Friday, August 29, 2014

Going all "Old Testament" vs. going all "New Testament"

A certain mega-church pastor once spoke from the pulpit his desire to go "all Old Testament" on some people who disagreed with him. The Old Testament (OT) is associated with an eye for eye, tooth for tooth justice as well as genocidal invasions. It's ostensibly blessed by God, but the teachings of Jesus, that contradict or overrule those approaches to enemies (them, the others, the outsiders) make so much of the Old Testament seem barbaric. And, in fact, it was barbaric. One defense of the barbaric OT is that the evidence of the ancient near east (ANE) shows a place even more barbaric than the Israelite culture. Regardless, there is the theology of love that also coexists with the barbaric. These verses are the ones the later prophets pick up on. Even some of the Apocrypha (the inter-testamental books) picks up on these as well. And it's these verses that Jesus focuses on.

Loving our neighbor is a diamond in the rough Old Testament, but it gets buried in the surroundings of eye for eye, tooth for tooth, don't leave anything alive, running neighbors through with spears, raping guests, etc. Jesus elevates this diamond. He buys the field to own the diamond. the field is only the means to get to the diamond. Jesus says all the scriptures point to him. The early church took this very seriously and, like Paul did in his epistles, re-framed everything in the Old Testament in light of Jesus and his teaching. For example, violence against enemy nations was re-framed as violence against our internal faults, the things that keep us from the promised land of fellowship with God.

Jesus and the early church subsumed the Old Testament into the good news. Indeed, what Jesus indicated, what Paul began, what the church fathers brought to fruition, is the incorporation of the Old into the New. To go "all Old Testament" according to Jesus and the early church is to go "all New Testament" once the OT is viewed through the lens of Jesus. To assert God's support for violent justice against enemies today by appealing to the OT, is to view the OT without the fulfillment of the OT in Jesus. Before Jesus, the OT is like a black and white television, after Jesus, the OT becomes colorized and in three dimensions. Nothing in the OT should be appealed to by Jesus' followers without reference to Jesus' re-framing of the whole thing. Jesus changes everything. To speak about going OT on others, as distinct from going NT on them, is to miss the significance of Jesus.

Jesus changes everything.

Monday, August 25, 2014

empathy and culpability

This week I realized that my capacity for empathy is greatest when those who are hurting are the farthest removed from me. My sense of empathy can be debilitating at times. The murder of Michael Brown in Fergusen, Missouri, among many recent black victims of police violence has bummed me out. But all I've done with my sadness is retweet, write a blog, and pray. The situation in Gaza, same thing, including writing a blog. The Islamist fanatics in northern Iraq, same thing, the blog. I haven't really considered myself an empathetic guy until recently. I think I go through phases, then I harden up. It's very difficult to stay soft hearted, hopeful, and open-handed after a few weeks of evil in the news.

As I processed some of these thoughts with my wife, she reminded me that my empathy can be sparse at times at home. As I rode my bike home today, I wondered how it is possible for me to be so empathetic to those at a distance and not so much to those near. I think it has to do with my degree of guilt. The pain of those far away is simple. The pain of those near me is complicated, because I played a part in causing it. And if I am to blame, I need to defend myself, explaining away the extenuating circumstances that exonerate me, and shift the blame to those who are hurting.

At that point in my thinking, the scales fell from my eyes, so to speak. We are all doing this around the world. Some white Americans don't want to hear about white privilege. Some want to blame Mike Brown for jaywalking or shoplifting. Some want to talk about how the black community should be happy it's not the 1920's or the 1850's when the pain and injustice could have been even worse. They can't believe blacks are still complaining.

Israel with the most modern military technology in the region is defended by those who claim the fanatics on the reservation called Gaza have only themselves to blame. It's the same claim used to justify the genocide perpetuated in American history against Native Americans. God has given the land to us new folks and your pain of being resettled and dehumanized is not our problem. If only they would quit being upset about being dehumanized. Plus they are causing a great deal of stress here.

I am certain there are racist cops in Ferguson who are wonderful people, great to their families, and a positive contributor to their small slice of community, church, little league, charity. I am certain there are many wonderful Israelis. I am certain there are wonderful Palestinians. I am certain there are great family guys fighting for ISIL. There were great guys who fought for the Third Reich. The thing is we are capable of so much good and simultaneously so much evil. We can in equal measure bring joy and pain.

As a family man, now married twenty years, I'm still learning the most redemptive response to a cry of pain I cause is to own it and apologize for it. Defensiveness slows down healing. All the good things we do, do not replace an apology, an ownership of the pain causing, repentance and contrition.

This goes for megachurch pastors as well. Not every person crying "Ouch" is a demonic distraction. If our first presumption when people cry out is they are overreacting or pretending or whining instead of concern for their pain, we've lost touch with our common humanity. Jesus, the supposed God of most Americans, taught that to love our neighbor is to love him, to serve those in need it so serve him, to absorb their swings of anger is to emulate his sacrifice as humanity attacked him on Calvary.

It's hard to stay soft hearted, compassionate, and open handed. It's what I'm called to do. It's the path of irrationality. Self-preservation is rational. Love for our enemy is irrational. Sometimes loving our neighbor is irrational as well. But love changes the world for the better. Forgiveness changes the world for the better, see Rwanda and South Africa. Repentance changes the world for the better. Inclusion, no longer speaking of them but only speaking of us, changes the world for better. Irrationality changes the world for the better.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

murder in Ferguson Mo.

I can't look away from the Twitter updates on Ferguson. I retweet so many non-white voices, especially of those in Ferguson. Racism is a huge issue in this murder of a young man, Michael Brown, by a white police office, Darren Wilson. Racism in America is systemic, institutionalized, generational, justified, and denied by many of those who benefit from it. It's a matter of the heart and society can only react to it, not pre-act.

But the imbalance of power can be ameliorated. As many are pointing out, the militarization of local police forces has changed the relationship with the communities they are supposed to be serving and protecting. Deadly force is a short-sighted "method" of service and protection.

What if police officers were peace officers, and like many departments around the world, were not permitted to carry fire arms? Either they could have a separate team that can be called in for back up, much like England does, or they have to unlock weapons from their vehicles, so that in the heat of the moment, the moments are extended so the heat can dissipate.

Thus a racist, bully police officer would not have the quick opportunity to shoot a tall jaywalking adolescent. Thus, peace officers would have to engage residents and seek cooperation with a smaller imbalance of power. During the civil rights era, groups (see article 1 and 2) around Martin Luther King, Jr. and the Black Panthers believed openly carrying their sidearms, as their constitutionally protected right, would also adjust the power disparity. But this escalated tensions rather than diminished them. Hence, King got rid of his own pistol and chose to de-escalate the arms race.

Legally, a cop might exhibit restraint if he knows massive negative consequences will fall on him when he kills a citizen for no reason. Hopefully the police departments in Furgeson, Mo. and Staten Island, NY will protect their citizens from cops who have gone rogue, and have placed themselves above constitutionally protected due process.

Dear God, please deliver us from evil.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

your enemies

Jesus says many difficult things in his famous Sermon on the Mount, recorded by Matthew in the 5th chapter of his gospel.

43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. 46 If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? 47 And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? 48 Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Perfection is hard. How do we love enemies who behead children and attempt genocide? How do we love a government that has little regard for "collateral damage"? How do we love neighbors who use their own women and children as shields, hoping for them to be collaterally damaged? Christians have a hard time with this. Even the professionals do. Father Dwight Longenecker, whose book I reviewed last year, has a hard time. Blessings on him for taking down an earlier post which more directly chose the route of all who seek to justify killing, dehumanization.

The militants of ISIS are no longer men, they are animals, or demon wolves (Longenecker's toned  down term). Same thing goes with Boko Haram in Nigeria. It helps that these two groups, as well as Hamas share the same religion. Islam is the cause of this wickedness, not human nature. Christians don't do this. Christians in Nigeria aren't committing atrocities against Muslims. They are undisciplined soldiers.

In World War 2, the Japanese weren't humans, they were the yellow peril. They were caricatured in the press. They also committed genocide in China. See my book response on The Rape of Nanking. Yet on August 9th, 1945, the United States dropped their second plutonium bomb on the Japanese city of Nagasaki, the center of Japanese Christianity since the 1500s, killing around 70,000 human beings, including the Cathedral full of worshippers in St. Mary's, or Urakami.

In WW2, the Germans weren't humans either. Just as they dehumanized Jews and Slavs, justifying in their minds the wholesale slaughter of fellow human beings, the Allies, dehumanized them as well. In the classic book Ordinary Men, about how local Germans dehumanized themselves as they dehumanized others, we learn the same thing we learned from the Rape of Nanking, "the veneer of civilization is exceedingly thin." I finished another book recently about the Eastern Front, but from a German soldier's perspective, the memoir called, Adventures in my Youth: A German Soldier on the Eastern Front 1941-45 by Armin Scheiderbauer. Last year I read a memoir by a Russian fighter pilot on the same front, Over Fields of Fire: Flying the Sturmovik in Action on the Eastern Front 1942-45 (Soviet Memories of War) by Anna Timofeeva-Egorova. Both the Nazi and the Communist happen to be human beings. Certainly the stories do not recount any atrocities they might have committed, but they were not automatons nor demon possessed dogs. The recent German mini-series, Generation War (now on Netflix) tries to make, dramatically, the same point.

Many of those who participated in atrocities during the war became essential allies to the victors shortly after the war. Those who had killed in the name of ideology resumed lives of non-killing. They returned to their families. They started new families. Although the reasons were mostly political, the Allies, driven by the United States treated most of their formerly dehumanized enemies with grace. They were invested in. They were trusted. They were given clean slates. Justice did not happen for most.

It is possible to love your enemies. As a follower of Jesus, it is my calling. The early church saint Tertullian wrote, "To love friends is the custom of all people, but to love enemies is customary only for Christians."

Yes, the Islamic militants are slaughtering hundreds or thousands of people, some of whom are Christian. Yes, the Israeli Defense Force is killing hundreds of women and children in Palestine. Yes, the Christian Germany killed 20 million humans. Yes, the Christian America killed hundreds of thousands of Japanese. Yes the Christian America killed thousands of civilians in Iraq, maybe more in Afghanistan. The body count for the United States goes back hundreds of years. Consider this article and book. By sheer body count, one might say Christianity is the problem. But that's simplistic, isn't it?

Is the problem ideology, fundamentalism, religion? Or is the problem humanity? What is the solution? Not dehumanization. Forgiveness and generosity has worked in the past. Is it possible to have a government that responds with an open hand instead of a closed fist?

In response to 2000 lives taken on 9/11/01 we have given up another 8000 lives of soldiers, 52,000 wounded and $4 trillion paid out (but the costs for the wounded extend for decades and the financing for this war will continue extend for decades as well.) We can't afford justice. Pretty soon, the only option we will be able to afford is the one Jesus proscribes, forgiveness.

Maybe we should revisit the path of rehabilitation.

Maybe Jesus has been right all along.