Peace

Part IV: Identifying With the Oppressor

Over banana beer and fried plantains, we sat around a communal table—us and them. Together with both a victim and a perpetrator of genocide, it seemed impossible. My mind could not comprehend the juxtaposition I was seeing with my eyes—from betrayal into brotherhood, these men came. As they sat beside each other, I felt as if I were watching a live screen play of a fantastical story propagating the ideal picture of justice and reconciliation. But there was no fanfare of propaganda, no idealized sermon—just their painfully honest and vulnerable journey toward friendship. Their presence was humbling and their hearts, full of truth. Every detail of their innermost fears and failures came to life and I was left in awe.

In the various situations in my life, I’ve often asked myself this question: Which is easier—to forgive or to seek revenge? My human nature automatically errs toward seeking revenge—I’ve attempted to “punish” with silence or take away what I formerly gave as a way of protecting my broken heart. In desperation, I cling to what I know is “right.” It’s easier to identify with the victim, but to identify with the convicted? I’d rather not.

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Asides war and crisis, the Central African Republic (CAR) remains relatively unknown to the world. But when causes are worth mentioning, the moves faster than imagined. The evidence of this is reflected in the work of three CAR citizens with mission to restore peace to the crisis-ridden country. “Imam Omar Kobine Layama, president of the Central African Islamic Community; Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui; and Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, president of the Evangelical Alliance of the Central African Republic, are religious leaders who actually do what their faith tells them to do,” said Jim Wallis, founder and editor of Christian magazine, Sojourners. “Because of their efforts the world is taking notice of the conflict.”

Sarah Palin and the Beauty of Baptism

Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna

Foot-washing ceremony. Photo courtesy Jarrod McKenna

Oh, Sarah Palin.

So you’ve most likely heard Sarah Palin used baptism as a metaphor for waterboarding terrorists. (I mean I heard and I’m in Australia!) I found out when fellow neo-Anabaptist Tyler Tully sent me his reflections. Many are blogging thoughtful responses. But more and more this is my conviction: the best critique of the bad is the practice of the beautiful. So I want to testify to the beauty of the baptisms I was a part of on Sunday.

I do so knowing that the despondence and darkness I feel when baptism is equated with the diabolical is driven out in the joy of the mystery of what happen when we say yes to the Holy Spirit by wading in the water. Our new sister Natha, brother Ky, and I met separately in the End Poverty movement. Both of them, in quiet different ways, found themselves being found by God while looking for a better world. And in Jesus they found the world they were looking for has started! Without a dry eye in the community that surrounded them on Sunday, they shared their wanderings in the wilderness before following Jesus through the waters.

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And from Central African Republic (CAR), which is still a war zone as it battles with sectarian crisis, Imam Omar Kobine Layama, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and The Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, all faith leaders working assiduously to ensure peace returns to CAR, made the list. According to Jim Wallis, President and founder of Sojourners, “Imam Layama and his family have lived with the Archbishop since December when it became too dangerous in Bangui to stay in the imam’s house.”

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Others tweeted their thanks to the American author and pastor Jim Wallis for penning tributes to the religious leaders Imam Omar Kobine Layama, Archbishop Dieudonne Nzapalainga and the Rev. Nicolas Guerekoyame-Gbangou. The men were involved in peace-making efforts in the war-torn Central African Republic, and Wallis was applauded for drawing attention to the contributions of the country’s faith leaders: Mike Jobbins @MikeJobbins Follow Tx to #Time100 and @jimwallis for honoring courageous peace work by religious leaders amid #CARCrisis http://time.com/70894/nicolas-guerekoyame-gbangou-2014-time-100/

Imam Omar Kobine Layama, Archbishop Dieudonné Nzapalainga and The Rev. Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou

As violence ravages Central African Republic, three men are working tirelessly for peace to hold their country together. Imam Omar Kobine Layama, president of the Central African Islamic Community; Dieudonné Nzapalainga, the Archbishop of Bangui; and Nicolas Guérékoyame-Gbangou, president of the Evangelical Alliance of the Central African Republic, are religious leaders who actually do what their faith tells them to do. Sharing a meal with these three showed me again what can happen when faith leaders walk their talk. Their witness has come with significant personal costs. For example, Imam Layama and his family have lived with the Archbishop since December when it became too dangerous in Bangui to stay in the imam’s house. Because of their efforts the world is taking notice of the conflict. The imam eloquently stated an important truth: “Politics try to divide the religious in our country, but religion shouldn’t be a cause of hate, war or strife.”

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That recognition of the shared agenda of people of faith is why we also included Bishop Holley from the Archdiocese of Washington, the President of the National Association of Evangelicals, Galen Carey, Jim Wallis of Sojourners and Sayyid Syeed of the Islamic Society of North America in the dinner with the three faith leaders from the Central African Republic.

Reclaiming Resources from War, Railguns, and Grenades

An overturned tank. Photo by Erik S. Hansen, via Wikimedia Commons

In early April, the U.S. Navy unveiled its Mach 7 Magnetic Mangler, “a railgun straight out of Star Trek that can take out targets at 100 miles with a projectile flying at nearly 7,000 feet per second.” So far, the U.S. military has spent $240 million developing the railgun over a period of 10 years. CBS News reports that the railgun won’t go to sea until 2016, but one article, published in The Gazette, suggests that the U.S. military may have decided to show off the Magnetic Mangler in order to send a message to the Russian government.

In advance of the University of Wisconsin's recent “Resources for Peace” conference, a professor friend asked participants to consider whether the increasing competition for depleted global resources, for goods to meet essential human needs, would tend inevitably to make people less humane. She was thinking particularly about what she termed “the shrinking humanism” seen in dystopian novels and films that portray cruelty and violence among people who fear for their survival.

Rethinking What It Means to be a Christian

ArtFamily/Shutterstock.com

I’m seeing that the issue is not doctrine; it’s attitude. It’s not theology; it’s posture. ArtFamily/Shutterstock.com

“You are not only a coward but a non-believer as well.”

It may not quite be at the level of Captain America’s vibranium shield, but my skin is a lot thicker than it used to be. When you start a blog that promotes something as insanely unorthodox as the idea that the author of Genesis 1-3 might have (like most other biblical authors) made use of a metaphor here and there, you come to expect that some fundamentalists are going to call Father Merrin and start reaching for the holy water.

It’s unfortunate — and, often, perplexing — but you learn to get used to it.

Even so, there are times I receive emailed messages like the one quoted above, and it hits like a punch in the gut. I know I should just ignore such trollishness. Usually I can. But not always.

Don’t worry, though. This is not a whiny column about how mean the conservatives are to us open-minded, forward-thinking progressives. Instead, it’s about how messages like this are helping me rethink almost everything I thought I knew about the Christian faith.

Blessed Are The Peacemakers

The last forty years — basically, ever since Roe vs. Wade — the Christian right has so dominated the way Christianity’s politics and social identity is understood in America, that when the new generation of “the Christian left” — folks like Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove and Shane Claiborne — came along in the last fifteen to twenty years, it felt like they were truly pioneers. But Walter Wink and Walter Sullivan are, like other “old timers” like Dorothy Day and Jim Wallis, wonderful reminders that progressive Christianity, while always somewhat marginal in America, is hardly an invention of the internet age. On the contrary, Christianity’s quest for peace and justice has deep roots indeed, and both of these men are exemplars worth remembering.

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