Forgive for Peace

Forgive for Peace

I was invited to go to Holy Spirit Catholic Church in Tuscaloosa, AL today, which happens to be the third Sunday of Advent, 2011 according to the Roman Catholic Liturgy, which liturgy many other non-Catholic churches throughout the world share, this same day.

In Tuscaloosa, which was devastated by terrible tornados on April 27th, 2011, we have a large population of Hispanics, many of whom attend this Church.  This was also Mother Guadalupe Sunday for this Hispanic community.  A Hispanic band played outside the church doors quite lively music.  The singing group was largely Hispanic, and probably around 1,000 Hispanics attended, many of whom were dressed in native clothing, Fathers, Mothers, Children, and Babies.  There was a procession into the church carrying a statue of Mother Guadalupe, which according to my understanding is the Blessed Virgin Mary.  It was all quite colorful and moving.  The mass was mostly in Spanish.  The church was packed to the walls and some people stood in the back.  My friend, Fran Viselli, who invited me, and is one of the deacons there, advised me, when I asked him, that there were probably around 1,200 -1,300 people there.  Not that many English, though, since there were three other services and most of the English went to other masses.  I did the best I could to follow along, with the occasional help of a Hispanic parishioner beside me and someone behind me who found me one time struggling to find were we were in the program.  I did my best to sing in Spanish and to participate both in Spanish and the English responses which were occasionally interspersed…  Now I have never studied Spanish, but have had several years of Latin, which was used the last time I regularly attended the Catholic Church in which I grew up.  I think I could pick up on Spanish, given the supernatural event that my hearing would be repaired, better than I did in Latin…. :):)

You have probably heard of the Alabama immigration law which largely targets the Hispanic Alabama population, although it is being applied equally to others, such as the recent detention of a German Mercedes Benz executive, which created quite a stir around here.  I believe most of the Hispanic population has left Tuscaloosa and Alabama as a result, to our detriment, according to my personal beliefs.  I wanted to come and show my Solidarity with the Hispanics of our community. I Came.  I did, in my own small way show that solidarity.

Now it happens that the Catholic Church is not afraid to speak of Peace as most other churches appear to be afraid to speak of it.  Pope Benedict this past summer hosted a trip to Assisi with Buddhist, Jewish, Islamic, and other religions as part of his pilgrimage.  I am not so sure how much of his message is filtering down to our United States Roman Catholic Church, or our American culture, which cannot in the view of many outside our nation be viewed as having much concern for peace and nonviolence.  The mass today spoke of Peace.

The Lectionary today included verses form Isaiah 61: 1-2a, 10-11 about bringing glad tidings to the poor, healing the broken hearted, proclaiming liberty, releasing prisoners, robes of salvation wrapped in a mantle of justice, bridegrooms adorned with diadems, and a bride bedecked with jewels.  Oh, and “As the earth brings forth its plants, and a garden makes its growth spring up, so will the Lord God make justice and praise spring up before ALL (emphasis added) nations.”

This is music to my ears, as I am one of  growing circles in the world who are crying out for Peace, Nonviolence, and Social Justice.  I could start preaching on those scriptures again, right now, but I will refrain. The words are so beautiful…. I cannot imagine how beautiful they must be in Hebrew…  I can only imagine how much our world desperately needs those words to be fulfilled….. Christians will remember that Jesus picked up a scroll with those very words and began teaching, reading a part of them and saying they were fulfilled in Him….  I have recently written in reference to another type of garden and another type of bride and bridegroom.

The Lectionary, as always, includes both a Jewish Scripture reading and a New Covenant reading for the same day.  The New Covenant one was from 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24.  This Scripture speaks of unceasing prayer, of acceptance of Spiritual inspirations, of attention to prophetic sayings, of refraining from evil, (Might that include killing and warfare, rejection of aliens?), and retaining what is good. (Might that include belief that good defeats evil?) Oh, and……”May the God of Peace make you perfectly holy and may you entirely, spirit, soul, and body, be preserved blameless for the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.”  This is more music to the ears of those believing in Peace, Nonviolence, and Social Justice…..

The preceding is just a little background for something else I would like to share….

A couple of years ago I was threatened to be sued by a Hispanic worker I employed for alleged abuse FLSA overtime rules.  Later, although I did not know it at the time I hired him, I found out this individual was an illegal alien.  This individual was a hard worker, and I liked him personally, and still do, and paid him nearly $40,000 the year he resigned from my employment.  After he resigned (I did not want him to resign and was in fact hoping I was helping him to go in business to continue to work for us on a subcontract basis.), he was able to find an attorney to threaten to sue me, claiming he had averaged over 65 hours per week and I had not paid him overtime on subcontract work I had provided to him whereby he made quite well, even in the midst of the biggest downturn in our housing related economy since the Great Depression.  When he left, he had also not returned some of my tools and supplies.  I was shocked by these events which caused me a lot of anguish….  Just this past summer our attorneys agreed to a small settlement without either of us admitting to any wrong doing.  Even for that small settlement, our financial status has deteriorated so badly in the past three years of economic disaster in the housing field; I had to obtain most of what little I had left in a retirement fund to get it settled….  There was simply no money in the business to cover it.  I paid the amount, less the tools that had not been returned.

Some would say I have a right to be angry, I should take revenge, like turn him in to authorities and have him deported, etc…  I am happy to say that I thought about doing that, but relented.  I was more hurt and disappointed than angry, even though I feel what I believe is the injustice of the matter….  I am generally known to be forgiving and merciful; at least I would like to be, even if I am not perfectly.

OK, what does that have to do with going to the Catholic Church today?

Well….  I knew that is the church he attends…..  What would I do if I met him?  Would a pang of hate, or a morsel of bitterness, cause me do say or do something I am well aware intellectually and Spiritually that I should not do?  What is the likely hood of meeting him anyway, in a group of 1,200 people?  Just a fleeting thought I actually put out of my mind and did not even think of during the worship service.  I was sitting in the middle of the row when it came time for their Eucharist (Communion).  I noticed that when it got time for our row to go that a couple on the end got up to go down to receive the Gifts (wafer of bread to be the body of Christ, and wine, actual wine, if you want it.) No one else went out of the row of Hispanics there.  Then the row behind us went….. I whispered to the woman beside me, and asked, aren’t you going?  She said she was not allowed…  Having been raised a Catholic, I knew what that might mean, perhaps she was divorced, or had sinned without confession, or something like that… I also knew that a Non-Catholic is not really supposed to take Communion either, but that did not keep me from doing it anyway…  After all, I was invited…. If one is invited, have you ever heard of anyone who is invited to come home and not eat a meal?  So, I went, as it is my practice to do. Even if I just get crumbs that fall from the table, such as I write of…  :):)

I went forward, slowly, as the line went slowly, and there, when I got to a point, was the Hispanic individual I referred to, with an official engraved nameplate on his shirt…  He must be an usher or something, I thought…..  It surprised me, since I wasn’t looking for him, and had no idea I would be standing right beside him… So, I put out my hand and said Hello, XXXX, how are you doing?  He in my perception put his out sheepishly and shook it….  I had no bitterness, no remorse, no anger, and was actually glad for the experience.  I went on down, and took communion with a clean heart.

At Peace with myself.

And, that brings up my point today…  We must forgive others, we must forgive ourselves; we must forgive our brothers, and our sisters, and our enemies to have Peace and share Peace.  We must be at Peace with ourselves… Many of us are not at Peace with ourselves. I can share a solution to that problem if you desire sometime.  Shock and Awe will not get it…  How is Shock and Awe working out for us now?  I feel we are suffering from the organic punishment we have brought upon ourselves for our lack of forgiveness….

A couple of New Covenant verses to consider and to read in context when you have time are below.  These versus point to the Kingdom of God living style portrayed in the Lectionary Scriptures previously mentioned….

Matthew 18:35

35 So likewise shall my heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses.

Matthew 18:15

15 Moreover if thy brother shall trespass against thee, go and tell him his fault between thee and him alone: if he shall hear thee, thou hast gained thy brother

Also, just to be fair to our Islamic brothers and sisters, (I know some will disagree with me), let us quote this:

[Since originally posting this it has come to my attention that my calling Muslims “brothers and sisters” is controversial.  Let me explain my reasoning.  It is Jesus who said Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.  He was not speaking of “Christian” peacemakers.  There were no “Christians” in his day, although there were beginning to be some Jewish Christ followers.  Jesus statement must not be limited, therefore, only to Christians.  If then, Jesus’ statement is applicable to any one besides his Jewish audience, assuming, that is that only Jews were in his audience, then it must be applicable to all who hear his words.  If a Muslim hears his words, and does them, becoming an active peacemaker, then, he or she also will be called children of God, according to Jesus, not me.  If they are children of God, then I view them as brothers and sisters…  Also Jesus speaks in another place about “whoever” does the will of his Father is my brother and sister, and mother…  I hope this clears up the statement I made.]

Surah 4:90

“Except for those who take refuge with a people between yourselves and whom is a treaty or those who come to you, their hearts strained at [the prospect of] fighting you or fighting their own people. And if Allah had willed, He could have given them power over you, and they would have fought you. So if they remove themselves from you and do not fight you and offer you peace, then Allah has not made for you a cause [for fighting] against them.”

What if, in place of Shock and Awe, of revenge, and hate, and bitterness, and rage, instead of attempting to maintain the Myth of Redemptive Violence, we had offered our Peace, our Forgiveness, our Love, concerning the twin towers destruction?

I have my own blood relatives that need to do the same, to offer Peace, to offer Forgiveness, and Love.  Will it work?  Maybe not… Maybe it only works in the future, in the Kingdom of God to come, and it is so silly and naïve to think it will work in today’s culture… I believe it… I try to do it…

Those of us who try, may be rejected, may be disparaged, impugned, vilified, labeled as naïve, gullible, but we may also be one day called, “the children of God”, I hope so….

Forgive for Peace…

John Cooper

Transforming the Powers

Transforming the Powers

Recently a friend and I were discussing the interpretations of the Romans 13…..  I have been thinking more about this chapter in the past few days and I am putting some of my thoughts to paper…[i]

I was thinking about how some Christians believe the governments of this world and this age is ruled by fallen, although not completely fallen, Powers.  A Scripture selection, Romans 13 appears to indicate these powers are ordered, (not ordained, in my view), by God, and that every Christian should be subordinate to those Powers excepting when those Powers’ commands cross the lines of suffering love spoken of in the same text, just before, as our radical submission to God first.  It is stated that Good is to overcome Evil by this radical submission to God first, exhibited by our outward suffering love to all mankind created in God’s image.

The majority opinion of Christians by name post Constantine have even believed submission to these Powers include going to war for the State and killing others, even other Christians, as we prioritize our allegiance to these fallen Powers over our allegiance to God, because we have been taught this is what this passage means and that we are submitting to God when we submit to everything the Powers tell us to do, including killing….  This, most think, is God’s will…..  However, in the same passage, we are exhorted to Love our neighbors…. (Note that I am reading both Romans 12 AND Romans 13 together, in context, not isolating Romans 13 from all of Scripture and isolating this passage from the words of Jesus who said to Love your enemies, etc.)

How can this be?

Obviously, I do not agree with the majority opinion of the interpretation of Romans 13, nor do a substantial number of not mainstream individuals such as John Howard Yoder, one, among many others…  Also, there are many Peace churches, and Peace organizations linked in the Circles of Peace link below that also have another opinion.  The majority opinion does not read Romans 13 in view of the culture to whom it was written, where Christians, slaves, Jewish people, and occupied peoples were never required to serve in the military to begin with.  the military was for Roman citizens only, and was actually viewed as a privilege for the privileged few…..

What then, are we doing, if we interpret our submission to governing Powers in view of the whole of Romans 12 and Romans 13, let alone all of Romans, let alone all of the Old and New Testament, including the words of Jesus?

Could it be that our suffering submission, (and that of the early Christians), to God first, and our love for one another, and our love for our enemies IS the Good that defeats Evil spoke of just before in Romans 12?  The early Pre Constantinian Christians must have believed this….

Could it be that the vision of Jesus in His commands, such as love your enemy, were actually meant to transform these same Powers, therefore helping place ALL things, (including the Powers, once created good, but now fallen to some extent more, and some extend less), under His feet, even those fallen Powers, and those Powers who may be able to be transformed?

Throughout history we have had many opportunities to try this preemptive tactic, that of suffering love, of loving our enemies, but have generally speaking, failed miserably….  I believe we will always fail when we, as Christians, read Romans 13 to mean that we can defeat Evil by doing Evil ourselves, and killing it….

That is not how Jesus did it….  He died in complete submission to His Father to defeat these Powers….  Perhaps with and idea in mind to even transform any of the Powers He could.  The principal Power once took him to a high Mountain, offering Him this world, if He would be in submission to that Power…. Jesus chose not to do that, but to worship God alone….  From then on, those who understand, understand that the Kingdom of God is coming, one not of this world…  (Come soon, Lord Jesus)

That is how Jesus did it, here and in other recorded instances, and probably in so many more instances that books of the earth, that essays such as this, could not contain them….

Grace and Peace,

John Cooper

[i] Note: I do not normally do extensive quotations in my writings of this type because I believe they break the train of thought.  I am not writing in a scholarly genre, and I am aware of that fact.  I know how to use footnotes, but normally refrain from doing so.  My writings assume those reading them are fundamentally founded in the topics I write about,  For instance, references to Scripture assume the reader has read the passages already and know what I am referring to…  If not, you may wish to read the passages… I welcome discussion and other viewpoints.  Feel free to respond to anything I write.  Let’s talk!  Let’s think!