I must confess that forgiveness is difficult for me.
I think about it, speak about it and write about it. (See: http://justpeacetheory.com/files/Thoughts_on_Forgiveness.pdf) When the time comes for me to forgive, I pray the prayer of Jesus on the cross: “Father forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 KJV) I pray this prayer until I am able to say inside my own soul: “I forgive.”
President Obama continues his “charm offensive” this week with trips to Congress to speak with members about a compromise on various important issues – the federal budget, immigration, gun control to name a few. On March 6, 2013, President Obama invited a group of Republican senators to dinner at a fancy Washington DC restaurant at his own expense. He wanted to speak with them in an informal setting about how to move forward on various pieces of legislation that would benefit the country. This is the kind of effort that I advocate in my work on just peacemaking. I say that just peace requires the ethics of commensality, the ethics of the table meal where the bread and wine of communion not only help us to remember the life, death and resurrection of Jesus, but also become symbols of sustenance and joy which are the ethical goals of life.
The senators came from the dinner with good things to say about the evening and prospects for a better working relationship with the president. I trust and believe that this will be the beginning of a less toxic atmosphere in Washington, the beginning of a new and better working relationship between the president and Congress.
I’m grateful to Tyler Wigg-Stevenson and the conversation he’s invited with his new book, The World Is Not Ours to Save. It is a challenge for high-strung activists who come from privilege to acknowledge our limits and learn to lean on the Lord.
For folks who consider themselves “progressive,” it is a call to more conservative religion.
The confession at the heart of Tyler’s book is one that exposes how much the early 20th century Social Gospel and the late 20th century Religious Right had in common-namely, the assumption of power and privilege. At different times and in different settings, these movements had differing opinions about which way to steer history. But the purchase of each-the energy that drove the activists in both movements-was the belief that it is our job to save America.
As a white person who was captivated by the latter movement in my teens, I know this temptation well. But as someone who has spent the past fifteen years learning social engagement from America’s black-led Freedom Movement, I don’t see “cause-fatigue” as our greatest challenge. True, if you’re a 20-something who thinks you’re going to change the world by ending nuclear armament or drilling a million wells in Africa, you’re going to wear out. There’s not a smart phone smart enough to keep you fighting windmills like that into the second stage of life.
by: Stephen Phelps on March 12th, 2013 | Comments Off
We are taking time this Lent with each of the temptations of Jesus. One Sunday, we felt after what can happen when, like Jesus, though we hunger, we wait upon the Lord to receive what is given, and do not take just what we think we need, but our soul waits in silence. Last Sunday, we searched out what can happen when, like Jesus, we see the kind of power we can have over others, but let it go, through simplicity and honor and truthfulness. We felt how the burdens of self-defense and its anxiety and anger can fall away when the gift of trust in the power God supplants our power complexes.
Now the devil takes Jesus to Jerusalem and places him on the pinnacle of the temple. Notice that Jesus is moved around by the devil and placed wherever the tempter wants. He has no power over what is done to his own body. We too know such powerlessness; our life in God does not keep us from peril. Truly, Jesus is fully human, as the ancient creeds say. And there- fore, the devil now urges him, if he is the son of God, to try the promises of God, found in Psalm 91. There in verse 9 the psalmist sings, “Because you have made the LORD your refuge and the Most High your dwelling place, no evil shall befall you.” The devil prompts Jesus to throw himself down from this most high place. And he quotes scripture – Psalm 91, vss. 10 and 11. “God will command the angels [to] bear you up, so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.” Try it, son. Jump. No evil shall befall you.
Every week at Rutba House, we have a time of confession. Years ago, we decided it was an importance practice to have in place, whether we need it this week or not. In community, we’re going to mess up. We all need space to be reconciled.
Often, when it’s time for confession, we sit in silence together and look at the ground.
But I’ve noticed something over the years: whenever one person is honest enough to confess their failure, everyone else inevitably joins them.
What’s more, we feel closer to one another when we do. Because we know we’re not perfect. But we’re forgiven. And because we are, we can get up and keep going together.
My friend Chris Heuertz has a new book out called Unexpected Gifts: Discovering the Way of Community. I love it because it’s all about failure-how to fail well and be honest about it. Which makes it one of the more honest books on community I’ve read.
When we looked at Jesus’ first temptation two Sundays ago, we saw this. He was hungry beyond any words for it, and he felt tempted to turn a stone into bread. Yet he said No, not by bread alone, and stayed hungry. Into that emptiness which he did not fill with satisfactions or wishful thinking, God came. Into that emptiness, God comes, we said, for in Jesus’ temptation is a word to you about your endless desires.
Now, let us bring a like clarity to the second temptation. Jesus was nameless and powerless in a resourceless wasteland. If ever there was an invisible man, an invisible woman, who for forty days, or forty years or four hundred years dwelled in powerlessness, scattered in a desert of disregard, that soul can receive a visit from this word today, for Jesus had nothing. Then he saw that everything was available to him – all the world’s wealth, all its authority, all its glory – if, said the Tempter, you will but bend your knee and bow to me. Yet Jesus said No, you shall worship the Lord your God and serve God alone, and he remained with the powerless. Into that condition of powerlessness, which the world despises; into that dispossession, which Jesus did not abandon, God came. God comes, we must say, for this temptation can be a word to us about our endless struggle for powers and towers.
We are almost always counting, Precious Lord. Teach us soon to count our blessings. We are in a terrible hurry. Put something in the way of our rushing about and let us trip over it, finding a new appreciation for interruptions. Amen
We pray, O God, for that thing called integrity, that exciting marriage between our inner and outer lives. Help us to pay attention to our own nourishment and what we put into our bodies, our arms and our hearts. Help us find energy, to know that health is not so much the absence or disease as the presence or vitality. Make us into inner-actives; people who move with grace from the inside out and the outside back again. Help us to be both morally nimble and morally solid. Let us not be afraid of our confusion but rather embrace it with the power of wisdom in you. Amen
Shekinah, Spirit, draw near and dwell among us. Settle us down and when we have come out of BUSYNESS as usual, change us. Animate us. Brace us. Mystify us. Change us. God you come into our life to change us and to be yourself be changed. Like a parent is changed by a child, you are also changed by us. Show us how much you love the world, so much that you are willing to be changed by it and us. Show us how much we matter to all others and to you. Amen
by: Art Laffin on February 22nd, 2013 | 3 Comments »
Shout out, don’t hold back.
Lift up your voice like a trumpet.
The U.S. empire is the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today!
The Pentagon, CIA, NSA, and corporate, political, and military powers worldwide conspire to control the earth,
crush the poor,
and persecute the peace and justice makers.
When Jesus says, “It is written, One does not live by bread alone,” he is quoting from Deuteronomy. There, an ancient author lyrically reimagines Moses offering a long, beautiful sermon just before his people enter the Promised Land. Moses promises that they are about to
eat your fill and bless the LORD your God for the good land that God has given you. . .When you have eaten your fill and have built fine houses and live in them . . . and your silver and gold is multiplied . . . then do not exalt yourself, forgetting the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. . . Remember the long way that the LORD your God has led you these forty years in the wilderness, to humble you and test you . . . by letting you hunger, then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors knew, to make you understand that one does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD. (Deuteronomy 8, selections)
To humble you and test you. . . by letting you hunger. Have you been there? Have you not been there? Who is “you” anyway? Just you-you, humbled and tested in your body, in your need? Or you-Riverside, hungering and testy, grumbling, wandering through a dry land, uncertain of the way forward? Or you-African-Americans, who have a story to tell the nations, what it was for hundreds of years to be humbled and tested, hungering and thirsting for righteousness in a land of plenty, of ignorance, of innocence, of evil? Is “you” America, a people not at all ready to be humbled and tested by more Sandys, be they Hooks or Hurricanes?
by: Stephen Phelps on February 19th, 2013 | Comments Off
“To gain control of the attention is the sole aim of all spiritual disciplines.” (Ramana Maharshi, d. 1950)
I am drawn to an idea set down by the Spanish philosopher Spinoza a long time ago. “Any thought not interrupted by another thought becomes action.” You can prove this. Hold your hand open. Think about closing it. If you think only that thought, you will close your hand. Otherwise, you will pass on to some other matter, more important. In other words, you will interrupt the thought; no action will follow. All action is composed of thought held like a flame until it catches the will in action. All inaction is composed of interruptions that douse the flames of thought.
In itself, seeing how thought becomes action will not heal us, for some thoughts are useless or evil, and it was our awful power to focus on them – our terrible obsession – that became an action we now so regret. Still, Spinoza’s rule holds: sometimes, no action is best and interruption is required. Yet sometimes, no action is no help at all. Do you wonder why a committee never gets anything done? Just watch how they let their thoughts get interrupted. Sometimes, no action was the worst thing we did. We knew what needed to be done, but we let interruptions come, and the hour of action was lost. How true like an arrow is the ancient prayer, “Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against thee in thought, word, and deed; by what we have done, and by what we have left undone.” Yes, true. But equally true is the reverse. “Most gracious God, we thank thee, for thou hast given us the attention, in thought and word, from which to choose our deeds, and to guard our attention from thoughts that yield bad deeds. Amen.”