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At St. Paul’s: “Our primary mission is to relate to, and minister to people who are living on the edge, who seek God’s will for their lives, struggling to find direction and purpose in a society that can be violent, insensitive and money-grabbing.”
January 29, 2017
So, let me tell you a true story about pain. About the time I got punched in the face. It was dusk and I was in my car; I had just turned left at a stop sign . . . couldn’t see very well . . . driving through a crosswalk; and a pedestrian was suddenly in my passenger side window, screaming, so I slammed on the brakes and jumped out to see what happened. I thought I had hit her . . . and as I hurried around the back of my car, a guy came out of nowhere and connected his right fist with my left eye. “WHAM!” Of course, I was stunned for a moment. And as I looked at him through my quickly closing eye socket; I immediately wanted to attack him. Instead I put up my hands, and yelled at him to stop, but he kept coming, so I took off my hat and held it out in front of me to block his next attack, and moved around the car to look at the scene over by curb . . . and I saw one woman helping another woman up, and a small white dog by the wheel, wagging its tail.
The dog was unharmed and its leash was wrapped around my tire. Apparently, the dog had pulled the lady into the street, and she had fallen off the curb and into my car mirror and sprained her wrist. That was a crazy thing. And so keeping my good eye on the puncher, who was still trying to get at me; I unwrapped the dog and gave him to the lady and helped her go sit down in the grass by the curb to help her stay calm as she waited for the Squad. Finally, we heard sirens and the puncher took off before the paramedics and cops came . . . cut to the end of story: eventually he wound up in jail for drunk driving his car into a tree in Solon. More than a few witnesses saw all of this; and they, and I, testified about the incident and the puncher took a plea deal for a treatment program and community service. Insurance paid for the woman’s sprained arm. I healed quickly. Hopefully, everyone is better for it. I wish the best for all involved. I got through it pretty well.
Because I am blessed. I don’t know how or why, but all those things in today’s Gospel; that’s me, a blessing; a seeker, trying to follow Jesus. If you go through the list: you probably can count your blessings, too. I am content, mostly. I have been mourning; I still am; I am merciful . . . and pure in heart . . . well, I try to be. Honestly, I have a hard time with being meek, for instance; and poor in spirit . . . so I guess that, like everyone else, I am a work in progress. But the blessing that I really try to pass on, the one that I really work hard at trying to be is: peace; I am a peacemaker. Seems that I have always wanted to bring peace to situations. I try to build bridges between people; and between agencies or families or teams.
We have some awesome role models for peacemakers, like Jesus, of course, and Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Rev. William Sloane Coffin, former President Jimmy Carter, and countless other individuals who have done their part to create a culture of peace.
I wanted to become a peacemaker when I started to study what Jesus was teaching his disciples in the Sermon on the Mount, also called the beatitudes. I was starting college, it was 1985 and I was recovering from being a Marine, similar to the way an alcoholic recovers from the disease of addiction. I was in recovery from violence. I have since realized that violence is so ingrained in us, and as a culture, that it takes years of counseling and workshops and reflection and Bible study and prayer to understand the layers of anger, fear, isolation, aggression, denial, numbness and pain avoidance. That all fits in to the culture of violence that permeates our world. I am still learning.
Up until about 1985, I used to think violence was OK, a necessary evil that Jesus condoned for the right reason. Some would argue that what I am about to say is controversial. I could justify violence for certain causes. But I was mistaken. I had been misreading scripture: for example: when Jesus picked up a whip and cleared the temple, turning over the money-changers’ tables, driving out the sellers and buyers. That was a mistake. Jesus didn’t make many mistakes, but I believe he regretted that one. Or maybe we hear it the way we want to hear it, selectively. We can use Scripture to justify any of our personal ideas, behaviors, character flaws, can’t we? To try to justify righteous anger, hatred, vengeance, you could pull sentences out of Scripture, but I don’t think it is a correct reading. And there’s another familiar and culturally misunderstood saying:
“I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” I had thought, up until 1985, that in some cases violence was okay because it would wipe out evil in the world, you know what I mean; kill the enemy before he kills me; and the old military mindset: peace comes through superior fire power. It has been played out many times in my lifetime alone: dissect the cancer, surgically remove a brutal dictator or torturer by any means necessary. But Jesus would not have condoned it. I had missed the meaning. I have now come to realize that the sword Jesus was talking about is the sword of truth, the only sword that heals on one edge, the wounds it inflicts on the other. Kind of like “tough love.”
Peace comes through bravely exploring and finding the truth; this is the way it works. Admitting our faults; admitting our failures; becoming vulnerable is courageous. It causes conflict; and Conflict brings pain, but it also leads to healing. I have come to realize that even though the truth sometimes hurts, it is better to work peacefully through PTA, patience, tolerance & acceptance; through negotiating and compromising than to jump headlong into the culture of war. We cannot win if we stoop to the level of the people who believe “might makes right.” Only love wins. And peacemaking is love in action.
Peacemakers who tell the truth are needed now-a-days more than ever. We need to fill out the roster with brave souls. Peacemakers and prophets have to keep peeling back the thin cultural veneer of vileness, hatred, fear, denial and anger to see that we are all suffering, all are grieving. “Hate is just a bodyguard for grief,” my friend, Charles Eisenstein says. Suicide, depression, addiction all thrive in the dark, in well-kept secrets, in the moist, puss-filled interior. Hate guards the door. Lets rip the veneer off and start the healing.
Speaking from a deep connection and reverence of Jesus, Pope Francis has said it like this: “The name of God cannot be used to justify violence. Peace alone is holy. Peace alone is holy, not war.” He goes on to say: If violence has its source in the human heart, then it is fundamental that nonviolence be practiced within families. We must end domestic abuse and end abuse of women and children. The politics of nonviolence have to begin in the home and then spread to the entire human family.”
When I think of peacemakers, I cannot help but think of President Jimmy Carter, who was my commander in Chief when I entered the Marines at age 17. Jimmy Carter is certainly a good example of a Bible-believing, faithful Christian who took up a life of love-in-action and peacemaking, even in retirement, when one might expect him to be more retiring. What I remember most about Jimmy is courage. When the middle east was exploding, it took a lot of guts to stick to his principles. His biggest accomplishment was the solidification of peace between Egypt and Israel. He wanted to go further. The CIA had other plans.
There are many folks, conservative people mostly, who believe that Carter’s presidency was a failure, and I would say that he made a few mistakes. But not with the Iranian hostage crisis; he avoided putting US boots on the ground, in a war with Iran. The hostage crisis had been dragging on; and it became a political issue in the next race for President, “the defining issue” over which Reagan won. Looking back, we see that Reagan’s people paid to get the hostages released; eventually funneling millions of dollars worth of weapons to the Ayatollah. At the same time, the CIA was giving millions of dollars to Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, just as they had done years before to the Afghani freedom fighters, vaulting terrorist Osama bin Laden to world power. Fomenting war cannot continue; we know the truth. We can no longer ignore the fact that the very dictators we put into power always come back to fight us.
But its hard to live by the addage: "You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.' But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. And also recall Jesus said: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Dr. King wrote about this lesson as well. You can read what I said about it in the St. Paul’s e-newsletter last week.
So the Beatitudes, and many of Jesus’ more difficult teachings are what pulled me out of the culture of violence and into this mission and ministry of peace and justice building we have here today. And what I realized over the years, is that it takes a lot of courage to be a peacemaker. It took a great deal of self-control to not fight that guy who sucker punched me. And the action movie heroes we idolize, and the people we hold up as role models, I respect their courage, their brave insightfulness, coolness under pressure, but what I really respect is bravery facing the culture of violence with a prophetic witness that drives the dual edged sword of truth. Slicing into the culture. Opening the sores. Exposing the lies. It is time for that now.
Searching. Seeking. I look for more understanding in these trying times. We are all searching. We are all in this together.
See if you can name the author of this quote : "Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that. Hate multiplies hate, violence multiplies violence, and toughness multiplies toughness in a descending spiral of destruction ....The chain reaction of evil -- hate begetting hate, wars producing more wars -- must be broken, or we shall be plunged into the dark abyss of annihilation." Dr. King
How about this quote from a well-known UCC minister: "The cause of violence is not ignorance. It is self-interest. ... Only reverence can restrain violence - reverence for human life and the environment ." He was the Chaplain @ Yale University for many years. ~Rev. William Sloan Coffin, Jr.
Here’s another quote; see if you can guess who said it: "We must be prepared to make heroic sacrifices for the cause of peace that we make ungrudgingly for the cause of war. There is no task that is more important or closer to my heart." Scientist, atom splitter, famous absent-minded, or should I say, nutty professor: ~Albert Einstein
And do you know who said this: "Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and are not clothed." Famous general who became POTUS: ~Dwight D. Eisenhower
And who said this: "I hope...that mankind will at length, as they call themselves reasonable creatures, have reason and sense enough to settle their differences without cutting throats; for in my opinion there never was a good war, or a bad peace." ~Benjamin Franklin
"While seeking revenge, dig two graves - one for yourself." ~Doug Horton
"I do not want the peace which passeth understanding; I want the understanding which bringeth peace." ~Helen Keller said that; and we need look no further than to Jesus in the Beatitudes.