Saturday, December 17, 2011

Incarnating Lawful Love 2 – Christian Peacemaking Basics

In my last post, I began sketching some dynamics which followers of Christ can monitor in the midst of conflict, in ourselves & others. I realized, after the post, that many folks don’t have the training and experiences I’ve been blessed to receive in Christian conciliation. So, I want to lay some biblical peacemaking groundwork before I proceed further with describing the dynamics, warning signs and red flags, as well as the encouraging and nurturing signs of God’s activity and presence within the relationships.

The initial step: The basic foundation for any conflict resolution process must be determined. We claim that the foundation for our unity is Christ himself, crucified and resurrected, so that we may inherit the promises of God. That sounds abstract, I know, so let’s give alternative examples of foundations to contrast ours. Secular mediation’s goal is to settle material differences in a dispute by use of laws and regulations which pertain to the matter. If a matter ends up in a court of law, laws and regulations which have bearing on the material differences in that jurisdiction are utilized. Religions have different governing principles than secular courts, and in some countries (including the US) religious judicatories have jurisdiction over those who’ve agreed to abide by the principles & authority of their religious documents in order to be employed, or to engage in business transactions, or to be a member of their organization. Colleges and corporations also have student, professor or employee handbooks which lay out conditions and expectations of enrollment or employment. Families, congregations and cultures have dynamic systems within which conflict is handled as determined “appropriate” by that system’s model. Of course, not all of these systems function in healthy, loving or honoring ways from a healthy & loving foundation! Prejudice is harmful, hard to root out, and will poison every interaction. Prejudice (“partiality” is the word used in Scripture) comes in many forms: favoritism, racism, sexism, ethno-centrism, nationalism, classism, deference to financial or worldly status, superiority according to human wisdom, and any scale by which we judge others rather than serve them (see the grid in the last post, for more examples and a graphic image). 

Secondly, a realistic assessment of the position or the interests from which those in conflict operate is imperative to reconciliation. Our subjective position – where we are, how we perceive ourselves & others in relation to one another, how we choose to use whatever power we may have in that relationship & how we process information according to life experiences, e.g. – and the interests we have in the conflict affect the way we use and abuse concrete, verifiable facts and legal principles. 

Consider one recent news event – Newt Gingrich blasted GOP Rep. Paul Ryan’s plan to balance the federal budget in May as “right-wing social engineering” and too much of a “radical change”. Within a couple of days, he claimed to have been “tricked” by the interviewer, and said, “Any ad which quotes what I said on Sunday is a falsehood.” That statement is self-refuting and self-contradictory, because employing a direct quote cannot be a falsehood. What elicited Gingrich’s blustery response was that he belatedly realized the political context had changed dramatically from his time as Speaker of the House. The current GOP political context altered his position because his interests (being elected) required that shift. Yet, his other interests (e.g., self-protection and countering a public image of untrustworthiness) meant that he could not admit his subsequent reevaluation of his own words; thus, he threatened the news reporters and his political opponents. Belligerence toward and blame-shifting onto others is a mask for failure to face one’s weaknesses and self-contradictions.

Thirdly, power imbalances have to be recognized and redressed. Our secular legal system doesn’t do this well, at all. Yes, Legal Aid attorneys will be provided to all defendants, but no one imagines that overworked and underpaid attorneys are capable of balancing out the power imbalance. The force of deep pockets and political influence too frequently prevails. Police, State and local prosecuting attorneys have much more power than the poor, disconnected, and those discriminated against in our society. Plus, they also are pressured to “close” or “win” cases, and are judged by voters or politicians according to those rates. However, government employees that they are, they have significantly fewer resources in contrast to the financial power of corporations, the wealthy and the numerous higher-paid attorneys they employ to protect their interests, even at the expense of equal justice, appropriate governance, or proportional taxation. The 30-day sentence of house arrest plus 2 years’ probation for Barry Bonds is a sad example of unequal justice. Even worse, the complete dearth of prosecutions of Wall Street financial executives for fabricating financial instruments to defraud unwary investors, while shifting the risk from failure onto the federal government is shocking. Some applaud the penalties assessed to FNMA and FHLMC; however, I’m aware of how those penalties stand in appalling contrast to the absence of penalties to those investment banks and bankers who garnered far more wealth from their unethical and devious actions. That’s not to say that FNMA and FHLMC executives were not malfeasant in financial risk-taking; it is to say that those who were penalized had less power than those who’ve done far worse and escaped penalties, thus far.

In Christian conciliation, the goal of conciliation between fellow Christians includes more than a resolution of material differences; the goal of conciliation between Christians is unity in Christ, loving and serving God, one another and the church. The foundation has to be scripturally-based and held together in love within the Body of Christ in community. A faithful Christian understands that his/her subjective position and interests must be winnowed by the Word and the Holy Spirit’s discernment, informed by their brothers and sisters in Christ. The power Christians should use is found in the cross of Christ. We are called to humble love and service of one another, for the glory of God and the building up of the church members. 

22For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, 23but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, 24but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. 25For God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom, and God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.
26Consider your own call, brothers and sisters: not many of you were wise by human standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. 27But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; 28God chose what is low and despised in the world, things that are not, to reduce to nothing things that are, 29so that no one might boast in the presence of God. 30He is the source of your life in Christ Jesus, who became for us wisdom from God, and righteousness and sanctification and redemption, 31in order that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1)

Fundamentally, however, Christian conciliation isn’t possible if either party to the conflict determines
  1. Christ is irrelevant to the resolution (i.e., the person’s goal is not unity in Christ), or
  2. Either party acts as an enemy of Christ, whatever profession they may make (i.e., one party refuses to honor Jesus’ command to love the other in accordance with scripture). 

In other words, all parties to the conflict must be acting faithfully toward one another, “in Christ”, and entrusting themselves and one another to the Lord who is able to make them stand. (Romans 14:1-12) The foundation for Christian reconciliation is Christ himself; we are reconciled through the cross: 

13But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. 14For he is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has abolished the law with its commandments and ordinances, that he might create in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. 17So he came and proclaimed peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near; 18for through him both of us have access in one Spirit to the Father. 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God, 20built upon the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the cornerstone. 21In him the whole structure is joined together and grows into a holy temple in the Lord; 22in whom you also are built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God. (Ephesians 2)

Basically, if one party or the other party to a conflict determines to be the other person’s enemy, there’s no possibility of moving forward toward unity in Christ. If the God we worship is the God who “so loved the world that he gave his only Son so that everyone who believes in him may not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16), then we are called to follow him in our thoughts, words, and actions toward everyone – including those who act as enemies to us. It isn’t possible to act as the enemy of any person created in God’s image while following Christ who died, demonstrating God’s love for us. “…while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son…” (Rom. 5:8-11)

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Incarnating Lawful Love among Enemies

A Personal Note: every person has suffered from conflict in his/her life. No one of us is exempted, although some have certainly experienced more destructive conflict than others. Extreme alienation is produced by relentless, destructive and violent enmity. Recovering from a toxic environment which breeds enmity and murderous stress takes a while, and without God’s love, presence and strong support from wise companions, complete healing is unreachable. Whether we’re cognizant of the reality or not, most of us have seen Jesus’ warning in Matt. 12:43-45 manifested in people we have known. Many, if not all, of us have experienced the stress of people who seek to harm us, personally or professionally, and who try to fracture the peace and harmony we have within our families and relationships. These people imagine personal gain to be in others' destruction. Two of my closest genetic relatives have attempted to destroy my marriage, undermine my family, relationships and career for many years & decades. My background is highly academic, and so I’ve wrestled to understand their actions and enmity from the perspective of my faith journey with Jesus Christ, and as a thorough-going intellectual with degrees in politics, economics and theology, with training and work in biblical conflict resolution. (Though I try to write simply, in other words, I frequently fail! This is a looong post. (o: ) As a Christ-follower, Jesus called me to love God, neighbors and enemies in my thoughts, prayers, words and actions. Jesus’ call kills me. Simply put, I don’t want to love these people who actively seek the destruction of my life and family relationships. But, to follow Jesus, my natural self and its demands must die. Sometimes, that death has felt like hell. Forgiving is the biblical process of letting go of our natural self’s demands, and allowing God to judge others in God’s time. Enemies, by definition, continuously trespass healthy boundaries. (Let Christ-followers remind ourselves, again, all of us have trespassed against others!) In Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, I have chosen love, not enmity. What I reflect about my journey, below, is meant to encourage others. Perhaps, the patterns observed in those who love and those who hate might resonate with others’ observations, too. May this encourage those who love God to keep following Jesus.  To those who don’t know him, Jesus lives. He is God’s lawful love incarnate – steadfast, faithful, trustworthy, grace-filled and true. God is good. Jesus said,
43“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. (Matthew 5)
When most of us think about laws, we think about a list of rules external to us, actions we should or should not take based on criteria about which most of us had no influence. The prophets, Jesus, and his apostles, however, clearly indicate that humans already embody laws in our bodies – thoughts, words, tastes, preferences, actions, experiences, reactions and interactions. By our words, actions, and choices we are constantly revealing whom or what we worship. In our bodies, we are constantly judging and assessing whether others measure up to our norms of what is “good”, right, fair, just, moral, appropriate or “tasteful” to do. However, as do speed limits, traffic regulations, societal expectations and criminal laws, human norms are constantly fluctuating, formed, hardened and softened through good and bad experiences, affected by good, bad, persuasive, manipulative &/or powerful people, across cultures, within the course of time. This simplistic (& reductionist) 3-dimensional grid gives an idea of how we naturally embody “laws”. Imagine the diamonds on the grid representing one person measured according to a set of standards, at a certain point in time…

 The horizontal plane gives the subjective measure of how little/much a person has and accumulates, and the vertical ordering gives the ranking a person enacts at any given day or period in life, by priorities of time, energy and resources. If we add the 3rd dimension of the depth of time, the fluidity and inter-relationships of the points becomes more obvious, and we begin to perceive that our life has markers at certain moments (the diamonds), but also assumes a shape and direction over time. Imagine this dynamic continually being enacted in our body and choices, and the dimensions take shape in the person we see in the mirror. The person I am lives within a far more complex developing constellation of people, culture, race, ethnicity and history.

As we naturally interact according to our own & others’ relative positions on the grid of our bodies & human positions, we will fail to meet people on the holy ground of God’s saving grace, mercy and welcome in Christ. We cannot see ourselves, or know what God knows of us. We cannot fully see who others are in God’s sight, where they need God, where they struggle, now, and how they long for healing and wholeness. We’re stuck assessing them and ourselves according to human measurements from our relative scale which is subject to time and our bodies. (Rom. 8:5-7) Just as one person has one view from the floor of a canyon, so another person has a different view when stuck on a cliff, even if both views are reflected “truly” at that moment & immediate context. Every aspect of and each behavioral choice we’ve made in our whole life affects the angles from which we justify, measure and/or condemn ourselves and others. Metaphorically, as soon as we freeze time’s passage to measure and judge ourselves or others, we’ve measured inaccurately and untruthfully.  The Heisenberg Uncertainty Principle provides a physical metaphor for this spiritual truth: the more accurately a scientist calculates the position of a particle in physics, the less accurately the particle’s speed can be measured, and vice versa.

We cannot see the activity of God in our assessments of our own or others’ positions on the grid. We can only perceive the Holy Spirit’s continuing breath & life by maintaining our connection to Godself, and inasmuch as possible from our side, with one another.  We cannot know others’ hearts, yet we should discern developing fruit (or lack) and our own or others’ motion toward light or darkness, toward confessing or hiding of sins, toward growing peace and unity or harboring alienation. 

Maintaining enmity absolutely depends upon the stoppage of time at particular points, so that our human grid positions freeze in our subjective position of judgment/approval, condemnation/release, divorce/affinity, murder, alienation, gossip, slander and perceptions of morality/ immorality. Of course, the judging one claims the “higher” law or principle by which he/she condemns others, permanently. That law/principle, however externally supported (even with scriptural principles), becomes the unrighteous, hammering gavel by which people demand satisfaction, condemn or approve of one another. (Rom. 7:5) The ongoing suffering of people in the land of Palestine/Israel is one manifestation of an ancient “good” promise held sacrosanct to harm others, today.  That shard of time can become a prism of refracted light, or an icicle to stab someone with.

One peculiar manifestation of persons frozen in enmity is an irrational inability to perceive anyone and even time itself from outside of her/his singular viewpoint from a particular past grid position & perspective. S/he continues bringing the past into the present, with human words puffing breath vainly into the past’s rotting glory or shame. All the referents are from within her/his body’s grid, then, and even verifiable, subsequent and superseding facts are ignored, warped, omitted and denied so s/he can maintain that position of self-justified condemnation and enmity. “Evidence” is fabricated out of nothing. Real and imagined “facts”, deliberately isolated from time & others’ perspectives, and deliberately positioned as the scope through which all else is viewed, become the warped weapons by which s/he fight people. S/he will not be reconciled to God, self or others. She or he holds that position in their grid as if life itself depended on it. However, Life is truly lived elsewhere. Sadly, the grid’s triumph, his/her fixed position, and the enmity produced manifests death, not life. The breath humans puff at the past and death is lifeless and without power to create new life. 

Another peculiar manifestation of sworn enemies is that they demand the ultimate word. S/he cannot “lose”; every encounter is win/lose. The only resolution for them is in a declaration of their right-ness, not reconciliation on any other ground but that of the false god of their “principle” within their singular view and story of some “reality”. Her/his view becomes the meta-narrative by which others should live and view all of life. (For philosopher friends, the breakdown of post-modernism is that its denial of over-arching meta-narratives requires the replacement of a common meta-narrative with an individualistic one. “What’s ethical to you is your ‘good’ choice, and what’s good for me is fine, too.”) Such a resolution violates any reconciliation possible in Christ, which is founded on the rock of God’s steadfast love, grace, truth, mercy, justice and redemption. Neither truth nor reality itself has any effect on his/her demand for the offender to return to the ground of his/her enmity, unforgiven. There, on that ground, the offender must bow down to the enemy’s principle, story, demand, and sacrifice their own. That demand is the very crux of idolatry and false worship. Followers of Christ know the forgiveness of God that permeates all of life, present, past and future, in all of its health and brokenness, and they rejoice that the power of God’s love surely triumphed over death in Jesus Christ. Even the Hebrew psalmists knew that our forgiveness is grounded on God’s love:
6 Be mindful of your mercy, O LORD, and of your steadfast love,
for they have been from of old.
7 Do not remember the sins of my youth or my transgressions;
according to your steadfast love remember me,
for your goodness’ sake, O LORD!
8 Good and upright is the LORD;
therefore he instructs sinners in the way. (Psalm 25)

There is no humanly accessible life, truth, grace, love, justice and mercy outside of time, because we ourselves live subject to time. Mercy requires ongoing love; we needed the self-emptying incarnation to see the living God-beyond-time, truly, here, now, in future hope, and then. We worship the LORD God, “I AM, I WAS, and I WILL BE”; we serve the Alpha and Omega, the first and the last Word full of grace and truth. This helps explain why reconciliation is improbable with certain people. The true law of love which reflects the living, changing and moving reality is subjected to and falsified by his/her demands that everyone see through his/her scope of a frozen interpretative grid. As Proverb 29:9 clarifies,
If the wise go to law with fools,
There is ranting and ridicule without relief.

Paul didn’t allow his weaknesses (1 Cor. 15:8-9) or his strengths (Phil. 3:4-6) to determine how he understood himself or others; rather, all believers are “crucified with Christ”. Paul refused to judge himself or relate to believers according to his legalistic flesh.
Yet whatever gains I had, these I have come to regard as loss because of Christ. More than that, I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and I regard them as crap*, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law [my position on any human grid], but one that comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God based on faith. (Phil. 3:7-9)  [ *lit. Greek, BDAG]

Paul clearly interpreted life, reality, other people and himself from the foundation of and through God’s grace revealed sufficient in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He focused on the continuing work of God in Christ for them and called them to live by the power of the Holy Spirit being revealed in them. “And this [batch of sinners] is what some of you used to be. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and in the Spirit of our God. (1 Cor. 6: 11)

The lens through which faithful Christians read life, people and scripture is God’s love incarnate in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. We who follow him have chosen, by grace in the Holy Spirit, to receive the death which our sins have wrought, and now rejoice in our deliverance through death into new life. As we are being conformed to God’s law of love, we bear Christ and one another, we continue to be set free from our own and their human legalistic grid – free to see others with God’s loving eyes as the Holy Spirit enables us, apart from our sins and their sins, and free to call them to the freedom and life we celebrate “in Christ”. We seek to be conformed to him by the power of the Holy Spirit, so our embodied law evidences God’s steadfast love, eternal life and super-abundant grace. (Rom. 5:15-21)

When we freeze our viewpoints and our human actions of justification or judgment outside of time’s and others’ reach, we have elevated ourselves to an unmerciful, unforgiving, condemning, self-justifying false and frozen idol.
1 Not to us, O LORD, not to us, but to your name give glory, for the sake of your steadfast love and your faithfulness.
2 Why should the nations say, “Where is their God?”
3 Our God is in the heavens; he does whatever he pleases.
4 Their idols are silver and gold, the work of human hands.
5 They have mouths, but do not speak; eyes, but do not see.
6 They have ears, but do not hear; noses, but do not smell.
7 They have hands, but do not feel; feet, but do not walk; they make no sound in their throats.
8 Those who make them are like them; so are all who trust in them. (Psalm 115)

As Christians, we call on one another to worship, love and honor the one and only living God whose very redemptive love is grace-filled incarnate Word. God lives! Jesus lives! This God continues to sanctify, to speak, to guide, to wash, to conform us to Christ, by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit and to make us holy in the course of life, in this time. We await this God’s advent, we seek his kingdom come, now. May the church be the Body of Christ, building up and encouraging one another to persevere in picking up our crosses and following Jesus. Even so, come, Lord Jesus!