Category: Peace

God

God is a verb, not a noun.

—R. Buckminster Fuller

Let me begin by saying what God is not. God has no preferred pronouns. God is not a he, she, they, or it. God is not a transcendent, omnipotent, omnipresent, omniscient, interventionist, supernatural being who can intercede in history, answer prayers, or perform miracles. There is no observable evidence for any of these claims. The continual presence of war, widespread gun violence, an epidemic of drug overdoses, the existence of massive poverty—all these put a lie to an interventionist, supernatural being acting for the good.

It appears that everything I learned in catechism classes about God was wrong. It reflected a God of the Old Testament as influenced by Greek philosophers and then interpreted by Medieval theologians.

Instead, according to the First Letter of John, “God is Love.”

God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in them. (1 John 4:16)

In Greek, the language of the New Testament, the phrase “God is Love” is “theos ein agapē” (THEH-ohs ayn ag-AH-pay). Agapē (ag-AH-pay) implies a selfless love, a self-giving love, often an unconditional love. It is a love directed toward others, putting the needs of others ahead of oneself. This is the kind of love people saw in Jesus. And for the early Christian writers, it described the love of God.

When the Bible declares that God is Love, it means that these two language symbols—God and Love—are identical. If God is Love, then the converse is also true: Love is God. God is not a loving being. God is Love itself.

Scholar Don Cupitt has written:

In the New Testament, in the First Letter of John, we are told that the words Love and God are convertible. You can’t slip a knife between them. If you love your fellow human being, you know God and are in God, whereas if you don’t love, you don’t know God . . . The word God doesn’t designate a distinct metaphysical being; it is simply Love’s name.

Therefore, the word “God” is a name we give to the spirit of selfless love found at the depths of our humanity and experienced in the relationship of human love toward one another.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer commented on our relationship to God:

Our relation to God is not a religious relationship to a supreme being, absolute in power and goodness, which is a spurious conception of transcendence, but a new life for others, through participation in the being of God.

The radical message of the New Testament is that God is no longer an external being who dwells in heaven. Instead of a transcendent God, God is immanent—within humanity. God has come to dwell among us, not just in the person of Jesus, but within the heart of every human being. Indeed, God has always—and only—been a part of humanity, located deep within human consciousness and projected as a divine actor in the human story.

God, in the form of compassionate love, is a latent presence within each of us, but this God remains hidden until humans outwardly express love toward others. Loving one another is the full expression of God on earth.

No one has seen God, but if we love one another, God lives in us, and God’s love is brought to full expression in us. (1 John 4:12)

God becomes an immanent reality within our hearts, within our minds, within our relationships, and in our actions. Selfless love is a divine reality that animates us, empowers us, and transforms us from self-centered and selfish individuals to self-giving people.

That means you cannot pray for divine intervention in life. Prayer cannot persuade God or change God’s mind. Instead, prayer is meant to focus our thoughts, to change us into more compassionate people, and to cause us to act on behalf of others.

God cannot act independently from humans. God has no power other than the relatively weak power of human love. Love represents the highest, deepest, and most powerful force in human life. It is the energy that fosters human growth and change. Love is the impulse behind empathy and concern, and the fuel that drives compassion and justice.

What we need is a much more powerful understanding and experience of a love that reorients our lives and transforms us into fully-human beings, fully-human agents of the selfless love we call God. If we allow it to be unleashed, the divine love within us will not let us remain the same. The radical love we see in Jesus pulls at us; it pushes and prods us out of our insular shells. It forces us to become more than we are, more than we are comfortable with, and ultimately all we are meant to be.

This means we have an enormous duty: to join with others in a conspiracy of love. Alone, we can do little. United, we have the power to change the world. The conspiracy of love is a small movement at the margins of society prodding the powers and principalities of an unjust world toward transformation. It is a network of people in our communities and around the globe who are connected by a common vision and mission. It begins small, working from the margins and from the bottom up, but the whole purpose is to effect great change over the lives of many people who are hurting and suffering under the way things are. It involves feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, visiting the imprisoned, caring for the sick, accepting the unacceptable, and ultimately transforming the politics of our day.

This is the conspiracy initiated by Jesus—people of compassion and good will engaged in the unending transformation of themselves, their families, their communities, their nations, and the world at large. The vision of Jesus can best be described in the words of philosopher Charles Eisenstein as “that more beautiful world our hearts know is possible.” Not only does Jesus envision a more beautiful world, but it is more peaceful and just as well. It promises the poor of the world access to the fundamental means of life—food, clothing, shelter, health care, and education for a better tomorrow. And it allows us to address the powers of death: the devastation of war, repeated gun violence, increasing drug overdoses, and the massive poverty found everywhere around us. All in the name of Love.

 

O God of Peace and Love

O God of peace, be with us now.
Stand here beside us; bring hope this day.
Transform this world of greed and strife,
From domination to your new way.
Teach us to make an end to war,
An end to bloodshed, an end to hate.
May hearts and hands in your new reign
End earth’s oppression and liberate.

Empower us so we can build
A world of justice where all can share.
Providing food to all in need
With your compassion and loving care.
The poor, the lame, the sick, the blind,
Are brothers, sisters, the whole world round.
You now invite them far and near
To your great banquet of love unbound.

You send us forth to find the lost,
Abandoned, lonely, and homeless ones.
You welcome all in your embrace
Forgiving freely as daughters, sons.
You set before our hungry eyes
A feast of plenty with wine and song.
We gather round as family,
A loving circle, where all belong.

You bless all those who work for peace
And cry for justice across the land.
You give us strength to speak your word.
Against all powers, you help us stand.
You teach us how to turn the cheek,
Resisting evil, with peaceful force.
You teach us love for enemies.
Gracious, forgiving, you are love’s source.

O God of love, be with us now.
Stir up your power, transform the earth.
Renew our minds, refresh our hearts,
Send peace and justice, give hope new birth.
Establish your reign here and now,
And help us live a more loving way,
That peace may flourish in our world
And streams of justice cascade today.

 

Music: “Wexford Carol” (Carul Loch Garman) — Traditional
© 2002

the Way of Jesus: a litany

Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God.

     Saying, “The kingdom of God has come near.”

The good news is that the kingdom has come in the here and now.

     “The kingdom of God is right here in your presence.”

He taught his disciples a way of living.

     So, the first followers of Jesus became known as the “followers of the Way.”

Following Jesus means practicing radical love.

     “Love your enemies and do good to those who hate you.”

Following Jesus means practicing lavish generosity.

     “Give to everyone who begs from you.”

Following Jesus means practicing extravagant forgiveness.

     “Forgive seventy times seven times.”

Following Jesus means practicing inclusive hospitality.

     He shared meals with the despised and marginalized.

Following Jesus means practicing compassionate action.

     Jesus was moved with compassion to heal the sick and feed the hungry.

Following Jesus means practicing selfless service.

     “Whoever wants to be first must be the last of all and servant of all.”

Following Jesus means practicing a passion for justice.

     “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for justice.”

Following Jesus means practicing creative nonviolence.

     “If anyone hits you on your right cheek, offer him your left cheek too.”

Following Jesus means practicing simple living.

     “Do not worry about what you will eat, or what you will drink, or what you will wear.”

Make us followers of the way of Jesus.

     Enable us to give up self-centered ambition,

     To take up our crosses,

     And to follow Jesus.

 

 

Copyright © 2024, Kurt Struckmeyer

the kingdom of God: an introduction

The time is fulfilled, the kingdom is at hand. (Mark 1:15)

The kingdom of God has come upon you. (Luke 11:20)

The kingdom of God is among you. (Luke 17:21)

The kingdom of God is spread out upon the earth, and men do not see it. (Gospel of Thomas 11)

At the heart of the gospel of Jesus is the kingdom of God. This one phrase sums up the entire ministry of Jesus and his whole life’s work. Jesus spoke in Aramaic and the New Testament was written in Greek. The expression kingdom of Godbasileia tou theou (bas-il-EH-ah too THEH-oo) in Greek and malkutha d’elaha (mal-KOOTH-ah dehl-ah-HAH) in Aramaic—points to the ruling activity of God over human social relationships.

As we read the gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke, we see that every thought and saying of Jesus was directed and subordinated to one single thing: the realization of the reign of God’s love, compassion, justice, and peace within human society. Although Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God frequently, he never clearly defined it. Instead, he spoke of it in parables, comparing something familiar (mustard seed, leaven, lost coins, a man who sowed a field) with something unfamiliar.

Then he said, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it?” (Luke 13:18)

Therefore, we must always test any proposed definition or meaning of the kingdom against the parables. Over the centuries, a variety of interpretations of what Jesus meant by the kingdom of God have been put forth. We will briefly examine six of the most common explanations: the reign of God as 1) heaven, 2) an inner spiritual experience, 3) the church, 4) a separate society, 5) a new state, and 6) a new world. Continue reading

the weight of a snowflake

When you become discouraged by the seeming immensity of the task before us, remember this little fable about a conversation between two birds—a dove and a chickadee.

“Tell me the weight of a snowflake,” a chickadee asked a wild dove. “Nothing more than nothing,” was the answer. “In that case, I must tell you a marvelous story,” the chickadee said.

“I sat on the branch of a fir tree, close to its trunk, when it began to snow, not heavily, not in a raging blizzard, no, just like in a dream, without any violence. Since I didn’t have anything else to do, I counted the snowflakes settling on the twigs and branch. Their number was exactly 3,741,952. When the next snowflake dropped onto the branch—nothing more than nothing, as you say—the branch broke off.”

Having said that, the chickadee flew away.

The dove, since Noah’s time an authority on the matter, thought about the story for a while, and finally said to herself: “Perhaps there is only one person’s voice lacking for peace and justice to come about in the world.”

a modest proposal for peace

Christians make up over half of the world’s population. But all too many Christians support the use of violence and the idea of violent retribution. Many Christians cheered as the U.S. invaded first Afghanistan and then Iraq. According to pollsters, the majority of people in pews on Sunday morning support the use of torture in the name of security. They support capital punishment. And far too many of them own firearms. Christians are just like everybody else, accommodated to the prevailing culture in which we live. And we all know we live in a culture that supports violence as national policy, celebrates violence in entertainment, and worships their guns.

Today, the United States has military bases in 150 countries around the world. U.S. military spending represents 40 percent of the world’s total outlay on arms and armies, more than the next thirteen highest-spending countries in the world combined, including potential international enemies Russia, China, North Korea, and Iran.  (China and Russia combined spend less than one-third of our military expenditures.) Fifty-four percent of our federal income tax dollars are spent on the military: present, past, and future. The military-industrial complex that President Eisenhower warned the nation about requires the constant identification of an enemy to justify increased levels of spending. Yet, while we spend enormous sums to prepare for military action abroad, we are clearly not safe from violence at home.

Apart from those places on the planet actively engaged in civil war or armed conflict, America may be one of the most violent places on earth to live, especially among highly industrialized nations. In the United States, above-average levels of violent crime and particularly high levels of gun violence and homicide define our nation and set us apart from other prosperous developed nations in North America, Europe, and Asia. Way apart.

We live in a “male warrior culture” that is aided and abetted by a deep and abiding love affair with guns. Firearms at Bunker Hill and on the American frontier play a mythic role in our national history. The individual right to keep and bear arms is enshrined in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution and is often treated as a sacred right above all others, including life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

Day in and day out, the violent armed male is glorified and celebrated in our media and entertainment. Is there any wonder why a person with mental issues may want to go out in a hail of bullets like one of the fictional heroes of television, film, and video games? Mix a little male testosterone with a touch of depression and anger fueled by alcohol, and you have a gun death in the making. Anger, depression, and guns. It is a perfect storm. The result: the slaughter of coworkers, college students, moviegoers, shoppers, and young children. Mentally ill people exist in every nation. But emotionally disturbed people with easy access to automatic weapons with great destructive capability is a uniquely American problem.

In 2010—a typical year—the United States experienced 31,513 deaths from firearms, ten times the number of people who perished in the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. The firearm deaths include 19,308 suicides, 11,015 homicides, and 600 accidents. Beyond this, the number of non-fatal injuries from firearms is truly significant—from 75,000 to 100,000 every year, including about 20,000 injuries in children aged 0 to 19 years.

According to the Small Arms Survey, roughly 650 million of the 875 million weapons in the world are in the hands of civilians, and one-third of the world’s guns (280 million) are in the hands of American civilians. Imagine the scope of this: the U.S. which has 5 percent of the world’s population owns 33 percent of its guns. Gun ownership in the United States is unparalleled in the world—nine guns for every ten Americans. (Yemen comes in a distant second.)

At the root of militarism abroad and gun violence at home is a global myth that is as ancient as civilization itself. People in nearly every society are enculturated from an early age to believe that violence is a necessary and inevitable part of human life. Evil and violence often go hand in hand. These two forces have always been a part of human history since the rise of the earliest civilizations, and we believe that they will remain a part of human life forever. We are taught to believe that we can never eliminate the presence of evil and violence, but can temporarily hold their powers at bay. But the only way to do that—the only really effective tool, we believe—is more violence, stronger violence, staggering violence.

Biblical scholar Walter Wink (1935–2012) called this belief “the myth of redemptive violence.” At the heart of the myth is a basic story which is retold ad infinitum: A hero (usually male) is overcome by evil forces. They take his possessions, kill his family, beat him savagely, and leave him for dead. The hero regains his strength and seeks out the evildoers. He takes revenge in a bloodbath of violence. It is a story told in terms of black and white. The hero, whom we identify with, is always good, while the evil forces are always completely evil. There is no hope for their transformation. The only effective solution to the conflict is their inevitable violent defeat. And yet, in the end, we know that even more evildoers still lurk in the shadows, awaiting their next opportunity to terrorize good and decent people.

We’ve all seen, read, or heard a multitude of stories based on the myth of redemptive violence. It is found repeatedly in novels, films, children’s cartoons, and television programs. Moreover, it is a fundamental belief across all civilizations and religions. It is far more compelling than any religious teaching or belief in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. As a result, most of us trust violence—not love—to save us. We trust violence—not God—to deliver us from evil. Wink believed that the myth of redemptive violence was more deeply held in America than anything Christianity teaches. And it is probably a more deeply held belief among Christians than anything Jesus said to the contrary.

It was to people such as us—who are shaped by a pervasive cultural conformity—that Jesus proclaimed a new way of thinking and living. The process of transformation that Jesus proposed requires a questioning of all of our deeply held assumptions and inherited beliefs—political, economic, and religious.

Writer and activist Jim Wallis (b. 1948)—founder of the Sojourners publication and organization—has said, “The call to discipleship, the call to follow Jesus Christ, demands a fundamental break with the dominant values and conformist patterns of the majority culture.”

Our most persistent problem is that we try to make the claims of Christ negotiable with the claims and demands of the world . . . The principal way the world system seeks to overcome the church is by trying to squeeze the church into its own mold, to reduce the church to conformity. Therefore, the church must resist the constant temptation to reduce the claims of Christ, soften the demands of the gospel, ease the tension between the church and the world, and allow the ever radical message to be squeezed into more comfortable and congenial forms and styles . . . The community of believers must expect to find themselves at variance with the social consensus, the political conformity, and the popular wisdom of their society, for they are witnesses to a whole new order. (Agenda for Biblical People)

Jesus called people to transfer their allegiance from the self-serving values of empire to the servanthood values of the kingdom of God. Turn the other cheek, walk the second mile, give up your shirt as well as your coat, forgive seventy times seven, love your neighbor, love your enemy, do to others as you would have done to yourself. These are the words of a non-conformist. And the ethic of love that he modeled is sure to pit us against our culture, our governing authorities, and even our churches.

Some years ago I saw a poster that said “A Modest Proposal for Peace: Let Christians Stop Killing Christians.”

So what if Christians simply stopped killing other Christians and then possibly stopped killing other people as well? What if Christians called for a reduction in our bloated military spending? What if Christians stopped participating in war and sending their sons and daughters into the service of the endless war machine? What if Christians disarmed their homes and removed all firearms? What if Christian churches preached creative nonviolence and the disarmed life? What if Christians actually started following the way Jesus?

What if?

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