An Ascent Towards Wisdom

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Peaceableness, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community. These virtues are part of the soil of renewal, but there’s one last virtue I left for last, as it just may be what makes these other virtues stand out. Wisdom. I am not talking about high IQ’s, scholasticism, or technological know-how. Instead, what I mean by wisdom is the ability to discern when and where peace, justice, compassion, hospitality, simplicity, and community are most needed and how to go about modeling these virtues without a patriarchal, authoritarian, paternalistic, self-righteous mindset.

The proverbs teach us that wisdom is a gift from God (Prov. 2:6), and I do agree with that, but I also believe that it’s learned by those who are humble and teachable. Wisdom is also known in the proverbs as insight, or understanding (Prov. 3:13, 19), and understanding comes when one is willing to listen and learn in a posture of humility, especially when God speaks, for respect and reverence of God is the beginning of wisdom (Prov. 1:7). People who revere God will soon understand justice, compassion, etc.

In the book, Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, Bouma-Prediger and Walsh state that “wisdom… is the ability to discern compassionate paths of justice and peace” (222). They conclude this because wisdom comes from God, and through wisdom God has created all things, and even worked out redemption for the brokenness of His creation, which as we learned in an earlier post, Jesus is the ultimate picture of compassion and justice wrapped up into one.

It’s God’s wisdom which is referred to as the master workman of creation (Prov. 8:30), and it was this same craftsman that saw the path towards renewal for creation as sacrificial and costly, something only His wisdom could know and understand. It’s God’s wisdom that was patient enough to listen to and know the deep recesses of the human heart and the fragmented realities of the earth, and it’s His wisdom that offers paths back towards God after we have burned all of our supposed bridges.

It is at this starting point that one can begin to possess the ability to be for all of creation in the fullest sense. Wisdom is needed to live an alternative life in the midst of a culture that rarely considers healthy limits. Wisdom is needed to stand against habits that have been acceptable to society, but destructive to the earth and humans. Wisdom is needed to navigate right living in the midst of competing philosophies and conflicting interests. It will also be wisdom that holds back unhelpful anger for those who are destructive towards universal peace and flourishing.

What wisdom can offer leaders, policy makers, pastors, professors, bosses, and parents, is how to think about and plan for what’s best not just for today or tomorrow, but what’s best for the next seven generations. Considering prosperity for the long-haul, even if we are not going to be immediately benefited by our decisions, is birthed out of wisdom, not folly.

We need more wise stewards of the earth and of people. We need an awakening of wise women and men who critically think through the issues of our day, and live in light of the next seven generations. Wisdom gives us holy imaginations to consider what a city or neighborhood could look like if we took seriously the story we are called to live in; God’s story of redemption and renewal, for humans and for the whole earth. We need mothers and fathers who are wise, who can offer themselves to the fatherless and the motherless and be givers not takers.

Dr. Michael Goheen, a wise and godly professor from Vancouver, Canada, comprised an unpublished list (posted below which I adapted from a personal lecture/powerpoint) of what a community of faith could look like if it took seriously it’s call to live in light of God’s redemptive and renewing narrative. I find this a fitting way to wrap up this series of posts about church renewal with an imagination of what kingdom life could look like on earth, as it is in heaven:

What if the church was known as…
– a community of self-control and marital fidelity in a world saturated by sex.

– a community of generosity and “enough” in world of consumption.

– a community of forgiveness in a world of hatred, competition, grudges, and revenge.

– a community of thankfulness in a world of entitlement.

– a community of God-worship in a world of narcissism.

– a community of sacrificial love in a world of selfishness and self-gratification.

– a community of wisdom in a world of proliferating knowledge and information technology.

– a community of humility in a world of arrogant self-interest.

– a community of patience in a world of immediate gratification.

– a community of compassion in a world numbed by overexposure to violence, tragedy and abuse.

– a community that uses language positively in a world of destructive communication.

– a community of joy in a world dominated by a frantic and hedonistic pursuit of pleasure.
- a community of depth in a culture of superficiality.

– a community of cheerful seriousness in a culture of triviality.

– a community committed to the important issues of our globe in a culture of apathy and indifference.

– a community of selflessness in a culture of self-absorption and entitlement.

– a community of joyful purpose in a culture “amusing ourselves to death.”

– a community of ecological and economic stewardship in a world that has been raped ecologically and economically.

Thoughts About Justice and the Christian Life…

There is no peace without justice while we are living “east of Eden.” If shalom (universal peace and flourishing ) is the end goal of all of creation (human and non-human), then peaceableness is the top floor of shalom and justice is the bottom floor, the foundation; they are book ends if you will (read my thoughts about peace here).

So what is justice? In the Greek culture, justice most likely referred to the Greek goddess Dike, who would have been the personification of the virtue. This is where the Greek (and biblical) word díkaios would have come from, which means, “to be just, or right.” In the biblical sense, the word justice would imply not only the just execution of the law of goodness, but right living on behalf of those who cry out for justice.

The words “righteous” and “justice” seem to go hand in hand in the biblical narrative, and they actually could be defined by the term justification. In salvation terms, to be justified, is to be declared “right and good” before God and having been justly acquitted of one’s rebellion and brokenness because Jesus paid for what we deserved (justice) with his sacrifice.

So justice, in part, means to be free and forgiven of one’s inner and outer brokenness, and empowered to do what is right based on the freedom one has received. This is the long and difficult way of simply saying: justice is that state in which everyone receives what is rightful and appropriate. Since humans are created with certain rights (food, clothing, work), then a society is just when everyone in the society enjoys the goods that everyone has rights to. But a society is also just when there are consequences for those who have disregarded or kept others from these certain rights as well. A city that is just is a city that respects the dignity of every human, especially within the Christian worldview that believes that every human is created in the image of God.

At the least, in the talk of renewal, justice is absent whenever basic needs go unmet. This means that liberation from in-justice and repairs made because of the wrongs done are at the very core of justice. If one skimmed the Old Testament to search out who were some of the people whom God had special concern for in view of justice, you would see that it is the most vulnerable of society: widows, orphans, aliens, sojourners, the homeless, the naked, the hungry and the afflicted. And this justice was never a nationalistic priority that made one nation or one people group more important than another. Actually, we can see in the narrative of Scripture, when Israel took their nationality too seriously, or saw themselves as more important or elite and selfish, correction swiftly followed. Humans, universally, who are a part of the demographics of God’s special concern are to be an integral part of our every day relationships.

If we followed this theme throughout the Old Testament, it would be hard to ignore the loud and clear message that justice happens when the marginal ones are no longer marginal. And this Old Testament understanding of justice is fully embodied in Jesus, who was very concerned with those who were on the margins of society, those who were vulnerable and exploited by people who had the power, and in many cases, Western Christendom has been more about law and power than justice and service.

This can also be teased out to include all who have ever come to Jesus for salvation (the forgiveness of one’s sin and being declared right before God). We are all marginalized because of our brokenness, cut off from God, but because of God’s mercy and love for us, Jesus became one of us, to once and for all, deal with the rebellion and tyranny that we created, both internally and externally. God brought justice to humanity through the advent, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The righteous demands of the law, or in other words, the legal expression of God’s justice, were satisfied when Christ was put to death and suffered the torment of separation from God, in our place. In simpler terms, it is because the “just” paid for the “unjust,” that we can be granted mercy and grace as people on the margins, and be brought near to God (no longer making our home in the margins).

This is justice, which flies in the face of a Western view of justice, condemns all of us, if we indeed held ourselves to the standard of justice that we hold others to. Justice does not make sense to a world committed to the four P’s: power, progress, profit, and pursuit of happiness, and within this world view, many forms of churches in the West have been engrafted.

When we see injustice happening in our city, it usually means that we will have to miss out on one or all of the four P’s if we’re going to stand against it. There’s no money in it for those who want to plead the case of the widow, feed and clothe the naked, or stand against oppressive systems and structures that abuse and exploit the weak. Actually, downward mobility is to be expected if one is going to give their lives to this kind of justice, and it’s hard to build a church when downward mobility is one of the chief engines of church growth. This new ethos must be present in the renewal of the Western church.

The result of living a life of justice in the biblical sense in our 21st century Western society, most of the time, means that we lose ground on the four P’s of our culture and this is not very attractive, at least not long term. To see renewal happen in churches then, I am convinced that we will need an uprising of men and women who are willing to not be controlled by the P’s within the old institutional church model, and begin courageously living as an alternative community in the midst of our over-indulgences and commitments to the bottom line and financial sustainability of church business.

This will not be an easy lot for the pioneers of renewal, but justice has never been an easy virtue to live by. After all, justice on God’s part was very costly. The promise of comfort is very seductive, especially when faced with needed changes in lifestyle to begin standing against injustice. Ultimately, justice will always prevail, with or without us, but we do have a choice to get in on the fight for “justice.” It’s not attractive nor easy these days to stand for what is just and right, nor is it always clear what we should be fighting for.

I hope in this short article I gave you the beginnings of a blueprint with which to pray and meditate about what justice looks life in your life and among those around you. We are living within a contemporary Christian culture that has lost much of the ancient orthodox faith that has painstakingly been passed down to us and made Christian worship more about events, projects, and business, but not justice. I believe this “norm” must be renewed to have not just a biblical view of justice, but a biblical life of lived justice.

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.

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

An Injustice Anywhere Is A Threat To Justice Everywhere

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This artwork is on the backyard wall of a home facing Roosevelt St. near my home. I drive or walk by it most days, and lately it has spoken much louder to me, of the urgent need for all of humanity to begin looking inward at the injustices that go on everyday, right in front of us, by us, and against us.

It has made me realize that what is going on in Ferguson is a microcosm of what is at war within our hearts and minds. Whatever your analysis of Ferguson is, it would be negligent of all of us to assume that “our” understanding is the “just” view, without taking into consideration all the injustices that take place within injustice. Our story isn;t the only point of view, and we could all spin most stories in certain ways to see the rationale of why people do what they do. But we don’t want to “spin” stories, which means we must be humble enough to step out of our stories and believe that there is truth and reason from the other person’s point of view.

Injustice breeds injustice. Hurt people, hurt people. To say that Ferguson is only a race issue is to ignore all the other injustices. To deny that what’s going on in Ferguson isn’t a race issue is to be ignorant of reality. To step into someones else’s story without a preconceived idea of what to expect is almost impossible, but it’s something we must work towards as neighbors and family members who share this beautiful world.

Maybe we have been guilty of having “single” stories of people and events. Maybe our single story of someone or a people group has become so dominant that we have become part of the injustice against that certain group just by the very nature of not being able to get into their shoes. Maybe our single story has been shaped by news reels and stories of other people from our “tribe”. Maybe our story has been shaped in concrete from snapshots of the worst days of those in the other “tribe”.

I long to get rid of my snapshot judgments and to step into the story of love that allows me to journey in the shoes of those who are different from me, to be a lover of diversity, even if that diversity is offensive to me, or even causes me to rethink the way I view or live within this world.

To be an agent of change, is to be one who accepts responsibility of our thoughts and actions, and I believe if we all begin there, inflammatory moments in our world would at least have more sane people on every side looking inward before arrows are shot outward. Division is dangerous and has ravaged humanity. Looking inward first can give us a clue of the cause of certain divisions and can give us the tools we need to begin rebuilding and reconciling from injustices that go unnoticed day after day.

This is what Jesus gives us the freedom to do. He doesn’t join anyone’s tribe or circle. He doesn’t have to defend any ideology or way of living. He is the way, and his way does not ignore injustice, nor does it exclude people. His way is full of love that pierces through lies and short-sighted worldviews. His way is peace and reconciliation that happens through broken people being accepted by him and freed up to deal with their own junk. Injustice anywhere is a threat to the way of Jesus.

A Path Towards Urban Renewal: Peaceableness

In the previous post, I began to talk about my view of what urban renewal ought to begin with; a proper worldview. This doesn’t mean having a perfect worldview, but it does assume certain things. There’s no way to true renewal apart from a God-centered worldview, a set of lenses that sees God’s heart for people, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. This means at the core or urban renewal is a confrontation with ourselves and the world views that live by that need to be challenged. 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 those opinions and do not want to be judged with the same standards of judgements by which we judge others.

So renewal begins with us, 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 renewal? Virtue number one is to be people of peace and to be peaceable with God, ourselves, people, and the non-human creation. To begin, let’s get a biblical understanding of what peace is.

In 1 Timothy 3:2-3 Paul writes about what it looks like to be an approved overseer of the church: An overseer, then, must be above reproach, the husband of one wife, temperate, prudent, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not addicted to wine or pugnacious, but gentle, peaceable (other translations use “not quarrelsome), free from the love of money. (NASB).

So peaceable in this text has the understanding that it is not looking for a fight. The word “quarrel” is often times seen as an argument, but it actually refers to an “angry” argument. Someone who is quarrelsome, is not just someone who is looking for an argument, but someone who is angry and looking to beat people in arguments. Arguments and disagreements are bound to happen in life, but looking for arguments in anger, so that you can win and prove yourself to be right is to be quarrelsome, or not peaceable.

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)

Hebrews 12:11 tells us that righteousness is a “peaceful” fruit of loving disciplines, which implies peace-making is not always passive.

From the very words of Jesus; Matthew 5:9: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.”

This is one of the main tenants of discipleship, to be a peacemaker, to move into places where peace does not exist and to display what it looks like.

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. But what does true peace look like? It doesn’t always look like we think it does.

Jesus says something in Luke 12 that stirs the pot and moves us into more questions: Luke 12:51: “Do you think that I have come to give peace on earth? No, I tell you, but rather division.” 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 sometimes entails bringing to light that which others want to corruptly keep hidden… this will cause division and anger, but peace will prevail eventually.

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 means peace, but it means more than that; peace with justice, universal peace, flourishing of all creation, the way things are supposed to be. Shalom is one of those words that we learn what it means the more we see/realize the absence of it. Where shalom is absent, we begin to grieve the way things were supposed to be and then we receive a new set of lenses with which to view and interpret life because of that experience.

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. 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.

I have a friend who shared with me a time when he was a young leader and he tagged along with his mentor to attend a board meeting. Little did my friend know that he was being brought to a firing squad that wanted to crush his mentor. Let’s give his mentor the name Frank. There was tension in the organization and many decisions were made that hurt people. When they arrived to the meeting, the board members started out quickly by verbally bashing Frank and the blame game began.

My friend goes on to share all of the nasty things that were said about Frank, and all along he knew that most of them were twisted lies and half truths. He was sitting there waiting for Frank to blast them with the real facts about what had happened, but after the verbal assaults stopped, Frank asked the board if there was anyone else who was angry at him and had anything to share. Another guy then spoke up and shared more of his frustrations about the situation.
After everyone got their anger off their chests, Frank very sincerely began apologizing for the hurt that he caused them during the conflict and disagreements and began asking each of them if they would forgive him. One by one, these angry men received his apology and offered forgiveness, then there was a long pause of silence. Then one of the board members spoke up and said, “You know what, we all just sat here and blamed and blasted Frank, but none of us took responsibility for our roles in this mess. Frank, you have been above reproach in this mess, and always took responsibility. We are the guilty ones for using you as the scape goat. Would you forgive me for being a part of that?”

Frank forgave him, and then once again, one by one, these grown men were confessing their faults in the conflict, and with tears, forgiveness and reconciliation took place, and the way things were supposed to be began to take form. Peaceableness is a transformative power that God desires to use to restore individuals, families, neighborhoods, cities, and nations. Frank employed peaceableness in this meeting instead of it’s opposite virtue; contentiousness.

The late Martin Luther King Jr. is famous for his peaceful protest 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.” King called for the Black community to match their most bitter enemy’s capacity to inflict suffering on to them by enduring suffering; to match their enemy’s most vicious anger towards them with God’s most extravagant love for their enemies. “Blessed are the peacemakers,” Jesus says, “for they will be called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9).

In 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).

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 the empty promises of the worldviews of consumerism and materialism not by loud arguments, but by lives of simplicity and contentment. Peaceable people know when to say enough. Peaceable people are essential oils to the soul of humanity and the changing tides of culture. Peaceable people seek peace with God, themselves, people and the non-human creation with equal fervor. Peaceable people are part of God’s plan for urban renewal in cities throughout the world.

Weekly @Switchfoot Song: Home

Home. I’m currently reading a book called Beyond Homelessness: Christian Faith in a Culture of Displacement, and it is bringing out so much more from this song than it used. This is song # 5 on Switchfoot’s first album (The Legend of Chin) which talks about longing for home, a place to belong. Here’s the lyrics:

It’s a long way from Miami to LA
It’s a longer way from yesterday
To where I am today

It’s a long way from my thoughts
To what I’ll say
It’s a long, long way from paradise
To where I am today

All that’s in my head
Is in Your hands

It’s a long way from
The moon up to the sun
It’s a longer road ahead of me
The road that I’ve begun

Stop to think of all the
Time I’ve lost
Start to think of all the
Bridges that I’ve burned
That must be crossed

Over, over, over
Take me over

I’ve been poison
I’ve been rain
I’ve been fooled again

I’ve seen ashes
Shine like chrome
Someday I’ll see home

Home, home

I can see the stars
From way down here
But I can’t fall asleep
Behind the wheel

It’s a long way from the
Shadows in my cave
Up to Your reality to
Watch the sunlight taking over

Over, over, over
Take me over

I’ve been poison
I’ve been rain
I’ve been fooled again

I’ve seen ashes
Shine like chrome
Someday I’ll see home

This is a “gut” honest song. Confession you can call it, or maybe transparency, or both. “I’ve been poison, I’ve been rain…” Feelings of despair creep in so fast sometimes in life, especially when we make stupid decisions and get “fooled again” with the lust of this world, and the fraudulent beauty that lures us all in to destruction. Many times in life, I’ve felt a long way from home (physically and emotionally). I’ve felt displaced often. I am in a season of displacement (or one could call it homelessness). Things have been uprooted and what was home, familiar, safe… has changed. But it’s often in these season of life when we notice the “stars” from the bottom of our “caves” that we’ve been locked in (or that we’ve locked ourselves in). It’s in the darkness of the cave where we cling to the only thing we can… HOPE.

Hope. Home. As long as we have breath, we have the hope of going home. And in this sense, I mean home with God. To the “place” we’ve always longed for, where our deepest desires are met in one person, one being. Home is where you aren’t supposed to be fooled anymore. Home is the place you aren’t supposed to be worried about being accepted. Home is supposed to be a safe place. It’s a place where the vision of ashes can be seen as chrome (a metaphor for beauty). It’s a place where our sin can be forgiven. It’s a place where rivers of life and peace rush back into our souls.

This is the home I long for, and it’s the kind of home I long to offer (at least in glimpses) to my wife and kids and friends and family. A taste of home happens on this earth when we start being honest about where we are at, what we have done, and ask for help. It’s at this place where we will experience home; grace, forgiveness, mercy, peace. Home can be seen as a house, a neighborhood, a church, as family members, a city, or a country; but all these things have one thing in common… they can be taken from us, and when that happens, we become displaced, homeless, and we are found in a dark cave, longing once a gain for the hope of true reality with God. Home.