Hope for Transformation

children and earthAs 2012 ends and 2013 begins, I carry hope in my heart for transformation, not just personal, but social.  The phrase “another world is possible” is very real to me.  It is, for me, a matter of faith.

There are many children in my life.  I have grandchildren and great grandchildren who live nearby.  I teach Sunday School.  What will the world look like when these beautiful children grow up?  I am invested in their future.

What do we tell our children about the great environmental dangers and social injustices that we face–about climate change, about war and violence, about foreclosures and unemployment and lack of health insurance, about cutbacks to services for the poor and tax cuts for the rich, about corporate domination of the political process?  How do we explain our inability to create a society that sustains life?  How do we equip them for the great challenges they will face?  Not by putting our heads in the sand, or focusing solely on our personal lives, or pretending that there is nothing we can do.  Rather, we can cultivate hope and set an example by taking part in actions that are transformative, both personally and socially.

This is a spiritual issue, for the ruling powers dominate through money and violence, and none of us are immune.  To the degree that we internalize the values of our culture and bow to the system of domination, we further the sickness of our age.  As we awaken to the extremity of our situation and realize that the system of domination itself needs transforming, we either succumb to futility and despair or find the inner resources that enable us to cultivate hope.

This is, in itself, an opportunity for personal transformation.  As we are transformed, we become agents of transformation, joining with others to create beautiful and compassionate alternatives that demonstrate the better world that is possible.  By taking hopeful actions, we become more hopeful, and make the world a more hopeful place.

For the sake of the children.  For the sake of the future.

Slaughter of the Innocents

As Christmas music fades and Christmas trees get taken down, the nativity scene is still on the altar at our church.  It will still be there next Sunday, on Epiphany, the day we remember the Magi who brought gifts to present to the Christ Child.

The story of the Magi, from the gospel of Matthew, is strikingly political, and highlights how the author understood the significance of Jesus’ birth–as a threat to the ruling Powers of the world.  It culminates in “The Slaughter of the Innocents,”  with soldiers killing small children so a genocidal king can hold onto his throne.    Matthew summarizes the story with the words from Jeremiah:  “A voice was heard in Ramah, wailing and loud lamentation, Rachel weeping for her children;  she refused to be consoled because they were no more.” (Matthew 2:18)

There are many famous works of art about this story, but I cannot bring myself to use them with this blog posting.  They are all too poignant and we are all too raw.   But I am including two versions of Coventry Carol, which was written in the 16th century to commemorate this tragic part of the Christmas story.

Violence.  Terror.  Slaughter of innocents.  Like today, in Newtown, in our inner cities, in communities in other countries hit by our drones.

How can we respond to such tragedy?  What is the antidote?  Where is the healing?

Certainly not with more guns, more hi-tech weapons, more violence.  The  only antidote I can see is an awakening to the Love that is at the heart of the universe, the Love that is core to every faith tradition, the Love that embraces us as we are, enables us to face our part in the violence that plagues us as a people, forgives and heals our brokenness, nurtures new life blossoming within and around us, transforms us and works through us to transform the world.

Coventry Carol by Sting:      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3wE4wYDW11A

Coventry Carol by Joan Baez:    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kBgbnCkSCBY

Coventry Carol (Lyrics)

Lully, Lullay, Thou little tiny Child,
By, by, lully, lullay.
Lullay, Thou little tiny Child.
By, by, lully, lullay.

O sisters, too, how may we do,
For to preserve this day;
This poor Youngling for whom we sing,
By, by, lully, lullay.

Herod the King, in his raging,
Charged he hath this day;
His men of might, in his own sight,
All children young, to slay.

Then woe is me, poor Child, for Thee,
And ever mourn and say;
For Thy parting, nor say nor sing,
By, by, lully, luly, lullay.

The Myth of Redemptive Violence

No Evil for Evil

Around the country, people are polarized about whether gun control or widespread ownership of guns would make us safer.  My earlier posts on this topic also touched on the U.S. culture of violence and the growing economic inequity, which is violent in itself and is linked to increasing violence.  Today’s post addresses the violent “myth” that underlies our culture:

In his work on the Powers [the institutions that rule our world], Walter Wink claims that the primary myth of our time is the “Myth of Redemptive Violence.”  This myth, which is so pervasive in contemporary U.S. culture, has its roots in the ancient Enuma Elish, a Babylonian creation story about the struggle between cosmic order and chaos.  The idea is that force must be used to bring order out of chaos and that the only way to conquer evil is through domination and violence. This story has been played out around the world for generations, and continues to be played out today.

The pervasiveness of violence among human beings brings to mind the ancient biblical story of Cain’s murder of Abel and the subsequent multiplication of violence articulated by Cain’s descendent, Lamech: “If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-seven fold.” (Gen. 4:24) It is this very cycle of violence that Jesus seeks to remedy when he tells his followers that they must forgive even seventy-seven (or seventy times seven) times (Matt. 18:22). Sadly, Jesus’ rejection of violence and his embrace of nonviolence, so central to his life and message, have been ignored by many who claim to be Christian. And although it was the political, military, and economic Powers, supported by the religious establishment, that put Jesus to death, much of official Christianity throughout history has supported similar institutions and systems that are based on domination and violence. Walter Wink calls this changing but similarly interlocking network of worldly Powers “the Domination System.” Others call it “empire.”

Empires, too, function out of the myth of redemptive violence, under the illusion that domination and violence can bring order out of chaos and can conquer evil. Furthermore, empires seek to be ultimate and absolute, demanding people’s loyalty and service. Those who resist are seen as enemies and subversives, as Jesus was.

As someone who seeks to follow (not just worship) Jesus, I choose the nonviolent path that he chose.  And I seek and work for a world transformed by by Love, as he did.

The photograph I chose for this blog is from an article that appeared in, of all places, The Economist.  The article is entitled:  “Evil beyond imagining:  If even the slaughter of 20 small children cannot end America’s infatuation with guns, nothing will.

Hope in the Face of Violence



In my previous post, Light in this Present Darkness, I described some of the factors that contribute to the violent social milieu in which we live, and which make mass killings more likely.  I also spoke about the need for us to awaken to what is at stake and to commit ourselves to doing what we can to help bring about a more compassionate world.

This post is an excerpt from Chapter 7, “The Infernal Whirlwind:  Violence, Terror, and War” from my book, Shaking the Gates of Hell.  It continues on with the above themes and spells out why our strategies for both personal and social change need to be grounded in nonviolence:

We know some of the factors that contribute to violence among human beings, and can seek to alleviate them, but we cannot fully comprehend the human capacity for cruelty and malevolence. We do not know what it is in the human heart or psyche that makes a Holocaust or Hiroshima or Rwanda [or Shady Hook] possible. As Os Guinness says, “In the face of such wickedness, explanations born of psychology, sociology, economics, or politics are pathetically inadequate.” Although faith can help us struggle with the meaning and implications of violence, nothing can “explain” it.  Evil is a dark mystery, interpreted theologically through concepts such as original sin or the Fall...

“Much of our history has been written in blood and unless things change, it looks like it will continue to be. Unless we change course, we create an increasingly violent society and an increasingly dangerous world…  At the back of our minds is a sense of unease, for we know that we are complicit, that somehow, without even wanting to, we give our consent to the present violent and unjust order.

That is why resistance to the dominance paradigm is so vital to faith, for the sake of our own spiritual well-being as well as for the sake of others and the well-being of the whole. A key to maintaining one’s humanity is to speak out against evil and to take a stand for truth, compassion, beauty, and love. And that is why resistance must be based in the principle of nonviolence—otherwise it simply perpetrates the vicious cycle of violence at work in our world today.

According to Ken Butigan, nonviolent resistance is “a form of embodied social change that actively and persistently challenges violent and unjust conditions, structures, or policies through non-injurious means.” He goes on to say: “Nonviolent resistance is a process for challenging violence, but even more deeply it is an embodied practice that helps to free us from our faith in violence. . . . Nonviolent resistance is a spiritual practice and a way of being at the service of conversion, the transformation of ourselves, our communities and our world.”

Our only hope as a species is for a deep transformation of worldview and values that extends to our institutions and systems—in short, a spiritual renewal that motivates people to join with others to work for peace and to seek justice for all creation. Is such change possible? No one knows, but we can choose to step out in faith.

In the words of Walter Wink: “The image of God, so near to extinction under the suffocating terrors of civilization, still holds out the possibility of change. We will never build a utopia on earth—but will we take that one gigantic, necessary step out of the system of power into a system of human values? The whole creation is on tiptoe, waiting.”

(An excerpt from Shaking the Gates of Hell:  Faith-Led Resistance to Corporate Globalization.)