Friday, September 27, 2013

I'm Good. No, Really.

Evil is bad.  No matter how often this trope is reversed, almost every novel, TV show, movie and Facebook video reminds us of this. That evil is bad.  Just in case we forgot. 

Evil leads to bad things.  Bad things we want to avoid.   Things like prison, STDs and getting punched in the face by Superman.  We get that idea.

That doesn’t mean that some people don’t do bad things.  There is still greed and hypocrisy and hatred and selfishness.  Partly because people who do these things think that the real world isn’t like the fictional world.  And partly because in a quirk of mental gymnastics people think the bad things they do are good.  A thief I knew thought that since he was stealing from a big corporation, they had insurance and so no one was hurt and he was feeding people (as well as his drug habit).  We like to be good.  And if we can’t be good, then we can be a Rebel Against the Evil Empire, which is Good. 

We like to be considered good to such a degree that we create structures to make us good when our actions are perhaps a bit shady.  Even Jesus did things that looked evil to outsiders, but it was really good.  So we give ourselves narratives of our goodness, so that we can assure ourselves that our actions are really good.  And if we ever doubt ourselves, or (God forbid!) someone attacks us as evil, then we can assure ourselves and them that we are really good by rehearsing our narrative of goodness.  These narratives are as old as history itself, and we repeat these stories because they resonate with our moral  beings.

Let’s take a look at a few of these stories of moral highness:

1.       Good of Justice
Evil is out there.  There are bad guys and bad governments and bad corporations and bad hamburgers.  And bad deserves to be punished.  Evil shouldn’t be left on its own to continue to exist.  Evil should be stopped.  Or at least delayed while we beat in its face for a little bit.  Evil left uncontrolled, unpunished leaves a hole in our soul.  If Scar isn’t beaten up by Simba, then he must be eaten by the Hyenas.  It’s a rule of the universe.  So if a cop shoots someone, that’s okay because he’s shooting a bad guy and bad guys must be stopped.  If Obama allows drones to be released, that’s okay because he’s taking out the terrorists.  And if I beat up my brother in law because my sister tells me that he hit her, well, he had it coming.  

In that moment I am Batman.  I can do no wrong.

Of course, the problem is we are human so we don’t know everything.  The cop might not be shooting a bad guy.  Maybe he’s shooting a mentally ill guy who is scared of cops and runs when he sees them.  Obama might be taking out a bad guy.  Or he might have missed and hit a wedding instead.  Or he might have taken out the bad guy and his kids and the kids’ friends who were having a BBQ in the terrorist’s back yard (Some terrorists belong to families.  It’s true.)  And I didn’t really check out my sister’s story, so it might be possible she might have stretched the truth.  And since I didn’t ask my brother-in-law’s side, it might be possible I was wrong. 

I'm still Batman.  Just maybe the Adam West variety.

The other thing is maybe punishment isn’t the best thing I could do.  If I kill the bad guy, even if he really is bad, then he won’t do bad any more.  And he can’t change his mind to do good, either.  How many of us have done bad things?  Maybe every single one of us.  Just maybe.  And if Karma was as quick as a John Lennon song, then how many of us would still be around to raise children to not do what we did when we were young?

2.       Good of Truth
I like it when people tell me the truth.  It makes me feel good.  When people lie to me, I don’t feel good.  I turn into a dark storm, ready to strike lightning.  Kinda like Thor.  But let’s go back to truth.  Truth is good.  Let’s stick with what I like.

And if we know big Truths, then they are even better.  If we know, for instance, that the earth revolves around the sun, it’s good for people to know.  If we learn that illnesses are caused by small animals in our bodies, it should be published.  And if we learn that Tesla was actually a racist and kind of a jerk, we should tell everyone.  And they will appreciate us all the more for letting them know.  And if they don’t, well, at least we told the Truth.  And the Truth will be affirmed by future generations even if our peers don’t understand or appreciate it. And I bet we can find someone on the internet to believe us.  Then we’ll know we were right all along.

Three members on my "Stay Puft Marshmallow Man is the Antichrist" site!

Of course, we can get carried away with our Truth-telling.  Some of us might yell at people because they are not accepting our Truth.  Or we might call them names like “imbecile” or “rampallian” (if feeling particularly Shakespearean).  We might consider that they are worthy only of damnation in the lowest circle of hell.  We might very well want them out of our sight and possibly out of our existence for not believing in an instant the Truth that took us 20 years to discover.    

You might think that I’m talking about religious fanatics.  Well, yes, that’s the case.  I’m a religious fanatic, so I know how they think.  But I’m also talking about political fanatics, conspiracy theorists, science nuts, and people who have a theory about the new Avengers movie.

Let’s face it, we can get pretty irrational about our Truth and we can treat an unbeliever somewhat similar to the person who raped our dog and carved his initials in our favorite block of cheese.  And we feel completely justified because Truth is more important than being kind or caring.
Isn't it?

3.       Good of Community
Almost all of us belong to some kind of community and we love that community.  It’s our real home, the basket in which all our eggs rest. Our community could be our nation, our religious group, our internet movie discussion group, or our chess club.  Any place that we feel most comfortable in and feel like we would be lost without.

Then the Enemies come.  These are the ones who attack our community, and destroy all we hold dear.  They could be terrorists, but they are just as likely to be insiders who climb up the ranks with the real intention of undermining all we find good in our home.  Criminals are bad, but the worst are those who take our comfort zone and destroy it with their different ideas of how reality works. 

Officer, arrest that vandal!

So we must do what we can and protect our community.  We might protect it with guns, or with words or with viral videos that show just how bad these Enemies are.  We are not scared of these Enemies.  Rather, these bad guys should be scared of us, because we aren’t here to play games.  We are Bruce Willis, Bruce Lee and Bruce Campbell all rolled up into one.  In other words, we are Chuck Norris with a light saber.  No one can stop us.  We are here to protect our own.

More often than not, however, we are not attacking bad guys at all, but just some other guys who are trying to protect their home, their comfort zone.  It just so happens that they have a different idea of what that home should look like than we do.  And maybe they have better resources to make our home (because the community is really all of us) the way they want it than we do the way we want it.  And when we attack them, perhaps instead of protecting our home, what we are really doing is destroying our home.  When we freeze the budget or insult our leaders or block up the streets with angry protesters or spread unsubstantiated rumors about a neighbor or circulate flyers announcing our hate, we are changing our home.  We have changed it from a safe place into a place of anger and violence.  And we might be able to say that “they” started it, but we participated in it.  We kept it going.  And that’s not really good.  Especially when lies are told and lives are ruined.  And our community will not be our home.  It will never be the same again.

At last we'll have some peace and quiet...

4.       Good of Grace
But what if we were just nice to each other?  All the time?  What if, instead of having a good ethic or a good concept or a good community we were just good?  Instead of acting FOR the good, what if we just acted like we WERE good?

What would that look like?  Well, we would have to look at the person in front of us, really think about them.  Not think of them as an object or a sales person or a bad guy or a medical worker or an anonymous internet person, but just a human being with thoughts and desires and hopes just like we do.  I don’t mean that they necessarily have a fetish for donuts, but that they want respect just like we do.  They want to connect to people.  They want to eat good food and sleep in a comfortable bed.  They want to be nice to children and puppies. They enjoy a great movie and great sex and that euphoric feeling of awe we get when we look at a star-filled sky.  They give love to those who love them and they get angry when someone is mean to them.  They sometimes say the wrong things and sometimes they lose control.  But they try their best and want to be a good person.  Just like us.

Even this guy.  Especially this guy.

So why don’t we treat them like we would want to be treated?  With respect.  With safety.  With grace.  When someone is hungry, why don’t we give them something to eat?  When someone is sad, why can’t we sympathize with them?  Maybe even make them laugh for a minute?  When they are happy, why can’t we be happy with them?  Without jealousy, without reminding them of the unfortunate circumstance that’s right around the corner?  Why can’t we help someone live in the moment, making the moment as rewarding as possible?

We have a number of excuses:

  • They did something bad to me, so I don’t want to reward them for it.

Perhaps if we teach them to reward bad behavior with good, they’ll learn to do good?  Or if that’s too idealistic, at least we can be the person who always brings good out of bad.  We love those people.  Can’t we be like them?

  • They are bad people.  I would only be enabling them.

You can’t enable someone by laughing with them.  You can’t enable them by giving them a hamburger.  You can’t enable them by forgiving them.  You can’t enable them by honestly benefiting and blessing their life.  All you can do is show them that there’s a different way to live.

  • They belong to a bad system, and to do good to them is to do good to the system.

The person in front of you isn’t a system.  She is a person, just like you.  And I hate to tell you, we are all caught up in bad systems.  Us human beings haven’t perfected the art of creating good ones yet.  In the meantime, doing good to the person in front of us can only benefit us all.

You evil man!  You grabbed my back!

Being good, meeting needs, loving the unlovable, forgiving a bad act, restoring the corrupt, enabling everyone to pay it forward.  Yes, there might be short term consequences.  But there’s no loss in the long term.

The real good is to always be generous, to always love, to always give respect, to always be kind.   It’s the only thing that really counts.  

And maybe Sherlock.  Now THAT's good!

Monday, September 9, 2013

What is Biblical Peace?

The following are notes from a seminar on Biblical Peacemaking.

Often when people talk about “peace” they think in terms of not having war.  That might be a form of national peace, but that is only a portion of what peace is in the Bible.  In the New Testament times “peace” was used as a term to mean what some politicians describe today—peace through warfare, through conquest and defeating enemies.  This stands in stark opposition to the peace of Jesus.

In the Bible, there are two main words used for “peace”.  One is “shalom”, the Hebrew word for peace in the Old Testament scriptures.  In the New Testament, the Greek word “eirene” was used as a replacement for “shalom” but they really meant the same thing.  In both testaments it was commonly used as a greeting. This is the same greeting Muslims use today when they say "salam".  We might think that the greeting was simply a general way of saying, “Hey, I won’t kill you,” like shaking hands used to mean that no one was holding weapons.  But peace means more than that.

1.            Peace is personal and national
Just like today, the term “peace” in the Bible is used as a personal, individual characteristic, as well as a community or national one.  It is used as a characteristic for a church as well as being content with one’s lot.  It also is used to express a lack of conflict between two people.

2.            Peace means “complete well-being”
“Shalom” certainly stood for having a lack of conflict. But it also meant having one’s needs met, and not having anxiety.  It meant being of good health and having good relationships. 
Yet a little while and the wicked man will be no more; and you will look carefully for his place and he will not be there. But the humble will inherit the land and will delight themselves in abundant peace. Psalm 37:10-11

3.            Peace means both security and contentment
To have “shalom” was to be safe from harm.  But it also meant that one’s mind was at rest from oppression, whether real or exaggerated.  To be at peace is to be free from both spiritual and inner demons.
Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all comprehension, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

4.            Peace is reconciliation
Paul the apostle especially uses the term “peace” to speak of the reconciliation of all peoples under God.  It is the reconciliation of people with God and people with each other. This is the ending of false separations between races, sexes and religions, all unified under God through Jesus.
 He Himself is our peace, who made both groups into one and broke down the barrier of the dividing wall, by abolishing in His flesh the enmity, which is the Law of commandments contained in ordinances, so that in Himself He might make the two into one new man, thus establishing peace.  Ephesians 2:14-15 

5.            Peace is loving unity
Christian peace is seen as unity between all followers of Jesus, forgiveness and holding others as more important than oneself.  Peace is love in community.
So, as those who have been chosen of God, holy and beloved, put on a heart of compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience; bearing with one another, and forgiving each other, whoever has a complaint against anyone; just as the Lord forgave you, so also should you. Beyond all these things put on love, which is the perfect bond of unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body.  Colossians 3:12-15

6.            Peace is often seen as an agreement or covenant
Peace is sometimes established by a covenant, like a peace treaty.   Covenants, or permanent agreements between people, are tools for peace.  So when Jesus established his “new covenant” is was a peace treaty.
They said, "We see plainly that the LORD has been with you; so we said, 'Let there now be an oath between us, even between you and us, and let us make a covenant with you, that you will do us no harm, just as we have not touched you and have done to you nothing but good and have sent you away in peace. You are now the blessed of the LORD.'"  Genesis 26:28-29

7.            Peace comes from God
To truly be at peace is to receive peace from God.  The Bible doesn’t deny that there are other places to obtain peace, but that such peace is temporary and sometimes false.  God is the only source of peace that is complete and permanent.
Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you.  John 14:27

What is peacemaking?
Thus, when Jesus speaks of his people being “peace-makers”, he is saying not so much that they stop wars, but that they bring peace to all relationships, to communities at large.  That they mend relationships, and create unity in Jesus.  They meet human needs and so create whole communities. 

Depart from evil and do good; Seek peace and pursue it. Psalm 34:14

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Shedding Innocent Blood

The United States has broken the Geneva convention many times. The United States tortured people in the name of democracy and truth. The United States used chemical weapons in Iraq. To attack Syria for these reasons is hypocrisy.  We, as a nation, must take the log out of our own eye before we can judge our brother.

Most of all, we must take care never to shed innocent blood.  To war by killing civilians, pours guilt upon our nation.  We will be judged by God if we continue to judge the innocent for the acts of the guilty.  We must stop this or else we will be stopped.