The One Day That I Believe in Magic

When I experienced the “reawakening” of my faith a few years ago, I didn’t know what to do with the Easter story. As a kid, I never questioned the supernatural happenings written about in the Bible. I just accepted what my Sunday School teacher told me, what my Mom told me, and what I read in the Bible.

But, being in combat has a way of stripping away all your illusions. After the first time that I went to Iraq, I lost my ability to believe in miracles. I watched too many young men and women die horribly and painfully to believe that prayer accomplished much, or that supernatural intervention existed. I figured that the relationship between God and prayer fell into one of three categories: either God didn’t hear our prayers, God heard but didn’t listen, or God listened, but didn’t care.

So, when I came back to the church and began to practice my faith more intentionally, I felt that I had to re-imagine the story of the Resurrection to fit with the experiences of the previous 8 years of my life. For a time, I professed a view of the Resurrection that was purely symbolic: Jesus rose from the dead “metaphorically”, that symbolism applied to us as well. Jesus rose from the dead and lived forever in the sense that His teachings continued long after He died. After all, isn’t that the only way that we live forever: in the hearts and minds of the people that we affected?

In short, I didn’t have room in my faith or my life for magic.

Oh, what a difference a few years can make.

As the time has passed, as I’ve had the time to re-examine my experiences and my response to them, I have made a decision that seems counterintuitive: I have decided to believe in magic, at least on Easter Sunday.

It’s not that I need to live in a world where people come back from the dead.

I need to live in a world where Jesus rose from the dead.

The lesson of the resurrection, to me, is that God’s love overcame man’s wrath. And, I need to believe that.

I need to believe that love conquers wrath, even if just for one day.

I need to believe that the Prince of Peace was more powerful that the dogs of war, even if just for one day.

I need to believe that forgiveness conquers hatred and violence, even if just for one day.

I need to believe that life overcomes death, if just for one day.

Because, if Jesus truly, literally rose from the dead, these things can be true. And, if they can be true for Him, then maybe they can be true for the world that I live in. Maybe I and my children can live in the world that Jesus created when He walked out of the tomb. Maybe we can live in a world where forgiving your enemies is a more potent act than killing them. Maybe we can live in a world where mankind’s wrath and addiction to violence is finally satisfied, overcome by love, peace, and compassion.

Maybe, we can live in the world where death is not the final answer, where all the men and women who have died on the altar of warfare can rise again – in some other place and time – into a world where the lion lies down with the lamb.

A world with a risen Jesus is a world where there is hope. It’s a hope that says that no matter what happens on Friday night, Sunday morning will be better. It’s a hope that says that promises are kept, and that they can be believed.

So, today, I choose to believe in magic. I choose to believe that Jesus physically walked out of His grave, that He conquered death in a very real sense, and that death is now only a temporary state – a waiting room for everlasting and abundant life. Even if I can’t believe in a single other magical, supernatural occurrence, I have decided to believe in this one. Because, it makes the pain, the suffering, the death that I see and read about every day somehow bearable.

So, a glorious Resurrection Sunday to you all. Even if you don’t believe a word of the Bible, even if you don’t believe in any God or gods, the world that I hope for – the world that the Resurrection shows me – is a world for everyone.

May you find the magic in your own life. May you find the hope in the midst of the darkness. May you always work for the better world, and may you never stop believing that we can attain it.

Where Is Your Cross?

There are way too many homeless in my town, and not nearly enough people or places to help them. There’s an overpass that crosses the big commercial street, and there is always someone there.

“Need help. Will work.”

“Homeless and hungry.”

“Family member with cancer. Anything will help.”

I met a man under that bridge. He has no ID, and no way to get ID. He has been turned away from shelters. He has been living on the streets for FIVE YEARS. He jokingly told me that none of the cops harass him anymore, because they all know exactly who he is.

I can’t express how angry his whole story makes me. I live in Tennessee, which I like to refer to as the Buckle of the Bible Belt. There are churches every half mile in this town. There are big churches, small churches, and churches in between. Some of them help a great deal. Some of them don’t help at all. But, there are enough of them that no one should go without food and shelter for any length of time.

Let me say this again: with the number of churches in our town, NO ONE should have to go without food and shelter for ANY LENGTH OF TIME.

Most of these churches are content to kick the homeless over to our local food ministry, Manna Cafe. And, they do their best to take care of them, as much as they can. But, people like the man I met under the bridge need a lot more than one small organization can give them. Without ID, my friend isn’t even a person in the eyes of the government. He can’t get a checking account. He can’t get a job. He can’t get a phone. He can’t drive a car. He can’t do anything to improve his situation, without someone that has the resources and the WILLINGNESS to commit to HELP him improve his situation.

It makes me so angry that I could spit. It makes me so angry that I want to punch something.

It makes me so angry that I want to go make a whip out of reeds.

Most days, I get angry, I get sad, and then I just resign myself to the fact that 90% of the people who see them will pass them by. Then, I commit myself to being a part of the 10% that sees a person, instead of a problem. But, most days, it ends with that “quiet desperation”, a resignation to the fact that there is very little hope for men and women like that. As a society, we just don’t care.

But, today was different. Today was Palm Sunday. Today, we talked about the commitment of Jesus to begin His road to the Cross. We talked about our need for Good Friday, our need to pick up our own cross, before we celebrate the Resurrection on Easter. We had the kids wave around palm leaves, and we sang songs with the word “Hosanna” in them. I had a really wonderful, deep experience at church this morning.

And, when I saw the man under the bridge, followed by the hordes of people at the restaurant – dressed in their “church clothes” – I thought to myself, “Where are all the crosses?”

It’s sometimes considered controversial theology to say that Jesus has a special place for the poor and homeless, for the sick and infirm, for the hopeless and helpless. The attitudes that Jesus faced in His public ministry is still prevalent in our society today: that wealth and power are a sign of God’s favor. Even though that flies in the face of every word of the Gospel, we still think that the wealthy and the powerful are somehow blessed by God, that they have the Lord’s favor, that their authority and privilege derives from the same Jesus that told a rich young ruler to sell everything that he had and give it to the poor.

But, I truly, deeply believe that the poor are the favored ones, that their crosses are being carried already, and that our job is to be the ones that help take the weight when they stumble. I believe that when we stubbornly hoard our resources, when we look down on those men and women holding signs under bridges, we curse ourselves, we damn ourselves. It is the great sin of our society that we ignore the most vulnerable among us, that we place the blame for their destitution on the very ones that are destitute.

We watch them struggle under the weight of their cross, and we curse them for not carrying it better.

But where are our crosses? Why aren’t we falling all over ourselves to help bear that weight? Why aren’t we emptying our hearts, our pantries, our wallets to help lighten the load on the poorest among us? Why aren’t we pounding on the doors of our churches, begging for our brothers and sisters to be let in from the cold? Why aren’t we marching on our city halls, on our state capitals, demanding that we do more to lift up the poor?

Because it’s hard. Because it takes away from what we think we deserve. Because we want it to be someone else’s problem. Because we think the poor are somehow deserving of their own poverty, that the homeless somehow chose to live under the bridges, out in the cold. We want to believe that their destitution is their responsibility, and no one else’s. Because, if we absolve ourselves of responsibility, then we can pass right by. Not a second look. Not a moment’s remorse.

“They made their bed.”

“They should get a job.”

If you’re a person who doesn’t believe that they have an obligation to help those less fortunate… move along. Nothing to see here.

But, if you’re a  person who dares to claim that they follow Jesus… if you’re a person who rejoices in the Resurrection on Easter Sunday:

Pick up your cross.

Help someone else carry theirs when the weight gets too heavy.

If you can’t do this, if you can’t bear the scars and the splinters, the bruises and the battering of following Jesus into the Garden and up the hill of Golgotha, then don’t bother rejoicing on Easter Sunday.

You can’t have a resurrection without a cross.

You can’t have a new life without first dying.

To pretend that you can is to have a counterfeit faith.

When The World Hurts Too Much

I know that I need to write today. I haven’t written a blog post in over a month. There are important things to write about. There are things that need saying, and I know how to say them. I have important ideas, and I know how to articulate them well. I have a responsibility to write, no matter how small my audience is.

But, the world hurts too much right now.

I’ve been dealing with that old dragon, depression. I haven’t had a single week in the past month without at least one day of dragging myself out of bed, and just trying to summon up enough energy to stay awake. I haven’t had a single week without at least one day of having no desire or energy to do anything at all. I haven’t had a single week without, at some point, curling up in my bed and just wishing that I could close my eyes and die.

I try to keep up appearances. I try to pantomime a semi-normal life. After all, I have kids. I have a spouse. I have friends. I have responsibilities. I have people who rely on me to be invested in what’s going on around me. I try so hard, and it sucks all the life right out of me by the end of the day.

Because, the world hurts too much right now.

When the world hurts too much, it’s like my head is swimming with thoughts and ideas that cry out for expression, but they’re all locked in because I just don’t see the point in letting them out.

When anger, violence, ignorance, and hate seem to rule the world, it feels pointless to talk about love, peace, understanding, and compassion. Who is listening? Who cares?

When so many Christians aren’t interested in acting at all like Jesus, why bother trying to bring the Gospel to the Church? When there are no ears to hear, why even open your mouth?

When the streets are filled with so many homeless and destitute, when homes are filled with abused children, with hungry children, with children who will never get a chance to rise above their upbringing… you know you’ll never be able to help even a fraction of them, so why bother?

Why walk out into the world when everyone is shouting at you to stay home? Why try to be the dissenting voice when everyone is telling you to sit down and shut up?

I try not to grow weary of doing good, but I’m weary of never making a difference. I’m weary of pretending that I matter.

I’m weary of feeling embarrassed that the world hurts so much that I want to disengage from it completely. I’m weary of “sucking it up”. I’m weary of being hurt, of taking one for the team. I’m weary of fighting fights that I can’t win, fights that can only leave me bleeding and bruised.

Yet, in those moments of clarity – those rare moments when I can see past the hurt – I realize that I’d rather die fighting those fights that I can’t win than curled up in bed, whimpering that it all hurts too much. I’d rather be ineffective while trying to make a difference than living a life where I don’t try at all. I’d rather help a few individuals in my life than despair over all the ones that I can’t help. I’d rather preach the Gospel to deaf ears than never preach it at all.

Maybe we all need a moment when the world hurts too much to speak, or think, or breathe. Maybe we all need those times that feel so much like self-pity, but are actually self-protection. Maybe we need these moments of crying out that we’re so damned tired of it all.

Because, once we’re done crying out, we know it’s time to move again. It’s time to speak again. It’s time to fight again.

When the world hurts too much, just let it hurt a little. And remember that if it’s hurting you this much, it’s hurting itself far, far worse.

Go out and try to heal it.

Hope Is a Bold Answer

Cynicism is the plank in my eye.

I am constantly fighting off cynicism, especially when I spend a lot of time shut up in my house (this describes at least half of the average month for me.) For anyone who is unfamiliar with the proper definition of cynicism, it is as follows:

An inclination to believe that people are motivated purely by self-interest.

I woke up this morning and checked my Twitter feed (my new morning habit, now that Facebook has left my phone.) I noticed two things immediately, one of which I managed to forget in the hustle and bustle of the month of January.

  1. Today is the Iowa Caucus, which begins in earnest the presidential primaries.
  2. Today is the beginning of Black History Month.

These two facts actually make it easy to get lost in cynicism – and it’s bitter cousin, Hopelessness. After all, what is motivated more by self-interest than American politics?

But, what could make us cynical and hopeless about Black History Month? Well, it’s that magical time of year where everyone argues about whether we need a Black History Month, whether Black History Month is racist by nature, why we can’t have a White History Month… Black History Month is a madhouse of cynicism, with several self-interested parties making waves about how self-interested it is to have an entire month celebrating Black History.

Pause, calmly, and think on this.

Being prone to cynicism and hopelessness on my best days, it would be very easy for me to spend this entire month ranting about how self-interested everyone else is, and how we should all be motivated completely by altruism, just like me.

See that’s the caveat that is often unspoken when the Christian blogger starts to get cynical/hopeless. Why can’t you all follow Jesus like me?

This is the plank in my eye, the log that I can’t see past to remove the speck in my brother’s eye: why can’t you all follow Jesus like me? Why can’t you all care about Black History like me? Why can’t you all support populist candidates like me? Why can’t you all be altruistic like me?

I might as well wear a T-shirt that says, in giant letters, “LORD, I THANK YOU THAT I AM NOT LIKE THESE OTHER WHITE MEN!

The problem with cynicism is that we’re quick to see the self-interest in others, while ignoring it in ourselves.

The speck looms large, whilst the plank is ignored.

************************************************************************

What does this have to do with either of the events that I pointed out?

Well, the Presidential Primaries represent the spirit of American democracy. It’s a time when a group of people come together, to vote for who their party’s nominee will be, who they will vote for when the general election comes around.

Think about that for a moment: we vote for the person that we want to vote for later.

There’s no greater expression of hope than an election. When I patrolled the streets of Ramadi in 2006, people wouldn’t even leave their homes. But, when I came back in 2008, I saw crowds of those same Iraqis lining up to vote. Voting gave them a sense of hope.

I read an article not long ago about a suicide bomber that detonated himself in the middle of one of those election lines.

The voters lined back up.

Hope is a bold answer to cynicism.

When I think of all the arguments and controversy that surround something as simple as a month celebrating the history of Black people, it would be easy to get cynical. I certainly have responded that way in years past.

But, today, I’m thinking of what Black History Month has to teach us. Black History Month teaches us so many important lessons about perseverance in the face of adversity, hope in the face of hopelessness, strength of spirit, courage… there are so many vital lessons to be learned from those giants of Black History (of American History), that it pains me that we only think about them for one month out of the year.

If we view Black History Month in the light of recent Black History, it’s easy to become hopeless. As I opined on MLK Day, it doesn’t seem like we’ve made much progress since MLK was murdered in Memphis. Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Freddie Gray, Tamir Rice, Sandra Bland, Samuel Dubose… that’s only a fraction of the list, only the people who have died because of police abuses, and it seems like we’re adding to it every day.

But, if we view recent history in the light of what Black History Month teaches us, we can see that these moments of great adversity, these moments in history where we want so badly to sink into hopelessness… these are the moments when our hope shines the brightest, where our hope is the boldest answer to give, where the light of justice is blazing through the cracks.

Hope is what links the two events of February 1st, 2016.

Hope is what keeps us coming back to the polls, even when we haven’t seen an election change anything in a long time.

Hope is what drives us to continue to teach our children the value of Black History, even as the world around us seeks to marginalize it.

Cynicism is easy. Hopelessness is easy. These attitudes are the death cries of a broken spirit: a weak and ineffectual last gasp.

But hope, like love and faith, remains after everything else has failed.

Join me in giving a bold answer to cynicism today. Join me in countering hopelessness today.

Join me in daring to hope.

MBW

PS – If you live in a state that holds open primaries, please, please, PLEASE get out and vote. Politics won’t save us – only Jesus can do that – but following Jesus can mean giving voice to the kind of person we want leading the country that we live in.

 

Second Thoughts on MLK Day

I wrote a post on Monday about how it feels to see Dr. King’s words, ideas, hopes, and dreams become so trite and meaningless in today’s world.

This isn’t titled “second thoughts” because I’ve changed my mind. That sense of mourning, of lamentation, is still present in my thoughts when I think of Dr. King.

But, something occurred to me after writing the post on Monday. It’s something that Dr. King said, something that’s so powerful, but that tends to get lost in the litany of inspirational quotes.

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”

After a little bit of research, I found that this quote is not original to Dr. King (nor did he claim authorship.) The context in which he placed the quote bears repeating.

Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but that same Christ arose and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” There is something in the universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, “Truth crushed to earth will rise again.”

Dr. King wrote those words in an article in 1958. He would be assassinated only 10 years later.

Did he believe those ideas as he struggled on through the next decade? Did he hold onto the hope that all things would eventually resolve into justice? As he and his friends and followers were beaten, imprisoned, defamed, and murdered, did he believe that “truth crushed to earth will rise again?”

I don’t know for certain that he held onto his hope, his faith, his optimism. But, a speech that he delivered shortly before his death suggests it.

Like anybody, I would like to live a long life. Longevity has its place. But I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. And He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I’ve looked over. And I’ve seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the promised land!

He gave that speech the night before his death.

So, if Dr. King could believe, after a decade of abuse and struggle, that progress would continue, that the arc of the moral universe really would bend towards justice, then a man as privileged as I am can believe the same.

Frustration has its place. Mourning and lamentation have their place. But, after all has passed away, faith, hope and love remain.

We live in such amazing times. Even though our times are sometime dark, there are thousands upon thousands of bright lights. We have groups like Black Lives Matter, who are willing to continue crying in the wilderness, regardless of the voices raised against them. We have ministers, actors, comedians, and all kinds of public figures who use their fame and fortunes as a platform to bring attention to injustice. We have a President who continues to eloquently and boldly speak to our national sins of racism and injustice.

And, we have millions of individuals on social media who are educating, advocating, and demanding that this generation be the last one to see the evils of racism and injustice in our country.

So, I’m more hopeful today than I was on Monday. Because, no matter how complacent we have become in America, we are still the Sleeping Giant that can be awakened to justice. We are still capable of progress.

But, I need to temper my optimism, my hope, with a little bit of a warning. I mentioned that the “arc of the moral universe” quote did not originate with Dr. King. The quote came from a Unitarian minister named Theodore Parker. He was a 19th century Transcendentalist and abolitionist. In 1853, a book was published of 10 of his sermons. The third sermon, titled “Of Justice and the Conscience”, contains this passage:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see, I am sure it bends towards justice.

Things refuse to be mismanaged long. Jefferson trembled when he thought of slavery and remembered that God is just. Ere long all America will tremble.

We must not be complacent for long. We must remember that God is just.

 

Michael Brian Woywood

Blogging When You Don’t Want To: An MLK Post for 2016

Rachel Held Evans is much cooler than I am.

I don’t say that in jest, or sarcastically, or in any way other than true admiration (and a small bit of jealousy.) RHE has been publishing really stellar posts since she was… in the womb, probably. She’s really the reason that I started in the Christian blogosphere. In fact, if they are talking about early millenial Christian writing 50 years from now – when they’re reading RHE, Benjamin Corey, Sarah Bessey, and John Pavlovitz in churches and seminary classrooms – I just hope to be in the “Also Ran” category of Christian blogging of the decade.

Granted, you don’t get into Internet blogging – especially Christian blogging – for the money, fame, or beautiful women. You start writing a blog because you have always written stuff, and suddenly there’s a gigantic bullhorn called the Internet where you can post the stuff that you write. So, you get a website, you start pounding out posts, maybe you take a six month break and reevaluate your commitment to blogging… but, it’s always about the message, the ideas, not who reads them.

The problem is that you have days like today. Today is MLK Day in the United States.  And, while I personally love this day, and observe it as thoughtfully as I can, every blogger in the known universe has a post today.

And, as usual, RHE has said it better than me.

When I saw that she had posted, and the title of her post, I resisted reading it. I hadn’t decided if I was going to post anything today, and I didn’t want to be swayed by her elegant prose and incisive commentary – as I was pretty sure that my idea for an MLK post would be almost exactly the same as hers.

Which it was. Only she said it better.

Okay, I’ll go ahead and link it.

***************************************************************************************

Last year, at this time, I wrote a post about MLK and Chris Kyle, which was a post that I really wanted to write. It felt like it was really from my heart, because I think I’m at my best when I’m writing about issues relating to war and violence.

This year? I feel like my heart is full of things to say, and yet so, so weary. I think the reason that I struggled with whether or not to write this post is less because my blogging heroes will say it better, and more because I am really afraid that none of these posts are going to matter one bit. Because in January of 2015, we all wrote about MLK Jr., while in the midst of the ongoing struggle in Ferguson. And, before even six months had passed, we were all writing about Eric Garner. And then the tragedy of Freddie Gray and a neighborhood in Baltimore. Then, a horrific hate crime at Emmanuel AME in Charleston.

Confederate flags. Sandra Bland. Samuel Dubose.

The list was endless.

We wrote. We cried out in the wilderness. And nothing changed.

Today, we’re living in the moment of Donald Trump, a walking joke that has turned into a living nightmare. As Mrs. Evans mentioned in her post, a candidate supported by white supremacist groups – a candidate who has risen to prominence by saying the most heinous, racist, and unjust things imaginable – is speaking at an MLK event at Liberty University, a university founded by a religious leader who rose to prominence by saying the most heinous, racist, and unjust things imaginable.

No irony here, folks. Move along.

We seem to have reached a point in our national history in which our capacity for self-criticism has reached such staggering depths that we are beginning to look like a parody of ourselves. Real news is starting to read like satire. Presidential politics plays like a farce.

And Christian blogging, our so-called “prophetic voice,” feels like an exercise in futility.

I mean, I saw a meme a couple of weeks ago – originating with Ted Nugent – that featured a picture of Rosa Parks with the words, “Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on the bus. But, she didn’t tear up the bus.”

We have made such an utter joke of the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr. – and his contemporaries in the Civil Rights Movement – that a white kid from Texas writing about him today just seems… insincere? Insulting?

I know that it makes me feel amazingly self-conscious, and ridiculously self-critical. I grew up around family members who advocated “George Wallace Day” every year at this time. I have family members today who spew bile and hatred towards Black Lives Matter, who considered the shooting of Michael Brown to be just, who defended the cops who shot Tamir Rice. I love these people. I respect most of their opinions and insights. But, as I try to write a meaningful post on MLK Day, I can’t help but realize that I am part of that legacy. No matter how fast or how far I try to run from it, I am part of that community. I am part of the culture that beat the living sh*t out of marchers in Selma, who shouted at Ruby Bridges, who killed Dr. King.

So, when I write about Dr. King, when I think about a post that might give meaningful tribute to a man that I have been truly and deeply inspired by, I can’t help but feel a little disingenuous, a little bit like I’m co-opting a hero of the community of People of Color for my own purposes. I admire people like RHE and others who are willing to continue entering this fray, who are determined to be effective and sensitive white allies, who are internalizing the message of Dr. King and trying to preach it to those in the white world who don’t quite get it.

But, I’m having a hard time being one of them today, because all I can think about is how we’re the faces of white moderates who called for unity while Dr. King was in a Birmingham jail. All I can think is that we’re those white faces that abandoned our support of #BlackLivesMatter in droves when two women dared to interrupt a Bernie Sanders rally. We love Dr. King when he presents himself gently, when his oratory calls for unity and peace.

We’re not quite as fond of him when he appears in a disruptive, disorderly manner. We don’t like him when he interrupts us, when he calls us to self-criticism, when he demands that we repent and feel just a little bit of guilt for our sins and the sins of our fathers. We’re not crazy about him when he feels sympathy for rioters, when he speaks against the military-industrial complex, when he becomes what we stereotype as the “angry black man.”

So, I wasn’t sure about posting today, and I’ve now written close to 1200 words. Which, interestingly enough, makes me feel even more self-conscious and self-critical.

Let me end this by getting, finally, to the point. Here’s what I would like to say about Dr. King.

I’m sorry that his dream has yet to be realized, and that injustice and racism still rules the day. I’m sorry that I felt too tired and weary in my soul to write anything meaningful, when the black community is even more tired and weary from being the actual victims of injustice. I’m sorry that I have far too much of the white moderate in me, and that I have a hard time speaking to the legacy of racism and injustice in my own community. I’m sorry that we killed Dr. King, and that we continue to kill and defame black men, women, and children. I’m sorry that we have lost our capacity to understand, to look inward, to criticize and change what we see.

But, as I read what others have to say today, I have a little bit of hope. Maybe this is the year that we actually get it. Maybe this is the year that we’ll really understand every facet of the man that we honor today, that we’ll realize everything that he was trying to teach us. Maybe this is the year that we’ll actually listen to the black voices that are crying out for justice, and the white Christian blogging community can stop our very well-intentioned whitesplaining.

Michael Brian Woywood

 

PS – Here’s a fantastic article that I saw first thing this morning. It really set the tone for me today.

 

Discipleship is not a math problem

I have been reading through The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonhoeffer. It was given to me about a year and a half ago by my best friend, as a gift after joining him in youth ministry. He swears by the book, and I have heard much about it. Thus, I accepted the gift with excitement and anticipation.

I dove in almost immediately, pouring through the first two chapters in a single night. I had never seen this kind of message. Costly grace? Those two words redefined my theology. I had asked that question for a long time, but Bonhoeffer really clarified it for me. While we celebrate the free gift of grace, do we remember how costly it was? While we know that we can never repay the cost, do we voluntarily attempt to share in that cost as disciples?

I read those first two chapters, and my life was changed. And, then, I put the book down, and didn’t pick it up again until about a week ago.

It wasn’t any conscious decision. Like with so many other books, I just got absorbed in something else, and never came back to it. But, I felt like I had the essence of the book down: costly grace. Grace that was freely given, but still had a price. Armed with my first two chapters, I went out and formulated my own theology. So many messages that I preached and wrote were based off that little bit of Bonhoeffer: The Dangerous Gospel of Good Friday was probably the sermon most closely related to my experience with Bonhoeffer.

But, after reading a little more over the past week, I realized that I have only skimmed the surface. The more I dug in, the more I realized that there was so much more to this theology of discipleship than I had initially realized. The acceptance of costly grace is only the beginning. You have to dig deeper, into what Bonhoeffer has to say about the everyday path of following Jesus, in order to really appreciate the impact this man has had on so many different people.

There were times when I felt encouraged while reading, because I thought, I’m already on this path. But, there were also times when my spirit was sorely convicted, because I realize how far off the path I am in some areas. And, the more I read, the more I thought, Nobody can do this. This is too heavy a burden.

It really hit me yesterday. I had an opportunity to put a conviction into action, and I sat there arguing myself. What was the most Christian thing to do? How far did I have to go in order to prove myself worthy of the mantle of true discipleship?

That’s when it hit me. I was reading Bonhoeffer the wrong way. I was reading Jesus the wrong way. I was looking at discipleship like a math problem.

We have this problem in progressive Christianity, where we tend to reduce our faith down to a kinder, gentler legalism.  We don’t want to put rules on people when it comes to sex, or drinking, or any of the other traditional legalist rules. But, when it comes to social morality, public justice, we definitely have some rules for each other.

You can only consider yourself a progressive Christian in some circles if you believe and do x, y, and z. God help you if you consider yourself any kind of Christian without following the formula.

I’m not criticizing the deeds of progressive Christians (or Christians who do good works, regardless of what kind of Christian they consider themselves.) It’s the spirit of the thing that gets me, because it’s a spirit that I’ve found myself infected by. We’ve reduced discipleship to the sum of its parts, into something that we can measure up to, something that we can rate on a sliding scale of moral goodness. And, ultimately, we’ll never get there, and so we’ll have to fall back on the cheap grace that allows us to be “imperfect, but forgiven.”

When I help the poor, I can’t do it in order to be a disciple. I do it because I am already a disciple. When I stand up for racial justice, or for gender equality, or for religious tolerance, I can’t do it so that Jesus will save me. I do it because Jesus has saved me. When I claim to love and forgive my enemies, I can’t do it because it’s what Jesus told me to do (and thus, the “right thing”). I must do it because I was His enemy, and He forgave me.

The difference might seem minute, or a matter of semantics, but I swear that it’s the difference between the easy yoke and light burden of discipleship, and the unbearable mantle of legalism.

I love and forgive my enemies, because He has loved and forgiven me.

I feed the hungry, because He feeds me.

I clothe the naked, because He has clothed me.

I serve, because He has served me.

I kneel down and wash my neighbors feet, because He has washed me clean.

In the end, discipleship isn’t about action, but reaction. I can only do the things that I do, because He has shown me how. He has enabled me. I can pantomime on my own. I can do things that look like good works and righteousness, but at the end of the day, I’m doing them to add to my own moral scorecard. I’m only doing x+y=z.

Thank God that we have so many people in the world who are willing to do these things, regardless of their reasons. This is a work that needs to be done, and I believe that people do the work of Christ in the name of Allah, of enlightenment, of simple compassion, and they should be praised for, and encouraged in, that work. But, for the disciple, for the follower of Jesus, we do these things because we know Him, because He has done these things for us.

To do them for other reasons is good and proper. But, it’s not discipleship.

I could still be reading it wrong. I could have come to the entirely wrong conclusion. But, let us pause, calmly, and think on this.

Grace and peace to you.

Good God, It’s the New Year

When people ask me what I do for a living, I tell them, “I’m a writer.” This obviously sounds way cooler than it is, but it’s far easier than saying, “I’m a psychologically disabled veteran, who volunteers as a church youth leader, plays a lot of video games, and writes a blog – along with several volumes of unfinished fiction. Oh, and I’m fortunate enough to have qualified for enough programs in the VA to be able to support myself and my family without having to work a regular job – which I probably wouldn’t be able to do, even if I had to, because of the aforementioned psychological disability.

So, yeah. It’s much easier to just say, “I’m a writer.” For some reason, that statement gets a better reaction than, “I’m a disabled veteran”, and requires far less explanation.

But, I actually am a writer, at least in the strictest sense. I’m not published outside of the Internet, but I am (apparently) read in 138 countries across the world. And, I do have several  unfinished fiction and non-fiction works sitting in my Documents folder. They will all get finished before the Second Coming… I hope.

I am a writer, and writers are supposed to have a process. Typically, you want to shroud that process in as much mystery as possible, so as to make it seem far more intense and professional than it actually is. I’m sure that successful authors – those who get paid for their work, or whose work is sought after rather than stumbled upon – have a really beautiful and ordered process. But, my process goes something like this.

I wake up and think, “I’m probably going to write today.”

I eat breakfast, do a little vaping, check my social media, brush my teeth, make a cup of coffee, kick my kids off the computer….

And then, I write. I typically have a few Internet tabs open, if I’m writing about a current issue. There are at least 3: one to tell me about the thing, one to give me an analysis of the thing, and the third to give me a refuting opinion about the thing. If I’m writing about more abstract topics, or topics that my knowledge base is already solid on, I’ll throw on some headphones and listen to something that’s either soothing or engaging – acoustic jams or hard rock jams, depending on what I’m writing about.

Other than that, I just write. I do kind of a stream of consciousness with appropriate punctuation, and then I go back and tweak some turns of phrase or word choices. I typically edit out about 90% of the profanity, leaving only the words that I absolutely feel are necessary for emphasis (this is a Christian blog after all, and I don’t wish to offend the Pollyanna crowd… much.)

I just spent 500 words explaining how I work, just to get to this point: I don’t spend a lot of time planning what I’m going to write about. When something happens that makes me absolutely need to write, I’ll either write about it right then, or I’ll wait a day to gather my thoughts. But, if I’ve reached a point in the week or the month where I think, “I need to write a blog soon, or I have to stop telling people that I’m a writer”, I’ll come up with an idea in the shower, or while attending to my morning ablutions.

So, while attending to my bowels and teeth this morning, I thought about what I might need to write on December 31st, 2015. I started this blog on the New Year in 2014, and so it feels symmetrical and appropriate to write on either New Year’s Eve or New Year’s Day each year.

First, let me say that New Year’s Eve snuck up on me. This has pretty much been the MO of the entire month of December. I’ve written some stuff this month that I’m really proud of, and it feels like I should have been more aware of the month passing. But, it was just the opposite. The whole thing kind of passed me by, just a blur of personal remembrance days and a Federal holiday. So, when I woke up this morning and heard my wife talking on the phone about plans tonight, I thought, “Oh God, it’s New Year’s Eve.”

I don’t feel strongly about the day either way, other than the fact that fireworks are traditional (which means that my plans will involve noise-canceling headphones and a jittery dog.) But, for most people, the New Year involves the dreaded resolutions. New Year’s Resolutions are kind of a joke to most people, even to those who make them. Every year, I passingly say something like, “I plan to go to the gym for at least 2 days this year… in January.” Or, “I plan to drink more beer and exercise less this year.” But, lest you think I’m legitimately counter-cultural, I always silently add that maybe I do need to go to the gym more often, and I do need to drink less beer.

There is a sense that we need to be better people next year than we were the year before.

I thought about this for a little while, whilst I was brushing my molars, and I wondered, “Why is this? Why are we so set on being better people in the New Year, when we’re so okay with being crappy the rest of the year?”

Let’s face it: 2015 was a crap year. It was the year of an unending stream of police killings, mostly of young, black men (and more than a few young, black women.) It was the year of mass shootings, at colleges and clinics, at churches and movie theaters. It was the year of ISIS. It was the year of the Syrian refugee crisis. It was the year of terrorist attacks. It was the year of Kim Davis. It was the year of Trump.

2015 gave a writer like me plenty of material.

Why would we think we could be any different in 2016? Why would we even care?

Why are we so intent on being better people in the New Year than we were the year before?

After applying my brain to this problem for the length of time it took me to rinse my mouth out,  I came up with an acceptable answer.

It’s Christmas. Christmas is what makes us want to be better people.

For those who are not Christians, it’s probably the presence of family, the spirit of giving, and the general warm fuzzies that everyone feels during the Christmas season. But, for Christians, this holiday is meant to have a significance that goes far beyond the warm fuzzies. Because, in our faith, something has happened that has changed the world forever.

Emmanuel has come.

God walks among us.

We have just marked the day that we celebrate the Christ being born. We have just finished singing Silent Night, Away in a Manger, and O, Little Town of Bethlehem. We understand, more than at any other time of the year, that the world has changed forever – and that we must change ourselves to match it.

We think of the Son of God, the King of Kings, being born into nothing – and we realize that we have been ungrateful for all of the things that we have. We think of the shepherds and magi coming to honor Him – and we realize that we have failed to honor Him in so many ways. We think of the innkeeper, denying shelter and warmth to the Mother and Child – and we think of all the ways that we have denied shelter, warmth, and comfort to those who need it the most.

We realize, more than at any other time of the year, that Jesus is most at home among the cold, destitute, and helpless. And, we realize that we are more often the innkeeper than the shepherds.

And, we want to be better people, as a result. We so desperately want to be the shepherds, the magi, the angels singing the Hallelujah chorus. So, we think of ways that we can better ourselves. We think of ways that we can be kinder, more giving, more temperate, more compassionate.

This is probably all subconscious in most people. Not everyone has the time to consciously think of these things and type them out in a structured format – most people haven’t earned their retirement by age 30. But, just maybe, this subconscious desire to be better (at least in those raised in the Christian subculture) stems from the way that the Christmas story seeps into our bones during the months of November and December.

But, then, our desires get confused. We start to think that the ways that we need to improve ourselves are external. Society tells us that we just need to lose a little weight, gain a little muscle, eat a little better, get a new car, get a new look, make some more money, etc, etc, ad infinitum, ad nauseam. And, we slowly give in to those persistent voices coming from the TV, the radio, and our close friends and family. We decide that these things will make us feel better about ourselves, that we’ll be better people if we do those things.

So, we forget about others. Our changes become purely about how they will make us feel. And, before we know it, we slip into the same patterns of behavior, the same patterns of thought, that made us so dissatisfied with ourselves in the Old Year, that we were so intent to change in the New Year.

Let me be clear: I’m not knocking good diet and exercise. I’m not saying that new cars, new clothes, or better pay is a bad thing. Some people really need those things. But, as I look at the past year, as I look at all the terrible, horrible, no good, very bad things that have happened, I think that what we need has far more to do with people’s hearts than with their bank accounts. As I look back on all the people that we, as a whole society, decided not to care about – the Eric Garners, the Tamir Rices, the refugees, the minimum wagers, the prisoners, the hungry, the homeless, the victims of guns, the victims of drones – when I look back on those people, I realize that we care far too much about how much time we spend at the gym, and not nearly enough about how much time we spend helping the oppressed, the dispossessed, and the powerless.

I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. For every word that I write to advocate for the oppressed, there are 3 words that I don’t say, for fear of offending the wrong person or getting into a conflict with someone that I love. For every dollar that I give to help those in financial need, there are 5 that I keep for selfish reasons. For every prayer that I say in intercession for those in danger, there are ten that I fail to say, because my privileged life is far too busy to take the time to pray.

So, to close out this long-winded piece of writing, I’m going to throw down some resolutions in public. I want to have accountability partners in 138 countries – people who are willing to call my integrity into question if I fail in these things.

1) I want to go to the mat with the powers and authorities. I want to stop being scared to speak out on issues that might offend friends and family members. I want to join the chorus of voices that scream, “Enough is enough” when faced with oppression and injustice.

2) I want to give more. I want to give $5 for every $1 I keep for anything beyond things that we need.

3) I want to leave my comfort zone, the safety of my computer screen and my mind. I want to walk out, physically, into the world, and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with the people that I write about and for.

4) I want to care more. I want to refuse to shut my mind down when it gets too hard to care, when the emotional weight gets too much. I want to learn how to make my (spiritual) back stronger.

5) I want to pray more, and I want to stop mentally mocking the concept. I want to add prayer to my deeds, to daily remember in intercession those that I’m working and advocating for.

….and, it probably wouldn’t hurt for me to spend a few more hours in the gym this year.

**************************************************************

What topics would you like to see me cover this year?

Where should my advocacy in writing be focused?

I wish each of you, of all nationalities and faiths, a very Happy New Year. May we all be better people in the New Year than we were the year before.

MBW

Can I Please Have Some Joy?

I deliberately skipped last week’s Advent blog, because I got my Sundays mixed up. I thought that last week was the Joy Candle, and that this week was the Love Candle. Love is easy to write about – I’ve been writing about it since high school oratory competition (I was State Champ, and I am bragging.)

But, me being who I am – and God being who God is – my carefully steered boat got rocked this morning. I haven’t been feeling particularly spiritual this week – I had remembrance for two more combat deaths this past week – and I was giving serious consideration to skipping church again, regardless of which candle we were lighting today. But, my wife reminded me that my mood is always vastly improved by attending church. As she is much wiser than I, and employed by the VA to be the guardian of my mental health, I decided to sacrifice a little sleep to attend worship.

I was looking forward to a good sermon, as my pastor is a 30-year veteran of pastoral ministry and missions. He always delivers the goods. At first, I was simply suffering through the Christmas carols (our worship band is spectacular, but I am something of a grumpy purist when it comes to carols, and they do non-traditional/contemporary music.) Then, the Advent liturgical and Scripture reading happened, and it started with, “Today we light the Candle of Joy.”

And in my mind, I thought, “Oh shit.

I looked at my wife, and said (out loud), “Since I tried to avoid this candle, he’s going to preach directly at me this morning.” (He doesn’t mean to do this, but he almost always does when it comes to theological topics that I struggle with. This is why I say that he delivers the goods.)

His sermon wasn’t particularly challenging to me, personally. It was all about his own travels to Bethlehem, and the irony of the most important people in history being in a small town in Palestine on Christmas night. And, that particular message has resonated with me for the past few years, ever since I embraced the dangerous, subversive, revolutionary overall message of the Gospel. BUT… while I know intellectually why the birth of Jesus should bring me great joy, and while I desire it greatly, I don’t feel it in my soul. I don’t have that peace and contentment that I have always felt is the prerequisite for joy.

As an aside, and by way of explanation, I’ll tell you this: a few years ago, as I was undertaking a serious search for my place in the five-fold ministry, I had an experience that left me with a certainty that my place was that of the prophet. I might explain that in more detail in the New Year – I only tell you now to provide a little insight into why peace and joy are such difficult concepts for my spirit. Go back and read some Old Testament prophets, and you won’t find a great deal of joy or peace. Very rarely (if ever) do you hear a prophet – either ancient or modern – say, “You know what? We’re doing okay. Everything is pretty great. You guys just keep doing what you’re doing.” NOPE. The prophet doesn’t exist to comfort; the prophet exists to challenge, to cry out and rail against injustice, to confront. It’s a pretty lonely place, which is why there are a lot of pastors, teachers, and evangelists out there, but not so many people who embrace the role of the prophet. Our lives are generally difficult even before we embrace our ministry, and acceptance of it typically only increases that difficulty.

So, joy? Peace? Not typically on the menu for me.

I’m sitting there in church, half-listening to the sermon and contemplating why I can’t feel joy, why I have such a hard time with the concept, why I feel like such a terrible Jesus follower for not walking around with a Giant Joy Halo all the time. And, suddenly, Joy walked in.

Actually, his name was Da’Von. He’s one of my favorite teenagers ever, and I hadn’t seen him in months. I think about him often, but I don’t stay up nights worrying about him. He’s a good kid, and I am pretty sure that he’s staying out of trouble. But, seeing him… it brought me such a feeling of peace and contentment, that I can only describe it as absolute, unfettered joy. And, he was excited to see me too. It was an epic hug that we shared, huge smiles all around.

And, as I knelt at the rail later and prayed, “God, can I please have some joy?” it was as if the Spirit descended as a dove and said, “Look around, Prophet.” And, I realized that I experience that joy every Sunday morning. This is the reason that my wife sees my mood soar after church: it’s the 10 teenagers that greet me with a hug and a smile when I come in. It’s the older men and women who greet me with those same smiles and hugs, one of my “spiritual fathers” ragging me about my wrinkled shirt and my messy hair, my “spiritual mother” telling me how handsome I look and how happy she is to see me. It’s dancing to the familiar praise and worship songs, or to 80s funk in the burrito joint after church. It’s making those employees laugh, giving a good tip to them, jamming out to Colin Hay and Indigo Girls on my iPod. It’s all these little things in my life, but it’s especially all these everyday – yet extraordinarypeople in my life.

The life of the prophet might be lonely, but it doesn’t have to be lived alone. And, while I don’t get this spiritual ecstasy listening to the Christmas story, I do get it from living like Jesus is in the face of every person that I meet. Whether it’s a teenage man-child that I haven’t seen in a while, or it’s in a homeless, hopeless family on the side of the road – Jesus is born in those people each day, and it’s up to us to be the shepherds and the magi that recognize the glory and the majesty of what we’re witnessing. We’re witnessing the Incarnation forever and ever, world without end.

Now, here’s the challenge: I can’t just find that joy, that Jesus, in the faces of the people that I love. I have to find it in those people that I nearly despise, those people whose deeds and words I rail and cry out in opposition to. I have to see the Incarnation, the birth of the Christ child, in those that I would make my enemies. Because, that baby in the manger that turned history and power on its head, the one who grew up to say, “Blessed are the meek, blessed are the poor”… He also said, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you.” I feel like, today, He’s saying to me, “Michael, Prophet, find joy in your enemies, in those who hate you (and others), in those who persecute you and those that you love. Find me in their faces.”

I may be a grumpy old Christmas carol purist, I may feel like hell every December, I may not get all tingly at the Christmas story – but, I have joy. It just takes a little effort to recognize it.

May I bring that joy to the world. May we all bring that joy to the world.

Merry Christmas.

Peacemaking is a Dangerous Business: Reflections on the Worst Day of My Life

December 6, 2006 was the worst day of my life. I’m going to tell you why, but not right away. Instead, I’ll tell you what I have learned from my memory this year.

Today, we lit the Peace Candle on the Advent Wreath. Last week’s candle was Hope, and last week I was able to talk to our youth group about hope without reservation, without qualification. But, today, peace is a tough thing for me to talk about. December 6, 2006 really marks the day that I lost my peace. And, while I have fleeting moments of it now and again, I can’t say that the past 9 years have been a particularly peaceful time for me.

One of the names that the angel gave Mary when it was announcing that she would give birth to the Savior was “Prince of Peace.” Peace was something that was in very short supply in Jesus’ time. In fact, peace was something that had been conspicuously absent from Jewish history – an absence that can still be felt today, in Israel and Palestine. In fact, two millennia after the birth of Christ, our world is still in a constant state of turmoil. In the past month alone, I have mourned mass shootings and terrorist attacks. Before that, I watched – and participated in – a war in Iraq that lasted for 10 years. Thousands of my brothers and sisters in arms are still fighting in Afghanistan, just as soldiers have been for the past 13 years. Syria is aflame. Iraq is chaos. We are watching as an entire region of the world circles in a death spiral. We are living in a country where it seems that every day we hear of more violence, more death. The lack of peace lies like a shroud over our country, and it is difficult to imagine that the Prince of Peace has made any difference in this world.

People of faith from all over the world pray for peace, they hope for peace, and yet peace seems ever more unattainable. Every time we see on the TV or the Internet that more people are dead, more violence has occurred, we hear politicians tell us “our thoughts and prayers are with the victims and their families.

Thoughts and prayers for peace are good. But, something that I have learned through the years is that peace cannot and will not be prayed, thought, or wished into being. Peace is something that has to be created, it has to be worked for. This is why, on the Sermon on the Mount, I believe that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” We are called upon to engage in the act of peacemaking in a restless and violent world.

 

And, peacemaking is a dangerous business.

 

Peace – both external and internal – cannot be created or maintained in a place of safety. Peace always exists in the midst of conflict, and it has to be made in the midst of conflict. Jesus also famously said, “Do not think that I have come to bring peace on earth. I have not come to bring peace, but a sword.” He then goes on to describe the sword as a sword of division, one that will divide people against each other. This division is, in fact, a byproduct of peacemaking, of spreading the Gospel of Peace.

 

People’s hearts are in a constant state of division, between the violent natures of our ancestors and the intended nature of peace. And, for many, that violent nature has won the battle. People can be cruel, oppressive, violent, unstable, and because their hearts desire to be at peace with themselves and others, there is a constant war within them. That war spreads from their hearts to the world around them, and they become hardened to the suffering of others – and sometimes even participate in bringing that suffering. It is from these hardened and twisted hearts that comes the division. Because, the act of making peace is offensive and repulsive to a heart dedicated to violence and injustice. This is why Jesus was chased out of most towns that He went to, constantly pursued by the authorities who sought to kill Him. Their power and fortunes were dependent upon violently and unjustly controlling the weak, the poor, and the hopeless. So, when Jesus brought peace to those people, He inevitably came into conflict with those authorities.

 

Peacemaking is a dangerous business, but it’s the most important business that we can be about.

 

On December 6, 2006, I was in Ramadi, Iraq. One of my duties, when I wasn’t out on patrol, was listening to the radio from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m., waiting for any casualties to be brought in for treatment. This was something I had done many times before, and I didn’t expect anything to be different about that day.

 

But, at about 9 a.m., I began to hear reports from one of the guard towers that there was some suspicious activity on the corner of 5th and Sunset, an intersection that was very close to the gate of our Combat Outpost. Ramadi was a very violent city, a city constantly in conflict, and so we knew that “suspicious activity” probably meant that they were hiding a bomb to blow up a convoy. But, because we didn’t expect any activity that day, we didn’t take any immediate action. The bomb squad would get to it, eventually. Until then, we’d just tell people to avoid the road.

 

But, not everyone decided to avoid the road that day. A convoy was coming through to our COP, a convoy carrying a Public Relations team and a crew of reporters. In the midst of our daily operations, we prepared to receive important visitors. Floors were swept, supplies were organized.
As the convoy approached our COP, we heard a very loud, incredibly close explosion. The convoy had found the bomb at the corner of 5th and Sunset, and the results were catastrophic. There were four people in the truck that was hit by the explosion. Three of those people were either forcibly ejected from the truck, or only managed to crawl out after they were already on fire. The fourth man ran to our gate, his uniform still on fire, and made it to the Forward Aid Station, where I sat listening to the radio.

 

There is a lot more that I could tell you. This event was ongoing, and so much about it broke my heart, permanently scarred my mind and spirit. There are horrors from that day that I can still recall with perfect clarity, both things that I saw and things that I felt. I’ve been told by therapists through the years that telling this story, especially the hard parts, will somehow make it less painful. That hasn’t been the case. So, I will spare you the parts of the story that still keep me up at night. Instead, I’ll tell you two important things that happened that day. First, that was the day that I lost the ability to pray. Second, it was the day that I lost my peace.

 

But, there’s a comfort that has eluded me until this year, nine years later. It’s a small comfort, but it helps a little. There was something different about the 3 people that died on this day in 2006. While most of us in Ramadi were dedicated to pushing back the enemy by force of arms – by kicking in doors and laying down gunfire – these 3 were dedicated to bringing peace to Ramadi. They did this by traveling around the city, putting themselves in danger each time they went out, and talking to people that would bring peace to the region through politics and social change. From a few years after my unit left until the rise of ISIS, Ramadi was a city that was mostly at peace, and a beacon of peace for the other cities in the region. And, while it was in part because of our actions in pushing back the enemy, I believe that the larger part of that peace was achieved by people like Major Megan McClung, Captain Travis Patriquin, and Specialist Vincent Pomante. Those 3 brave soldiers died because they were peacemakers. And, peacemaking is a dangerous business.

 

Martin Luther King, Jr. said, “True peace isn’t just the absence of conflict, but the presence of justice.” And, I say that the act of peacemaking, of being a peacemaker, will never bring the absence of conflict to the person making peace. Peacemaking is a dangerous business, and it will always bring you into conflict with those who profit from violence, injustice, and oppression. Peacemaking will always call on you to find creative solutions to problems where violence, either physical or emotional, is the easiest answer.

 

Peacemaking won’t bring you glory. It won’t bring you fame. It won’t always make you feel good. Major McClung, Captain Patriquin, and Specialist Pomante were eventually given a hero’s funeral, but they spent most of the day that they died in unmarked rubber bags, laid out on a concrete slab. Jesus would eventually rise from the dead, and be worshiped as a Savior. But first He died as a criminal, and was buried in a hole in the ground. And, while you might never be called upon to die for the act of peacemaking, you will be mocked, insulted, and threatened. You will be divided from some of the people that you love the most. You will find yourself at odds with the conventional wisdom, with the easy answers. While you try to make peace, you will feel conflict in your own minds and spirits.

 

And, you will likely never see your work completed. Peacemaking is a dangerous business, and it’s also a lifelong pursuit. I wake up every morning, and I just want to quit. I want to join the violent masses, go buy myself a gun, and arm myself against the violent and oppressive forces throughout the world. I wake up every morning, and I’m tired of the constant struggle. I’m buried under the weight of the memories of days like December 6, 2006. I’m haunted by the ghosts of all of those who have gone before, who have given their lives in the cause of peace, and who have still seen so much of their work undone by the violent, unjust, and oppressive forces of our world. After every mass shooting, I wonder if I can do it. After every terrorist attack, I despair that I can’t live my life running against the wind. After every day of more war, more poverty, more violence, more pain, more death, I think, “I don’t want to be a peacemaker! I don’t want to care so deeply. I want to live in ignorance, in apathy, calloused against everything around me. If I can’t live in peace, then why should I seek to bring peace to those around me?

 

But, today, on the 9th anniversary of the worst day of my life, I am able to put a face to a few of those peacemakers who came before me. Today, on a day when I don’t want to talk about peace, I don’t want to think about peace, I can’t even imagine what peace feels like, I can almost hear their spirits whispering to me:

 

Peacemaking is a dangerous business. But, it’s the only business worth doing.

 

I don’t think that any of those 3 wanted to die that day. I don’t think that it was part of God’s Grand Design that their truck was blown up on the corner of 5th and Sunset. But, if they had to die, then I am glad that they died for something that they believed in. I am glad that the last days and weeks of their lives were spent bringing peace to a troubled, violent, and conflicted region. And, I can only hope that if I have to die of anything other than old age, that I can die in the act of peacemaking. Being a combat veteran, I was given plenty of opportunities to die for my country. I wouldn’t have asked for it, and I’m thankful that I survived. But, my prayer today would go something like this:

 

“God, if I must die for something, let it not be for a nation. Let it be for an idea, for a hope, that there really can be peace on Earth, that goodwill can exist between people. God, if I must die for something, let me die in the struggle against the violence, injustice, and oppression that grips people’s hearts so tightly that they have to bring it to others. God, if I must die for something, let me die for the dangerous, awful, necessary business of peacemaking.”

 

The Prince of Peace might have brought division, but He left us with a responsibility. He called us to bring the Gospel of Peace, even if we ourselves feel no peace, to a world in desperate need. He called us blessed for this dangerous act. And, He gave us a promise. Another name for the Prince of Peace is Emmanuel. It means “God will be with us.” So, as we all go about the work of peacemaking, as we carry out the responsibility that the Prince of Peace left us, let us always remember that God will be with us. That, if there is any peace to be found, we will find it in Jesus.

 

May we never be satisfied wishing, thinking, or praying for peace. Let us always go out and seek it, create it, make it, no matter how dangerous it might prove to be.