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It's Hard to Believe that War and Lies Will Prevail

by John K. Stoner  (December 29, 2017)

On the cusp of year 2018 it is hard to believe that peace will prevail.

And yet, think about it—it’s even harder to believe that war and lies will prevail.

Put yourself in their shoes.  First of all, they have to start by agreeing with us that peace is better than war.  That’s big.  They have to agree with us on the ultimate goal—the goal is peace.  That’s at least half of the whole discussion, isn’t it?  Is it better to have peace or to have war?  Why, of course, it’s better to have peace.  Ask the world’s millions of refugees and displaced persons—which is better, peace or war?  Ask the world’s millions of injured, maimed and starving—which is better, peace or war?   Ask  the world’s millions of veterans—which is better, peace or war?  I’d tell you to ask the world’s tens of millions of dead from war, if we could get them to speak: which would you have, peace or war?  

So at least in talk, in public posture, in theory at least, they agree with us that peace is where we all want to be.  They have to position and posture every plan and preparation and program of war as if it were serving our cause and our goal, which is peace.  Or maybe, attributing less deceit to them,  they believe that superior violence is more likely than risk-taking love and compassion to, not achieve peace, but mitigate evil and violence.  

We on the other hand, do not start by granting them half of the ground which is in dispute.  We do not have to say, well, yes, peace is good, but we’ll give that up for now, we’ll accept war as good enough until we get to peace, where we really want to be. 

Humanity, at this point in its brief history, is poised on a platform in a big dug well, or silo, with a ladder extending up to air and life, and a ladder extending down to water and drowning.  Some people are saying we have to go up to get up, and others are saying we have to go down to get up. 

It is our choice, and the time we have to make it is not forever.

How hard is it to believe that the way to overcome evil and violence is with superior evil and violence?

Right after 9/11 George Bush the Lesser announced a war on evil in the world.  And a war on violent terror.   Look around at the nations destroyed since then—if you have any empathy beyond your own skin, you can see that it has not gone well.

There’s a familiar Bible story about this, the Great Flood and Noah (Genesis 6-8). It is usually badly interpreted, but here is its central message.  The writer turns loose his imagination and depicts God looking down on the world, and God is deeply disappointed in humanity.  God sees much evil and violence, “And God said to Noah, ‘I have determined to make an end of all flesh, for the earth is filled with violence because of them; now I am going to destroy them along with the earth.”

So, comes the flood, everyone and everything destroyed except a handful of survivors on the ark.  Afterward,  “the Lord said in his heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of humankind, for the inclination of the human heart is evil from youth; nor will I ever again destroy every living creature as I have done.”

So, we are told, as a result of the flood God had a change of mind about what to do about evil and violence in the world.  God tried there to overcome evil and violence by killing all the bad ones, and apparently, by the writer’s interpretation, decided that it had not worked and another way of dealing with evil and violence would have to be found.

You can read the whole Bible as a report on the search for an alternative to   superior violence as a method of dealing with evil.

Bottom line: if you put yourself on the side of superior violence to deal with evil you disagree with that writer and his God—you refuse that ancient, basic learning, and you are back on the Dark Side, the Other Side, of that Flood, always trying to rerun it with success instead of failure.  Not an easy project.  

A different approach is that marked by Jesus, and all of those before and since him, who choose the methods of peace to pursue the goal of peace.  More on that in future blogs. 

On Earth Peace

by John K. Stoner  (December 26, 2017)

“On earth peace” was the message of the angels to shepherds at the birth of Jesus, according to Luke.  (Lk. 2:4)

This puts peace at the center of the Christmas and Christian message.

We should notice that the angels did not say “In Bethlehem peace” or “in Israel peace.”  “On earth” includes the whole planet, to “the four corners of the earth” as the ancients sometimes put it.  

If we know anything about the will of God, it is safe to say that peace is the will of God.  If we asked the world’s millions of war refugees and displace persons, it’s a good bet they would agree that peace is the will of God, and an ever growing percentage of war veterans are saying the same thing. 

The pursuit of peace by war as a method to get there has not been marked by great success.  It has been said that no goal that is reached is ever better than the methods used to attain it.  There is much empirical evidence for that.  Put differently, those who claim that “the end justifies the means” have not proven, or persuaded all of us,  that weapons of gradual and mass destruction, nuclear bombs, drones and weaponized space hold for us a great and comforting promise of peace. 

Nevertheless, there is not a lie that is promoted with more energy, subtlety, nor sophistication than the lie that war will bring peace—or defeat evil.  Americans live in the country that lives by that lie.  Not the only country, but probably the one most exceptionally deluded, and determined to make this futility work.  

But then there is Jesus.  The most attractive and misrepresented figure in all of history.  The one who said “love one another as I have loved you.” (John 13:34)

The one whose kingship, or kingdom, or way of running the world, was altogether in this world, but as he said, “not of it.”  HIs way of running the world did not start with the world’s delusional methods of homicidal violence and “pre-emptive war,”  retribution, retaliation and vengeance. 

Jesus had a program to defeat evil, and it was to overcome evil with good.  This has not been found impossible, but difficult and therefore left untried.  

    A timely essay appeared yesterday.  Naomi Klein and Opal Tometi wrote “Forget Coates vs. West— We all Have a Duty to Confront the Full Reach of US Empire.” (click here)

In the time of Jesus there were religious people who collaborated with the Roman Empire, going along to get along.  There are a lot of people like that in our empire today, and what is most astonishing, doing it in the name of Jesus!  A more bizarre misrepresentation of Jesus could not be imagined.  Promoting violence to make peace.  

I hope you will read Klein and Tometi, and think with Jesus about how peace on earth might be possible.    


Christian Hope

by Berry Friesen (December 22, 2017)

Today I am blessed to celebrate birthday #69.  Family will surround me, we will eat seafood and carrot cake. It will be a special day.

Then comes Christmas.  I anticipate celebrating that day too.  And I’m bringing this additional post to If Not Empire, What? in honor of  and preparation for Christmas.

What is the hope of those of us who identify ourselves as Jesus-followers? What do we expect to happen when “the great day of the LORD” arrives in full?

A dozen years ago, I led a class in my local congregation on the content of "Christian hope."  It was a good experience. Here are two of the questions we explored:

"If the substance of Christian hope is the human eperience of living in the full presence of YHWH (a view I affirm), is this experience of YHWH manifest physically? Or is the experience of YHWH’s full presence only spiritual and conceptual?"

Jewish and Christian scripture strongly suggest that the physical creation as we know it (yes, only partially) is part of what YHWH saves in Messiah Jesus. Texts from John (3:17), Romans (8:19-22), Colossians (1:19-20), Ephesians (1:9-10) and the 21st chapter of Revelation bear witness to this. They assure us the salvation of YHWH reaches not only souls, but the physical world too—including our hybrid world of physicality and spirituality.

As Revelation puts it,

“See, the home of YHWH is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them” (21:3).

Hear these words from Romans 8:19-21:

"For the created universe waits with eager expectation for YHWH’s children to be revealed. It was made the victim of frustration . . . yet always there was hope, because the universe itself is to be freed from the shackles of mortality and enter upon the liberty and splendor of the children of YHWH.” 

Not to be forgotten are the hybrid structures of authority so corrupted by sin and so dominating in our lives. Hear how the transformed "city of YHWH” is described in Revelation 21:24-26:

“The nations will walk by its light, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.
 Its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. 
 People will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations.”

In other words, “the nations” also will be transformed. Western, Euro-Asian and Asian peoples will live together in peace; Persian, Semitic and African peoples too. Likewise the peoples of the Americas.

This too is the Christian hope.  It was why the angels sang “hosannas” in the night skies over the fields of Bethlehem; it was why the shepherds left their posts in joyful abandon to see Jesus of Nazareth lying in such humble repose.  It was because his birth and life “changed everything.”

There is so much more to say—things to remind us as followers of Jesus to expect this story of Earth and its inhabitants to end well.  As we hear from the gospel of John,

 “YHWH did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, 
but that the world might be saved through him.” (3:17).

How then should we live?  How do we endure the burdens of empire, the weight of its deceptions, the apparent inevitability of global warming, the galloping inequality sweeping through our world? Somehow, it all must be perceived through this lens of hope we have been given in Scripture.

May it be so!  And may we join the shepherds in joyful anticipation!

The Nuclear Family

by John K. Stoner (December 15, 2017)

Of all the things for which Americans give their country a pass, claiming "exceptionalism," one of the most egregious is this nation’s history of use, threatened use, and stockpiling of insane numbers of nuclear weapons.

In my last blog I recommended an Advent reflection on the Holy Family in which we think of humanity as our family, and actually The Holy Family. click here  If we thought of our fellow humans as the holy family we would not be at peace with our country’s use of nuclear weapons against them, and stockpiling thousands of weapons as a threat against them.

Last Sunday, December 10, the 2017 Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to the International Campaign Against Nuclear weapons.  Did American media report that?  The speeches of the two women recipients can be seen here.  click here 

Today let us celebrate and give thanks for people of conscience who say "no" to the unconscionable in our world, and call the bluff of our ridiculous claims of exceptionalism. 

I will let Beatrice Fihn and Setsuko Thurlow, who received the prize, speak for themselves here in excerpts from their acceptance speeches.  The link to their full speeches is above. 

Nobel Lecture given by the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate 2017, ICAN, delivered by Beatrice Fihn and Setsuko Thurlow, Oslo, 10 December 2017.
[Beatrice Fihn:]

At dozens of locations around the world - in missile silos buried in our earth, on submarines navigating through our oceans, and aboard planes flying high in our sky - lie 15,000 objects of humankind's destruction.

Perhaps it is the enormity of this fact, perhaps it is the unimaginable scale of the consequences, that leads many to simply accept this grim reality. To go about our daily lives with no thought to the instruments of insanity all around us.

For it is insanity to allow ourselves to be ruled by these weapons. Many critics of this movement suggest that we are the irrational ones,  the idealists with no grounding in reality. That nuclear-armed states will never give up their weapons.

But we represent the only rational choice. We represent those who refuse to accept nuclear weapons as a fixture in our world, those who refuse to have their fates bound up in a few lines of launch code.
Ours is the only reality that is possible. The alternative is unthinkable.
The story of nuclear weapons will have an ending, and it is up to us what that ending will be.
Will it be the end of nuclear weapons, or will it be the end of us?
One of these things will happen. ...
[Setsuko Thurlow :]
Your Majesties,
Distinguished members of the Norwegian Nobel Committee,
My fellow campaigners, here and throughout the world,
Ladies and gentlemen,
It is a great privilege to accept this award, together with Beatrice, on behalf of all the remarkable human beings who form the ICAN movement. You each give me such tremendous hope that we can - and will - bring the era of nuclear weapons to an end.
I speak as a member of the family of hibakusha - those of us who, by some miraculous chance, survived the atomic bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. For more than seven decades, we have worked for the total abolition of nuclear weapons.
We have stood in solidarity with those harmed by the production and testing of these horrific weapons around the world. People from places with long-forgotten names, like Moruroa, Ekker, Semipalatinsk, Maralinga, Bikini. People whose lands and seas were irradiated, whose bodies were experimented upon, whose cultures were forever disrupted.
We were not content to be victims. We refused to wait for an immediate fiery end or the slow poisoning of our world. We refused to sit idly in terror as the so-called great powers took us past nuclear dusk and brought us recklessly close to nuclear midnight. We rose up. We shared our stories of survival. We said: humanity and nuclear weapons cannot coexist.
Today, I want you to feel in this hall the presence of all those who perished in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. I want you to feel, above and around us, a great cloud of a quarter million souls. Each person had a name. Each person was loved by someone. Let us ensure that their deaths were not in vain.
I was just 13 years old when the United States dropped the first atomic bomb, on my city Hiroshima. I still vividly remember that morning. At 8:15, I saw a blinding bluish-white flash from the window. I remember having the sensation of floating in the air. ...
There is much here to think about.  I invite you to think about it.  

The Holy Family

by John K. Stoner (December 7, 2017)

During Advent you will see pictures or creche depictions of The Holy Family—the Child Jesus, the Virgin Mary and Saint Joseph.

Today I ask, “Might the human family be thought of as a, or the, holy family?”

A family may be called a small community.  It is the first community which most of us know, and the social unit bigger than ourselves in which most of us grow up. The family sustains our life with food, clothing and shelter, and teaches us something of how to live in the world.  That makes it a very important piece of community. 

In the family, if we are reasonably fortunate, we learn to cooperate enough to survive, and if we are more fortunate, even to thrive.  But there are, sadly, many  broken and dysfunctional families, and children raised in these situations may struggle throughout life to recover what they never had as infants or youth.  

The message of Christmas is that in Jesus God came into the world in a special way to live in and among humans.  I understand 
the teaching of Jesus to be that God dwells in all of us in a fashion similar to how he, or we, claim that God dwelled in Jesus.  Repeatedly he challenged his peers to see God in their neighbors, and even enemies.  That is a radical concept!

It implies, or clearly teaches, that God is to be found in human beings, not to be sought in a far off heaven.  And it means that what we do to one another, we do to God.

This is the most clear and profound reason for treating all human life as sacred, and refusing ever to commit homicide—to kill a human.  As created children of God we are all siblings, which makes all homicide fratricide.  As the place where God dwells, all people are small expressions of God, which makes all homicide deicide—the killing of deity.  Jesus, looking at a child, said, “Whoever welcomes this child welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes my Father who sent me” (Luke 9:48).  So the reality is, whoever thought they were killing their enemy were killing their brother, sister, and God.  People who kill people experience not just PTSD, but moral injury, because they have violated a truth of the universe which is written indelibly into their moral DNA. 

In today’s blog I am drawing out implications of the first blog in this series, Communities of Nonviolence.  There I discussed the possibility of choosing to belong to a community which nurtures you in the understanding and practice of your better rather than your worse impulses and possibilities.  This is no small thing, because we become what we choose one day after another.  

So at this advent, let’s think in the big picture.  What if we made the human family our holy family, and sought to value the larger circle of our relationships in a manner similar to our value of the close ones?  

But Of Course, Jesus Was Wrong

by John K. Stoner  (December 1, 2017)

At the beginning of Advent, a reflection (a bit sobering) on what our culture, and maybe much of the church, really thinks about Jesus.  This year let’s use advent time to let Jesus teach what he taught and be who he was. 

But of course, Jesus was wrong.  His teachings were over the top. Everybody knows that.

People are not really, like children, dependent on others—dependent on receiving unconditional love, many chances to get it wrong and try again, in order to survive.  It makes no sense to say that we should become like children.

People are not really, as adults, capable of generous forgiveness and compassion toward others.  Such behavior would be mocked and abused.  

People are not really able to love their neighbors, let alone their enemies.  Jesus posed as the  model human, but we know better.  He was deluded and we are smart.  We know that people are cruel, treacherous and not to be trusted.  We steel ourselves for the worst.

Christmas is coming.  A good time to do a retake of our estimate of Jesus, this baby born in a manger to nobody parents and shepherds who didn’t understand real power and ruling empire.  

Let’s think about Jesus.  Of course he was wrong, everybody knows that.

We’ve got schools, teachers and parents teaching children to be kind, forgiving, and certainly not bullying.  But when they grow up, we know how to turn them around and teach them to kill people and break things.  We call it basic training.  Real basic, you bet—it goes against all natural instinct and childhood training, but it makes killers of compassionate human beings.  No small re-education process there.  

Jesus had this story about the prodigal son, or forgiving father.  But we know that that father was deluded, and that son was pampered.  We take our stand firmly with the elder brother, who knew that this was all a crock, and said so.

And his stories about good Samaritans.  Makes as much sense as good Muslims.  Really, what should we do about Muslims? 

So yes, this Christmas lets get down to brass tacks and look straight at what our culture really thinks about Jesus.  Do we think that, well, nice story, but sure, he was wrong?  Are we saying that we have a better way than his, and we can show you, with a world brought in just a couple hundred years to the brink of nuclear destruction or climate ecocide?    

So of course, Jesus was wrong.  Everybody knows that.

People are not really, like children, dependent on others—dependent on receiving unconditional love, many chances to get it wrong and try again, in order to survive.

People are not really, as adults, capable of generous forgiveness and compassion toward others.  Such behavior would be mocked and abused.  

People are not really able to love their neighbors, let alone their enemies.  Jesus posed as the  model human, but we know better.  He was deluded and we are smart.  We know that people are cruel, treacherous and not to be trusted.  We steel ourselves for the worst.

Christmas is coming.  A good time to do a retake of our estimate of Jesus, this baby born in a manger to nobody parents and shepherds who didn’t understand real power and ruling empire.   Declaring an empire of God built on human capacities far different from worldly empires. 

Let’s think about Jesus.  Of course he was wrong, everybody knows that.
Rev. Jan. 3, 2018