 NLT)

embracingtheevildoer-passionofthechristContext, context, context shall be the prescription of the day. Anyone who reads these devotions knows that I believe context is key in properly undestanding anything. So it is here, in Jesus’ fifth antithesis, which hyerbolizes the Hebrew Scriptures, mixing it with conventional wisdom in order to show the extreme reversal in the Kingdom of God.

To start off, there is absolutely no command in the Torah or anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures for one to hate his/her enemy. With that said, there are plenty of instances where it is said that God hates evildoers and, using conventional wisdom, it would follow that if God hates evil doers then so should God’s children. Right? Well, according to Jesus while God is no fan of evildoing, God also does not believe that fighting evil with evil is the way to go.

In order to make a point of this, Jesus utilizes three examples, of which I hope some context will shed light on. In Jesus’ world, the right hand was the power hand. The left hand was the hand that one used to wipe themselves following doing “their business”, it was the hand that was seen as being the “unclean” hand for the obvious reasons. Thus, in Jesus’ culture, you didn’t shake with your left hand, you didn’t eat with your left hand and, for sure, you didn’t punch with your left hand. Well, you didn’t if you intended to knock someone out.

With that said, if one’s right cheek is being hit, than one must assume that, in this culture, that was a backhanded blow. More of an insult than something that would produce real injury. Jesus’ response is that if one insults you in a stinging way, that you should turn the other cheek and invite injury as well. This isn’t because Jesus loved getting injured or that he wanted to see his followers get injured, but that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildoer rather than retaliates.

The second example is a court case where the court decides that one must give the plaintiff his/her “shirt”, which was really a long nightshirt-like main garment, as settlement for a law suit. Jesus commands his followers to not only give the shirt, but also his/her cloak as well. Of course, If one did that they would be standing in the courtroom COMPLETELY NUDE! This isn’t meant to be taken literally, per se, but shows that God’s call for embracing the “evildoer” goes far beyond the requirements of the law (Exodus 22:25-26).

For the third example, Jesus utilizes was a political reality in his time period. It was legal for Roman soldiers to demand that a person show them the way to where they were going, as well as even carry some of their stuff for a specified distance. In fact, Simon of Cyrene was ordered to carry the cross of Jesus during his belabored march to calvary (Matthew 27:32). Jesus states, once again, that the Kingdom of God embraces the evildower not through retaliation, but by doing for the evildoer even more than what is required by the law.

This may all seem quite a bit confusing; however, it is important to understand that Jesus sees the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven, which is used synonomously) to be the complete antithesis to the Kingdom(s) of this world. To retaliate, to seek vengeance, to be violent is not God’s way but the world’s way. To put it more starkly, retalition/vegneance/violence IS SATAN’S DOMAIN and completely antithetical to the way of God. Yet, it must be said that EVIL is NOT absolute and God’s Kingdom will win against it.

How, you might ask? By embracing those who do evil against you, by loving them and, who knows, by potentially winning them over with God’s love. Even if that is not the end, God is defeating evil because, in those who refuse to participate in evil, LOVE IS CONQUERING. The idea is this, evil can only win in our lives if we choose to participate in it.

The question going forward is this, how seriously do we take Jesus on this? Do we, like Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Pfc. Desmond T. Doss and others, take Jesus seriously or do we have a line that we will NOT cross in follownig him? Will we embrace our enemies and those who do evil toward us, will we show them love in return for their hate, or will we fight evil with evil? This does not mean we should “cast our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6), as we will later see, nor should we go out of our way to be hurt by evildoers; however, if evil is done to you, what will be your response?

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“I couldn’t picture Christ with a rifle killing people.” – Pfc. Desmond T. Doss, U.S. Medal of Honor Winner, Conscientious objector.

PRAYER
Lord, help me to live as Christ taught me to live. Give me the strength to resist evil by embracing and loving the evildoer. Amen.

The Beatitudes, part 4: The Meek

Read Matthew 5:5

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“For the wicked shall be cut off, but those who wait for the LORD shall inherit the land…But the meek shall inherit the land, and delight themselves in abundant prosperity.” (Psalms 37:9, 11 NRSV)

theteacherJust when one thought Jesus’ teaching couldn’t be anymore in left field then they already were, he took it up a notch. “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Most people today, when they read or hear that, have to be puzzled as Jesus’ message here. The meek will inherit the earth? Really…the meek? As in the gentle? As in the mild? As in the nonviolent? They will inherit the earth? Really?

Surely that is not our common experience is it? In an age where meglomania seems to be the key quality to be a world-dominating leader, in a time when groups are beheading and burning people in order to take over land, in a world where violence seems to be the only repsonse to everyone’s problems, it is very hard to picture the meek getting anywhere but six-feet under and long forgotten.

Yet, Jesus gave the multitude surrounding him the beatitude, or blessing, for the meek. Surely, this crowd must have thought Jesus to be completely outside of  his head. While there are many differences between Jesus’ world and ours, there is absolutely zero difference when it comes to the meek and what they inherit. The meek inherit subjugation and, if they’re lucky, death under oppressive and tyrannical rulers.

While it is true that this was the reality for the meek in Jesus’ day, just as it is in ours, Jesus’ audience had a contextual advantage to understanding Jesus’ message in a way that mostly eludes us. Any of Jesus’ Jewish audience would have automatically recognized that Jesus was not making this beatitude up out of thin air, but was turning what was a quote from the thirty-seventh Psalm into a blessing for the meek.

In order to understand what Jesus is saying here, we need to have a better understanding of what is being said in the Psalm 37. Though it is claimed as a Psalm of David, it was more likely written to people who were captive in Babylon, following the Babylonian exile. In verse one, the Psalmist tells his readers to not fret over the wicked. They may have won the battle, but not the war. The Psalmist’s advice to the reader is to trust in the Lord and do good. Those who do will inherit the land. What’s more, “refrain from anger, and forsake wrath. Do not fret—it only leads to evil” (Psalm 37:8 NRSV).

This of course leads us to the extra verses quoted in the “Also in Scripture” section above. Fretting leads to anger, which leads to wrath. Wrath is often violent and evil. The wicked (aka “evildoers”) shall be cut off from the land, but those who wait upon the Lord, those who are meek, will inherit the land. In this context, of course, the land is Judah. The people exiled in Babylon long to go back to it, but the Psalmist says that will only happen through trusting and waiting on God to deliver them.

Jesus, as mentioned above, is specifically quoting this Psalm; however, the “land” he is promising is no longer Judah, itself, but a renewed Earth that will come along with the Kingdom of God. The meek will inherit, in essence, the Kingdom of God. Of course, the word “meek” doesn’t just mean gentle, kind, soft-spoken, and peaceful. The word “meek” also implies humility and/or the knowing of one’s place in respect to God and neighbor. More importantly, “meek” implies a submission to God’s reign. It is through such humble submission that one will inherit the earth.

While the world dictates that violent, brute force is the only way to inherit the Earth; Jesus taught that, in fact, that only secures one’s demise in the end. The only way to inherit the earth is to submit to God’s reign and be transformed by the Kingdom of God within. Once one submits to God’s reign over one’s own life, they have inherited the Kingdom of God within them and will live there lives as embodiments of the Kingdom of God in the world. Eventually that Kingdom of God will triumph over the evil, and the evildoers, and the meek will truly inherit that renewed and heavenly Earth. The question for us all is this: are you meek? Do you submit to God’s rule over your life, or do you submit to the rule and the ways of the world? I pray for God’s guidance for all of us as we begin to truly examine ourselves in spirit and in truth.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
God has two dwellings; one in heaven, and the other in a meek and thankful heart.” – Izaak Walton
PRAYER
Lord, I submit to your reign in my life. In my meekness, I seek your ways and not the worlds. Amen.

Killing Strangers

Read Revelation 13:1-4

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Put the sword back into its place. All those who use the sword will die by the sword.’” (Matthew 26:52 CEB)

Marilyn-Manson

Is it just me or does it seem like the world is spinning completely out of control? The news is daily filled with stories of people killing other people. Growing up, I remember hearing of murders here or there, I remember the shock that would bring to me everytime I heard of someone’s violent demise. It was shocking because it didn’t happen to often, or it was at least less often brought to my attention, so that when I heard of such violent acts I was horrified by it.

Nowadays, I must admit, that I am not shocked to hear of such things at all. If anything, like most in our society, I have grown numb to it. That’s not to say that I am apathetic to the people who suffer. I am an empath, meaning that I can easily put myself in the shoes of others and will often feel the pain others are going through, not to the same level as the suffering, but enough to empathize with them. Yet, overall, I have grown numb (in that I am not shocked) to the constant barraging of violent extremism in this country. It has, sadly, become the norm.

We live in the age of the sword. People no longer can look at the other, despite the differences they have, and see common humanity in them. Rather, they see the other as being the enemy. They embrace the spirit of Satan, which is the spirit of divisiveness and enmity. They avoid, at all costs, the long, hard road of open, honest, and painful communication. They avoid seeking to understand the other, as well as seeking the other to understand them, and they resort to pointing the finger, scapegoating, warring with others, and taking lives. From our politicians modeling this kind of enmity in their campaigns to common protestors who are outraged over injustice, violence is becoming the modus operandi for getting oneself or one’s group heard.

It is understandable how people can resort to violence. When groups of people suffer seemingly endless injustice, while others are treated with respect and dignity, that is angering. When groups of people who are being discriminated against feel like the majority of people are not hearing them out or understanding their woes, that adds fuel to the already stoked fire. Even more, when the majority of people want to keep things exactly as they are because it suits them at the great cost of others, and they discount or deny the experiences of discrimination that others are going through, that can be a rallying cry for those who are fed up with being silenced in their suffering.

Yet, violence almost never helps anyone’s cause, but often begets more violence. We saw that in the shootings of Minnesota, Louisiana and Texas. The shootings of two black males by police officers, resulted in someone angrily taking justice into their own hands by shooting unwary police officers who were just trying to ensure the safety of protestors in Dallas, and they were officers who had nothing to do with the previous shootings. We also see this at the often chaotic and sometimes violent rallies of our presidential candidates. People in both of these instances, and beyond are fed up with NOT being heard and are, unfortunately, venting their frustrations violently. As one candidate’s followers get violent toward the other’s, the other candidate’s followers retaliate.

This reminds me of two Marilyn Manson songs. In his song, “Killing Strangers,” Manson writes that “we’re killing strangers so we don’t kill the ones that we love.” This is a profound truth, in that out of frustration we resort to killing the other, the stranger, in order to “protect” those we love and care about. The problem is that those “strangers” often did nothing, and would do nothing, to deserve being killed.

In his song, “Antichrist Superstar,” Manson writes, “Cut the head off, grows back hard. I am the hydra, now you’ll see your star.” This, of course, is imagery taken straight from the book of Revelation. While Manson is writing about how the church created the “evil” they perceive him, and others, to be, I believe that these lyrics apply here as well. We use the sword (proverbial or literal) to cut down our perceived enemies, only to see those enemies rise back up to strike us back.

The question for us is this, when does the violence stop? Surely, there is truth in Jesus’ warning that “those who live by the sword will surely die by it.” I am not saying that all violence is uncalled for, but when we are reactive in violent and destructive ways as a result of our fear and anger, that almost always leads down the path of destruction. We may be killing strangers to begin with, but we are killing pieces of our own souls in the process, and reaping the harvest of our seeds of fear and anger. Let us, as Jesus taught, lay down our swords and seek the better, more righteous way of responding to injustice.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
“My religion is based on truth and non-violence. Truth is my God. Non-violence is the means of realizing Him.” – Mahatma Gandhi

PRAYER
Lord, help me to find constructive and nonviolent ways of harnessing my righteous anger, for the elimination of injustice and the transformation of this world. Amen.

Wrath of God, part 1

Read 1 Kings 21:1-29

ALSO IN SCRIPTURE
God is a righteous judge, and a God who has indignation every day. (Psalms 7:11 NRSV)

lightning-storm-at-sea-wallpaper-2Anger. It is a natural response to things that not only “upset” us, but things that shake us to our very core. We as humans get angry at a lot of different things for a whole host of different reasons. We get angry when we experience injustice, when we lose loved ones, when we aren’t validated, when we feel out of control, when we feel threatened, and when we are stuck in a world of uncertainty.

I am not referring to petty anger, I am not referring to someone getting “mad” because they didn’t get their way, or because they missed their favorite show, or because their best friends suddenly became super annoying. I am not referring to any sort of petty, temper-tantrum, stubborn anger that wells up out of self-absorption.

Rather, I am referring to the deep, gutteral, extremely emotional, often times physical reaction our souls, minds, and bodies have to the evil in the world that surrounds. This week we do not have to look far or wide to get a sense of what I am talking about. The mass shooting that took place in an LGTBQ nightclub in Orlando, Fl and claimed the lives of 50 people is such an example.

When I first heard of the shooting in the early morning of Saturday, June 12th, I was at first deeply saddened and, if I am honest, a bit numb. How many times are we going to have wake up to hear that more people have been shot, stabbed, and/or maimed? How many times are we going to see images of bloodied, frantic, and devastated people in our streets? While there has always been violence in the world, and in United States, this is not the country or world I remember growing up in.

Of course, others in our country have a far different and more painful memory of the past than I do. Plenty of people in our country have experienced violence and discrimination against themselves because of their race, their gender, their sexual orientation, their age, and their ability. The more I thought about the mass shooting, those suffering as a result of it, and those suffering throughout our country and world because of senseless violence and hatred, the more angry I became.

I am angry that people perpetuate the evil of hatred, of bigotry, and of violence. I am angry that our politicians keep perpetuating an evil divisiveness in their rhetoric toward one another. I am angry that we, as human beings, fail to see the humanity, and the divine image, in one another. I am, pardon the phrase, pissed off that my children have to live in perpetual anxiety of the world around them…that their innocence is gone forever. I am angry.

Most people can accept that I am angry. People get angry, right? That is normal and natural, and the anger above is called for. But what about when we talk about God getting angry. That begins to make us uncomfortable doesn’t it? I recognize there is a flipside to this, but for now I will stick with this side of the topic. For those of us who are in the mainline tradition of Christianity, we get very uncomfortable talking about God’s anger and/or the wrath of God.

Perhaps it is because we have seen evil wrought in the name of God. Perhaps it is because we have heard egregious theology from the mouths of Christians that explain natural disasters, diseases and terrorist attacks to be the wrath of God on a “Godless nation.” Whatever the case may be, we find it challenging to except a God of anger, judgment and wrath.

Today, I beg you to pause and reflect on this. What is the alternative? At what cost do we avoid paying attention to the anger and the wrath of God? Would we prefer an apathetic and aloof God that is disconnected from the painful and horrible realities of evil in the world. The fact that we have a God who DOES get angry, who DOES seek to weed out injustice (aka wrath), means that we have a God who is passionately in love with us, who is actively grieving with those who are in grief, who is actively hurting with those who are hurt, and who is actively seeking to put an end to ALL evil, sin and suffering! Instead of ignoring God’s anger and wrath, let’s deal with it and try to gain a responsible understanding of it.

THOUGHT OF THE DAY
There’s nothing wrong with anger provided you use it constructively.
PRAYER
Lord, teach me to trust that, even in your anger, you ARE LOVE! Amen.