The Beautiful Disruption of Peace

Peace. What do you think of when you hear this word? It’s a loaded word, full of millions of ideas about what it is, what it looks like, and how it would work in a world full of division, dis-integration. There’s no sugar-coating one could do to cover up the lack of peace that we have on earth. Sure, we could speak of all the good, beauty, love, and sacrifice that exists and has been demonstrated, but just as all the hate can’t cover up the goodness, so all the goodness can’t cover up all the hate. This is true for the Church as well, and this is where my heart breaks and feels the tension of a people who have been reconciled to God, but we can’t figure out how to be reconciled to one another. I know one major reason is because we all have a different idea of peace, which actually effects how we see justice at work.

We can’t minimize our situation, no matter how painful it is, in an effort to try and make our lives feel better. We are dis-integrated and dis-membered. Maybe one of the only ways forward at this point is to re-integrate and re-member (or in many instances, to integrate and member for the first time). I hope to speak of peace in such a way that helps you long to be re-integrated and re-membered to your brothers and sisters whom you’ve been dis-integrated and dis-membered from.

In the narrative of Scripture, the prophet Isaiah refers to the Messiah (the promised redeemer) to be born in years to come, calling him, “Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Is. 9:6).

Later on, the Apostle Paul refers to Jesus as being “our peace.”

13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace… (Ephesians 2:13-15)

Jesus is our peace, Paul says. He’s the one who broke down the wall of division between Jews and Gentiles by becoming the curse of mankind and absorbing the wickedness of humanity into himself. That’s why his death is so important, and powerful. His death is not some sick celebration of sadistic people who glory in pain and suffering. His death is a celebration because it is God himself (John 1:1), who became human, to put to death the consequence and finality of death and wickedness. In his death, all the evil and wickedness on earth now has a chance to be made into life-giving goodness. This is also why his resurrection means so much. In his resurrection, we see not only a God who has power over wickedness and death, but a God who invites us into his resurrected life, indeed to be the ones who walk out of the tombs and be Christ to one another.

But Jesus also says something in Luke 12 that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions regrading peace: Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division” (Luke 12:51).

What’s Jesus doing here? Is he contradicting himself? I thought one of His names was “Prince of Peace”? Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who often said, “Peace be with you,” knows that for true peace to be made in a world full of dis-integration and dis-memberment, there must be a stirring, a shaking of the pot, a realization that we are not alright and all right. Peace then sometimes entails bringing to light that which others want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger, but peace will prevail, eventually, even if in death. In many cases the death that must take place among those who are Jesus’ people, is the death of pride, of the desire to self-protect and be right, of the desire to payback and be with only those who think and act similar.

Maybe an understanding of shalom will help in this discussion. Shalom is a Hebrew word that has been translated in English as the word peace. But shalom is a loaded word in the Hebrew language. Shalom does mean peace, but it means more than that. It means peace with justice, universal peace, flourishing of all creation, the way things are supposed to be. So when we speak of peace, we could think, “the way things are supposed to be.” This is how Cornelius Plantinga Jr. puts it. He calls sin a perversion against God’s gracious plan, which is “not the way it’s supposed to be.”

Shalom was seen in the Garden of Eden, and sin “vandalized” shalom, says Plantinga. On this side of the Garden, maybe shalom is one of those concepts that we learn what it means more by seeing/realizing the absence of it. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things were supposed to be, and then maybe we receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of that experience. This is why the disruption must take place for peace to become real in the hearts of God’s people. To be re-integrated or re-membered to people you don’t think you belong to or are separate from, means we need to be re-minded that things are not the way they’re supposed to be, and in this re-membering, our hearts would break that we have been the ones who’ve contributed to the dis-integration of our own people.

Being a presence of peace when things are chaotic and full of injustices, will always disturb first. It’s like turning on really bright lights in a dark room when people are sleeping or just waking up; angry shouts are hurled at the one who turned the lights on. “Turn them off!” as a pillow or a shoe flies across the room at the one who turned the lights on. And if that person keeps the light on, you are sure that there will be a confrontation. The sleeping ones who’ve been awakened will often get out of bed and turn the lights back off. Now what to do? Do you take the risk and turn the lights back on, or do you get the point and move on? I’m not here to answer specifics as to what to do, but I do know a stirring must take place for peace to be real.

The late Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for his peaceful protests amongst his enemies. In one of his essays, “Non-violoence: The Only Road to Freedom,” King says that the way to shalom “will be accomplished by persons who have the courage to put an end to suffering by willingly suffering themselves rather than inflict suffering on others.” This is one way of turning on the lights. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God” (Matthew 5:9). In the book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say this about contentiousness (which is the opposite of peaceableness): “Like a parasite living on a host, contentiousness feeds on rage and rancor, antipathy and animosity, to fan the fire of discord and accelerate the spiral of violence.” (214).

To confront the lack of peace in this world takes courageous sacrifice, because where it is absent, there will be hostility towards those who want to make it present. So this is where we are at. We have a church filled with different ideologies, different commitments, and allegiances, and different passion that move us and motivate towards the idea of peace we have been taught to seek. I hope in reading this, you may be re-centered to the peace God longs for his people, peace that puts nothing above Christ, peace that seeks first the Kingdom of God over every other kingdom that presents itself as the answer to peace. I hope that you may be stirred to confess kingdoms you’ve loved more than God’s Kingdom and begin seeing your call as a child of God as a call to be a peacemaker, a reconciler, a re-memberer. Allegiance to a way of life different than that of God’s way of life in his kingdom will not suffice, and will never see peace.

And may this work begin within the household of God so our witness of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection be proclaimed without hypocrisy and with great love, a great love that loves all the peoples of all the nations and not just the peoples of our of own nation. This is the work of peace that will change us, radically, and I warn you, if you like your life, this will be a dangerous work, for it will not leave you as you are, and life as you know it will be disrupted, but praise be to God, for it will be for the sake of our God and our Christ being known in the world as a God of peace who radically loves and longs to restore shalom, life the way it’s supposed. Life where all men and women are seen and valued as equals.

This will certainly take death if it is to come to pass.

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Peace: Is This The World You Want?

Peace. What a tricky word! What is peace? What do people imagine when they speak of world peace? I’m sure much of the desires and imaginations of peace would be for the wars and killing to stop. For there to be no more children abused by pastors, priests, and family members. For the sex trafficking to no longer be a business and the porn industry to dry up financially. For those who are hungry and thirsty to be fed and have clean water. On and on this list could go, and these are all parts of my prayer when I pray for peace.

This advent week of peace, I want to remind us of what we know of peace from the story of God, which is in agreement with our desires listed above, but it’s more. The biblical concept of shalom (the Hebrew word for peace) is much broader and more intimate than the common understanding of peace understood as “the absence of conflict or pain.”

The Old Testament has over 200 occurrences of the word shalom, and it has come to be defined in the broad sense of the definition, as not just peace as “the absence of conflict,” but universal wholeness, well-being, justice, or peace with justice. In other words, as the philosopher Cornelius Plantinga Jr. has articulated, shalom (peace) is “the way things are supposed to be” as created by God (Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be: A Breviary of Sin, 1996).

Plantinga says this as he speaks about what Old Testament prophets/authors would have dreamed of when thinking about peace:

“They dreamed of a new age in which human crookedness would straighten out. The foolish would be made wise, and the wise made humble. They dreamed of a time when the deserts would bloom, the mountains would run with wine, people would stop weeping and be able to sleep without a weapon under their pillow. People would work in peace and work to fruitful effect. A lamb could lie down with a wolf because the wolf had lost its appetite. All nature would be fruitful, benign, and filled with wonder upon wonder. All humans would be knit together in brotherhood and sisterhood; and all nature and all humans would look to God, lean toward God, and delight in God. Shouts of joy and recognition would well up from women in streets and from men at sea.”  (taken from an online article by Plantinga; http://tgc-documents.s3.amazonaws.com/cci/Pantinga.pdf)

If this is true, then for there to be shalom (or at least more glimpses of it) there must be a confrontation with ourselves and the world views that we live by that need to be challenged, or that challenge the imagination which Plantinga articulates above. We all want the world to look a certain way, and we all have our opinions and judgements, but few of us live our lives in line with our opinions and do not want to be judged with the same standards of judgements by which we judge others. It’s the degree of separation between what we believe and how we live.

So really, peace begins with us, by asking ourselves, “What kind of people do we need to be in order to resist the destruction that our prejudices and judgements create? What are the virtues of true peace? Am I starving to be peaceable with peace and to be peaceable with God, ourselves, and the non-human creation?”

In the New Testament, James the letter of James) speaks of peaceableness as a key ingredient to the wisdom from above: “But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, reasonable, full of mercy and good fruits, unwavering, without hypocrisy. And the seed whose fruit is righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” (James 3:17-18, NASB)

To be peaceful is to be full of good fruit and to be absent of hypocrisy. This is a tall order. I admit, I’m a terrible peacemaker, but maybe it’s the admission of our hypocrisy that creates the beginning of peace.

Listen to the words of Jesus in Mark 9:50: “Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” To be at peace with others, true peace, is to be salty and useful, to inspect ourselves, and to admit where we are not useful or have become twisted in our thinking/views.

Later on in the gospel of Luke, Jesus says something that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” (Luke 12:51) What’s Jesus doing here? Is he contradicting himself? I thought one of His names was “Prince of Peace”?

Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the One who says often, “Peace be with you”, knows that for true peace to be made, there must be a stirring, a realization that we are not alright and all right. Peaceableness then, must entail bringing to light that which we ourselves want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger within ourselves, but peace will prevail… eventually.

This is where shalom breaks beautifully into this discussion. Shalom is one of those words that we learn what it means the more we see/realize the absence of it, like we do today when looking at all the headlines. The world is longing for shalom and we are all saying “Enough!”, but we are all saying “Enough!” to different ideologies. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things are supposed to be and then, if we are able to critique even our own beliefs, we will receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of our newly interpreted experiences.

To be peaceable is to be shalomic, displaying the way things were supposed to be when God created the heavens and the earth and all of the life that inhabits planet earth. Where shalom is absent, we are called to move into those places to display and model it, to be peaceable, not quarrelsome. To learn the discipline of living in the tension of disagreements and bringing light to those who are not at peace. To be able to navigate difficult friendships, networks, differing political parties and beliefs, even how to behave in the midst of eminent danger. However, being a presence of peace will often disturb first. It’s like turning on really bright lights in a dark room when people are sleeping or just waking up; angry shouts are hurled at the one who turned the lights on.

But here’s the thing, we all have different cries of “Enough!” which means we are going to rally around something that pisses off another person or group of people. What do we do then? Well, if our cry of “Enough!” is really because of the loss of shalom, then compassion and humility towards those we differ from will (ought) to be present. The problem is, many of our “Enoughs!” are because our personal narrative of how things are supposed to be, and they have taken over. Social scientists would label this as a “self-serving bias.”

A self-serving bias could be explained as our tendency was humans to have a superior view of our social desires. We tend to view ourselves as more humble, or ethical, or skilled and tolerant than others. In short, we are really good at justifying our thoughts and behaviors because they are better, or more superior than others. This helps us “mis-remember” our pasts and interpret them through more of a rose colored lens, as we numb ourselves from all the memories of our failures and self-centered behaviors.

To use a Christianese term, this is called “self-righteousness,” or “pride,” which is the root of all sin and the most deadly of the seven sins. This is why it’s easy for the Pharisee to say, “Lord, thank you that I am not as bad as that sinner over there!”, and then you and I say to ourselves (quietly of course), “Lord thank you I am not like that arrogant Pharisee. Darn self-serving biases… this corrupts our relationships with one another.

Our cries of “Enough!”, if they are really for peace, would not be rooted in our self-serving biases, but in humility and driven by compassion and a desire to listen, which doesn’t mean you have to change your conviction. What it does mean is that you’ll be more open to celebrating diversity and will understand that if Jesus were among us today, he wouldn’t champion everything you champion, he wouldn’t vote Republican or  Democrat, etc.

Let’s be honest with ourselves, most of our lack of shalom is not because of most of the headlines on the news, but because of our unwillingness to step outside of our own world views, humble ourselves, and admit that we are part of the problem, that we are actually shalom breakers. What a thought!? Most of us can’t resolve marital conflict or conflict at work with a mean boss or annoying coworker. Our desire to see wars end and gun violence disappear and terrorism be eradicated is good, but we need to look inward and take care of business at home, within our own hearts and minds, and commit to release that which is opposite of peace in us; contentiousness.

In the book Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Brian Walsh and Steven Bouma-Prediger say this about contentiousness: “Like a parasite living on a host, contentiousness feeds on rage and rancor, antipathy and animosity, to fan the fire of discord and accelerate the spiral of violence.” (214)

Peace happens when we wage war on that which is evil inside of us, and this can only happen when we realize how we’ve neglected the parts of our lives that have waged war on shalom. This includes our relationships with God, people, ourselves, food (and how we grow and consume it), what we buy and how much of it we buy, who we’re friends with, and who we neglect. If you’re up for the challenge, add to the list what you’ve been courageous enough to observe in your own life.

Peaceable people look for non-violent ways to address conflict, although I do not believe this means that there is never violent ways to deal with evil. Peaceable people don’t deal with others in stereotypes or labels, rather they seek to know people beyond hot topic issues. Peaceable people expose false world views of consumerism and materialism not by loud arguments but by their lives of simplicity and contentment. Peaceable people know when to say enough. Peaceable people are essential oils to the soul of humanity and culture. Peaceable people seek peace with God, themselves, people and the non-human creation with equal fervor.

And this is why Jesus came. This is why advent is necessary every year, to remind us of the call to be the change we want in our own lives by first embracing Jesus as the only means to truly eradicate evil and bring about shalom. Jesus, who is himself peace, came to undo our messes and wars and to grant freedom for the captives, forgiveness for the sinners, and peace to the broken and contrite in heart. His presence brought and brings peace because he is the Prince of Peace. 

Advent for those who truly love the advent season, is birthed from a cry of “Enough!” and a longing for the Prince of Peace to have mercy on them, and in turn, create in them a heart to be peaceable people in the world, as agents of reconciliation and peace. No, this is not a euphoric view of peace, this is peace rooted in the story of God, which has the power to make new life from death, to make the tomb become a womb.

As I close out this post, I am reminded of a newer song by the band Switchfoot entitled “The World You Want.” The bridge of the song reminds us that our lives are always saying something and they have a great impact on life as we know it:

You start to look like what you believe

You float through time like a stream

If the waters of time are made up by you and I

If you change the world for you, you change it for me

What you say is your religion

How you say it’s your religion

Who you love is your religion

How you love is your religion

All your science, your religion

All your hatred, your religion

All your wars are your religion

Every breath is your religion yea

Is this the world you want?

You’re making it

Every day you’re alive

Hope: The Beginning of Advent

Hope: a feeling of anxious expectation and desire for a certain thing to happen. Webster’s definition of hope is: a wish… Now I “hope” your definition of hope is not just a wish. I “hope” your understanding of hope actually moves you to be hopeful in all circumstances. I “hope” that today, at the advent of Advent, you will be able to taste a freshness of hope like never before, the kind of hope that moves you towards greater love and compassion.

The Apostle Paul says this about hope: but we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, 4 and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, 5 and hope does not put us to shame, (Rom. 5:3-5) 

The author of Hebrews says this: Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, (Heb. 10:23)

The Apostle Peter says that we have been “born again to a living hope.” (1 Peter 1:3c)

But what is this hope? What are you hoping for? What do you put your hope in? What kind of hope will never disappoint you? These are questions worth answering, and answer we must if we desire to get to the root of our hopelessness here on earth, as humans.

In the book of Lamentations in the Old Testament, we hear from the prophet Jeremiah, who is seemingly hopeless, as Israel has completely disobeyed God, they have forgotten who/what there hope is, and have placed their hope in things that have been created by the God, but have lost their hope in the one who created those things. and in the midst of that, have lost so much, and great suffering has come upon them.

It you pick up reading in Lamentations 3, you will pick up at the point where God is giving Israel what He said He would give them, if indeed they turn to themselves or other false gods for their hope:

Lamentations 3:1-20: 1 I am the man who has seen affliction under the rod of his wrath; 2 he has driven and brought me into darkness without any light; 3 surely against me he turns his hand again and again the whole day long. 4 He has made my flesh and my skin waste away; he has broken my bones; 5 he has besieged and enveloped me with bitterness and tribulation; 6 he has made me dwell in darkness like the dead of long ago. 7 He has walled me about so that I cannot escape; he has made my chains heavy; 8 though I call and cry for help, he shuts out my prayer; 9 he has blocked my ways with blocks of stones; he has made my paths crooked. 10 He is a bear lying in wait for me, a lion in hiding; 11 he turned aside my steps and tore me to pieces; he has made me desolate; 12 he bent his bow and set me as a target for his arrow. 13 He drove into my kidneys the arrows of his quiver; 14 I have become the laughingstock of all peoples, the object of their taunts all day long. 15 He has filled me with bitterness; he has sated me with wormwood. 16 He has made my teeth grind on gravel, and made me cower in ashes; 17 my soul is bereft of peace; I have forgotten what happiness is; 18 so I say, “My endurance has perished; so has my hope from the Lord.” 19 Remember my affliction and my wanderings, the wormwood and the gall! 20 My soul continually remembers it and is bowed down within me.

Now if you are a human, you can relate to Jeremiah on one level or at many levels. Some of you this morning told yourself, or you told God, “You keep jacking with me” or “You are tormenting me and won’t let me out of the fog” or “I’ve been crying for help and you are not answering” or “You are blocking all that I want to do” or “You just want to destroy me and find joy in doing it” or “I have forgotten what happiness is”. Whatever it is, we have all been there and have all felt the pressure of life choking us out, causing us grief, caving in on us, and our hopelessness is relentless at times.

We know what it feels like to have our desire and expectation shattered, left with no hope. For this reason, we are in great need of a rescuer. This is the very reason why the Israelites of that day were anticipating the advent (the coming) of the Messiah, their rescuer. The cry of the Israelites and the cry of Israel is no different than the cry of the rich, the discontented, the over-indulgent, the selfish, the greedy, and the consuming, materialistic culture we live in today.

We, if we’re honest with ourselves, have all been led at different times, to eat in fields that are making us sick, and we are in desperate need of a great rescuer, for we all have experienced to some degree, the result of God neglect. This is why when we speak of the advent (coming) of the Messiah (the anointed one), it is good news. The condition we are in is deadly, and left to our own devices, we are without hope, and will not make it. All the scientific advances in medicine, technology and our understanding of human development/behavior has not made us more loving, compassionate people. We have not cared for the needy better, nor have we learned the secret of contentment and true happiness. Rather we have become more powerful and full of ourselves and our ideas. We have made our pursuit of happiness our main goal and have become disillusioned by greed and lust. We have learned to self-protect better and to numb ourselves from realities that make us sick when we think about them, but this does not mean those realities are not true this morning.

Awww, the advent of a rescuer! That is good news! Just who is this rescuer though. What is he going to do? What will he offer? The hope of mankind kind rests in who the rescuer is and what he is going to do. Jeremiah doesn’t stop where we left off in Lamentations, he keeps going. He is about to share with us the hope he is holding on to because God has told him of himself, and what he (God) is going to do based on his own goodness. Listen to the words of Jeremiah:

Lamentations 3:21-26: 21 But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope: 22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases; his mercies never come to an end; 23 they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. 24 “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in him.” 25 The Lord is good to those who wait for him, to the soul who seeks him. 26 It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.

He recalls to mind the stedfast love of God that never relents. He remembers that the mercies of this great and glorious God will never be exhausted. They are new every morning. He is faithful and he himself, the Lord, is his portion….Since God himself is his portion, and God has steadfast (passionate and unending) love (‘hesed’) towards him, and he never lies and he is all powerful, then it is clear to Jeremiah that the only reasonable hope that he has been given is to hope in God. Why? Because God’s steadfast love will bring what he promised to bring; hope of relief, of peace, of love and joy that will not disappoint.

This is what I’ve been longing for this past season of life. Coming off of a dark season where life and God seemed fuzzy, clouded, and distant, I am ready for this advent season like never before, full of expectation, not of life becoming perfect, but of God becoming more real in the midst of reality. The hope that I can experience God’s glory regardless of the circumstances of life. The hope that there could be a recovery of the supernatural in the everyday natural life. The hope that I could actually interact with heavenly stimuli Monday through Friday, and not have to wait for a service to help me enter into divine places with God.

This is the hope of advent, the longing and waiting and anticipating of the coming of God. In the biblical story, the God of the universe came in the form of a man who was fully divine, the God-man many scholars call Jesus. But what’s unique about God’s coming to humanity in the form of Jesus, was that when Jesus left, he came again in the presence of his spirit, to be with man, to never leave us, to convict us of misguided living and thinking, and to bring us into the fullness of who we were created to be.

And yet, as God is with us, indeed he is living in us, we still await for his final return when there will no longer be the hungry and thirsty among us. When faith will be by sight, and the children will no longer be fatherless, the homeless will have homes, the farmers will eat the harvest of their own labor and not lose it to the more powerful, and mothers will no longer grieve over their lost children, and on and on I could go. To speak of what is to come brings great hope, indeed a hope that motivates right living today, a corrective hope that confronts our way of living that has numbed us from what ought to be done among those who have been given so much, living in the midst of others who have been given so little, or have had much taken.

The life of God’s people on this side of redemption was always meant to be a foretaste of what it’s going to be like when God comes to make things right, knowing that it’s not our labors that will bring the fullness to come, but it will be our labor that allows others to catch a glimpse of the heart of God and his plans for the future. A future that has partially come into the present with the advent of Christ, and the offer of forgiveness that he gives to all who can be honest with their desperate need for renewal, for a new mind, for new desires to care for others more than self-protection, for a new hope that doesn’t give up when life is caving in and the world is wrapping tightly around your neck. This is the hope of advent. Hold on, rescue is coming.

Artwork by Matt Seymour for a sermon series at Kineo Church (Advent 2012)

Design by Matt Seymour for a sermon series at Kineo Church (Advent 2012)

A Beautiful Jewel

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This is Jewel. I was at the A2J community garden taking some photos and video footage, when Jewel walked up to me and said, “This is beautiful (pointing to the garden). Did you do all of this?” I told her, “No, but I know a really cool group of friends who’ve committed to live in this neighborhood and display the love of Jesus in cool ways like investing in a garden like this.” I told her about the prayer house next door as well and all the other amazing things that A2J does in this community.

She lit up! She proceeded to tell me that she comes by here every now and then, but has never really noticed the garden. I asked her where she lives. She told me, “I’m staying on Watkins at a shelter right now. That’s where God has me to be a light for Him. Where He tells me to go, I listen, and that’s where He has me.” It was a beautiful jewel to share a few minutes of eternity with her today. She was definitely full of Christ’s love (Light!). Keep the Light shining Jewel.

An Invitation to Suffering

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“An Invitation to Suffering” is a short essay by Bob Lupton from his book, Theirs is the Kingdom: Celebrating the Gospel in Urban America. Bob has had a profound impact on my life as he freely shares his woes and joys of inner-city life and ministry for over 40 years in a very challenging and transparent way:

I do not like pain. Not in any form. Loneliness, sickness (my own or another’s), anxiety, frustration, disappointment, hurt–these are not the companions with which I choose to share my life. I actively avoid them. I buy drugs from the pharmacist to shield me from physical pain. I surround myself with people like myself who dispel my loneliness and reassure me that I am OK. I control my contacts with people who take more than they can give. I schedule my days to eliminate disruptions and to accomplish the things I think significant or pleasurable. A theology of abundance,  peace, and health has enormous appeal for me.

Recently, I witnessed a small act in the drama of city live that both moved and troubled me deeply. It was a familiar situation. A family with three small children was evicted again for nonpayment of rent.  Their ritual “put me up for just tonight” had been used too often. With no money for bargaining, the only place they could find to stay was a front porch. The father slept under a bush. Although I was quite unwilling to give them any more, I wondered what would become of them

Then an unbelievable but predictable event occurred. An unemployed brother whose own family was barely surviving took his evicted relatives in. Once again, it was those who could least afford extra mouths to feed and were already crowded to the point of eviction who found it in their hearts to help. Even more disturbing to me was the cost of caring: increased hunger; hot sleepless nights made even more uncomfortable by crying babies and wall-to-wall bodies; the stench of inadequate sanitation; short tempers; constant confusion.

This picture still burns in my mind. It is a haunting reminder of the energy I spend avoiding the cost of loving others. I establish an emergency fund instead of inviting hungry families to eat at my table.  I develop a housing program to avoid the turmoil of displaced families living in my home. I create employment projects that distance me from the aggravation of working with undisciplined people. As a counselor, I maintain detachment with a fifty-minute hour and an emphasis on client self-responsibility. And even as I share the gospel with the needy, I secretly hope that God will handle their problems.

Of course I don’t allow myself to think this way very often. I choose rather to concentrate on the positive things I am doing for people, the helpful things, right things. But when I am honest with myself, I must admit that I cannot fully care for one who is suffering without entering into his pain. The sick must be touched if they are to be healed. The weak myst be nourished, the wounded embraced. Care is the bigger part of the cure.

Yet I fear contagion. I fear my life will get out of control and I will be overshadowed by the urgent affairs of others. I fear for my family. I resist the Christ who beckons His followers to lay down their lives for each other. His talk of a yoke, a cross, of bearing one another’s burdens and giving one’s self away is not attractive to me. The implications of entering the world of suffering as a “Christ-one”, as yeast absorbed into the loaf of human need, are as terrifying as death itself. Yet this is the only way to life. The question is, will I choose life?”