Not long ago my very conservative friend, who gets all his news from Fox and the Washington Times, asked if war is necessary for peace to happen. A few days later I read a column by James Pinkerton entitled “Give war a chance: Sometimes it works,” which seemed to be a slightly tongue in cheek (I hope) take on what the long dead Prussian war geek Carl von Clausewitz might have to say about the various wars being waged today. The two go together and demand something of a response. To my friend, and with Clausewitz to back me up, the answer is Yes, war is necessary for peace to happen if…
It is necessary if the leaders of country A are convinced that peace is possible only on their terms, and that if the unreasoning and obstinate leadership of country B opposes their terms, then the only way to peace is to eliminate the leadership of country B and establish the terms of peace on the remaining people. If some, or all, of the remaining people of country B are unwilling to accept the terms of peace, then, for the sake of peace, they also must be eliminated. It’s as easy and utilitarian as that. No serious moral questions need be asked. Jeremy Bentham would love it, and every empire worth its salt has practiced it. Of course bigger, badder empires always seem to come along to disrupt the hard won peace, but, hey, that’s life. That’s why guys like Clausewitz are still studied for their mastery of war.
If you don’t like the notion of country A and country B just substitute corporations A & B, or gangs A & B, or family members A & B. It pretty much works the same for all.
I wonder what would happen if the leaders of the nations, or corporations or gangs or you and me, ever took God seriously? We are entering the season of Advent, which starts us off with reflections on the last judgment before it brings us to the cradle in Bethlehem. Now would be a good time to reflect a little on these things.
The dreaded “D” month is upon us, at least that is the semi-humorous way a good many clergy and church staff look at it. It marks the confluence of three mighty rivers of tradition and custom in a narrow place of churning conflicts. The first river is the secular mid-winter Saturnalia of rampant consumerism, partying and accompanying anxiety that has been with us at least since Roman times. The second river, at least for some Christians, is the four week season of Advent, a season of patient waiting in anticipation of Christ’s coming while we prepare with humble and penitent hearts for the annual celebration of his incarnation. The third river is the activity, some of it quite frantic, to prepare for all the events that will occur in the church: Advent Festival of Lessons and Carols, Formal Teas, Children’s Pageants, Midnight Masses not to mention special events celebrated by our Youth Group, Scouts, AA, AlAnon and other groups that also use the buildings. It seems that it’s also the time for electrical, heating and plumbing goblins to act up. Pastors also know it a season for some of their flock to suffer deep depression, debilitating anxiety, domestic conflict and life threatening physical illnesses. The trick, believe it or not, is to relax and just let it happen knowing that in, with and through these weeks we are gathered to give glory to God’s name and rejoice in the redemption of the world through the incarnation of Word of God in Jesus Christ. Being even more deliberate about setting aside adequate time for silence, conversation with God, reflection and study brings a certain calmness in the midst of chaos that enables one to truly enjoy madness of the season.
A fellah came into my office the other day. He represented one of the newer evangelical house churches in town and wanted some help completing a list of all churches and pastors. He, along with some others, are doing their best to make weekly presentations to every church men’s group in order to give new life to a local Promise Keepers movement through which to address some of the pressing ills of the community. His main point was that our community is under attack by Satan and unless something is done soon Satan will win. It was clear to him that the community was just sitting idly by while drugs, family disintegration, homelessness, hunger and more were growing unabated in the face of public apathy. I helped him with his list but suggested that we leave Satan out of it. Blaming the devil did little more than absolve us of our own culpability. Maybe it was time that we took responsibility on ourselves for ourselves. I don’t think he liked that answer. We also had a few moments to talk about how the many social service agencies in town, many of them church affiliated, are working together in a coordinated way to not only talk about these problems but actually do something about them. That also seemed to be unsettling news to him. He finally asked if we had any kind of men’s breakfast group that they might make a presentation to and was truly disappointed to learn that our 35 year long group that meets each week preferred to devote their time to bible study and spiritual development. I tell you there is nothing sadder than a semi-hysterical the-end-is-coming would be Christian warrior discovering that the veterans in the trenches are way ahead of him.
With pugnacious tenacity some of my more conservative parishioners have expressed frustration over what they believe to be a concerted media attack on Christianity. I can’t find it but since they only watch or listen to right wing news commentators, I figure that’s where they got this idea. They are also loathe to give up their firm belief that America was primarily founded on Christian principles and continues to this day as the last best hope for a better world. The media attack on Christianity is none other than an attack on America itself. In other words, their concern is not so much about doctrines of faith as it is about politics. Socialism is, of course, what ruined Christianity in Europe, and so any form of it, especially the creeping socialism of the left wing, must be opposed by all right thinking Christians. Their level of anxiety is very high, and grows higher as they scan the list of leading Republican candidates who seem only marginally better than the horrifying specter of godless Hillary the Hun. In all of that muddy water there is something to celebrate. Christianity has had a tremendous influence for the better on Western civilization in general and America in particular. I agree with a number of scholars that the presence of a strong Church in Europe provided the necessary checks against unbridled secular political power and the ground upon which democracy could come into being. It was the Church that, however imperfectly, challenged society to meet Christian moral standards as revealed in scripture and understood in each time an place. As Europeans began to settle in America it was the Church that established colleges and universities where future democrats would learn how to build an entirely new kind of nation. Christian moral values did have an influence on the founding documents of our nation, although I do not believe anyone can seriously make a case that they were foundational themselves. As Europeans moved westward so did ministers of various denominations who became symbols and teachers of the moral order needed for towns and cities to grow. Even today it is the Church, at least some part of it, that is brave enough to call our leaders to task and remind believers of the greater law of Christ that always takes precedence over nation and politics. Out of the Church have come our greatest voices for civil rights, justice for the poor and oppressed, economic equity and more. That’s he good news. If I get around to it, I’ll work on the bad news another day.
As I get within a couple of months of retirement I find myself in the awkward position of becoming more of a consultant than a player in planning for the year and years ahead. That’s added to the odd sense that I would like this somewhat uncomfortable time to come to an end more quickly while not wanting it to pass too fast. I wonder if it would be possible to transfer these months to right after I retire rather than using them up now. We do that with Saint’s days all the time.
Why is that such a difficult word? Is it because many of us have had bad experiences with “evangelists”? I think that has a lot to do with it, but perhaps there is something more intimate than that. In fact I suspect that intimacy is at the very core of it. Religion of any kind does its best to probe at questions of ultimate truth and reality in the context of the very center of what it means to be a person. We Christians have discovered a truth about the revealed nature of God in Christ Jesus and our own identity as beloved of God who are already living into our eternal lives. Those of us sharing in the Anglican tradition also believe that this is a truth for all people everywhere and in every time. That is great good news and worthy of being shared, but it is also very intimate. It touches on the very core of our being and, if taken seriously, challenges and changes the very essence of who we are as persons. That kind of intimacy is hard to share, as hard or harder to share than details of our sex lives. I suggest that we back out of this quagmire and start over. First, as disciples of Christ we are called to follow him, which is to say that we are to follow his teachings and continue his work. That is what it means when we say that the church is the body of Christ. As disciples we can more easily respond to questions by saying that we are followers of Jesus Christ and try, through our own limited abilities, to continue in his ways. That in turn gives us an opportunity to talk, if asked, about what those ways are and what difference they might make in one’s own life or the lives of others. What does that have to do with salvation, being saved and whether or not one must be a believing Christian in order to be saved? Possible fodder for another post if anyone is interested.