Embrace Peace

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Heavenly wisdom centers on purity, peace, gentleness, deference, mercy, and other good fruits untainted by hypocrisy.

The seed that flowers into righteousness will always be planted in peace by those who embrace peace.

(James 3:17, 18 The Voice)

In the midst of darkness, evil, and turmoil, the wise have learned to embrace peace, to hold on, and not let go. They plant the seeds of change.

Absalom: When Rebellion Thwarts Reformation

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Twice this week I heard this question: What makes you angry?

Both times the men posing the question suggested paying attention to the circumstances that raise a flood of righteous indignation.

“It could be a clue to your calling.”

I didn’t have to think long. What makes me angry? When the cries of the victims of injustice, when the wounds of the abused, when the silent tears of those imprisoned in mental anguish or in circumstances they cannot control are ignored or downplayed by people who have the capacity to help. When people who brag about leading a loving community misuse their power by exploiting their charges I am livid.

Recently I read a rant by a popular writer who can obviously relate to my anger. He blasted away at hypocrisy and corruption and cover up within the institutional church.

“Wow, Lord! This is good. I totally agree. This guy is absolutely right.”

God’s still small voice response shook me.

“So was Absalom.”

“Absalom? The son who rebelled against his father the king?” I asked.

“Beware the man who calls out to victims of injustice to follow him saying, ‘If I were in charge…’”

I re-read the story of Absalom in 2 Samuel 13 to 18.

David harp statue IMG_9841Absalom was right about injustice and corruption being covered up within the kingdom. He had first-hand knowledge of this. The prophet Nathan exposed King David’s crime of taking what was not his – Bathsheba, the daughter of one of his valiant friends and the wife of Uriah, who was out fighting for him. It couldn’t have been easy for a faithful servant to tell the king that his decision to cover up his sin by committing a greater one, arranging Uriah’s murder, would have serious consequences in his family for a very long time.

Later David’s eldest son, Amnon, also abused his power when he took what was not his. He raped his half-sister, Tamar, Absalom’s full sister. David was very angry, but he did nothing that gave the appearance of justice being done on behalf of his daughter.

Some say David couldn’t act because Amnon and his cousin/adviser made sure there were no witnesses, and in those days, and often in these, a mere woman’s testimony was not enough. Some suggest David did not take action because he was still in the throes of depression over his own sin. Some pose that Amnon, as first-born, was in a position of privilege, and even though God continually broke the expectations of society by choosing a younger son for a task, David was still intimidated by primogeniture culture (the eldest son inherits everything) – and because Amnon was still his boy.

Maybe David hoped that if he ignored it someday the whole thing would just go away.

It didn’t go away. It became worse. Absalom took things into his own hands. He arranged for Amnon’s murder. Then he fled.

David mourned for two sons.

The story of David and Absalom’s uncomfortable estrangement and later reconciliation is told in 2 Samuel 14. By this time Absalom was a full-fledged manipulator. He used appearance, charm, popularity, intimidation – whatever it took to move himself toward a position of power. He sat at the gate and listened to people’s complaints of unjust treatment, something the king had apparently been failing to do. garbage streets Jerusalem IMG_1241Injustice was piling up like garbage in the dark corners of Jerusalem. The failure of authorities to listen to the common people and deal with injustice is fuel for rebellion. How many times is this lesson repeated in history?

 

Absalom began to build an army of malcontents.

But wait? Didn’t David do the same after he fled from Saul? He did, but there was a difference. Although he wailed loud and long about unjust treatment, David never took justice into his own hands. He would not touch God’s anointed. He honoured the office, even when King Saul was reduced to a dangerously unbalanced giant wounded ego. David knew he was more popular. He could have made a bid for the hearts of the people to back him up in military take-over. But he waited for God to hand him the scepter. He honoured the king who was trying to kill him.

Absalom couldn’t wait. Absalom dishonoured the king who disappointed him. Absalom led a rebellion. Absalom publicly shamed the women in David’s household. Absalom died. He fell victim to his own symbol of beauty and by the hand of the man who once took up his cause.

 

I can relate to the popular writer who is dismayed by the lack of love or fairness and the willingness to hide corruption in churches. I haven’t been in a place where I felt unsafe in years but I know from the past what it is like to see women and children’s stories of abuse dismissed or “re-framed.”

I have seen a pastor badger a woman on staff of a Christian organization to confess her part in seducing the elder who raped her violently, even though she had been beaten. She lost her job. There were no serious consequences for the man.

I have hidden victims of incest in my home who were coerced to change their stories because they were told it would be their fault if the family broke up and the step-father was subject to ridicule or prosecution.

I have seen men falsely accused by bitter ex-wives who knew how to garner sympathy but neglected the children kept away from their daddies.

I have seen men on the verge of bankruptcy because another member of the congregation cheated them out of weeks of wages – and nothing happened to the thief.

I have seen teenagers thrown out of the house when they told a someone they were gay or that they had an abortion.

I have seen people become slaves to cult leaders with bad, bad, bad theology who prey on spiritual vulnerability and need for acceptance.

I know what it is to cry myself and not be heard, and I know what it is to be loved, healed and restored by people who cared.

But I’ve also known the horror of feeling I had to betray a friend’s confidence because she chose to protect her husband’s reputation over her child’s sexual safety. I know the utter agony and extreme pain of hearing someone I cared deeply about screaming that I had ruined her life as the police took him away. All these years later I cry just thinking about it.

As a teacher, foster mother, and friend I have heard stories that make me want to cover my ears and scream, “Don’t tell me! I don’t want to know!! Shut up! Just shut up! Shut up because now I am obliged to do something about it and I know how this goes!” But I listen and I act. I understand how the prophet Nathan must have felt.

I know it is worse to leave the garbage festering where the next generations play than to deal with unpleasantness. Hidden corruption in the church is threatening our ability to live and breathe and unite in trust and love for each other. God is exposing it for a reason – love.

I can relate to the popular writer’s rants, and I can relate to the pastors and staff who don’t want to know because taking proper measures might cause years of building to crumble. In the end, as painful as it is, we must stand up to protect vulnerable lambs in the flock while still seeking rehabilitation and restitution for offenders.

I also know the sickly sweet voice of the enemy entreating, “Are you angry? I can help you with that.”

And I  hear a warning from Abba, my heavenly Father, “There is a higher way. Do not take justice into your own hands. Do not join up with an army of angry, invalidated unheard victims as a force for reform. Unless you are part of the process of honesty, repentance, forgiveness, and restoration you are not working for the kingdom. You are working for yourself. And that never ends well.”

 

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Fear and Over-organization

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“Another cause back of our top-heavy and ugly over-organization is fear. Churches and societies founded by saintly men with courage, faith and sanctified imagination appear unable to propagate themselves on the same spiritual level beyond one or two generations.

The spiritual fathers were not able to sire others with courage and faith equal to their own. The fathers had God and little else, but their descendants lose their vision and look to methods and constitutions for the power their hearts tell them they lack. Then rules and precedents harden into a protective shell where they can take refuge from trouble. It is always easier and safer to pull in our necks than to fight things out on the field of battle.

In all our fallen life there is a strong gravitational pull toward complexity and away from things simple and real. There seems to be a kind of sad inevitability back of our morbid urge toward spiritual suicide. Only by prophetic insight, watchful prayer and hard work can we reverse the trend and recover the departed glory.

~ A.W. Tozer

I overheard a conversation recently when a clergyman was challenged to explain a certain practice in his denomination. He said it could best be explained by giving the history. It began in Victorian times, apparently, and seemed like a good idea at the time, and even though circumstances are very different now, the practice has remained. It’s become rather endearing actually, and is now part of their “distinctives.” Then he admitted, in a softer voice, that although some contemporary pastors agree it makes no sense and quietly try to ignore it,  it is still entrenched in their constitution, and change is not something they do well. It upsets people.

The church I grew up in was never intended to be a denomination. The first members of the group left the confines of the steepled building to reach out to poor people in the local streets and then in the streets around the world. They had to leave because most parishioners were comfortable in their enclaves and wanted to protect standards -and the lower classes did not meet those standards. The poor and dysfunctional who met the real Jesus in the streets found they never did fit in with the established church so they just hung out together until they realized they were also the church and they gradually formed a constitution and established methods of maintaining their own standards.

My grandmother joined in the early days, but by the time she lived in the senior’s lodge, beside the new mega church edifice, the social climate there  had changed. It’s called “lift.” The problem is that the protestant work ethic works. Get a person free of alcohol and other addictions, restore their love for neighbour and family, and their kids become better educated, get good jobs and nice homes, and their grandchildren are raised in a completely different environment with different expectations (or feelings of entitlement). I remember Grandma lamenting that it was a sad day when she realized she was too poor to go to prayer meeting in that church. You see, someone (who undoubtedly did not live on a widow’s pension) thought it was a good idea to encourage people to come to prayer gatherings on certain mornings by having them catered. A woman who had fed her children lard sandwiches had trouble adjusting to the thought of paying $15 for breakfast. She did know how to feed a street full of kids on $15, but the church she was now in was just like the church the founders left, because those members had also lost understanding of the people on the outside. My grandmother’s denomination became comfortable with plush theatre seats, sound systems and coffee shop  in the grand foyer. The order of service was established, and the academic qualifications (from approved seminaries) of those who are ordained to preach and preside over communion was written in stone. Policies now require a complicated procedure at the national annual general conference to change.

History shows us this pattern repeating itself.

In  “The Jesus Style,” Gayle D Erwin writes about fresh movements of the Holy Spirit in different generations. He has this to say in the chapter entitled “Prisoners of History”:

Here is a drastic proposal. Every religious organization should have in its first constitution the irrevocable provision that it be disbanded and dispersed at the end of 50 years. For some this limit should be 25 years. This would free the constituency to be more constantly in touch with God . . . Such an approach would simply be recognizing the manner in which the Holy Spirit works anyway. He keeps raising movements that are alive and in touch with him, while the older structures get huffy and kick the new movement out. . .”

Perhaps we have reached a point where we can recognize the pattern and instead of kicking new movements out of the older structures, the older structures can offer the benefits of wisdom seasoned by knowledge accumulated in good and bad years and make room for those not familiar with the culture. Or it that too optimistic? Can we repent – that is, think again, determine not to repeat the errors of the past, change our ways and join in following what Holy Spirit is doing now – or does fear of loss of control keep us clinging to old wine skins whether they be two generations or two hundred generations old? Is giving control of the church back to Holy Spirit feasible? Or is that thought too scary?  Can the Church of Laodicea become hot again? Can its vision be healed? Can the Church of Ephesus return to it’s first love? Can the Church of Sardis awaken from its near-death coma?

Or is it time for another Reformation?

Tell me what you think.