Sunday, March 15, 2009

At peace or war within ourselves

Last week I had one of those encounters with a very angry person that leaves one wondering, "what was that about?" Since our house church has been studying James together, my thoughts went back to some of the verses, and I realized that 4:1 is translated differently in various versions. "Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?"

Although the "you" is plural in the Greek throughout the verse, there is the implication in the second clause that warring within ourselves leads to disputing with others. Perhaps your anecdotes and observations may differ from my own (and from James', cf. 3:13-4:12), but I don't recall ever meeting a peace-filled person who seeks confrontation not conversation; however, I have met folks who avoid all confrontation and still lack peace themselves. Obviously, confrontation or avoidance don't produce peace in and of themselves. What does?

Jesus said, "
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God." (Matt. 5:9) Jesus was a teller of truth (aka "prophet") which is an uncomfortable and dangerous position in a world filled with people wedded to the status quo, the system, and its supporting structures. Making peace, according to scripture, has more to do with encouraging one another to face the truth than with approving of, maintaining, protecting, giving in to, avoiding, dominating or manipulating one another. The sword of the Spirit is the Word of God, according to Paul (Eph. 6), although human wielding of the Word isn't always Spirit-led, as most of us have witnessed! (but I digress...) The gospel of peace is proclaimed with the sword of the Word, and that sword cuts both ways -- we have to lose our lives in order to wield it (Matt. 10:34-39).

Perhaps Arthur Frank's "Dialogical Stoic" is an apt descriptor for some of us. (
The Renewal of Generosity: Illness, Medicine and How to Live) I find it helpful. The stoic is able to receive or refuse true or false representations of his/her self when others cast them onto him/her. (cf., Eph. 6:16, the shield of faith) But, the dialogical aspect of Frank's stoic always seeks to remain in conversation with the other, recognizing value and worth despite the other's possible misrepresentations of the stoic. (James 3:17-18)

For those of us who follow Christ's way, we can face the truth about ourselves and the ways we've been hooked into unhealthy systems, while knowing that our turning toward God by the power of the Spirit results in forgiveness. When others who remain hooked cast their representations onto us, we should know God, the Word and ourselves well enough to know what is true or not about that representation. Hear any truth, let go of anything false, stand in Christ, respond with grace and truth (not with carnal weaponry like name-calling, anger, ad hominen attacks...). This is our call to humility and maturity - a tall order which seems possible (at least to me!) only when I'm walking in the power of the Holy Spirit.

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