Book: "Mission-Shaped Church" by the Archbishop's Council on Mission and Public Affairs
For our question at hand, this book gets a 1 out of 4 stars. It does not get at the formation practices that are necessary either to equip people to begin or to sustain people in the doing of missional living.
It is, however, I think are critically important document for churches in the West. It represents the very thoughtful and honest work of the Church of England to deal with the simultaneous and interrelated challenges of rapid decline in membership and rapid change in culture. It is refreshing to see the sober awareness of the world in which they now find themselves. There is no self-congratulatory remarks about past success. There is no bemoaning of forces working against the Christian origins of their nation. There is no presumptuous sense of knowledge about the strategies that will fix the crises. There is no alarmist or reactionary claims that everything from the past is irrelevant and outdated and to be done away with.
In short, it was refreshingly sober.
I would suggest before reading the whole book, which can be technical and dry at times, to read this article first. If you are sufficiently inspired, go for the whole book.
The main critique I would have would be the same one that Alan J. Roxburgh had about his own work within the missional movement - it is too much about the church. As soon as we attach “church” as the object of the qualifying word “missional,” then we get off course. That is why Roxburgh wrote Missional: Joining God in the Neighborhood to correct his own book Missional Church.
I am aware the the document that became the book in question was birthed by a church council to address to future of their churches in England. Even with this context, though, there has to be great caution in addressing our present realities with the church-as-institution as the unquestionable filter for the dialogue and strategies. The language of “fresh expressions” in the work has the potential to take us to that place, but does not get drawn out too far in that direction in this text.
One of the descriptors I am working with to define Johannine spirituality is one of “dispossession.” More on that to come. For now, though, here is a representative statement of that kind of spirituality It is from missiologist Leslie Newbigin who is commenting on John 15:18-27.
"The promise to the community of disciples is NOT that they will have the Spirit at their disposal to help them in their work of proclamation. That misunderstanding has profoundly distorted the missionary action of the Church and provided the occasion for a kind of missionary triumphalism of which we are right to be ashamed. The Spirit is not the Church;s auxiliary. The promise made [in John 15:18-27] is NOT to the Church, which is powerful and ‘successful’ in a worldly sense. It is made to the Church which shares the tribulation and the humiliation of Jesus, the tribulation which arises from faithfulness to the truth in a world which is dominated by the lie. The promise is that, exactly in this tribulation and humiliation, the might Spirit of God will bear his own witness to the crucified Jesus as Lord and Giver of life."
“Heretics reject paradox in favor of false clarity and precision. True faith can only grow and mature if it includes paradox and creative doubt. Faith in God does not, contrary to religious assumptions, bring the false peace of answered questions and resolved ambiguities. Faith, in reality, is about living into a process of ‘unceasing interrogation’ of oneself, God, the world, Scripture, etc. God enters our lives with disturbing questions. And, without the presence of creative doubt, the religion we build in His name becomes hard and cruel, degenerating into the confident convictions that breed intolerance, insular institutions, and unassailable traditions. Unless we protect doubt, the power and inspiration of religious language is lost. The repression of doubt has brought about serious harm to the spiritual life. If we have an orthodox faith in GOD and not a heretical faith in the systems we have constructed to define, worship, proclaim, etc. GOD, then doubt IS faith.”—Shawn Duncan’s adaptation of Robert Mulholland Jr.’s quotation of Kenneth Leech’s commentary on Irenaeus’ view of orthodox Christianity.
A great statement about how what appears to be betrayal is really obedience.
"Change is only betrayal if we forget that the CENTER of tradition, the heart of what we hand on as saving faith, is the possibility of new beginnings and the truth that our errors of interpretation are not the last word in a community which exists because of a belief in the indestructability of God’s commitment."
It takes a lot of courage and humility to live like that. For the sake of the world, church, lets get on with the sacred work of betraying the harmful barriers created by the edges of our traditions to obey the center of our Tradition.
”—"Doing the Works of God," in A Ray of Darkness by Rowan Williams
Without question one of the most special holy days for me is the Church’s observance of Ash Wednesday. Every year I go to a 7:30am service at an Episcopal Church. Every year the same Scriptures are read, the same prayers prayed, etc. We kneel at the same time, are silent at the same, receive the ashes at the same time, etc. The only thing that changes is the content of the brief message offered by the priest.
And I love it. The repetition, the tradition welcome me in to the season of Lent. If it were altered every year, I am not sure my body could be ushered into this time of reflection and repentance so gently nor so palatably. Changing it would be like undoing and redoing one’s whole set of Christmas traditions every year. Without that certain ornament, song, meal, etc., we would say, “It just isn’t Christmas.”
For the next few weeks, I plan to betray myself on this blog. Using the prayers for the Ash Wednesday service from the Book of Common Prayer as a staring point, I will be offering my own self-betraying confession and meditations on this solemn season of denial and repentance.
The part of the tradition that stuns and stills my soul every year is the reading from the prophet Joel, which begins like this:
"Blow the trumpet in Zion; sound the alarm on my holy mountain! Let all the inhabitants of the land tremble for the day of the Lord is coming, it is near…"
The prophet goes on to describe the reason for this trumpet blast. It is to call a “solemn assembly” and to “sanctify a fast.” The prophet is calling the whole nation to a grand, holy worship event. The theme is repentance. Hearts are to be torn before God. And this sacred gathering is so urgent that mothers are to stop nursing and grooms are to leave weddings. Nothing else matters but this time of confession.
In an age when every church has a praise team or a praise band or a praise & worship hour… where are the lament teams, the confession bands, the repentance hours?
I am writing to say that the trumpet has been blown in my own life. I need to betray my own security and pride. There are many schemes afoot about my future, my plans, my needs, my goals, my projects, etc. If I am to keep company with Joel, however, I must make this season of renewal priority one.
For that to happen, though, I must pray a prayer that appears in the BCP for this event: “Grant us true repentance.” You see, repentance is not something I can come to on my own that, once achieved, merits a response from God. Even the act of repentance is a gift of grace, an initiative of God. Only God can bring me to a place of true confession.
May I understand that no other sacrifice will be pleasing to God in this time other than a contrite heart.
May the trumpet be blown in my life that I may come to His holy mountain for a sacred fast.
This is from a little treatise called, “The Challenge of the Present Crisis” by Harry E. Fosdick. Written in response to the first world war. Even more relevant after a second world war, the rapid increase of nuclear weapons, the growth of technology that makes taking lives easier and more remote, and as we are still in the longest war in US history.
"If religion has such a part to play in the program of internationalism, we, as Christians, are challenged to a searching examination of our faith and works, and to a fresh devotion to our cause. One of the wisest and most picturesque explanations of the present crisis is attributed to Bergson, the Frech philosopher. He says, in effect, that the chief work of science has been to enlarge man’s body. Telescopes and microscopes have increased the power of our eyes; telephones have stretched our hearing to some three thousand miles; telegraphs have made our voices sound around the earth; locomotives and steamship lines, better than the seven-league boots of ancient fable, have multiplied the speed and power of our feet; and French big guns have elongated the blows of our fists from two feet to twenty-five miles. Man never had such a body since the world began. The age of giants was nothing compared with this. But man’s soul - there the failure lies. We have not grown spirits great enough to handle our greatened bodies. The splendid new power which science furnishes are still in the hands of the old sins - greed, selfish ambition, cruelty. We must have a new access of moral vision and power or we are utteerly undone.
"As a thoughtful Christian stands before the challenge he must repent, for himself and for the churches, the lamentable inadequacy of our organized religion to meet the crucial need. This war will fail one of its most beneficent results if it does not drive the sense of shame into Christian churches with a poignancy that no excuses can palliate. In the presence of abysmal need, we stand tithing "mint, dill, and cumin, and neglecting the weightier matters of the law: justice, mercy, and faithfulness." We are challenged by this war to a renovation of our popular Christianity, to a deep and unrelenting detestation of the little bigotries, the needless divisions, the petty obscurantisms that so deeply curse our churches, to a new experience and a more intelligent expression of vital fellowship with God. Unless we can answer that challenge, there is small use in our trying to answer any other. We must have a great religion to meet a great need.
"The saddest aspect of Christian history is the misrepresentation of Christ and the spoiling of his influence, not by irreligious men but by the official exponents of religion. The belittling of religion by it devotees is the most tragic narrative of Christendom."
You may be familiar with the prayer from Mark 9, “I believe. Help my unbelief.” The man was expressing his desire to overcome his lack of faith for a fuller and deeper conviction in Jesus. The prayer that follows this post is formed with those exact words and even with the same desired end, but with a significantly different meaning and means. The prayer I want us to pray makes the first sentence, rather than the second, the place of confession. And the second sentence, therefore, becomes one asking for increase rather than decrease. The first statement, not the second, is the place where transformation is needed. The second statement is what is to be honored, not regretted. I want us to pray for a diminished sense of belief and conviction and an increased amount of doubt and questioning. And I want us to do this for the same reason the man in Mark 9 prayed - to draw us nearer to Jesus… not our inherited, accepted, limited portrait of him.
Enough of that. Let me get on with it. A few quotes will be helpful:
John Keats, 19th century English poet, once wrote, “There is a need in contemporary spirituality to find ways of praying and engaging with God, ourselves, and one another that have room for simultaneous contradictions, the experience of opposite emotions. We need the sacredness of living in the tensions and to admit how unsacred, how disconnecting, and profane are the attempts at praying and living while surpressing half of the stuff that fascinates or plagues us…”
Kathleen Norris calls the phenomenon “sacred ambiguity.”
In talking about the different lenses we all use to interpret the Bible, Shane Hipps says, “An examination of our lens is not a process of changing the Bible, the world, or truth; it is a process of changing ourselves.”
I offer all of this to make a suggestion for a pathway to great freedom.
I have heard all my life people claiming to be “serious about the Bible.” This was usually in a polemic context which implied that people that saw things differently than them were not “serious about the Bible.” Churches split, people fight, names get called, labels get assigned. You know the drill. If you were “serious about the Bible” you would hold as strongly as I do to some certain truth, and you would be just as devoted to defending that truth from all compromises.
But I have come to a place where I have seen that doubting my convictions is a more respectful - or “serious” - way of treating the Bible than defending them.
I have observed within myself that I have too often been more devoted to my lens for interpreting the Bible than to the Word of God.
I am coming to see that “serious” commitment to Scripture looks less like a fierce defense of certain positions and more like a courageous openness to seeing it in fresh, new, challenging, and disruptive ways.
I say this because if I truly love and long for the Word of God to be alive in my life I can never confuse my understanding of the Bible with the Bible itself. To do so is the highest arrogance. ”My views = what the Bible says” is perhaps one of the greatest idolatries that has ripped apart the church and made Christians appear before an unbelieving world to be a petty and divisive religious sect arguing over issues no one else can possibly understand.
I am not saying there is no room for belief or conviction. I am not advocating for some flimsy, relativistic, privatized understanding of truth.
I am actually calling myself to a more rigorous commitment to Scripture than I ever had in my more “serious” days. I am asking myself to be so doggedly devoted to the Word that I constantly ask questions, doubt convictions, and allow others to challenge me with different views. If I love the Bible I must hold it tightly and hold my interpretations lightly. I must allow for contradiction, doubt, abiguity, and uncertainty.
I must not ever disrespect the Bible by thinking that my limited, sinful, arrogant, selfish mind can fully understand it truths and completely contain all its claims.
I must love the Bible enough to let it and others who are reading it differently than me disrupt my life.
I am not advocating for making the Bible whatever I want it to be, I am trying to get to a place where the Bible can make me more of what it wants me to be.
And… in the spirit of honestly about lenses… I am on this journey right now with the assumption (or lens) that Jesus and his words/life are the filter though which we read everything in there, and when an argument/conversation/contradiction appears, it will be his life and words that teach me which side to fall on.
Lets love the Bible enough to enjoy the “sacredness of living within the tensions.” I think this is a pathway to freedom. I think it is a pathway to greater unity. I think it is a pathway to discover the Jesus way.
A post for the anonymous religious fellow as a response to his this-is-not-about-politics political message in my mailbox today.
I received in the mail today a word from the Lord on the only issue Christians are to use in determining who to vote for this year. Anonymous said,
"Why argue over taxes and immigration and the like while we stand aside and watch as Satan and his army storm by as we do nothing to stop him, but welcome him in. [sic] Where will you stand? Shall we vote for sin? This really becomes the question."
The issue, you ask, that is the same as Satan’s armies marching in?
"One of the things we must understand is that, taxes, Social Security, healthcare, green energy, immigrations, etc. are not moral issues. [sic] …But abortion, homosexuality, and same sex marriage are moral issues and absolutely sin."
And as a result of this logic Anonymous says,
"How could any Christian vote for those who support such?"
Anonymous’ not-so-veiled attempt to tell me who to and not to vote for seems to have a reductionistic and highly selective reading of Scripture.
A quick comparison:
Homosexuality is prohibited by less than 10 verses in the Bible.
The word for immigrant is found 92 times in the Old Testament alone, and most of these references are a call to care for the immigrant. Jesus makes welcoming immigrants a salvation issue (Mt 25:43).
Jesus said nothing about homosexuality but did spend most of his days providing healthcare for the sick and diseased.
The biblical account of the origin of all things (i.e. Creation), which I am certain Anonymous would defend, also celebrates the goodness of the earth and our role to care for it.
There are over 2,000 passages that discuss wealth, poverty, and justice. Most of these are a call to God’s people to care for the vulnerable. The Bible repeated shows that God has preferential interest in the poor.
Caring for the vulnerable, according to the brother of Jesus, is the heart of religion. Jesus Himself, again, made our treatment of the poor a salvation issue
I do not write this to say that our opinion on same sex marriage or abortion are not moral issue or that the conversation is irrelevant. It matters! I do not write this to offer a not-so-veiled counter-attempt at telling you who to vote for. I am convinced and deep-thinking Christians who embrace a more robust view of the Bible will vote in differing directions. I put this here to say:
I am sorry to any non-Jesus-follower who has come to think that all Christians think that how tax codes get written, how immigrants are treated, and what happens to the planet are insignificant but preventing two men from marrying is core to our faith.
All citizens from every religion (or lack thereof) need an expansive understanding of “moral issues.” Maybe since tax codes and immigration polices and energy laws are more complex than a “yes” or a “no” to a marriage contract, some want to act like they are “matters of opinion” rather than matters of morality. This is not true. The Bible has a lot to say about what immoral standards we have accepted, and they are likely speaking more loudly about how we are treating immigrants and the poor than the two women who want to commit to a life-long covenant to one another.
Finally, Anonymous went over the top (even more than the Satan’s armies thing) in saying this:
"Generations ago would never have stood by and watched the abominations we are witnessing."
Which generations are you referring to, exactly?
The Christians that landed here and killed and stole from the indigenous tribes?
The Founding Fathers who owned slaves?
Those churchmen who fought against giving equal voice to women and actively supported racial segregation?
Whichever generation of righteous Christians to which Anonymous is referring were culpable for just as much or even greater evil that we are witnessing today.
I am disappointed that a follower of Jesus could write this and that a church that carries the same name as my own tradition would willingly print this in its weekly mailing.
The article ended with (emphasis original): “Make your vote count for righteousness.”
On that point we agree. I just hope he can come to understand that righteousness according to Scripture is bigger than a few handpicked verses about one issue, and that there are many great Christians who will vote in different ways because they are doing just what he says… just in a more theologically robust way.
Some may ask why bother posting a response to Anonymous since he represents a simplistic view. I respond partially because I fear this way of thinking is not as uncommon as I would like for it to be. See Billy Graham’s recent full-page ad in the WSJ. More so, though, I respond as an effort to remind myself and others that the moral of voice of Scripture rests primarily on the side of the marginalized, oppressed, the poor, the alien, and widow, and the orphan. No single issue, even one of biblical import, should be allowed to turn the weighty matters of justice (Mt 23:23) into “matters of opinion.” Whether I am voting, speaking, spending, or acting it needs to, as Anonymous reminds me, “count for righteousness.”
“Sometimes submission to God looks like sedition to the world… When Christians are ordered to violate their sacred beliefs, the state cannot reasonably expect obedience.”—Logan Mehl-Laituri, Army Sergeant, Iraq war veteran, and conscientious objector in Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism, & Conscience
It is not enough to say prayers: we must become, be prayer, prayer incarnate. All of life, each act, each act, every gesture, even the smile of the human face, must become a hymn of adoration, an offering, a prayer. One should offer not what one has but what one is.
I am so disappointed in this! CIVIL conversations! Are you kidding?! This is time for fear, anger, slander, lies!!!!! I think I am going to ask Colbert for another March to Keep Fear Alive. Civil conversations could ruin us all!
”We urge that this ignorant attempt to provoke the religious feelings of Muslims in the Arabic-speaking world be ignored and that its extremist producers not be given the cheap publicity they so desperately seek,” said the Council on American-Islamic Relations.”
Once a media fire starts, its hard to get that cat back in the bag. That’s the worst irony of this latest chaos: The crowds who were angered had been led to believe that this ridiculous anti-Muslim film was “widely viewed” in the West. And now, since most of us suffer from a salacious curiosity powered by broadband internet, it will be.
Let us betray that instinct.
May God’s peace be with those who were killed, and God’s transformation be upon those who participated.
“American media is replete with romantic depictions of battle, from Band of Brothers to The Hurt Locker. Marketing such profoundly personal experiences to a mass audience cheapens the pain of those who have actually experienced it. By subtly suggesting that combat is a place we can find honor, glory or revenge - or worse, entertainment - glamorous tales of warfare threaten to replace the hearts of flesh God has given us with hearts of stone (or maybe polished plastic). They embellish war, captivate our imaginations and condition us to disregard the incredible moral challenges that come with war.”—
Reborn on the Fourth of July: The Challenge of Faith, Patriotism, & Conscience, Logan Mehl-Laituri (former Soldier and combat veteran)
“Busyness serves as a kind of existential reassurance, a hedge against emptiness; obviously your life cannot possibly be silly or trivial or meaningless if you are so busy, completely booked, in demand every hour of the day…. I can’t help but wonder whether all this histrionic exhaustion isn’t a way of covering up the fact that most of what we do doesn’t matter.”—
“Love is wise, hatred is foolish. In this world which is getting more and more closely interconnected, we have to learn to tolerate each other, we have to learn to put up with the fact that some people say things that we don’t like. We can only live together in that way — and if we are to live together and not die together, we must learn a kind of charity and a kind of tolerance, which is absolutely vital to the continuation of human life on this planet.”—
“Our desire to give freely of what we have gets subverted by our spending habits - by habits of consumption that seem as natural to ask as walking. So part of living counterculturally, it seems to me, is being willing to consider a new standard of living - a new personal economics threshold, not oriented so much around the side of our monthly paycheck as around the value of enough.”—"Economy of Love", Darin Peterson
“O war, I hate you most of all because you lay your hands upon the finest qualities of human life, qualities that rightly used would make a heaven on earth, and you use them to make a hell on earth instead… This is the deepest charge against you, that you take our noblest powers and prostitute them to destructive ends.”—Harry Emerson Fosdick, The Challenge of the Present Crisis (1917)
“Patriotism, it is conceded, has no special place in the Christian religion. Its founder never pronounced a single sentence in commendation of it. The reason is that the world was his field, and as patriotism is only an extension of the principle of selfishness, he deigned it no regard; because selfishness is now the great and damning sin of mankind. We are commanded to love our neighbor as we love ourselves … our neighbor is every person in the world.”—Words by one of the founders of the Restoration Movement which established the Churches of Christ, Alexander Campbell. This is from “The Destiny of our Country,” Popular addresses and lectures VII ., 184. The address was delivered for the Philo-Literary Society of Canonsburg College, Pennsylvania, August 3, 1852.
The purpose of this site is to ask questions that challenge moral certitudes, to ask myself to rethink assumptions that run counter to my fundamental commitment to discover the way of Jesus. Click the above title to be sent to an article in which Dr. Lee Camp of Lipscomb University dares to ask a questions that few are asking and few believe even needs to be asked. It is beyond time for Christians to refuse the myth of redemptive violence in all its form and the accompanying exaltation of those who practice it and profit from it.
“I walk on
distracted by a letter accusing me
of distraction, which distracts me
only from the hundred things
that would otherwise distract me
from this whiteness, lightness,
sweetness in the air. The mind
is broken by the thousand
calling voices it is always too late
to answer, and that is why it yearns
from some hard task, lifelong, longer
than life, to concentrate it
and make it whole.”—
Wendell Berry, A Timbered Quior
This poem is calling me to betray the responsibilities that fragment life and empty it of its purpose that I may obey the rite of my birth.
Today marks the day that the atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. Here’s a really meaningful way to remember the day, by reading the words of George Zabelka, who was an Air Force chaplain that blessed the men who dropped the bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki. In the years after the bombing, he was haunted by the horror of war and bombs and became a compelling
voice for peace. Zabelka, who died in 1992, gave this speech on the 40th anniversary of the bombings. He left this message for the world. Let’s read his words today, and recommit ourselves to ending the horror of nuclear weapons and war. Here’s the speech.
The destruction of civilians in war was always forbidden by the Church, and if a soldier came to me and asked if he could put a bullet through a child’s head, I would have told him, absolutely not. That would be mortally sinful. But in 1945 Tinian Island was the largest airfield in the world. Three planes a minute could take off from it around the clock. Many of these planes went to Japan with the express purpose of killing not one child or one civilian but of slaughtering hundreds and thousands and tens of thousands of children and civilians – and I said nothing.
As a Catholic chaplain I watched as the Boxcar, piloted by a good Irish Catholic pilot, dropped the bomb on Urakami Cathedral in Nagasaki, the center of Catholicism in Japan.
I never preached a single sermon against killing civilians to the men who were doing it… It never entered my mind to protest publicly the consequences of these massive air raids. I was told it was necessary – told openly by the military and told implicitly by my Church’s leadership.
I worked with Martin Luther King, Jr., during the Civil Rights struggle in Flint, Michigan. His example and his words of nonviolent action, choosing love instead of hate, truth instead of lies, and nonviolence instead of violence stirred me deeply. This brought me face to face with pacifism – active nonviolent resistance to evil. I recall his words after he was jailed in Montgomery, and this blew my mind. He said, “Blood may flow in the streets of Montgomery before we gain our freedom, but it must be our blood that flows, and not that of the white man. We must not harm a single hair on the head of our white brothers.”
I struggled. I argued. But yes, there it was in the Sermon on the Mount, very clear: “Love your enemies. Return good for evil.” I went through a crisis of faith. Either accept what Christ said, as unpassable and silly as it may seem, or deny him completely.
For the last 1700 years the Church has not only been making war respectable: it has been inducing people to believe it is an honorable profession, an honorable Christian profession. This is not true. We have been brainwashed. This is a lie.
War is now, always has been, and always will be bad, bad news. I was there. I saw real war. Those who have seen real war will bear me out. I assure you, it is not of Christ. It is not Christ’s way. There is no way to conduct real war in conformity with the teachings of Jesus.
…The ethics of mass butchery cannot be found in the teachings of Jesus. In Just War ethics, Jesus Christ, who is supposed to be all in the Christian life, is irrelevant. He might as well never have existed. In Just War ethics, no appeal is made to him or his teaching, because no appeal can be made to him or his teaching, for neither he nor his teaching gives standards for Christians to follow in order to determine what level of slaughter is acceptable.
So the world is watching today. Ethical hairsplitting over the morality of various types of instruments and structures of mass slaughter is not what the world needs from the Church, although it is what the world has come to expect from the followers of Christ. What the world needs is a grouping of Christians that will stand up and pay up with Jesus Christ. What the world needs is Christians who, in language that the simplest soul could understand, will proclaim: the follower of Christ cannot participate in mass slaughter. He or she must love as Christ loved, live as Christ lived, and, if necessary, die as Christ died, loving ones enemies.
For the 300 years immediately following Jesus’ resurrection, the Church universally saw Christ and his teaching as nonviolent. Remember that the Church taught this ethic in the face of at least three serious attempts by the state to liquidate her. It was subject to horrendous and ongoing torture and death. If ever there was an occasion for justified retaliation and defensive slaughter, whether in form of a just war or a just revolution, this was it. The economic and political elite of the Roman state and their military had turned the citizens of the state against Christians and were embarked on a murderous public policy of exterminating the Christian community.
Yet the Church, in the face of the heinous crimes committed against her members, insisted without reservation that when Christ disarmed Peter he disarmed all Christians.
Christians continued to believe that Christ was, to use the words of an ancient liturgy, their fortress, their refuge, and their strength, and that if Christ was all they needed for security and defense, then Christ was all they should have. Indeed, this was a new security ethic. Christians understood that if they would only follow Christ and his teaching, they couldn’t fail. When opportunities were given for Christians to appease the state by joining the fighting Roman army, these opportunities were rejected, because the early Church saw a complete and an obvious incompatibility between loving as Christ loved and killing. It was Christ, not Mars, who gave security and peace.
Today the world is on the brink of ruin because the Church refuses to be the Church, because we Christians have been deceiving ourselves and the non-Christian world about the truth of Christ. There is no way to follow Christ, to love as Christ loved, and simultaneously to kill other people. It is a lie to say that the spirit that moves the trigger of a flamethrower is the Holy Spirit. It is a lie to say that learning to kill is learning to be Christ-like. It is a lie to say that learning to drive a bayonet into the heart of another is motivated from having put on the mind of Christ. Militarized Christianity is a lie. It is radically out of conformity with the teaching, life, and spirit of Jesus.
Now, brothers and sisters, on the anniversary of this terrible atrocity carried out by Christians, I must be the first to say that I made a terrible mistake. I was had by the father of lies. I participated in the big ecumenical lie of the Catholic, Protestant, and Orthodox churches. I wore the uniform. I was part of the system. When I said Mass over there I put on those beautiful vestments over my uniform. (When Father Dave Becker left the Trident submarine base in 1982 and resigned as Catholic chaplain there, he said, “Every time I went to Mass in my uniform and put the vestments on over my uniform, I couldn’t help but think of the words of Christ applying to me: Beware of wolves in sheep’s clothing.”)
As an Air Force chaplain I painted a machine gun in the loving hands of the nonviolent Jesus, and then handed this perverse picture to the world as truth. I sang “”Praise the Lord”” and passed the ammunition. As Catholic chaplain for the 509th Composite Group, I was the final channel that communicated this fraudulent image of Christ to the crews of the Enola Gay and the Boxcar.
All I can say today is that I was wrong. Christ would not be the instrument to unleash such horror on his people. Therefore no follower of Christ can legitimately unleash the horror of war on God’s people. Excuses and self-justifying explanations are without merit. All I can say is: I was wrong! But, if this is all I can say, this I must do, feeble as it is. For to do otherwise would be to bypass the first and absolutely essential step in the process of repentance and reconciliation: admission of error, admission of guilt.
I asked forgiveness from the Hibakushas (the Japanese survivors of the atomic bombings) in Japan last year, in a pilgrimage that I made with a group from Tokyo to Hiroshima. I fell on my face there at the peace shrine after offering flowers, and I prayed for forgiveness – for myself, for my country, for my Church. Both Nagasaki and Hiroshima. This year in Toronto, I again asked forgiveness from the Hibakushas present. I asked forgiveness, and they asked forgiveness for Pearl Harbor and some of the horrible deeds of the Japanese military, and there were some, and I knew of them. We embraced. We cried. Tears flowed. That is the first step of reconciliation – admission of guilt and forgiveness. Pray to God that others will find this way to peace.
Thank God that I’m able to stand here today and speak out against war, all war. The prophets of the Old Testament spoke out against all false gods of gold, silver, and metal. Today we are worshipping the gods of metal, the bomb. We are putting our trust in physical power, militarism, and nationalism. The bomb, not God, is our security and our strength. The prophets of the Old Testament said simply: Do not put your trust in chariots and weapons, but put your trust in God. Their message was simple, and so is mine.
We must all become prophets. I really mean that. We must all do something for peace. We must stop this insanity of worshipping the gods of metal. We must take a stand against evil and idolatry. This is our destiny at the most critical time of human history. But it’s also the greatest opportunity ever offered to any group of people in the history of our world – to save our world from complete annihilation
“We don’t just see the world as it is: we interpret it through the particular ideas and beliefs that have shaped our own cultures and our personal outlook. All of these stand between us and our raw experience in the world, acting as a filter on what we perceive and how we think… If we create our worldview, we can re-create it too by taking a different perspective and reframing our situation.”—Sir Ken Robinson, The Element
I would like to make two attempts at explaining my desire for betrayal.
An enduring interest of mine in the last few years has been on Benedictine spirituality. I have read his Regula a few times as well as a daily devotional guide based upon it. I have enjoyed a few texts written by Benedictine sisters and brothers for the non-celibate, non-Catholics like me who are fascinated with the substantive forms of community, prayer, hospitality, and manual labor they are committed to. I recently got my hands on a copy of The Rule of St. Benedict that was released in 1980, the fifteen-hundredth birthday of the founder. It includes the original Latin, a new English translation, a lot of quality chapters about monasticism, and a commentary on the Rule. In the introduction the editors share why they took on such a project.
"The renewal of monastic and religious life called for by the Second Vatican Council emphasized “a constant return to the sources of the while of Christian life and to the primitive inspiration of the institutes, and their adaptation to the changed conditions of our time.’”
Go back to the source or inspiration, they said, and adapt it to the realities of the modern world. This was a plea made in 1962.
On this site when I call for betrayal for the sake of obedience, unfaithfulness for the sake of fidelity, that, in short, is what I mean.
We are in a time when we must unmask and abandon the continued repetition of forms and structures that were built to address a world and a set of issues that hardly even exist anymore. We are in a time where a revisiting of ancient values and historic sources of inspiration is vitally necessary. We are in a time when our continued existence depends upon the imaginative reappropriation of those very foundations.
We need leaders driven by two distinct yet equally vital passions:
1. Digging deeply into the past
2. Pressing courageously into the future
Some groups simply want to repeat the past and reify its forms. They think that reclaiming the past or making things like they once were will solve our crises. There is great impotency for the sake of misguided fidelity. The past is idealized. The future is feared. This option tries to do #1 and avoid #2.
Other groups simply want to cut ties with the past and start over completely. They think that the newer and cooler and more novel we can become the better off we’ll be. There is great compromise for the sake of misunderstood relevancy. The past is embarrassing. The future is idealized. This option chases #2 and ignores #1.
What we need is the strength to obey our deepest values and inspirations even as that will force us to betray our most hardened traditions and assumptions.
All this talk of betrayal is not about my desire to leave behind my own faith tradition; it is an attempt to give it the highest honor I can by “adapting it to the changed conditions of our time.”
There is a poem by Richard Wright that inspired the title of a book I am reading right
now, The Warmth of Other Suns. The poem and the book are about the great migration of African Americans out of the South during the Jim Crow era. This poem expresses well the heart driving my life, ministry, and the contents of this website:
"I was leaving the South / To fling myself into the unknown… / I was taking a part of the South / To transplant in alien soil, / To see if it could grow differently, / If it could drink of new and cool rains, / Bend in strange winds, /Respond to the warmth of other suns / And, perhaps, to bloom."
I do desire the abandonment of things held dear to many. I do desire to question assumptions and challenge unchallenged answers. I do desire the emergence of new and better questions. But I do not want this because I lack passion or a deep, loyal love for the inspiration of all we stand for. No, I want it because of an abundance of these!
I believe it is time to migrate out of the systems we have built that hinder us from fulfilling the very purposes that gave us life in the first place.
I believe the world is fundamentally changing around us, and we need the confidence that these ancient seeds can germinate and flourish in the warmth of other suns.
Click on the title to read an article where author, activist, and contemporary prophet, Shane Claiborne, challenges the myth, cherished by many of our Christians brothers and sisters, of redemptive violence. This is a certitude that must be challenged and betrayed.
“Imagination is not the same as creativity. To be creative you actually have to do something. It involves putting your imagination to work to make something new, to come up with new solutions to problems, even to think of new problems or questions.”—
“Remember, there will be those among the powerful who try to make you say what you know is clearly not true because if everyone agrees to believe the lie, the lie can go on forever… If you want to be a leader, you, too, must refuse to tell the old lies. You must learn to say that those emperors have no clothes. You must see what you are looking at and say what you see.”—Joan Chittister