The Heroic Rejoicers

PersecutedI write this post with some irony.  Today it is Christmas Eve.  Time around the Christmas tree and exchanging presents is a nice thing and I am enjoying it with all the reflection of Christ’s birth that the holiday calls for.

But the irony comes in where I remember that I am writing a blog series on the Sermon On The Mount and the latest installment is a bitter one.  The discourse is a powerful one that maps out possibly the best set of how to live the Christian life and takes what my survival instincts want to call a detour.

“‘Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”

When a reader takes in all of the Beattitudes knowing that this is at the beginning of a movement it is easy to project the ideal in its speaker’s intention that the “arriving” of a grand kingdom would have a goal of coming out on top.  The kingdom that appeals to human instincts would be one that feels good and is recognized with worldly appeal and security.

But this religious leader sees a kingdom on earth that is progressive to the point of two things: a heavenly reward and a heavenly perspective.  This comes later, but when Jesus starts of his model of the spiritual family prayer we call the “Lord’s Prayer” of the “Our Father” it nails our concentration into keeping the holy name of the great I AM as sacred in our hearts in all the universe.  By keeping ourselves grounded in this we can have a hope that is in Christ who is the “anchor of our soul” (Hebrews 6:19).

So if this goes into our guts and means something to use when we suffer for believing and doing right, we don’t just survive but thrive.  Thriving how?  Rejoicing!  Some translations of joy from the Hebrew used suggest someone literally jumping in the air.  But for some that rejoicing is a simple sense of saying with meaning “It is well with my soul”.

But is this things about the prophets a distraction?  No.  In contrast to human thinking that is centered on the planning of what is next, Jesus serves here as a historian of salvation history.  As long as there has been a covenantal mark on the earth by God, like a promise with a down payment, there has been a plot for good rooted in eternal life in conflict with those who would hate God because their deeds are evil and they prefer darkness.  For those who suffer of their faith in Jesus, He comforts them in saying that they are not alone in the agenda of grace in the mess of earth.

And now we can get very practical when we consider ISIS.  Their atrocities are uspeakable.  They astound me on their brazenness of evil that includes beheading and crucifying children.  I ask, “How long O Lord?” But I have to believe that God knows what He is doing even when I want something immediately resolved.  I blogged on this here:

https://jembenjamin.wordpress.com/2013/08/19/mercy-beats-judgement/

I come away from this in some further irony by saying that I cannot pray for a renewal of the Church on all the nicer Beattitides without praying for this piece of cilantro called persecution to come.  Theologically it s a promotion.  But am I up for the job? How can I know?

` Some practical ways I can examine myself in this is on how deeply I apply all of the prior Beattitudes.  Through a daily examination of conscience I should put my heart before God and ask where I have not cooperated with the work of the Holy Spirit to be a peacemaker, simplify my spirituality, be a servant to my neighbor and so forth.  With my enduring theory that a relationship, much less with God, is not an instant formula but a process there is hope that I would endure persecution and rejoice even unto death. What is stopping us?

Peacemaking Beyond Slogans

Peacemakers

Recently I posted about mercy for the mess in Fergeson.  Now there has been an explosion of outrage about another verdict that is being interpreted in a racial prism in New York.   Again there is another hotbed about the history of racism.  The social sciences are in full bloom with critical theory which focuses on marginalized peoples being oppressed by the haves over  the have nots by gender, race and class.  And then come the slogans to supposedly make discord simpler.  Making peace.  Burying the hatchet.  Settling differences.

As a social worker I have been trained and placed for situations where two parties are connected but lacking understanding and respect for each other.  Such traits give way to aggressiveness which is all about violating the boundaries of the other to get ones power back from someone that robbed them.

The world uses force to solve problems.  Person to person or nation to nation going to war of words, arms or both.  In a nation that has different races or ethnicity that are in a never-ending cycle of blame and unforgivness, force by riot or capricious application of civil authorities seems to go the default path of least resistance when it is all one knows.

But an alternative would come down to understanding others, respecting them and a proper understanding of what power is supposed to be within ones self.

The saying of “being quick to listen and slow to speak” is both simple and true. If someone is letting their own adrenalin from frustration do the thinking for them then they will only struggle and at best bring the other person down with them.  A common poverty in humanity is not being heard and by not listening to the person you disagree with you are contributing to this poverty.

As for the respect I speak of, a custom in monasteries applies for this.  If a brother brings a word or correction to you then you wait 24 hours before making the response.  The catch is that in those 24 hours you take to heart what was said, pray about it and resist the temptation to give them the “royal comeback”.  Is there a way I missed out on the needs of the other?  What is their story?  How can I communicate with them better?  How can I bless them?  “Love your enemies” seems to the common thinking to be too tall an order.  But how enriched are we really by doing the opposite?

But what a definition of power? There are three as I see it..  One is in an over dependence on others’ opinions or compliments.  Even when someone is open to that they will get filled and shortly after be hungry for more.

A second one is feeling a sense of esteem at the expense of others esteem or dignity.  This is pride and when one steals from the dignity of others it is never enough.

But the third is having a sense of being fully integrated into living a consistent life with how you were created to be.  But even at a subconscious level for an atheist, this only happens if they are in touch at least with natural law.  Divine moral law would be better.

But in this dysfunctional world, there is too much of the first two and not enough of the third.  What would it look like to see peace break out instead of war by the influence of true peace?  This peace would need to be sustainable and respect the dignity of persons and large groups of people.

This thunderbolt of grace for the world is spoken of  with the saying “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.”

I would next address the Christ followers and the Christ inquirers out there. Make no secular mistake by watering down “blessed” and “children of God”.  This world could use a bit more family/community and a bit more blessing.  A humanist attempt at this works only so long until true genuineness and accountability breaks down.

If one were to be open minded that peacemaking best is shown through Christianity as it was first intended, then it is worth considering  that not long before the peacemakers comment Jesus said this it was spoken from above, “This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased”.  If you want to say that you are walking out a life that is consistent with being a child of Light, then take God’s perspective and look for the mark of the Father’s love in your greatest enemy.  If “grace and truth were realized in Jesus Christ” (John 1:17) then let Him be realized in you and through you when the ugliness of conflict happens by the contemplative nature of prayer.  That means being so caught up in the divine grace that your heart has a an inspired teflon on it so the drama of politics, racism, class warfare (from both sides) do not stick.

So what does the transformed peacemaker do in sharing implicitly or explicitly the gospel of peace?  First, it is above all the opinion of God for your life that matters.  Second is that have an immeasurable debt to love one another.  Third, is that what we say or do is best applied upward to reflect back to a loving God an awe and appreciation for every breath.  As I am writing this approaching Christmas, I think that this attitude fleshes out “peace on earth and good will toward men.”

And from that is the beauty of the overflow that makes peace which will last, be authentic and respect the dignity of the person as they are and not where they “ought to be at by now”.  We testify to these truths by our lives like it is alleged Francis of Assisi said, “Preach the gospel at all times.  If needed say words”.  This is where the haters, the skeptics and the confused who live outside of peace will see a good context of religion in their lives that even the most nonreligious will respect.  It truly is “give peace a chance”.  But it is giving it the right way. What is stopping us?

Last I leave the reader a link to the movie Grand Canyon.  I wish I could find the perfect clip that fits what I am talking about.  It involves some negative stereotypes of a racial minority.  I apologize if that offends anyone.  But it also involves someone who is a racial minority doing the right thing. Also the audio is not good so listen keenly.  Oh, and with your ears as well.