Sunday, November 12, 2006

Blessed are the peacemakers...

This morning when I walked into church I noticed that the US flag and the church flag (I guess that is what it is) were both brought forward from where they usually are, and were placed with prominence on either side of the worship team, front and center. I thought, "Oh yeah, Veterans Day." I am a veteran, and appreciate that I and other vets who chose to serve are recognized. I don't want a bunch of praise, but I think that sacrifice, particularly significant sacrifice such as that given by many veterans should be noted. I understand the thoughts behind the flag being highlighted, and the playing of God Bless America, but due to things I have been reading recently, it left a bad taste in my mouth.

During the past 6 months or so, as we have tried to walk down the path that God has laid out before us, my world view has changed significantly. I don't know if there is an area that hasn't been affected, if there is a way of looking at life that I don't see through a different lens than I did a year ago.

It isn't just the adoption. Much of it is about my newfound passion for Africa and its people. It is about justice, mercy, loving your neighbor, the kingdom of God. And some of what it has stirred in me is distaste for the line of thought that seems to flourish in the American church; that God has somehow thrown out His Kingdom thoughts, His ideas of love for us all, and set aside the USA as the apple of His eye. It seems as though we think that within our borders there is some special grace, mercy and favor not available to others in the world.

If that last bit ruffled your feathers, just ask yourself this question. Do you think the heart of God aches more for American lives lost on 9/11 than for the lives of thousands of children who die each and every day due to lack of food and clean drinking water? Or the lives of Iraqis and American soldiers who are being killed continuously in Iraq today?

Last night I flipped past CNN and paused long enough to have to see what was going on. The program was titled "Combat Hospital", and what captured me was that they were carrying a young girl into the ER at a military hospital (like a MASH unit I guess) in Iraq. The US medical team (Army I assume) began working hard to save her, and part of that was trying to figure out what had happened to her.

She had been shot in the head, in one ear and out the other. The lead doctor stepped back at one point and told the team the results would not be good from this case, and for everyone to essentially settle down, take things slow and careful. As I watched this little girl bleeding from her ears, thinking she will certainly die, I had to change the channel.

With a knot in my stomach I realized that if she had been shot in the US, by anyone, her story would have been all over the news, and we would hear about it for days. The fact that she was born in Iraq meant that we could care less, even if she was killed by an American bullet. I don't know who shot her, but it very well could have been one of our soldiers. Or it could have been an insurgent's bullet. Who shot her is irrelevant, it isn't the point. The point is that it broke my heart to think that she had to die. Her parents could care less where she was born, they just want their daughters to not be shot in the head.

In a chapter of The Irresistible Revolution, Shane Claiborne talks about what led him to go, and of his experience when he went to Iraq before we began bombing and invaded. These are parts of that chapter, minus much of the detail.

I began to consider what it means to pledge allegiance to Jesus and his cross.

After counting the cost of going to Iraq and the cost of not going to Iraq, I went to Baghdad in March 2003 with the Iraq Peace Team...

Essentially, I went to Iraq because I believe in a God of scandalous grace. I have pledged allegiance to a King who loved evildoers so much he died for them, teaching us that there is something worth dying for but nothing worth killing for.

Looking back now I am embarrassed at how surprised I was to find friends and family in Baghdad. It was as if I thought Iraq was filled with Osama bin Ladens and Saddam Husseins, and not with families and children just like ours.

One of the most powerful worship services I've ever experienced was just a few days before I headed home. Hundreds and hundreds of Christians from all over the Middle East had gotten together - Catholic, Protestant, Orthodox.

Afterward, I was able to meet with one of the bishops who had organized the gathering, and I explained to him that I was shocked to find so many Christians in Iraq. He looked at me, puzzled, and then gently said, "Yes, my friend, this is where it all began. This is the land of your ancestors. That is the Tigris River, and the Euphrates. Have you read about them?" I was floored - by my ignorance and by the ancient roots of my faith. It is the land of my ancestors. Christianity was not invented in America - how about that?

The bishop went on to tell me that the church in the Middle East was deeply concerned about the church in the United States. He said, "Many Americans are for this war?"

I nodded.

And he asked, "But what are the Christians saying?"

My heart sank. I tried to explain to him that many of the Christians in the US are confused and hope that this is a way God could liberate the Iraqi people.

He shook his head and said, very humbly, "But we Christians do not believe that. We believe 'blessed are the peacemakers.' We believe if you pick up the sword, you die by the sword. We believe in the cross." Tears welled up in my eyes as he said, "We will be praying for you. We will be praying for the church in the be the church."
I think that we need this prayer. I think we have been looking for too long through lenses such as conservative and charismatic, of God bless America rather than Your will be done, and we need to step back and rethink things. I think we need to speak words like those of the ER doc in Iraq - I don't think the outcome of this is going to be very good...we need to start to think of things in terms of His kingdom, without concern or regard for borders or flags. To be wholly His, our first pledge of allegiance must be to the cross of Christ, and then to other entities as this first commitment allows.

Blessed are the peacemakers...


5KidMom said...


I think we have been traveling the same journey. Blessed be the peacemakers....indeed.


linzi said...

I really enjoyed this entry of yours on christianity and peacemaking.... I was raised Catholic and long ago left the church (and religion in the general sense). At the same time, I strive to follow ethics I believe are important (just because I dont follow a religion doesn't mean I don't have ethics). One of the reasons I choose to leave Catholicism was the hyporcrasies such as what you have so poignantly spoke about in this entry: the view of americans as higher and more deserving of love and happiness than others, and the view that peace is right- when it is convinent. Additionally, the prograndha against Muslims in the country has long been perpetuated by Christian figures (such as our fundamentalist president). I am happy to see others calling people to reconsider what they believe and whether or not they are following these beliefs truly.

Anonymous said...

Hey Rich, I didn't know you blogged also. Good articles. When is the gang coming back to Kennewick for a visit? Love to all, Nadine

Renee said...

Great thoughts, Great Post!


Brianna Heldt said...

So true. Our citizenship in God's kingdom MUST come before our citizenship in a particular country, organization, whatever. Truly tragic that this perspective has been largely lost on Americans, including myself at times.