Saturday, September 22, 2007

Power and the Reign of God

A few random reflections prompted by praying in front of the White House ...
The reign of God announces a profoundly different kind of kingdom, not so much about power as it is about covenant fidelity – about steadfast faithfulness, about a Godly power that is concerned not with the acquisition of more power but, instead, concerned first and foremost precisely about the condition of those with no power. Imagine our rulers putting such concerns first – imagine Republicans and Democrats concerned not with who controls the Senate but with how the hungry are to be fed, not with who will win the White House but with how the sick are to be cared for, not with the culture wars of Red and Blue but with how a just and lasting peace can be constructed. This is not to say that there are no important differences between the parties, but it is to call deeply into question their quite similar, and similarly idolatrous, relationships to the question of power.
When, for instance, the psalms sing kingdom praises, they recall also the nature of God and of God’s power, telling us that this God “keeps faith for ever, executes justice for the oppressed, gives food to the hungry, sets the prisoners free, opens the eyes of the blind, lifts up those who are bowed down, loves the righteous, watches over the strangers, and upholds the orphan and the widow.”
We are called into relationship with this God. We are called to trust this God before any princes and rulers, any Democrat or Republican, and even and especially against the lure of so many socially constructed idols: militarism, consumerism and every other “ism” that tempts us to put our trust in something less than ultimate, something other than God. And we are called to put first in our lives the same concerns as this God puts first – precisely the concerns that all the false gods ignore or belittle: justice, welcome of strangers, compassion for the outcast and marginalized, shalom for all creation.
It's a different kind of commonwealth that governs the beloved community.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Prayers for Peace

Here's a photo from the White House witness, taken as we gathered at the fence to pray and lay stones. The guards allowed us to leave them there for about 10 minutes -- wouldn't want any long-term reminders of the 4,000 dead Americans and the tens of thousands of dead Iraqis.
We will return to remind them again and again and again.
Meanwhile, the stones themselves will cry out loud.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Kingdom Weather

Ran across this, today, in reading Walter Brueggemann's most recent, Mandate to Difference:
Dominant culture is committed to 24/7 about everything, about work, about play and self-indulgence, about instant availability by cell phone or whatever. There is no space left for the human spirit, and attentiveness to the underneath mystery of human life is totally eroded. No sabbath here!
Well, I think I'll shut down the computer, turn off the e-mail, and go for a walk on this absolutely beautiful autumn afternoon. Even in the midst of the darkness of these days, sun rises call out to us, the birds still sing, autumn flowers bloom and the sky is clear blue. We may make a mess of things, but creation awaits the beloved community with open arms. Sabbath time is essential to peacemaking and the work of justice.

Monday, September 17, 2007

The Next War ... and the One After That

The Outlook section of the Sunday Post opened with the most depressing headline imaginable: The Next War. The article beneath it, by former NATO commander Wesley Clark, details military lessons from Iraq and other recent American wars that ought to inform preparations for the next war.
Oh, sure, Clark closes with an almost obligatory final sentence, “The best war is the one that doesn’t have to be fought, and the best military is the one capable and versatile enough to deter the next war in the first place.” But the preceding twenty paragraphs are spent detailing how we need to keep up “skill in hunting and killing our foes” and improve our skills in “concealing and protecting our troops.”
Can one imagine a main stream paper such as the Post giving as much space to preparing for the end of war as they do to preparing for the next war? As long as the powers that be spend time, talent and treasure on preparing for war Plato’s words will remain true: only the dead have seen the end of war.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

The Stones Themselves

I'm happy to report that no one got arrested this evening, but I believe the days for that may lie ahead. More than 100 folks showed up this evening to witness for peace in front of the White House. It was a spirited gathering, and that spirit is what leads me to believe that the days for disobedience lie ahead.
In any case, here's the text we used this evening, followed by my brief remarks.
Luke 19.35-45 -- Then they brought the colt to Jesus; and after throwing their cloaks on the colt, they set Jesus on it. As he rode along, people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying,
‘Blessed is the king
who comes in the name of the Lord!
Peace in heaven,
and glory in the highest heaven!’
Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to him, ‘Teacher, order your disciples to stop.’ He answered, ‘I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out.’

I want to share a few words spoken forty years ago by Dr. King in his famous call to break silence concerning Vietnam. King said, “The past is prophetic in that it asserts loudly that wars are poor chisels for carving out peaceful tomorrows. One day we must come to see that peace is not merely a distant goal that we seek, but a means by which we arrive at that goal. We must pursue peaceful ends through peaceful means.”
Those words are just a true today as they were when King spoke them to the Riverside Church in New York. As we stand here in front of the White House, witnessing for the peace we yearn to experience, we do so in the same spirit King invoked.
A few weeks ago, when the call came to continue the witness begun last March at the Cathedral, a few of us got together. As we talked, we shared our mutual disappointment that the voice of the church – so clear and strong in opposition to the war before it began – had become so tamed, so timid, so tepid, as the war drags on.
I think Jesus would long since have turned to the stones to cry out, because we, his followers, have been effectively silenced.
Last March, we broke that silence, and tonight, in places across the nation, we are echoing that silence-shattering call for an end to the war and the occupation.
It’s been a difficult week, and precisely that difficulty makes what we do here tonight all the more important.
Rick Ufford-Chase, the director of the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship and one of the conveners of the Christian Peace Witness for Iraq, sent out an e-mail a couple of days ago noting the darkness of these days.
He quoted Archbishop Oscar Romero, who, shortly before he was martyred, said, “try not to simply depend on hope, because unfulfilled hope leads to despair, and we have no need of despairing people. Try instead to be faithful.”
We are here tonight, not out of some false hope that our showing up in front of the White House is going to somehow change the policies that emanate from that building. We are not so naïve as that.
But neither are we despairing, because we come here with a deep and profound faith that the God who is Lord of history desires shalom. By our simple witness this evening we give voice to that deep desire for peace.
We do so tonight by taking up the long tradition of using stones to mark and remember, and we do so in the tradition of the prophet, Habakkuk (2:8-11), whose words we heard a few minutes ago. The Lord told Habakkuk to “write the vision; make it plain on tablets.”
Give it voice; make it clear; let the people understand. That’s what we’re doing tonight with these simple stones. So give it voice, make it clear, and let the people understand:
What do we want?
When do we want it?
Our permit is for a prayer liturgy … wouldn’t it be a shame if a rally broke out?
Actually, liturgy means, literally, the work of the people. I submit to you that the work of the people of faith is peacemaking. It’s not always quiet work. Sometimes it sounds like a rally; often it’s messy and noisy; usually it involves breaking silence; always it involves faithfully standing in the public square speaking the truth in love.
But it’s not just the truth in love, it’s that the truth is love.
Just as war is a poor chisel for carving a peaceful tomorrow, hate can never carve a space for love, nor can it ever speak truth.
Tonight, as we carry stones across this park and place them at the gates of power, we do so trusting that love will cast out all fear – even that deep fear casting such a pall over our time.
That trust is the mark of our faithfulness, and, to the extent that we dare to hope, that faith is the ground of our hope. That though the wrong seems oft so strong, the God of love and justice is the ruler yet. That though truth stumbles these days in the public square, ultimately we shall know the truth and it shall set us free from the lies that lead to war. That though the arc of the moral universe seems sometimes so very long, it does bend toward justice and to God’s shalom.
It is our work and our witness to bend it just a little further tonight.
(If you're in the DC area and would like to help continue and expand this witness, please send me a note: