Tag Archives: Jesus

Cherokee Seven Direction Dreamcatcher

For the past few years I have been sitting with the Cherokee concepts of seven directions. I knew that I wanted to create something to physically represent the concepts held within these seven directions. However I couldn’t quite figure out how to do this….then during a Labor Day backpacking trip, things just fell into place with a picture of what could be. Though the final result was a bit different, the concepts and points given to me by the Creator on that trip stayed the same. And with that, I would like to share the seven directions with you all. =)

The Seven Directions

Like a lot of Indigenous people across Tuttle Island (i.e. North America), the Cherokees assigned a color and a meaning to each the four cardinal directions:

  • East -> red -> success; triumph
  • North -> blue -> defeat; trouble
  • West -> black -> death
  • South -> white -> peace; happiness

What is unique (at least as far as I’ve been able to determine) is that the Cherokees recognize three other directions:

  • Above -> yellow -> the sky above
  • Below -> brown -> the earth below
  • Center -> green -> where we are right now

Though I’m still researching the symbolism of the latter three, I do know that ‘above’ doesn’t represent ‘heaven’ nor does ‘below’ represent ‘hell.’ Heaven and hell are Greco Roman concepts that were combined with Hebraic thought through the move of Christianity into Europe.  Cherokee cosmology has a different outlook on those directions of which I have barely scratched. Hopefully I will be able to understand more about them as time goes on…but for now just know that ‘above’ and ‘below’ are separate from the modern cultural concepts of ‘heaven’ and ‘hell.’

Praying to the Directions

For a lot of Indigenous people prayers physical in nature. We will commonly turn to the four directions (east, west, north, & south) while praying to the Creator. It is a way to physically connect with our surroundings while lifting our voice to the Lord. I would connect this to the ancient Hebraic practice of sacrifices or the offering of incenses at the Temple. Both practices include a physical action in conjunction with prayers to the Creator. Modern Christian practices along these lines include prayer walking, pacing during prayer meetings, dancing, flag waving, clapping, etc. The primary difference being, of course, that these latter actions aren’t necessarily done in a specific order whereas praying to the directions includes turning to face a certain direction before saying a prayer.

In pondering the seven directions of the Cherokees, there have been times when I have physically faced each of the directions while giving thanks to the Creator. Though it seemed strange at first, there is something refreshing about having a physical response to act out while praying. It is also a good reminder that Jesus surrounds and protects us from harm in all directions. I would liken it to Saint Patrick’s Breastplate:

Christ with me, Christ before me,

Christ behind me, Christ within me,

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ at my right, Christ at my left,

The 8th section of Saint Patrick’s Breastplate

Dreamcatchers

As you all no doubt noticed from the title and below picture, the end result of my art project was a seven direction dreamcatcher. This was because the circular structure of the dreamcatcher just seemed to fit with the theme and concepts I wanted to convey. Historically dreamcatchers are from the Ojibwe people of the Great Lake region and southern Canada. They were adopted as a generic symbol of identification for Native Americans/First Nations cultures during the Pan-Indian Movement of the 1960s/70s. The mainstream public also started seeing them around this time with dreamcatchers being a craft item in the 80s and 90s.

Among the Ojibwe people, dreamcatchers were associated with Asibikaashi (Spider Women) who would protect them from harm by weaving a spider web around them. Hence the spider web design of the dreamcatchers. Noting, of course, that the Ojibwe concept was less about dreams and more about protection from harm in general. The dream component became attached to the object as it went out from the Ojibwe to the rest of the country.

Though I’m not one for charms, I do like the symbolism of the dreamcatcher with protection. It goes back to Saint Patrick’s Breastplate and the prayers to the seven directions for Christ to surround us with his protection. Psalm 91 would be a good example of prayers of this type as would Psalm 139. This latter psalm, by the way, includes several of the seven directions as King David declares the presence of the Creator around himself:

You know when I sit and when I rise;

you perceive my thoughts from afar.

You discern my going out and my lying down;

you are familiar with all my ways.

Before a word is on my tongue

you, Lord, know it completely.

You hem me in behind and before,

and you lay your hand upon me.

Psalm 139:2-5, NIV

The Materials

I have often said that the way in which you do something is just as important as what you do. In this case, I sought out seven different biological materials to form the foundations of my seven direction dreamcatcher. Circles were used as a primary design motif due to the symbolism of circles in the cycle of the seasons, life, time, and nature itself.  I initially wanted seven circles (one per direction) but in the end I went with six circles due to the ease of construction and overall look.

The rings themselves are made of the following materials:

  • East -> pine -> One of the few trees who stayed awake throughout the seven days of the Cherokee creation story. Since the east is the direction of creation, I placed the pine ring in that direction.
  • North  -> aspen -> When I think of the north, aspen trees come to mind as they are native to the colder regions of North America. Hence the placement of this wood.
  • West -> sage  -> Sage is a ceremonial plant for many Native Americans and is burned when praying as a way to purify oneself. I figured that since the west was the direction of death, it could use some extra prayer and purity.
  • South  -> corn  -> South is the place of happiness and peace to the Cherokee. Hence I used the leaves of the corn plant as the foundation under the white leather in remembrance of Selu the Corn Mother.
  • Up Above and Down Below  -> willow -> Running through and surrounding the other directions is a large ring of willow which represents Jesus of Nazareth through whom all things that were, are, and will be made (e.g. John 1:3, Col 1:16). The weeping nature of the willow played a part in choosing this wood as Jesus wept over Jerusalem when the people failed to respond to his call to walk with him in peace and love (Luke 19:41-44). Furthermore, willows need a lot of water to survive hence why they are normally found near creeks and rivers. Hence the connection (at least in my mind) with the living water of the Holy Spirit that flows throughout Creation (Revelation 22:1-5).
  • Center  ->  oak  -> The oak tree was an important part of Cherokee life with acorns being ground up to make bread, the inner bark used in baskets, and the wood itself used to keep the Sacred Fire alive. Hence the usage of this wood to create the center ring of where each us stands. This is the place where we are; where we live and breathe.

In addition to the six rings, there is a collection of other material used within this dreamcatcher. Below are some thoughts on these items:

  • The Weave – At first I wasn’t sure about the weave as dreamcatchers aren’t really my style. However as I thought about it, I like the concept of the Holy Spirit weaving his way throughout the seven directions and within our lives. He is the one, after all, who calls us toward the Cross which is in the center of life (John 14:15-17).  
  • The Cross – Inside the center ring is a small cross made of spruce. Similar to the pine, the spruce tree stayed awake throughout creation and therefore was blessed with the gift of staying green year-round. The Cross, though bloodied with death and pain, forms the genesis of a new life in and through Jesus. It is a symbol of what was and what is to come.
  • Beads – There are seven small beads within the three center circles (west, center, and east). The three larger gray ones are jasper while the four smaller ones are mahogany obsidian. The mahogany obsidian bead represents the blood of Christ that saves us (east), is saving us (center), and one day will save us (west). There are four obsidian beads in each of the three groups of seven for the four gospel letters which tell us the story of Jesus while the total of 12 is for the twelve apostles who walked with Christ. The three jaspers in each group of seven are for the Trinity (Father, Son, and Spirit). Surrounding the center ring within the weave itself are four jasper beads for the four winds that blow across the earth carrying with them the Spirit of the Living Creator (John 3:8).  
  • Feathers – The feathers are more for me than to share as some things are better left a mystery. Just know that they have a personal meaning that are not connected to the seven directions. =)

BLM, Jesus, and Historical Trauma

A few days ago I attending a Black Lives Matter prayer vigil in front of the Idaho State capital building. There were close to 5,000, if not more, people at the vigil which was very peaceful and well organized. The central part of the vigil was the moment in which we paused in silent in remembrance of the black lives killed at the hands of the police. Every 15 seconds during this time a name was read out loud with the crowd repeating it. To say that this was a holy and powerful experience would be an understatement.

Black Lives Matter prayer vigil on June 2, 2020

Towards the end of the vigil during the singing of a spiritual, a chain of trucks and cars drove around the crowd with Trump and USA flags flying high. Verbal comments were thrown out of the vehicles towards the people peacefully remembering and praying for those lost.

In watching this display, I was struck by the context of a symbol can affect how it is perceive and received. An American flag by itself can bring to the forefront a fairly neutral memory of a nation. Flying this same flag on a vehicle driving around a Black Lives Matter prayer vigil change it to one of horror and pain. You see, it was under the American flag that African women and men were taken from Africa and sold into slavery within this country. And it is under this same flag that modern black women and men are oppressed and killed.

In a similar way, it was those under the USA flag who sought to wipe out the indigenous nations of this land. This includes members of my family who lived and died as Cherokee Indians. The memory of these relatives remain strong despite the years that have gone by.

Before attending the Black Lives Matter prayer vigil, I watched a video by one of the organizers. In this video, the comment was made that they did not trust the police because of the centuries of abuse at the hands of the people in power. This was because the police, National Guard, and USA Military have been used to harm communities of color (black, brown and red) for hundreds of years. Trust, once lost, is extremely hard to regain.

It wasn’t that long ago that the FBI was worked against the Civil Rights and American Indian Movements through their Counterintelligence Program by discrediting organizations the government didn’t like. It wasn’t that long ago that police forces tried to stop Marin Luther King Jr. and the peaceful nonviolent protests of the Civil Right era.

Sheriffs and US Marshals were used by the government to arrest Cherokee citizens living in their land without a warrant and haul them across the national border to prison without a trial. It was the police and other law enforcement members who forcefully took Cherokee children away from their homes to be raised in government sponsored boarding school. “Kill the Indian, and Save the Man” as USA Brigadier General Richard H. Pratt said in 1892.

What we are seeing today is the result of hundreds of years of community trauma and built up rage. People can only be oppressed for so long before they rise up. Shoot, the USA nation itself was founded by people who rioted and looted (e.g. Boston tea party) after been oppressed by a government who didn’t seem to care about them.

Being a follower of Jesus of Nazareth, I can’t help but go back and look at him.

Jesus of Nazareth was born in the 1st century to a Jewish family living under the rule of the Roman Empire. The people of Israel had at that time spent hundreds of years living under various oppressive regimes (Babylon, Greek, Roman). Yes, they had a brief time of independence under the Hasmonean dynasty, but that just sought to strength their resolve to be free.

Each of these regimes sought to wipe out the Jewish culture/religion/language (not unlike how the USA treated the Native Americans). In response to this, many of the Jews turned to riots and violence in hopes of finding justice. Jesus himself lived through multiple of these upraising.

Interestingly enough, we don’t have record of Jesus condemning these uprisings beyond the simple statement that those who live by the sword die by the sword. In contrast to this we have TONS of records of him condemning the religious leaders who supported the status quo (Sadducees and Pharisees). We also see Jesus recurring one of the nationalist rebels (Simon the Zealot) along with someone who could be considered a traitor to the nation of Israel (Matthew the tax collector) and making them part of his inner group. Through love and reconciliation, Jesus brought them together as a family who loved and carried for each other.

Building from this place of reconciliation, Jesus added in members of the occupying military force (i.e. various Roman army leaders) along with some Sadducees, Pharisees, regular folks, and, most likely, other Zealots. The unifying point was love and justice as seen in and through the person of Jesus of Nazareth. Noting, of course, that Jesus led multiple peaceful protests and at least one violence protest (i.e. turning over the money tables in the temple) against the powers that be. It was these actions that got him killed.

Bring this back to modern times, I strongly feel that true leadership is one that acknowledges and works to heal the historical trauma experienced by African-Americans, Latinos, Indigenous, and other minority groups within the USA by the government and dominant culture of the USA. We need a national dialogue on race, gender and class through a Truth and Conciliation Commission similar to what happened in South Africa, Canada, and other countries. Without such a commission, we will never be able to truly heal our country and our people.

Thoughts From The Long Man

The water ran fast and high. Snow melt from the mountains hundreds of miles away flowed through the veins of this creek, filling its banks and covering the roots of the trees whose company it loved. Named the Long Man by the Tsalagi (Cherokee) of old, creeks and rivers like this one were honored for the liquid life it brought to the land. Throughout the year when things were out of balance, they would visit the Long Man to reset themselves with the pains of the past flowing downriver while the life of the new waters covered them from above.

Though I was thousands of miles from the origins of the blood and the land of my youth, I needed to find the Long Man. My shoulders hurt from the weight of the last few weeks and the decisions made and being made. Easter, that time of renewal for the followers of Jesus, was a dark time this year filled with pain and hurt. The screams of Jesus of Nazareth on the cross were felt more powerfully in my core this year than ever before. I needed a reset. Only I didn’t know how to break away from the daily grind and the insolation of the Covid home rest.

On a whim I decided to humor my oldest son with a bike ride through the neighborhood. Starting off without a plan, we rode forward into the West – chasing afternoon sun towards the darkening land of death as symbolic known to the Tsalagi. Today’s death was to be the weight on my shoulders as we stumbled upon the Long Man winding his way through the land. Finding him was a surprise as we did not expect to locate him where we did. He’s path was further south, or so we though.  

Laying down our bicycles, we proceed to climb over the trees leaning out into his path. Water flowed rapidly under us as we sat and watched. Reaching down, the cold snow feed water froze my hand as the force of the flow pulled me downward. Now was the time, he seemed to say. Let go your stress; let go your burdens; let them flow downward into the depths.

Perhaps, I thought, this is why the ancient Israelites made the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem to celebrate the Passover and other such festivals. They knew that they need to let things go as we all take on too much. Perhaps, even, this is why Jesus told us to partake of Communion when we gather together. We all need to be reminded that he took our burdens while on the cross. It isn’t just the burden of salvation, as important as that is, but of daily life. We need to be cleaned on a regular basis. We need to jump into the water and let the waves of the Long Man wash over us.

On a theological basis, I understand why people only get baptized once. However, there isn’t a hard rule as to why we can’t continue to die to ourselves and be baptized again and again. We need to be reset from time to time. We need to have the flow of water – the Long Man or the Living Water of the Spirit – flow over us, washing us clean and carrying our burdens downstream away from us.

I write this a day after this event and even though something mystical happened that day at the Long Man, I can feel the burdens of life starting to come back. Keeping them off is a hard thing. Second by second, the weight of the world tries to come back to rest of the shoulders of those of us who walk this land. Thank you, Creator, for walking with us and for knocking off these burdens as they fly back to us! We survive only because of your mercy, love, and grace. May we always look to you each moment of each day. Wado and Amen.

“On the Incarnation” by Saint Athanasius

Saint Athanasius’ primary focus is to explain why the Creator God had to take on bodily flesh for the salvation of humanity.[1] To that end, he first addresses the dilemma of life/death and knowledge/ignorance before looking at the death of Jesus and his resurrection. The final two sections of the book deals with the Jewish and Gentile objections to the incarnation and resurrection. Athanasius ends the book with a request for the reader to not only study the scriptures, but to live a “life modeled on the saints”[2] so that they can fully understand the words of the scripture. This ending effectively drives home the point that the incarnation cannot be fully understood by those who are not actively following Jesus and allowing the Spirit to cleanse their soul.


[1] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, trans. John Behr (Yonkers, New Jersey: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 2011), 49-50.

[2] Athanasius, On the Incarnation, 110..

Being Missional

Elder Paisios the Athonite once said, “The goal of reading is the application, in our lives, of what we read.” No truer words can be spoken about Kingdom Theology and the three themes intertwined within that worldview. Our theology is to be lived out clearly for the world to see. Otherwise we fool ourselves into thinking that we are something we are not. James put it this way in his letter:

“Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do.” (James 1:22-25)

If we claim to be servants of the King, then we must focus on our lives and set our hearts on the King’s business. Everything we do must be centered around and lead to the promotion of the King’s mission. We are to be intentional and deliberate in declaring that the rule and reign of the Creator King has broken into human history and has provided humanity with a new way to live life. It is this deliberateness that causes one to become missional in everything. Our life no longer belongs to ourselves, but has become pledged to the King of Kings.

I cannot overstate the power of living on mission. All too often we think that following Jesus means praying a short prayer of salvation one day then spending the remaining decades sitting on a church pew each Sunday. During the week, we are free to pursue whatever dreams or desires we want as long as we read our Bible, pray occasionally, pay our tithes and don’t do this or that like all good little Christians. This view of the Christian life does not reflect the reality of what it means to follow Jesus and join with him on his mission. I don’t know about you, but I didn’t sign up for a country club; I signed up to change the world with Jesus and to defeat the forces of evil that destroy and enslave billions of people worldwide!

We, the people of God, need to change the stories that we are telling each other. We need to get rid of the “American Dream”, where we pursue the nice little house with the white picket fence, two cars, a boat, some kids and a steady job. Life is not about shopping, hunting, sports, parties, how many activities you do or how much stuff you own. Life isn’t even about how often you show up at church or what religious activities you perform. Jesus said life was about following him.

In the first century, disciples of a Jewish rabbi would leave their families, homes and communities with the single-minded focus of learning to live life like their rabbi. They didn’t just want to know what information their rabbi knew; they wanted to think, act and be like them. There are even stories of disciples following their rabbi into the bathroom in an effort to know everything about them, so that they could replicate it in their own lives. While slightly humorous, those stories tell us a lot about those disciples. They weren’t fooling around, adding on religious activities or mindless prayers to their daily schedules. They were serious about living life. They had a mission and nothing, not even a bathroom door, was going to stop them from their goal of being like their rabbi.

Shouldn’t we be that way towards our rabbi, the King of Kings? Perhaps, instead of simply going to church and doing all the “right” things, we should be intentional and deliberate in being like him. Jesus told his disciples at the Last Supper that if they loved him, they would keep his commands (John 14:15–21). And what were his commands? To proclaim that the kingdom of God is near, heal the sick, cast out demons, cleanse the lepers, raise the dead, love God the Father with their whole heart, body, mind and soul and love their neighbors as themselves. Seven things. That’s it. If we have bowed our knees to King Jesus, we are to daily crucify our own desires and pick up the cross of Jesus, committing to walk out these seven commandments of the King. And though we may fail – or rather, even though we will fail – we are to get back up and try again and again and again and again.

Paul told the church in Corinth that they were to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1). How awesome would it be if the churches around the world were filled with people so dedicated to the King of Kings that they told their neighbors, co-workers, family members and strangers to follow their example as they followed the example of Jesus? If this happened, it would radically change the world in which we live. Religiosity would stop, people would be quick to ask for, and give, forgiveness, the hungry would be fed and people would know there was another way to live life. Sin, evil and death would lose their power as people embrace the rule and reign of the Creator King.

 

Excerpt from my book The Here and Not Yet (pages 219-221) published by Vineyard International Publishing. Available in paperback and ebook versions – click here to find out more.

What if Jesus had implemented a system of financial accountability?

Judas Iscariot

I was reading through the Gospel According to John when the following verse jumped out at me. (sadly this is a common event for books in the Unseen University library; hence the need for quick reflexes and a sharp knife – some of the books have claws after all!)

But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, “Why wasn’t this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year’s wages.” He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it. (John 12:4-6, NIV)

Perhaps it was because of an earlier conversation with a new church planter about the need for financial accountability or just because of the way the clouds aligned that day, but I couldn’t stop a nagging thought from moving to the forefront of my mind:

What would happened if Jesus, the Man himself, had implemented a system of financial accountability within his traveling preaching group? Why, for example, didn’t he have Matthew, a former tax collector, double check the income and expense books? Why did he full financial authority to just one man?

Close behind these questions came another group of forbidden questions:

If Jesus had set up a system of financial checks and balances, would Judas have betrayed him? As in, did Judas – whom Jesus obviously trusted – start walking towards the dark side after he found himself in a position to skim a little money without anyone knowing? Or did his conversation to the dark side happen beforehand?

If history has taught us anything, it has taught us that even the most trustworthy person can be tempted by the dark side when put into a compromising position…. Hence my thought that Judas’ journey toward betrayal started with the simple act of taking a bit of coin on the side. 😕

Though we will never know the answer to these questions, we can learn from Jesus’ mistake and create a system of financial accountability. No matter how trustworthy a person is, it is never good to have one person in total control over the groups money. Let us, therefore, use some wisdom and make sure we keep the books clean and balanced (after all The Librarian likes his books well cared for – well that and bananas).

 

Update: Sigh… it seems that the internet doesn’t like my comment that we can “learn from Jesus’ mistake.” This post isn’t an attack on Jesus’ divinity or anything like that. Making a “mistake” doesn’t mean Jesus sinned; it just means that Jesus was like us – as the author of Hebrew says – and lived through all the things that we did. I’m sure Jesus as a child make some mistakes while working in the shop with Joseph or helping his mother. Making a mistake does not mean he is any less of who he is just like me making a mistake doesn’t change who I am.

I’m sure Jesus had a reason for giving Judas full control of the money; it may have even been something that was culturally appropriate at the time. I don’t know. All I know is that in reading the text, it seems that Jesus placed his trust in the wrong person and got betrayed for that choice. God turned a bad situation into something good – as he has a tendency to do. Jesus would have been betrayed by someone at some point as John 17:12 tells us that someone was “doomed to destruction so that Scripture would be fulfilled.”

Regardless of all this, I do believe that we can learn from what happened – hence this post. So please do not to turn this into something it is not. Thanks.

 

 

The Forgotten Story of Palestinian Christians

There are times when things that we should know about are lost in the avalanche of information that surrounds us each day. The stories of what happened to – and what is happening to – the Palestinian Christians is something that we should know more about. Sadly most of American Protestant Christianity has bought into a theological system that rejects these followers of Jesus while embracing the secular state of Israel.

Though it may not be a popular stance, I firmly believe that followers of Jesus MUST stand up for each other no matter what our ethnicity or race. As such while I don’t have a problem with existences of the nation of Israel, I do have a problem with the way they treat the Palestinian Christians – not to mention Palestinians in general.

And, yes, I understand that there are Palestinian groups who are actively fighting against Israel. And yes, I know this causes security issue. So why I’m not smart enough to know how to solve the political situation, I do know that Jesus of Nazareth said to love and bless EVERYONE – even those who are trying to kill you. As such I feel that American followers of Jesus must learn how to shift through the noise to hear the voices of our Palestinian brothers and sisters who are following Jesus.

The book Blood Brothers: The Dramatic Story of a Palestinian Christian Working for Peace in Israel by Archbishop Emeritus Dr. Elias Chacour of the Melkite Greek Catholic Church is a good starting point in learning about the history of Palestinian Christians.

Published in 1984, the book starts off with Chacour’s family getting ready to celebrate the return of the Jews in 1947 to the land. As Melkite Christians, they often prayed for their Jewish “blood brothers” and were glad to have them return to the land. Sadly the military machine of the new nation didn’t like having a group of Palestinians living near the Lebanese border, so they forcefully removed Chacour’s family and all the people of Kafr Bir’im. Later on the military will destroy all the buildings in the village in an effort to keep the people from returning. Despite losing everything, Chacour’s father modeled the forgiveness of Jesus while teaching his children what it meant to be a peacemaker.

As the book goes on, the reader learns more about Chacour’s journey with Jesus and how he became a priest. Woven throughout the book is the theme of forgiveness and understanding. This is not a book that seeks to slander the nation of Israel or the Jews who were returning to the land after War World Two. Rather it looks at the historic facts while bring to light that not all the Jews who returned to the land wanted to drive out the Palestinians. Sadly the voices of peace and love were crushed under the war machine of anger and hate.

The people of Jesus are to be peacemakers. And to be a peacemaker you have to know the history of those with whom you are trying to make peace. Hence I would recommendation reading Elias Chacour’s Blood Brothers. Read it as a history lesson from a group of people hidden from American church culture and then let the message of forgiveness and peace pour out to those around you.

Random Thoughts on Peace and Non-Violence

Like a lot of people, today has been an odd day with lots of thoughts floating my skull. It started last night though I knew nothing of the Las Vegas tragedy until this morning.

For me, my thoughts started with Thomas Cahill’s book Sailing The Wine-Dark Seas: Why the Greeks Matter which I was reading. In this book, Cahill notes that one of the most cherished philosophical foundation of Western culture is that war is a natural part of life. As Heraclitus (535-475 BC) once said, “War is the father of all, the king of all.” Plato (427-347 BC) would echo this saying years later with his statement that war is a necessity  “always existing by nature.”

Armed with this philosophical foundation, the Greeks developed a fighting style that could help them conquer the known world under the leadership of Alexander the Great. The Romans would later build on this foundation of war, gifting the Western world with the knowledge on how to kill people with great efficiency – as WW1, WW2, the Cold War, nuclear arms, and the like attest.

This morning on the way to work I found myself at a stop light staring at a “peace” sign made up of rifles with the phrase “There’s no peace without guns” next to it. As I sat there, I couldn’t help but think about the sadness of this saying… though it may make perfect sense to some, it seems counter to the way of Jesus of Nazareth who told his followers to turn the other cheek (Mt 5:38-40), love and bless those who hate them (Mt 5:43-48, Lk 6:27-36), and forgive those who harm them (Lk 23:34, Acts 7:60).

A few minutes after I saw this sticker, a NPR story came on about the Las Vegas shooting – which was the first I had heard about the tragedy….


Growing up I had a temper that went extremely well with my red hair. I would purposely pick fights with my older brother (who would then proceed to beat the snot out of me), friends, and various cousins. Though this temper dampened a bit as I grew older, it was an encounter with Jesus during my teen years that started me on a journey of learning how to control my emotions.

Years later I read Colin Woodard’s book American Nations which brought to light some of my feelings growing up. In this book, Woodard highlights the eleven different cultural nations within the United States. The area I grew up in was called the Greater Appalachia and was settled by folks from the “war-ravaged borderlands of Northern Ireland, northern England, and the Scottish lowlands” (a description that matches my family history perfectly). Immigrants from there areas brought with them a culture of personal sovereignty and individual liberty shaped by a “state of constant danger” and a need to protect their livestock (something cultural anthropologist have noted, especially in comparison with more farm based cultures which thrive in more peaceful areas).

I mention this background as I want you all to know that I understand some of the warrior culture that is rampant in the USA today. It is normal to want to fight back – to be on the winning side. It is also normal to want to hold on to the weapons allowed our forefathers to create this nation of ours. And, if I’m perfectly honest, there is part of me who wants to continue living this way. Only I met Someone who wouldn’t let me continue along that path…

The more I get to know Jesus, the more I realize that what I think is “normal” is really “abnormal.” Reading the four gospel accounts of the life of Jesus changed the way I viewed the world around me as well as how I read the rest of the Bible.

Then there are people like Rick Love, Micael Grenholm, and Brad Jersak who challenge me to think though the way of peace and non-violence. And, not to be forgotten, authors like Brian Zahnd, Greg Boyd, Desmond Tutu, and Alexander Venter provided me with additional puzzle pieces to hold and ponder.

Though I haven’t quite figured out how everything fits together; I do know is that I firmly believe that violence begets violence and revenge is something best left for the Creator. I don’t know what that means for public policy nor what I would do if personally attacked. I just know that I must continue my walk towards pacifism as it seems to be the direction Jesus, the Prince of Peace, is walking.

One day, the Creator promised, there will be no more war, no more death, and no more crying. Until that that day, I will cry with my brothers and sisters who suffer at the hands of mad men and women who think that violence is the way forward.


A Prayer

May the One Who Cries hold all those affect by Las Vegas close by,
May He shed tears of sorrow with them,
May He embrace their pain and give them peace,
May He bring comfort in the midst of unanswerable questions.
Amen.

Symbols of the Confederacy or Jesus?

There is a lot of talk these days about the symbols of the Confederacy. As a southern born and raised follower of Jesus, I thought I would add my voice to the conversation. As dangerous as that might be…

When talking about symbols of any kind, we must understand two very important things about them. The first is that understanding that symbols are more than the material used to create them. They bring to the surface a full range of emotions because of what they represent. As I write in my recent book, The Here and Not Yet:

Symbols are powerful. They can bring a tear to an eye, give hope to the hopeless and inspire people to go beyond themselves. They can also summon up anger, grief and rage in a blink of an eye. Symbols in and of themselves are nothing; hardly worth the cloth or paper they are made on. Yet to us humans, the right symbol could cause us to do things that we would never do on our own. Just think about the soldiers who risked their lives to raise the United States flag on Iwo Jima during War World II. On the surface their actions were crazy and not worth the blood and sweat that it took. Yet, because they raised a symbol and not just a piece of cloth, their blood and sweat was worth it.

Or to use another example, think about the symbol of two pieces of wood laid on top of each other in the shape of the letter “t”. The cross. In some parts of the world, the simple act of drawing a cross would mean certain death. Why? Is there something magical about two lines crossing each other in a certain pattern? No! The lines themselves are not the problem; the problem is in what those two lines represent. In drawing a cross, the artist is declaring that their loyalty, heart, soul, mind, and body belong to King Jesus and no one else. That cross, however simple it is drawn, tells the story about a Creator who entered into his creation so that those made in his image could be free from all evil. That is why the cross is feared in certain parts of the world. (pages 167-168)

The second thing to remember about symbols is that they mean different things to different people. And the meaning constantly changes over time. The cross, for example, started out as a symbol of the military might of the Roman Empire before becoming a symbol of Christianity. Its meaning changed yet again when Constantine painted the symbol on the shields of his army before the Battle of the Milvian Bridge. And so forth and so forth.

The point of all this is that when we talk about symbols we need to keep in mind that the meaning of a symbol change depending on the culture of the viewer, the time during which the symbol is used, and the location of the symbol. An American flag, for example, flying over a public school building in Idaho will have a different meaning than the same flag flying cover a military unit in Iraq. The emotions that come to the surface while viewing that flag will also change depending on one’s culture, background, and geographical location. A school kid in Idaho looking at that flag will have a different range of emotions than a USA soldier or an Iraqi citizen.

While it is tempting to try to assign a value to the emotions experienced by each of these people (i.e. to say that the soldier’s emotions is good while the Iraqi’s emotions are bad), the followers of Jesus must resist that urge. To follow King Jesus is to give up one’s national, personal, and religious symbols in exchange for his symbols and his meanings.

This is why Paul the Apostle fought so hard against the symbols of Judaism (e.g. circumcision, the temple, kosher meals, and a physical presence in the land of Israel) some wish to imposed on the Gentile church members. To a 1st century follower of Judaism, these were the symbols that marked who was and was not a member of the people of God. They had fought and died over for years for the right to keep those symbols.

Paul, in following the way of Jesus, recognized that these symbols had to undergo a metamorphosis if the church was to truly be the people of God. The changes championed by Paul caused a lot of problems in the early church as people did not want give up their symbols, as noted in the Acts and some of Paul’s letters. Yet ultimately the Jewish followers of Jesus realized that they had to let go of their hard-fought symbols so that God could use them to change the world.

We are in a similar position.

We can hang on tight to the symbols of our youth and culture (e.g. Confederate flag, Civil War monuments, etc.) while denying the pain of our fellow sisters and brothers who experience a different set of emotions when viewing those same symbols. Or we can follow the path of humanity as modeled by Jesus, Paul, and the early church in letting go of the symbols of our youth so that we can fully embrace our sisters and brothers as a new community born out of a love for Jesus.

Pride or humility.

It really is that simple.

Peace and Reconciliation: Looking Not To Our Own Interests…

Last week I attended the Willow Creek Global Leadership Summit for the first time. Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, spoke on Thursday about fighting on behalf of those on the edge of society. Immaculée Ilibagiza, a survivor of the 1994 Rwandan genocide, spoke the following day about the importance of forgiveness and reconciliation.

That evening, Friday, August 11th, waves of hate flowed out of hades on to the streets of Charlottesville.

In the days that followed that initial onslaught, the hatred continued to build as the goo of evil slimed the United States of America. While some political leaders spoke out against the hatred of the neo-Nazi and white supremacy groups, our president remained largely silent. And when he did speak, he ultimately spoke up on behalf of those deep within the wave of hate.

Though I knew we as a nation were still working towards full racial reconciliation, I must admit that I didn’t realize how far behind we really were. Perhaps my status as a white male has clouded my vision…perhaps I wanted to believe that we were further along the path…perhaps…perhaps….

The one thing I know for sure is that the way of the Creator is one of peace and reconciliation.

Hatred, racism, ethnocentrism, and nationalism has no place in the kingdom of God. In pledging our allegiance to Jesus, we have renounce not only Satan and the forces of evil, but also our nationalist and racial claims. We are now members of a new Kingdom under a new King whose citizens span the globe and the course of history. We are, as John the Revelator said, part of a “great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb” (Revelation 7:9, NIV).

Let us, therefore, lay down our ethnic and nationalistic pride and stand with the least of these – with the racial minorities – with those on the edge of society – with those who don’t have a voice. As the Apostle Paul said long ago to another group who was racially divided:

If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus. (Philippians 2:1-5, NIV)