Let Our Prayer Be More Than a Hashtag

Syrian refugees in Slovenia

Syrian refugees at the Slovenian border in September. Photoman29 / Shutterstock.com

God’s been telling the story of restoration since Genesis when we were created selem Elohim, in the image of God. We were created into perfect communion with God. From Genesis 3 until the end of the Old Testament, we see a narrative of a people in exile and God giving opportunities for reconciliation and restoration of relationship that humanity is incapable of accepting. Reconciliation is an exchange of something worthless (our condition of sin) for something immeasurably worthy (communion with God).

In the New Testament we see a biblical narrative through Jesus of now-but-not-yet restoration. In Jesus we see the coming of the Kingdom of God and get to be reconciled back to God. We even get a glimpse of an eternity where there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.

If we truly believe we are the image of God, it changes how we approach the image of God in the world. Our call then is to actively partner with God in taking the world somewhere.

Moving from Fear to Hope

Vigil for Paris

A candlelight vigil outside the French consulate in New York City on Nov. 14. a katz / Shutterstock.com

My son’s public school is amazing. The community is everything I had hoped it would be. There are several parent and grandparent volunteers who come in and out of the building daily to help in the classroom, playground and lunchroom. At first, I had wanted to make a big fuss about security and locking the front door during the school day. I thought that was going to be my platform, my soapbox. But after the crying incident, I decided that something in me had to change. I didn’t want to live in fear anymore. I didn’t want to let fear drive me. After some reflection, I had to shift that fear and move to a place of hope and love. Hope that this kind of violence would never touch my school community. Belief that our community is strong and committed and that love would ultimately win and have the last word.

In the Wake of ISIS Terror: Mourning, Lament, Discernment

If we count up the number of people killed or wounded in the ISIS Paris slaughter last weekend, and add all their families and friends, the level of human mourning is staggering. Then include the many other victims murdered in Beirut just days before, or the legions of those raped and killed in Iraq, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen, Libya, Egypt and Turkey — who never receive the same attention as Western victims — and we see human devastation that is utterly evil.

From a religious perspective, the hardest thing about confronting evil is the painful human tendency to only see it in others, in our enemies, and not see any on our side because of the blurred vision caused by the specks in our own eyes, to paraphrase the gospels. In discussing ISIS, we should clearly use the language of sin, the enormous sin of the ideological hate of ISIS finding its victims all over the world.

Rejecting Refugees, Rejecting Christ

Syrian refugees arrive in Lesvos, Greece in October.

Syrian refugees arrive in Lesvos, Greece in October. Anjo Kan / Shutterstock.com

Whether you like it or not, Christians are called to help the world’s most abused, hurt, helpless, exploited, and destitute.

If you’re a follower of Christ passionate about social justice, of if you attend a church that claims to be enthusiastic about global missions, or if you’re part of a Christian organization that facilitates ministry, you’ve been handed a golden opportunity — the ability to minister to millions of people in desperate need.

This is a chance to be radically countercultural — to glorify Christ through selfless sacrifice, hospitality, and love. Being a Christ-follower isn’t easy, and it will require hard work, but it’s worth it.

Please, Do Not Let Paris Be Another 9/11

Image via /Shutterstock.com

Just like you, I was horrified when I learned of the terror attacks in Paris on Nov. 13. The scale, precision, and barbarity of these crimes are hard to fathom.

My first reaction was sadness for the victims and a desire for peace. My second was a sense of mild panic. If they can do this in Paris, they can certainly do it in my city!

My third reaction, one I’m not particularly proud of: I thought about how much I’d like to see the people responsible for these acts hunted down and destroyed.

I’ve been thinking a lot about 9/11 lately. I remember the way that we as a nation went through a similar three-step process. We went from shock and sympathy to fear and paranoia, and finally to the conviction that we must annihilate those who attacked us.

It all happened so quickly.

'This Was Terror' — What I Saw on Sept. 11

Image via /Shutterstock

My friends and colleagues are generally aware that before I began working at Sojourners, I was a patent examiner at the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (USPTO) for six and a half years. What most of them do not know, however, is that I interviewed for that job — a five-minute drive from the Pentagon — on September 11, 2001.

Early that morning, I decided to take the Metro rather than drive to the USPTO’s offices in Crystal City, Va. I reasoned that if I got the job, I would want to get some idea about my future daily commute. This would prove to be a fortunate decision later on.

Even before the end of my trip to Crystal City, I had already heard news of the first World Trade Center tower being hit. When I arrived at the office, I hoped the interviewer would remember me after our conversation. He did — but considering the significance of all that happened that day, my concerns about employment now seem minuscule in hindsight.

Why I’m Giving Up Peace for Lent

Zacarias Pereira da Mata / Shutterstock.com

Zacarias Pereira da Mata / Shutterstock.com

The violence of our world seems to be spiraling out of control. Every news outlet is filled with the latest tragedy and for many, the violence has struck closer to home than they ever imagined. Sadly, much of the violence is being done in the name of religion. Religion — at its best — is designed to be a conduit for right relationship. At it’s worst, used as a tool for manipulation and violence. While the former is certainly happening, the latter appears to be one step ahead at the moment.

If ever there were a time where the work of peacemaking seemed soft and unrealistic while proposing some kind of fairy tale future reality, it is now. If ever there were a time to set aside the way of reconciliation for the way of revenge, it is now. Peacemaking appears to be a royal waste of time reserved for the ignorant idealists.

Yet, if ever there were a time the exact opposite case could be made, it is now. In recent history, there has never been a time peacemaking is more necessary. In fact, the moment we deny the necessity for peacemaking, we deny the very mission of God and the vocation of God’s people. God’s work is peace — the holistic repair of relationship — and the vocation of God’s people. We aren’t pawns in a divine drama that will end in an atomic holocaust allowing us to apathetically put our hands up in resignation because “everything is going to hell.” No, the Jesus Community is to announce the reality of God’s kingdom and participate in God’s activity of making all things new. And not just in some future world, but NOW.

Where do we start and how do we keep hope in a world of war?

We need to give up peace for Lent.

From 9/11 to ISIS: Resolving the Paradox of the U.S. War on Terror

9/11 memorial at Ground Zero, June 24, 2014. M. Shcherbyna / Shutterstock.com

9/11 memorial at Ground Zero, June 24, 2014. M. Shcherbyna / Shutterstock.com

It’s been 14 years since our government declared war on terrorism. How are we doing? It feels like a disastrous game of Whack-A-Terrorist, doesn’t it? We kill one terrorist hiding in one hole, and out pops another one from another hole. Now we are facing the newest threat, a terrorist organization seeking to set up a nation-state, ISIS or IS, as its leadership prefers to be called. The Islamic State, at least, would be a concrete opponent. If they hold on to territory and establish a functioning government, we could at least declare war on a tangible target. Though regrettable it would at least make sense within the logic of war in which states fight other states.

In a recent article for Patheos.com, David French uses Christian Scripture as a justification for “responding to ISIS with wrath and vengeance.” French is a lawyer, a captain in the U.S. Army Reserve and senior counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice. He claims that, according to the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, while individuals are called upon to love their enemies, there is no such call placed on governments. In fact, God has instituted governmental authority in order to execute his wrath against evildoers. And apparently, or so Romans 13 puts it according to French, to know who the evildoers are one simply needs to look at who governments are punishing. French quotes the relevant passage, Romans 13:3-5:

For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended. For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. [Emphasis added by French.]

French concludes that American Christians should have no difficulty determining the correct response to ISIS. Why? By the fact of determining that justice must be executed against ISIS, our government has determined that their violence is not only an offense against American citizens (he names the beheading victims, journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff) but against God himself.

French’s analysis strains credulity. Doesn’t he realize that the Romans to whom Paul was writing were themselves victims of government persecution? Does he think that these persecuted Christians felt they were being justly punished? And what about Paul himself, a Roman citizen who was persecuted and executed by the Roman government? Doesn’t French realize that by his own argument, the Roman authorities were executing God’s judgment against Paul? And by his own analysis, French is a captain in a military force that is from its origins a justifiable target for God’s wrath. Why? Because the founding act of the United States was a rebellion against a government, and “whoever resists authority resists what God has appointed, and those who resist will incur judgment.” (Romans 13:2)

A Reign of Terror

AMID WORRIES about a new Cold War, of standoffs with old enemies and confrontations with new ones, Harvard professor Elaine Scarry’s latest book is a chilling reminder of the doom our presidentially controlled nuclear arsenal can unleash upon the world. Early on, she reminds us that President Nixon told reporters, “I can get on the telephone and in 25 minutes 70 million people will be dead.”

This boast illustrates Scarry’s thesis: We live in a thermonuclear monarchy, where one person—the U.S. president—can destroy the world. Nuclear doom is an accident waiting to happen, and she reviews a number of barely publicized near misses.

But she sees a solution at hand—the U.S. Constitution, specifically both Article I, Section 8, which says that Congress alone can declare war, and the Second Amendment. The text of the latter reads: “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” (Emphasis added.) Scarry argues that the amendment mandates a second level of citizen consent to war, a further brake to executive power, even after Congress has given its approval—that the writers of the Constitution intended that before the U.S. engaged in any war the people would have to consent to join a militia, a form of collective participation in the decision for war. According to Scarry, our out-of-ratio nuclear weapons stockpile, ready to launch at the command of a single person, has negated the Constitution-mandated chain of accountability and decision-making and is therefore illegal.

Scarry, a scholar of social theory, argues that the social contract on which the Constitution stands also outlaws nuclear weapons. Departing from some interpretations, she maintains that the social contract as developed through the centuries is actually a covenant for peace, giving us a blueprint on how to live without war.

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Salt and Terror in Afghanistan

APVs learn about world hunger. Photo by Abdulhai Safarali

APVs learn about world hunger. Photo by Abdulhai Safarali

Two weeks ago in a room in Kabul, Afghanistan, I joined several dozen people — working seamstresses, some college students, socially engaged teenagers, and a few visiting internationals like myself — to discuss world hunger. Our emphasis was not exclusively their own country’s worsening hunger problems. Rather, tmhe Afghan Peace Volunteers, in whose home we were meeting, draw strength from looking beyond their own very real struggles.

With us was Hakim, a medical doctor who spent six years working as a public health specialist in the central highlands of Afghanistan and, prior to that, among refugees in Quetta, Pakistan. He helped us understand conditions that lead to food shortages and taught us about diseases, such as kwashiorkor and marasmus, which are caused by insufficient protein or general malnutrition.

We looked at U.N. figures about hunger in Afghanistan, which show malnutrition rates rising by 50 percent or more compared with 2012. The malnutrition ward at Helmand Province’s Bost Hospital has been admitting 200 children a month for severe, acute malnutrition — four times more than in January 2012.

A recent New York Times article about the worsening hunger crisis described an encounter with a mother and child in an Afghan hospital: “In another bed is Fatima, less than a year old, who is so severely malnourished that her heart is failing, and the doctors expect that she will soon die unless her father is able to find money to take her to Kabul for surgery. The girl’s face bears a perpetual look of utter terror, and she rarely stops crying.”

Photos of Fatima and other children in the ward accompanied the article. In our room in Kabul, Hakim projected the photos on the wall. They were painful to see and so were the nods of comprehension from Afghans all too familiar with the agonies of poverty in a time of war.