Archive for October, 2006

Martin Luther knew about churches that kill. So have a lot of others.

Sunday, October 29th, 2006

“Have mercy, Son of David. Have mercy, Jesus. Have mercy on me.”

“Listen to us Jesus. There’s something we need to ask. Are you listening?”

“Have mercy, Jesus. Have mercy, Son of David.”

“We have a great idea Jesus. Just hear us out.”

“Son of David, Jesus, have mercy on me.”

“Just a couple of minutes of your time, Jesus.”

“What can I do for you?”

“I want to see. I want to be healed.”

“What can I do for you?”

“We want power Jesus. Arrange it so that we will be awarded the highest places of honor in your glory—one of us at your right, the other at your left.”

James and John the Sons of Thunder, and Bartimaeus. They got Jesus’ attention. Jesus asked them what they wanted. They wanted such different things.

The old saying goes, “none is so blind as he who will not see.” We are in a section of Mark’s Gospel where the writer makes it clear that the disciples are having a hard time seeing. They are having such a hard time getting it, figuring out what Jesus is about. And to underscore the point of just how blind the disciples are to the ways of Jesus we get this story of Bartimaeus who ends up seeing what the disciples can’t see.

For Bartimaeus, Jesus is about healing. Jesus is the one who brings wholeness, who brings help. But it’s not just about healing, it is about seeing in a new way.

The disciples, as the writer of Mark’s Gospel so clearly indicates, are having a hard time focusing on this new way of Jesus. They just can’t see it. And the worst part is, they don’t know it.

When our daughter Sarah was in grade school, she flunked her eye exam. She was irate. It turns out that she was near sighted in one eye and far sighted in the other. What that means is that she had no depth perception.

As we drove home from the eye doctor’s office after her glasses came in, her anger at failing the eye test gave way to wonder as she began to see the world in a new way. It wasn’t until she put on those glasses that she realized some signs have raised letters on them. She marveled at trees, which she realized mentally had depth to their circumference, but she had never seen it before with her own eyes.

The disciples were lacking depth perception. Every thing Jesus said and did only had two dimensions. They couldn’t go deep into what he was saying and doing because all they knew is what they had seen all their lives.

So it’s no wonder they wanted power. That’s what they were able to see with their limited sight. There is not much depth to power, you either have it or you don’t. And the disciples figured those who didn’t have it wanted it, and those who did have wanted to keep it. Surely Jesus wanted power as much as everyone else.

Things were a bit more elemental for Bartimaeus. He wasn’t living under any illusions, he wasn’t being fooled by partial eyesight. He knew he was blind and wanted Jesus to do something about it. He didn’t want power. He wanted mercy.

Have mercy on me Jesus. Give me great power Jesus. Which do you think leads to healing, to new sight, to new insight?

Asking for mercy is simply asking for help. How much more quickly do you think the disciples would have gotten to where they needed to go if they had simply asked Jesus for help. It’s interesting that throughout the gospels there are stories of people coming to Jesus and asking for help. But you seldom read stories of the male disciples asking for help. The only one I can think of is when they are on the lake and the boat is about to sink. But most of the time, instead of asking Jesus for help, they are trying to help him out, telling him he can’t mean what he says, or he had better be careful.

They don’t ask for help. They don’t ask for healing. They don’t ask for mercy. But they ask for power. It was to their benefit that Jesus offered mercy anyway, and that he worked at trying to heal them. Healing did come, in spite of themselves. They began to see the world in a new way, they began to see things as clearly as Bartimaeus did.

It’s a good thing the story of the disciples didn’t end with the gospels. We don’t read of them getting it together, of healing and wholeness coming into their lives, of a new vision until the book of Acts. It took much longer for them than it did for Bartimaeus.

And maybe that’s the point of the story. What we need from Jesus is mercy and help, healing and wholeness, but it takes some of us longer than others to realize that. If the disciples could finally start seeing in new ways, any of us can.

We are in the midst of a political campaign where it seems to me that people who ought to know better are more concerned about power than healing and wholeness. The airwaves are filled with preachers who claim to be the most faithful to the Bible, but are most enamored, like the disciples, about what power can do for the Church.

The Church doesn’t need power. It has had plenty of power in its history and it wasn’t a pretty sight. Thousands of people were put to death by the Church in the Middle Ages in its bid to gain and maintain power.

Today we commemorate All Saints Day, where we honor those who have died in the Lord. The sad thing is that far too many of them died at the hands of the Church. In its early days, the Church supplied the martyrs. As it gained power it created the martyrs.

It’s also a time when we celebrate The Reformation, a time when people like Martin Luther stood up to the power of the Church and risked their lives doing so. What Martin Luther told the Church is that it doesn’t need more power, it needs more mercy. And the story is the same for today. We need healing and wholeness. We need to be able to see the world in a new way.

Mary and I have a friend who is a pastor in a congregation where there is a power struggle to get rid of her. One faction feels the need to assert its power and get her fired, and the other is digging in to fend off that power grab. What that congregation needs is not a new pastor, not a struggle for power, but mercy and healing. Their wounds go back much farther than the tenure of their current pastor. Mercy is the kind of work Jesus does. Bartimaeus knew that, why can’t the rest of us figure that out?

I would remind my TV preacher friends, and others, that this goes for nations, as well as the Church, and individuals. Our goal in this nation doesn’t need to be that we are the most powerful nation on earth. Rather our prayer and hope and work for this country is that we can be whole. We are looking for power in this nation when we need healing, when we need to be able to look at things in a new way, to see the way God sees. That would enable our nation to turn its eyes from the wealthy to the poor, to the vulnerable rather than the powerful.

We may be the most powerful nation on the earth, and always striving for more power, but there are something like 50,000,000 people in our country who don’t have health insurance. We are the most powerful nation in the world, but millions can’t find a decent paying job. We are the most powerful nation in the world, but our bombs and weapons kill the most powerless. This nation doesn’t need more power any more than James and John did. It needs healing. It needs mercy.

Have mercy Jesus. Heal me. Forgive me. Help me get past the mess I, or others, or the fates have made of my life. Help me, Jesus, to see myself, God, and this world in a new way so I can follow you wherever you are going. That’s the cry of the saints that we celebrate today. They surrendered the lust for power for the mercy and healing of God.

One of the wonders of mercy is that, like power, it spirals out of control. People do the most awful things for the sake of power. And people do the most amazingly wonderful things for the sake of mercy.

Jesus said ‘blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.’ Mercy is its own reward. As we think about All Saints Day, the Jesus followers I am thinking about were not people of great power, but mercy was abundant in their lives. They lived this life knowing that they needed God’s help and they became God’s helpers. They not only were able to see the world in a new way, but they brought a new way of seeing into our lives. Mercy worked its way in their lives.

As I close I do have to offer this word of caution. It is not particularly good news for the powerless to suggest that they ought to forsake the pursuit of power. But I would suggest that even though Bartimaeus wasn’t looking for the power James and John were, Bartimaeus was the one who became empowered.

Or to put it another way, Bartimaeus understood, as the film series we are watching in the EXCO class puts it, there is a force more powerful. Jesus seemed to be the most powerless person in the world as he preached his message of mercy, forgiveness, inclusion, love, and nonviolence. The powerful hung him on a cross. The Roman Empire with all its power is long gone. We are here today, followers of the one they crucified, because God’s mercy and healing is the path to empowerment.

“Have mercy, Jesus. Have mercy, Son of David.”

“What can I do for you?”

Preventing Torture: The Oberlin Initiative

Friday, October 27th, 2006

A. Introduction. A discussion of torture by the U. S. military would have been inconceivable as I was growing up during World War II. It was our enemies who we accused of torture. I remember the disgust that I felt upon hearing that Americans had been tortured. We were fighting to make sure that such cruel behavior would not be tolerated. Even 10 years ago, it would have been inconceivable that our leaders would be trying to convince the American people that torture was in the national interest. Tonight I will be factual, but I will also try to express the horror that is brought upon individuals who are tortured AND on the individuals who conduct or condone torture.

Governments and media prefer to use euphemisms rather than the word “torture”. The word torture comes from the Latin word for “twist”, a word which describes one of the common form of mistreating the human body and also describes the contortion of a body in agony. As you will note from newspaper articles, the governments and the media much prefer to talk about “rough”, “tough”, or “harsh” methods of interrogation, as if it were a football game. And they speak of “detainees” rather than call them “prisoners”. When we realize the reality of what has been done routinely to prisoners of the U.S., it is offensive to use the words “harsh” or “rough’.

B. History of torture. Let’s start out with a little history of torture. For centuries torture has been a technique used by the powerful to try to control those less powerful. In Europe, it was initially used to punish enemies, criminals, and slaves. In the Middle Ages, it was legal. In some European countries, it required certification by a physician. In the 1700s, torture became illegal. The public concluded that it was barbaric, subject to abuse, and an unreliable way to secure evidence. Eloquent arguments for the abolition of torture were written during this period. However, abolition drove the practice underground and that experience led to the conclusion that torture would end only when citizens understood that the practice was both barbaric and ineffective at generating evidence.

In the middle of the 20th century, torture “exploded into sight as a global crime against humanity”, the horror of Nazi Germany and the Nuremberg Trials being the precipitating events. Beginning in 1948, the nations of the world agreed in a series of declarations and agreements to abolish torture. Among the agreements were:
1948- Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UN)
1949- Geneva Convention (World Medical Association)
1966- International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN)
1975- Helsinki Accords (World Medical Association)
1982- Declaration of Tokyo (World Medical Association)
These agreements were very explicit, very precise, and not the least bit confusing. For example, after some very moving words, Article 5 of the 1948 Declaration and Article 7 of the 1966 Covenant state that, “No one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”.

C. Evidence of torture from news articles. Over the past three years, I have collected and read news and analysis articles that establish that widespread torture of the most appalling kind has been carried out on prisoners by U.S. military The articles have come primarily from the New York Times, The Plain Dealer, Newsweek, Liberal Opinion Week, and articles from around the world which are sent out electronically by the organization, Truthout. Truthout is a wonderful service that has an amazingly accurate track record. With this service I get pertinent news days and often weeks ahead of newspapers and TV news reports. One can subscribe to this service by contacting the organization at the email address shown on the top of the second page of the handout (messenger@truthout.org).

Nancy has assembled chronologically the articles that I have collected. They now occupy 9 volumes. Here are the articles from September of this year. Here are the articles so far from October. I am going to pass them out; please circulate them during the presentation. I invite you to open one of the books to an article or two—any articles. Collectively these articles comprise overwhelming evidence that the most awful torture has occurred—many cases of torturing to death. It was not just a few bad apples. It was widespread and the directives came down from the top.

Collecting articles on torture is an unpleasant task. So, why do I collect the articles? I am compelled to do so; I have no choice. We continue to need to see this collection to be reminded just how badly our military has behaved. The impact is strong when you read 10 or 20 articles or even when you see this many articles all at once. In addition, the chronological arrangement allows one to see how the administration changed its story with time. The president said at one point, “We do not condone torture. I have never ordered it. I will never order it.” These words were later replaced with “Its the work of a few bad apples” which changed to “Harsh and rough treatment is appropriate” which changed to “These evil men deserve everything they get” which changed to “It is necessary in order to keep Americans safe”.

D. Evidence of torture from books. However, even more convincing than this collection of news articles are the books that pull all of the evidence together. The books also tell the stories of what was done to individual prisoners. I will comment on just two of these many books.

The first is a 2004 book “Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib”, written by Seymour Hersh, who is perhaps THE most effective investigative reporter in the country. In 1968, during the war in Vietnam, Hersh single-handedly uncovered and then broke the story of the My Lai (me-li’) massacre in which an infantry brigade went on a killing spree, murdering over 500 unarmed Vietnamese, mainly women, old men, babies, and children. In his terse, unsentimental way, Hersh tells of an encounter (that still haunts him) with the mother of one of the soldiers who had been at My Lai. The mother says to Hersh, “I sent them a good boy, and they sent me back a murderer”.

In his book, Hersh fast-forwards from 1968 to 2004. He had just broken the story of torture in Abu Ghraib Prison. In a modern replay of the story about the soldier involved with My Lai, Hersh talks with a mother whose daughter has returned home after a tour of duty as a soldier at Abu Ghraib. The woman calls Hersh and tells him that her daughter has become despondent, has left her family, and has covered her body with tattoos. In an effort to understand what has gone wrong, the mother looks on the daughter’s computer and finds photos of dogs attacking a prisoner in Abu Ghraib.

The second book that I will mention is “Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror”, published this past June. The author, Steve Miles is a physician and bioethicist who very carefully and very convincingly builds the case that physicians, nurses, and other medical personnel participated in the torture of a great many prisoners and covered up the evidence, going so far as to change the death certificate of those tortured to death from “homicide” to “death due to natural causes”. Dr. Miles went through 35,000 pages of medical and military records and reports in collecting the evidence against the medical personnel.

E. What kinds of torture has the U.S. conducted? The methods of torture are obscene. Reliable evidence has documented beatings with fist & blunt objects; stress positions, stretching, suspension, dislocation of joints; hitting, kicking, stretching, and electrically shocking the most sensitive body parts or broken and injured body parts; asphyxiation by water immersion, chest compression, obstructing airways, or suspension; burning of flesh; rape; agonizingly painful medical procedures; deprivation of food, water, medical care, sleep, access to toilet; nudity in freezing temperatures and ice water administration; confinement to a tiny space; abuse and torture of loved ones; mock execution; dog bites; denigration of religion; administration of hallucinogens, on and on. The abuse sometimes continued without relief for hour after hour and then was repeated day after day for months or even a year. Many who were tortured were permanently injured, physically and mentally. A smaller number were tortured to death. In his book, Steve Miles relates that after reading hundreds of reports, he would wake up in the night sweating and shaking, having dreamed that he was in Abu Ghraib being tortured.

F. Who has conducted the torture? The evidence is conclusive that torture has been conducted by interrogators who are: military personnel, CIA personnel, FBI personnel, private contractors working for the military, and foreign interrogators in countries to which the U.S. sends prisoners for torture. There are over 100,000 U.S. private contractors in Iraq; in past years, the concept of the military hiring mercenaries was an abhorrent concept. There is strong evidence that more than 1000 flights transferred prisoners to foreign countries where they could be tortured even more secretly.

G. Where did the torture take place? We know the most about torture in Guantanamo Bay Prison in Cuba and in the Abu Ghraib Prison camp in Iraq that held 4500 prisoners. We know something about torture in other prisons that the U.S. uses in Iraq and Afghanistan. We know very little about the many prisons in Eastern Europe, Syria, Egypt, and other countries around the world to which we render prisoners; we do know that in these countries there is no hesitation to conduct torture or to keep secret the secret prisons.

H. Who provided the hard evidence upon which the articles and books were based? An amazing wide range of individuals, reports, and records have been the source of the information. I have summarized these sources on the second page of the handout. As you will see from this sheet, the sources that provided information on U.S. torture include:

 

1. Released prisoners (those declared not a threat)
2. Countries to which prisoners returned
3. Prisoners who spoke through actions (going on hunger strikes and trying to commit suicide)
4. Lawyers of the few prisoners who were allowed legal support
5. Aids workers
6. Guards and other military whistleblowers who witnessed or participated in torture
7. Families of U.S. military personnel
8. Military chaplains
9. Investigating officers (e.g., Brig. Gen. Janus Karpinsky, former commander of Abu Ghraib)
10. CIA whistleblowers (Ray McGovern, a 27-year veteran of the CIA who returned his medals)
11. FBI records
12. The European Parliament Investigation (uncovering 1000 rendition flights to Europe)
13. The International Red Cross
14. Amnesty International
15. NGOs: human rights org, relief agencies, anti-torture watch groups (Detainee Abuse Project)
16. UN reports (including the blistering report in May of this year)
17. Military records (most important primary source of evidence; used by Steve Miles))
18. Medical records “

Within each of these categories are documented countless horror stories. Collectively, they tell us what we do not want to hear.

I. What are the arguments for and against torture? One can build a strong case against conducting torture on religious/ethical grounds. Likewise many legal experts agree that the U.S is clearly and dramatically breaking international AND U.S. law. Nonetheless, there are plenty of Americans and plenty of leaders in government who argue that we must torture to get the information that will be a benefit to the security of our soldiers and our citizens. So let me say just a few things about these “practical” aspects of these arguments.

(1) The report of an exhaustive CIA study has shown that the quality of information extracted by torture is very poor. Those tortured will say anything to end the agony. There are many examples from the Iraq experience that illustrate just how damaging such false information can be to the nation. (2) John McCain has pointed out very clearly the danger that U.S. torture poses for the security of future soldiers. Our enemies are given an example and a reason for torturing captive U.S. military personnel. (3) Perhaps most important of all is the anger and loss of respect, moral authority, political clout, and security that resulted when the world saw the photos and heard the stories of Abu Ghraib.

What other costs do torturers and their nations pay? 16% of returning U.S. soldiers have post-traumatic stress syndrome (the percentage is actually higher because the military, for the first time, has redeployed soldiers with PTSS back into combat in Iraq). Those who have participated in or observed torture have an even higher rate of PTSS. The country will be paying an awful price in terms of mental health for what they have seen and done; it will require the expenditure of billions of dollars over the years. In addition, the loss of well-being and confidence experienced by many of us in and out of the military is not to be ignored. I do not have the exact quote, but a wise person warned us, “If you want to see how your country is going to treat its citizens in the future, look to see how your country is treating foreigners now”.

J. What is the current situation? The recent rhetoric and legislation coming out of Washington, the trials of low-level military torturers, and the talk of up-coming military tribunals does not give us reason to rejoice or relax on the torture issue. Quite the contrary. (1) The punishment handed out to guilty U.S. soldiers has been extremely light, even for those found to be guilty of torturing to death. (2) The rules in these military tribunals prevent public accounting and absolutely prevent investigation of anyone up the chain of command. (3) Reports from within the military indicate that most of those imprisoned in the war on terror had nothing to do with terrorism or the war; some simply had the same name as a known terrorist; some had weapons in their home; a few were wearing the same kind of watch found on some terrorists. (4) The McCain Bill outlawing torture that passed overwhelmingly in Congress was not vetoed as promised by the president; rather the President quietly added a “signing statement” that stated that he was free to act outside of this law if he decided that national interests required him to do so (the President has signed more than 750 of such signing statements). (5) New army regulations banning torture do not apply to the CIA. (6) The most recent legislation denies to anyone identified as “an enemy of the state” the rights of Habeus Corpus, the right to a trial as we know it; it also retroactively protects against prosecution officials who are later accused of torture.

The current situation perhaps can be best summarized by reading pieces of an article sent by Truthout on Wednesday. “VP Dick Cheney has confirmed that U.S. interrogators subjected …. suspects to “water boarding”. …. Water-boarding means holding a person’s head under water to simulate drowning until the subject agrees to talk or confess…. Republican Lindsey Graham of SC has said ‘Water-boarding … would cause extreme physical and psychological pain and suffering’. A revised U.S. Army Field manual bans water-boarding as ‘cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment’.. However, Mr. Cheney said ‘the Bush administration doesn’t regard water-boarding as torture and allows the CIA to use it. It’s a no-brainer for me’. After the interview, Lee Ann McBride, a spokeswoman for Cheney, denied that Cheney had confirmed that U.S. interrogators used water-boarding, or endorsed the technique.”

K. The Oberlin Initiative. Over the past years, a number of us in Oberlin have been working to influence U.S. policy on the use of torture. Page 1 of your handout gives a brief history of this effort. You will see on the handout that Community Peace Builders has been seriously engaged with this issue over the past three years. Much of the effort has been directed toward influencing our Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur who has considerable clout as the longest serving Congresswoman in Washington and a senior member of the Armed Services Committee. We started out in 2004 with a petition drive, then a Town Meeting with Rep. Kaptur in 2005, and in April of 2006 we sent a delegation of 7 (students and community members) to lobby her on the issue.

Out of that meeting came a request from Rep. Kaptur for the students to conduct non-classified research on torture for her. She asked that the focus be on Abu Ghraib, the role of the 100,000 private contractors who serve military roles in Iraq, and evidence for complicity up the chain of command. The students conducted the research during the summer break, and just yesterday provided Marcy Kaptur with both written and oral summary reports of the research.

Last month, Peace Builders invited author, physician, and bioethicist, Steve Miles, to Oberlin to talk about his book, Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror”. He gave three talks, each of which was memorable and generated large crowds and a great deal of discussion. The evening presentation was recorded by Cable Coop and hopefully will be shown again on Cable. A VCR recording is available for viewing. The Peace Builders working group that planned the Steve Miles events will be most pleased to have you join our effort and/or provide advice as to how we can best use the momentum generated by the Steve Miles visit.

REPORT ON THE MARCY KAPTUR RESEARCH PROJECT

Robert Taylor
Cecelia Galarraga, Colin Jones, Kathryn Ray, Eric Wilhelm

 

DISCUSSION

What should we be doing next to prevent torture?
Handout (Page 1)

Preventing Torture: The Oberlin Initiative

October 27, 2006 Peace Potluck
Don Hultquist

 

Resources

Truthout: messenger@truthout.org
“Chain of Command: The Road from 9/11 to Abu Ghraib”, Seymour M. Hersh, HarperCollins, Publisher, 2004
“Oath Betrayed: Torture, Medical Complicity, and the War on Terror”,
Steven H. Miles, Random House Publishers, 2006

Primary Sources of Evidence

1. Released detainees
2. Countries to which prisoners returned
3. Prisoners who spoke through their actions
4. Lawyers of a few prisoners
5. Aids workers
6. Guards and other military whistleblowers
7. Families of U.S. military personnel
8. Military chaplains
9. Investigating military officers (Capt. Ian Fishback; Brig. Gen. Janus Karpinsky)
10. CIA whistleblowers (Ray McGovern)
11. FBI records
12. The European Parliament Investigation
13. The International Red Cross
14. Amnesty International
15. Other NGOs
16. UN reports
17. Military records
18. Medical records

To help in stopping torture

Contact Rep. Marcy Kaptur (Representative, 9th District, Ohio; One Maritime Plaza, 6th Floor; Toledo, OH 43604) or <rep.kaptur@mail.house.gov>
Join Community Peace Builders <dehultquist@oberlin.net> <sjjy@eriecoast.com >
HANDOUT (page 2)

A Brief History of The Oberlin Initiative to Stop Torture

 
Pre-2004. Amnesty International, other organizations, and individual Oberlin residents work to stop torture and human rights abuses in general. The efforts include writing to our legislative representatives.

2004. Members and friends of Peace Community Church petition our Congressional Representatives to speak out and stop all torture by the U.S. military.

2005. Community Peace Builders (CPB) and Global Solutions sponsor a Town Meeting at Kendal. A large, engaged crowd interacts with Congresswoman Marcy Kaptur on three issues: Torture by the U.S. Military; the School of the Americas; and the UN and Global Solutions. Rep. Kaptur was unable or unwilling to acknowledge that the U.S. military, their private contractors, or the CIA tortured or practiced rendition of prisoners to foreign countries.

2006. In April, CPB sent a 7-person delegation to meet with Rep. Kaptur for the sole purpose of lobbying her on the issue of torture by the U.S. The delegation included two local ministers, a Vietnam Intelligence Officer, a Quaker peace activist, and three Oberlin College students. The meeting was productive and Rep. Kaptur asked the group to conduct research for her on the issue of torture by the U.S., with particular focus on the non-classified aspects of Abu Ghraib Prison, the role of the private contractors, and the involvement of those up the chain of command. A few weeks after the meeting, the Kaptur Office announced that she had cosponsored for the first time a bill (HR 1217) to close the School of the Americas. During the summer a group of students (with Robert Taylor as a “mentor”) carried out the requested research and on October 26th (yesterday) met with Rep Kaptur to provide her with a written and an oral report. Tonight the students report the results of their research and of their meeting with Rep. Kaptur.

In September, CPB brought Steve Miles to Oberlin. His three talks, with a combined audience of about 400, were co-sponsored by a variety of religious, college, and community organizations and generated a great deal of discussion. The major presentation at First Church was recorded by Cable Coop and hopefully will be shown again on Cable; a VCR recording is available for viewing. Dr. Miles also met with, advised, and motivated the student researchers. The CPB working group that planned Dr. Miles’ visit will be happy to have you join their group and/or provide advice as to the direction of future efforts.

When the Nations Rage…

Sunday, October 22nd, 2006

Our youngest daughter, Grace, is and always has been a poet. From the time she was small, she looked at the world through a poet’s eyes, whether she was viewing a patch of dandelions or speaking with one of her vast collection of stuffed animals. Rachel, on the other hand, was never really given to simile and metaphor. “Just say it to me plain!” was her motto. If Rachel was looking at a flower, it was just that–a flower. And the same was true with dolls, cookies, and sunshine. She enjoyed them with every fiber of her being–just for being exactly what they were–although cookies maybe have had a little deeper meaning!

This difference between the girls continued to play itself out as they grew older. Grace would happen upon a poem that spoke to the depths of her being and long to share it with the rest of us. As she read the poem aloud–usually on some long car trip–Rachel would start protesting and complaining, “Gracie, you know I don’t get poetry! Just tell me what it means!”

Many of us face the similar challenges when we try to understand Jesus. He is a consummate storyteller, and storytellers–whether through poetry or prose–use a lot of symbolism. Jesus likens faith to a tiny mustard seed (Luke 17:6). He compares the Kingdom of God to a treasure hidden in a field (Matthew 13:44). Even more directly, he proclaims, “I am the resurrection and the life (John 11:25),” or “I am the vine, and you are the branches” (John 15:5).

Without a horde of poets as traveling disciples, Jesus explains himself again and again, clarifying his parables in what some might call “plain speech.” “Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you,” (John 15:4) Jesus urges his followers amid the analogies of vines and branches. ‘Stay connected to me–up close and so personal that nourishment flows from my very being to your daily life!’
For many decades, but even more so since the church changed its name in the year 2000, we have been a congregation known for our commitments to peace and justice. Look at our bulletin announcements! This week alone, we are tackling environmental sustainability, the practice of torture, and principles of nonviolence. So many of the newcomers to the church in the past five years have come here precisely because we are ‘Peace Community Church,’ a congregation that relates the deep social issues of our day to the practice of Christian discipleship.

In the context of the global community, we know that it is not enough to simply look at our faith through our own eyes, or the eyes of western culture, or the eyes of academic theologians. We know that it is not enough to simply look at our faith through the eyes of straight people, or white men, or the dominant culture, or the rich. The list goes on and on. If the church is to be prophetic in our time and speak boldly to the future of our nation and planet, it is imperative that we stay attached to the Vine, listen, and learn. That’s why you can look at the bulletin announcements and see the kinds of events that you see.

Yet, to sustain a prophetic ministry, we are going to need every contemplative resource at our disposal. Go back to that vine and branches analogy again. We need spiritual water, food, and shelter. We need comfort and direction. We need to stay connected to the Vine. We need to stay tethered to Jesus.
Our daily routines so often consume us, but there are bigger challenges before us as well. On Tuesday, the President signed into law the Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed by Congress on September 28. With this Act, you or I –anyone, here or abroad–could be classified as a “terrorist,” labeled a ‘credible threat’ to the United States, rendered an “enemy combatant,” and be arrested. Disappear. Vanish. No way for our families to find us. This has already happened to hundreds and thousands in the prisons of Iraq and Afganistan. It has already happened in Guantanamo Bay. Now, it could happen to you or me.

While some hail this legislation as an invaluable weapon within the national arsenal in the fight against terrorism, others decry it as the worst legislation passed in the history of the Republic. We have assurances from government officials that this Act would not be used against lawful citizens, but it could be. Unless this Act is struck down by federal courts as unconstitutional, it will be up to the State to decide in the months and years ahead whether Christians are a danger to the public order. Does that send a chill up and down your spine? It does mine.

How shall we live as people of faith in times such as these, and stay tethered to the Vine? What kind of spiritual lives do we need to cultivate when the nations of the earth rage and their people–we ourselves–are subject to forces far beyond our control?

I have intentionally included more chant and silence in worship lately. When the nations rage, the Church must become both silent and loud at the same time–silent enough to hear the still, small voice of God amid the whirlwind; loud enough to speak truth to power with courage and conviction.

I have intentionally introduced the choir to several pieces of new music with incredible texts this year. After 27 years, we are beginning to update the choir library! Hallelujah! When the nations rage, we need to sing! We need to sing our conviction, sing our praise for the God of the Nations, sing our commitments! We need to sing our gratitude for sweet fellowship, daily food, and divine sustenance. Sing, church, sing! Sing from your hearts! Sing with your lives! Sing with your gifts! Sing with your service!

Many of you know that I can hardly sing anymore because the act of singing frequently triggers a downward spiral of nerve pain that can escalate and expand. It’s hard for me not to sing, because I love to sing. I sing when I teach piano. I sing when I do dishes. I sing when I work with choir. I sing in the car.
But, you know what? At Music Night here at church a week ago, I sat and listened to the quiet strums of the dulcimer, auto harp, and guitar, accompanying the gentle voices of the small group gathered. We did Mary Caroniti’s favorite song, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus,” and my mother’s favorite song, “I Come to the Garden Alone.” I have grown to appreciate “What a Friend We Have in Jesus” in so many textured ways over the years. It was sweet to listen to, as I recalled the hard places where God had befriended me. As the group began “I Come to the Garden Alone,” I was transported back to my childhood, listening to my mom sing this–her favorite hymn–in her hesitant, never-as-confident-as-her-sister’s voice. The evening was a piece of heaven. When the nations rage, we need to sing.

When the nations rage, we need to pray. Oh, my goodness–what a foolish, wasteful act this seems to those who do not look with the eyes of faith! But, for those of us who are tended by the Gardener, who recognize the Vine and remain tethered to its life, who know that we are but branches of the Vine and not masters of our own fate–prayer is such a gift!

I am so thankful that I can pray for my three daughters. Even when relationships were not as warm and fuzzy as they are today, I could still pray for them. No matter what happens to us, we can pray. If we are helpless to change a situation on our own, we can pray. If we are bedridden and feel useless, we can pray. If we are imprisoned and feel isolated, we can pray. Jesus taught his followers to pray…and pray…and pray.

When the nations rage, the Church needs to revive the ancient practice of lament which the prophets of old used to give voice to God’s sorrow at injustice.

While the nations rage, the Church needs to plumb the depths of contemplation, rooting herself deeply in the soil of God’s grace.

While the nations rage, the Church needs to marvel at the wonder and miracle of creation every day, remembering always our own finiteness as well as our beauty.

Our daughter, Rachel, recently finished a half-marathon race, which is 13 miles. She placed in the top 10% out of 1678 women who ran. She has been giving me tips on varying my exercise routine, alternating jogging with walking or power walking.

Yesterday, I tried some of that alternation. It felt pretty good. But a few hours later, my legs and back were hurting! I was using muscles that I hardly knew I had.

The Church in the United States needs to rise up and get to the gym! We need to work out those underdeveloped spiritual muscles, wherever they are! We need to work them out every day–until they ache and we know they are there!

God is calling us to dig our spiritual wells deep for these times, build our spiritual lives on firm foundations, and continue to provoke one another to love and good works (this church is good at that!) and even prophetic works–that is the harder part which requires more courage.

What kind of inner journeys do we need to cultivate for such days? What kind of community do we need to build with each other? Let’s explore these questions together in the days ahead.

Jesus didn’t come to make the system work for us. He came with a new system.

Sunday, October 15th, 2006

We call him the rich, young ruler. But there is nothing in today’s reading from Mark 10 that says he was either a ruler or young. But he was rich. And what Jesus says to the rich guy about selling all he has and giving the money from the proceeds to the poor leaves many of us uncomfortable. And it has throughout the history of the Church. But remember, the rich guy started it. Why?

He was unhappy. He’s been living the good life. He seemingly had everything going for him in this world and the next. He not only was rich, but as far as being faithful in his devotion to God, he was at the top of the list.

He knew, though, that something was lacking. He was rich enough and spiritual enough to realize there had to be more to this life that he hadn’t found yet.

Jesus diagnosed the problem right away. He tells the rich guy, “You are so close to where you want to be. Here’s what you need to do. Sell all you have and give the money to the poor, and come follow me.”

Well, this rich guy was more than a bit taken aback. I don’t know what he was looking to hear from Jesus. But this wasn’t it. And he went away feeling worse than when he came. I’ve got a feeling that he knew that money had something to do with it, but he was hoping for a different answer.

If the rich guy went away sad, the disciples were pretty stunned themselves. The story says ‘they couldn’t believe what they were hearing’ from Jesus. He said that it was hard for rich people to understand what God’s Kingdom is about, more difficult, even, than a camel going through the eye of a needle.

The disciples didn’t know what to do with any of this. Like most of us, they held a pretty high opinion of what wealth can do for a person. In fact, it was probably the case they had some high hopes of what wealth could do for them.

I don’t think they begrudged this rich guy his wealth at all. He had managed to work the system to his advantage. Nobody questioned the system. The disciples were hoping that Jesus could start making the system work for them. What they didn’t understand was that Jesus had a new system in mind.

That rich guy understood we need a new system. He just couldn’t let loose of the old one, even though he knew he wasn’t finding the life he was looking for in it.

I think he was so stunned by Jesus’ suggestion that he sell all he had and give the money to the poor, he didn’t hear the next part, ‘Come follow me.’

This is where we start getting to the good news in this story. This story shocks us all. It calls into question all our assumptions about how money functions in this world, how it functions in our lives. Jesus, in inviting that rich guy to follow him, inviting all of us to follow him, is holding out something for us that no amount of money can buy. It’s priceless.

What that rich guy was missing, what the disciples were missing, what too many of us miss in the call to follow Jesus is that it is a call for new kinds of partnerships and relationships with God and each other to function in our lives. The most important thing in this world is not what money can do for us, but what relationships and community can do for us.

The disciples knew they had taken a pretty big gamble in following Jesus. Was there going to be a payout? Peter said “We left everything and followed you.” Jesus didn’t offer the promise of a big bank account or fine cars and homes. Here’s what he did promise.

“Mark my words, no one who sacrifices house, brothers, sisters, mother, father, children, land—whatever—because of me and the Message will lose out. They’ll get it all back, but multiplied many times in homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and land—but also in troubles. And then the bonus of eternal life! This is once again the Great Reversal: Many who are first will end up last, and the last first.”

This great reversal calls us from ourselves to each other. That rich guy was being called to the poor, to be in partnership with them. He was also being called to the new community of faith that Jesus was building.

There were homes a plenty in that new community. There would be more tables to sit around, more people to love and love him than he ever imagined. In this new community Jesus was offering the rich guy, he would have the opportunity to take care of others and others would take care of him. And besides all of that, they would get to build God’s new world together. You can’t buy that no matter how freaking rich you are. All Jesus was saying is that if your money gets in the way of what you know you really need, get rid of it.

Jesus wasn’t just offering some ideal, that would never be obtainable. It happened. We read about it in that story of the end of the second chapter of Acts. The first followers of Jesus in the very first church they formed, sold their resources and pooled their money so nobody among them was poor any more. They took care of each other and were taken care of. They helped each other learn how to follow Jesus. They worshiped together. Every meal was a celebration, they lived together with great joy. They found what that rich guy had come looking for. But he had walked away from that opportunity, the wealth he could find in that first Christian community because his money clouded his vision for a new world.

The other night Mary and I had supper with Steve Broadwell. We got some sandwiches at Quiznos and found a bench outside the AAA to sit on. This was not what is commonly referred to as a fine dining experience. But, you know, we could not have had a better meal time in the fanciest restaurant you can think of. On that bench, with that sauce they put on the Quiznos sandwiches dripping on our laps, or mine anyway, was the fulfillment of the promise that Jesus made about the brothers and sisters and children that would be ours because we follow him.

That happens all the time. Downstairs in the Community Room. At the Quick and Delicious. In the Wilder Snack Bar. Around the tables in our homes. How much money would it take for you to be willing to give that up? What amount of money can replace the chance Jesus gives us to be a community of his followers.

And if this community doesn’t already do enough for us personally, it is here to do even more. Together we get to bear witness to Jesus. We get to build a new world with each other. We do mission and ministry with each other. We learn the ways of God with each other.

It’s there for us to grab hold of. It’s life. But what holds us back? It’s no secret that even in this community of faith we have differing levels of commitment. Different levels of commitment are fine if people are satisfied with that. What is sad is when people settle for less than what they are looking for.

And it’s surely no secret that people are staying away from church in droves. Whose fault is that? Some of it is ours. Heaven knows that we don’t always live up to the call Jesus has given us. There is plenty that is wrong with the church, plenty that hinders us from becoming a community of Jesus followers rather than create it.

But it’s not all us. People, like the rich guy, have to make their choices. And some people, like the rich guy, choose far less than what they know satisfies them. But God leaves the choices up to us, and still loves us, like Jesus loved that rich guy.

This is a hard story. But we need to get things in context. Jesus isn’t just saying get rid of your money, he’s also saying come follow me. Following him helps us to figure out this money thing. Jesus talked a lot about money and what we do with it. Use it to help others. Don’t grow overly enamored by its possibilities. Don’t do things for its benefit that you will regret.

We often present the idea of tithing as a spiritual discipline, as our responsibility as Christians. And it is. Making regular contributions to the church reminds us that what we have is a gift from God and gives us a better perspective on our money. But tithing also helps us build community, do ministry with each other, change the world. That’s putting money to good use.

So when we come across this passage, instead of getting all uptight about money, what we do with it and what it does with us, we need to remember the point is following Jesus into partnership with God, the poor, each other. It’s about building a new world, being a part of the Jesus community. This is a story that seems hard, but it holds out amazing possibilities for us. Are we going to let money stop us?

The End of the World As We Know It?

Sunday, October 8th, 2006

“Do you think we are living in the end times?” a parishioner recently asked me. We had a spirited conversation about this question.

I visited my Mom in the Chicago area and picked up a Christian publication she had just received. The whole issue was devoted to biblical interpretations of current events in the Middle East. It explained in detail the progression from an event described as the rapture–or disappearance–of the true believers, to a period of great tribulation followed by a cataclysmic military confrontation between the powers of light and darkness. Then, it described a thousand year reign of Christ on earth.

Leading climatologists give us 10 years to put a big dent into the forces causing global warming before the effects on the planet become irreversible.

Do you think we are living in the end times? Are we approaching the end of the world as we know it? What do you believe? Members of the congregation responded,

“I think we are nearly in ‘the last days,’ but not quite,” one said.

“I think we are at Revelation, Chapter 20, verse 7, in ‘the age of deception,’” another replied.

A retired person spoke, “I remember when a group of people from Cleveland sold everything and moved out to Denver to wait to be raptured in 1924. It obviously didn’t happen. I guess I’m a little skeptical about such predictions.”

Another responded, “Jesus repeatedly says in the Gospels that we won’t know the time, day, or place, or his return, so I don’t bother with all that speculation. The point is to be ready at any time.”
“I’m looking at Acts, Chapter 2, where Peter quotes the prophet Joel, saying ‘This is what I will do in the last days, God says: I will pour out my Spirit on everyone…” After reading Acts 2:14-21, the person responded, “We have been living in ‘the last days’ since that time.”

The last comment was from a woman who quoted part of a song by Darrell Adams, which speaks of the fact that God is with us every day, and that we can trust God in all situations.
*******
We hear the cry of Christians from Lebanon, Palestine, Jerusalem, and a host of other places urging the Church in the United States to engage in a theology of reconciliation and shalom. They implore us to stop exporting our particular brand of religion that mixes Christianity, Empire, and End Times Theology in a deadly cocktail affecting real lives both here and abroad.

Let me speak about that ‘cocktail,’ because it is critical to address the complicity of the Christian Church in the United States in the changes occurring in our country and world. I want to speak carefully, because these are huge issues. They can be over-simplified, and are surely more complex than I can describe in a sermon, but they cannot be overestimated.

On one hand, some believers see the world as racing toward Armageddon. They anticipate the imminent return of Christ preceded by a specific set of signs and events which they see unfolding right now in the world. There is no reason to save the environment, because Jesus is coming back! There is no reason to work for peace and justice, because things are supposed to get worse and worse! There is no reason for interfaith dialogue, because Christians have got it all right and other religions have got it all wrong. Violence, mayhem, war, environmental degradation–all are part of God’s end times plan! Don’t tamper with it!

There are also Christian Reconstructionists who want to transform the United States into their vision of a “city on a hill,” a “light for the nations.” They believe God has given the U.S. a particular mandate among the nations. In their eyes, Biblical law, as they interpret it, should become the “law of the land.”
I studied Old Testament with a Christian Reconstructionist at seminary twenty years ago. While I thought I came to class to study the Pentateuch, the Law of Moses, he spent much of class time railing against working women, public schools, communism, gay people, and incorrigible children. It was the first time in my life that I learned that there is actually a text in Leviticus commanding the stoning of incorrigible children. Where did Jesus fit into his scenario? Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law–period.

One day a student asked him the question, “What about Christians who disagree with your interpretation of Christianity in this ‘Christian nation’ you envision?” He replied, “You can think different thoughts; you just can’t act on them.”

In such scenarios as these, peacemakers are dangerous both to Christianity and to the State. Instead of being blessed, as Jesus describes them in the Beatitudes, they are seen as obstructionists. They retard the race toward Armageddon. They humanize those whom others demonize. The challenge the sharp division of the world’s population into those deemed “righteous” and others deemed “evildoers.”
End times theology is preoccupying hundreds, even thousands, of churches in the United States. Millions of eyes are turned toward Israel and the Middle East, toward Islam and Christianity, even toward the role of the United States in this Master Plan.

As I listen to this dialogue and see its effects in the wider world, three important issues stand out to me. First, a free church cannot be entangled with the State, or it will quickly become an instrument of the State. We cannot worship Caesar and God. Nor can we worship the American Way and the Prince of Peace. It cannot be done.

Second, the scriptures affirm that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The history of Christianity is not innocent of spilled blood. The Church has not always been loving, nor has she always been prophetic. Humility among other religions, not superiority, is necessary.

Third, there is simply no place in true Christianity for demonizing our enemy. It may be the way of the world, but it isn’t the way of Christ. “Why should God reward you if you love only the people who love you? Even the tax collectors do that!” Jesus challenges his disciples. A costly discipleship sees through the eyes of grace.

What, then, is ahead for those of us who combine the phrases, “Christian,” and “peacemaker” (Matthew 5:9), who believe that the scriptures call us to “do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with our God” (Micah 6:8), no matter what times we live in?

We must prepare ourselves as Christians for harder days ahead. The Church needs to rise up and meet this critical hour wisely–with discernment, humility, and care. “You were told that the Enemy of Christ would come, and now many enemies of Christ have already appeared,” the letter of John recounts (I John 2:18). Glenn Gall often speaks of these times as an “age of deception,” and I think he is right.

Jesus warns his disciples, “Many false prophets will appear and fool many people. Such will be the spread of evil that many people’s love will grow cold. But whoever holds out to the end will be saved” (Matthew 24:11-13). The journey before us calls for perseverance as well as discernment.

After Hurricane Katrina scattered congregations far and wide across the United States, Glenn suggested that we as a church develop a plan for staying in touch in the event of catastrophe. This is a wise idea, although we haven’t done this. Pollsters occasionally ask U.S. citizens how prepared they
are for a big disaster. Most of us are not physically prepared.

Several years ago, one of my children was struggling with high school math. I knew it was a matter of effort more than ability, so I often encouraged her to take her math class more seriously.
Pessimistic about the future, during one such discussion she retorted, “What difference does it make? I could die tomorrow!”

“True,” I responded. “But you might not…in which case, you may need those math skills some day!”
Are we spiritually prepared to follow Jesus in times such as these? Are we prepared to practice love and compassion when hatred and division are the order of the day? Are we prepared to stand up with those Jesus called “the least of these” when their rights are trampled by those of the rich and powerful? Are we prepared to stand with our lesbian and gay brothers and sisters when they are callously used as a wedge issue, state by state, ballot measure by ballot measure? Are we prepared to challenges those who consider peacemakers evil and torture good? Are we prepared to practice costly love as “the love of many grows cold”?

May Jesus find us faithful when he returns. Let us close with excerpts of a prayer, “Sometimes It Just Seems to Be Too Much,” found in Guerrillas of Grace: Prayers for the Battle by Ted Loder.

“Don’t you think Jesus ought to tone down the rhetoric a bit?”

Sunday, October 1st, 2006

What was going on when Jesus, in Mark 9:43 issued those warnings about cutting off your hand or plucking out your eye, or being thrown into a lake with a millstone around your neck?

It was pretty harsh language, surprisingly harsh. And it was directed at the disciples. Let’s back up a few verses and see what would have caused Jesus to go off like that.

In verse 33 we read that Jesus had safely returned home. So that tells us right away that things were rough for Jesus. And there was something he needed to ask his disciples.

“What was it you were talking about on the road,” he says? Nobody wanted to respond because the argument had been about which one of them was the greatest disciple. As the silence grew Jesus said, “if you want to be great, then be the least.”

There was a child in the room, so Jesus grabbed her up in his arms and said “Whoever embraces one of these children as I do embraces me, and far more than me—God who sent me.”

He was at it again. Turning everything upside down about God and about this world. We see those cute pictures in kids books and hanging in Sunday School class rooms with Jesus surrounded by little children. It all looks so sweet to us. But it was far from that for people of first century Palestine.

Kids were at the bottom of the social ladder, where social ladders were very important. People didn’t tend to have sweet feelings about them. Far too often, they simply represented another mouth that would be difficult to feed. And they had no power whatsoever. The disciples were definitely into power.

So when Jesus set that child before them, in response to their bickering about who among the group of disciples should be regarded as the most important, the one with the most power, and suggested a child as the model, their response was to change the subject.

John says, “We saw this man casting out demons in your name and told him to stop because he wasn’t one of the group.” Somehow John thinks this is going to help Jesus feel better about things, but it doesn’t have that effect. Jesus says don’t stop such a thing, he’s on our side, doing what I want done.

That’s when Jesus calls attention, once again, to the child and launches into his warnings about giving the little ones a hard time. “If your hand or foot gets in God’s way chop it off.”

Mary was talking about this the other day. When we read this business about cutting off your hand or your foot, we tend to think of it as some kind of self mutilation. But it’s probably going to help us get the point of what Jesus is saying here if we think about it as amputation, removing a diseased limb before the disease gets worse.

What Jesus was seeing in the disciples was a disease he tired of seeing us pass on to the little ones. This need to determine who is the most important individual or group has brought too much pain to this world. And Jesus wanted it to stop. We need to stop teaching our kids that kind of thing, to get rid of the stumbling blocks of racial and religious superiority and the lust for power because it does so much damage to them.

So his language got strong, and his warnings harsh. But for the sake of the kids, if nothing else, he wants us to live in new ways in this world, and he points us to the children. If any of them imagined they were greater than the children, and that was the common assumption, then they are showing that they had no idea what Jesus was doing. And he was in considerable danger trying to get them to figure what he was doing. There were people who were trying to kill him precisely because he rejected this way of living in the world that elevated power and racial and religious superiority. And the disciples weren’t even buying into it.

Earlier in this chapter we read about the disciples’ failure to help a man’s whose son has been seized by a demon. So it is more than a little ironic when the disciples change the subject about their argument on the road by expressing their objection to someone outside their group casting out demons. They can’t do it, and want to prevent someone who can from doing it.

So you can see why Jesus is getting a bit frustrated with these folk and resorting to such strong language. Despite some of the internal tension taking place between the disciples and between Jesus and the disciples there is a point we better be sure we don’t miss.

It must have been refreshing for Jesus to learn that someone was out there doing what he wanted done, instead of being surrounded by the clueless disciples. And it goes the same for today.

We are now living in a nation that has gone on record in support of torture. It seems this big compromise that was worked out in Washington DC wasn’t about ending torture, but simply not using the word torture. The Congress gave approval to the President to authorize whatever extreme questioning of prisoners he or his underlings feel is necessary, as long as our nation goes on record as supporting the Geneva Accords. We don’t have to abide by them any longer, we just have to say we do. And as an added safeguard, they approved the President’s provision that if some interrogator should happen to treat a prisoner in a way that could be construed as torture, that interrogator could not be punished.

Now there are lots of politicians who call themselves Christian in Washington, DC and preachers around the country who are applauding this new law. They are not on Jesus’s side. Do you know who is? Christians and others who are outraged that the United States of America has adopted torture as policy?

Could you imagine Jesus saying to that little girl he is holding that she doesn’t have to worry any more because the bad people are being tortured? And that she wouldn’t have to worry if innocent people are being tortured because she will never have to know? This new laws prohibits prisoners that the President declares supportive of terror from going to court to prove their innocence.

Who is doing the work of Jesus? If it’s not the church then we should be glad for whoever is.

In the height of the all the nuclear disarmament movement of the 1980s there was a big rally at the Pentagon where there were enough people to form a human ring around it, calling for a more peaceful world.

While that was going on outside the building, inside it was the weekly prayer breakfast of military and civilian personnel who do the planning for war. At that prayer breakfast outrage was expressed at the peace demonstrators, while prayer was offered for guidance to help our nation increase its military capabilities. Who was on Jesus’ side? Was it the folk on the outside of the building or inside?

This is what Jesus wants us to be thinking about. And if he has to use some extreme language and disturbing images then great. If this passage disturbs us, good.

But Jesus uses another image that to me is just as striking as the one about cutting off our hands and plucking out our eyes. “Anyone by just giving you a cup of water in my name is on our side. Count on it that God will notice.” We have all kinds of opportunities, in the midst of the torture, the warrior Christians, of taking a stand with Jesus.

When we walk in the CROP Walk it is for a hungry Jesus we are walking. Those donations we make so the world can be a little less hungry are making Jesus a little less hungry.

The path of discipleship, of following Jesus and his ways, is as serious a commitment as any of us can make. But it works itself out in cold cups of water and CROP Walks, and standing against torture and suicide bombers, standing against the exploiters of children and the powerless, and regarding the humanity of individuals as Jesus did. It’s the things that seem so little that are going to make a difference in this world because they will help us see the world in a different way.

The disciples were having trouble with that new vision, the vision of Jesus. What they could see and understand was power and superiority. But when we start seeing something else we discover what the Apostle Paul calls redemption.

This is why Jesus came to save us. He didn’t want us to live our lives like the disciples in this story imagined we were supposed to. Jesus wants us to find God’s way of living in this world because that is the way of life.

So he used some pretty extreme language, but he also did something pretty extreme. He gave himself over to the folk who think power and superiority are what matter in this world. They hung him on a cross. But he showed the power that was really at work in this world, a power strong enough to break the power of death on Easter morning. That’s extreme, extreme love.