Obi Wan Kenobi is Not My Only Hope; “That Preacher of Peace” Is

A violent scene from Star Wars: The Force Awakens. HT to Digital Spy for the image.

My last Star Wars movie was my last Star Wars movie. I enjoyed Rogue One; I thought they did a great job with it and tied it in well with A New Hope. I suppose I should mention, lest it isn’t painfully obvious already, that I’m a “geek.” I’ve enjoyed sci-fi since I was a kid. As I grew up, I came to appreciate how the genre could be used prophetically even, telling the truth about the world we live in with stories about other worlds that if said plainly would fall on deaf ears. Think how relevant George Orwell’s 1984 has become for our current secular political climate, for example. Nonetheless, I won’t see any more Star Wars films. I won’t see any more Marvel or other “superhero” films either, a decision which comes at the unfortunate time just as the I understand generally well-received Logan has come out.

Also, having grown up in the D/FW Metroplex I’ve always been a huge Dallas Cowboys fan. I came of age as the original “triplets” were winning Super Bowls and have remained loyal ever since, which is as natural for a native north Texan as it is to believe that Texas is somehow better than other states because, after all, it was its own country once. Likewise it’s as “natural” for a native north Texan to be a loyal Cowboys fan as it is for a native north Texan (of European descent) to think that the Civil War was about “states’ rights,” but then again both claims- that TX is better than other states and that the Civil War was about “states’ rights-” are obviously demonstrably false and especially in the latter case downright sinful. So of course I really enjoyed this last NFL season for the Cowboys (right up until the very end), and couldn’t have guessed that it would be my last NFL season as a fan.

A violent NFL hit depicted in this YouTube video.

Why, you might wonder, am I giving up Star Wars and NFL/Dallas Cowboys fan-dom? In short, it’s simply because as captivated as I’ve been by sci-fi and the Cowboys for most of my life, they can both undoubtedly be categorized as violent entertainment, and these days I remain even more captivated by “that preacher of peace,” Jesus. As such, I can no longer participate in violence literally nor vicariously through my entertainment. I’ve long been sympathetic toward peacemaking as an ideal that seems to have a clear emphasis in Scripture, and I’ve been blessed to have participated in some churches that took peacemaking seriously, though some more so than others. Still, like most of Jesus’ ideas, I failed to see how the ideal of peacemaking could or should translate into my everyday life. I far too readily subscribed to the lie of “redemptive violence,” for example, a lie which is perpetuated in some of my favorite sci-fi stories, like Star Wars! Likewise I far too readily believed that not only were some wars “just” (with the fight against Hitler being the most commonly used example), but I believed it would likewise be “just-“ifiable if I were to ever “need” to employ violence to protect a child or a loved one. I mean, surely Jesus couldn’t have meant what he said about “turning the other cheek” and loving our enemies and not committing murder, etc.? After all, like so many things, the ideal of peace in the kingdom of God is a worthy aspiration, I’m sure, but in the meantime don’t we live in a “real world” full of “bad hombres” and violent jihadists?

The truth is that however wise I thought I was, however radically I may have thought I followed Jesus in the past by doing Kingdomworks and living in community and giving stuff away from time to time, I nonetheless refused to take Jesus seriously or at his Word. I didn’t believe Jesus meant it when he said to love our enemies and turn the other cheek when they strike us any more than I really believed he meant it when he talked about selling all of one’s possession to give to the poor or when he suggested that if we did give up the “stuff” of this world to follow him, we would be blessed in this present age and the age to come with more of such “stuff-” and relationships- than we could possibly know what to do with. I’ve recently written about my stunning realization that no, Jesus really did mean what he said about not storing up for ourselves treasures on earth and that indeed if we did give up “everything,” like the first disciples, to follow Jesus then we would find that by virtue of our admission into the family of God we would have access to more earthly resources than we could possibly ever accumulate on our own. Indeed, our Father has the “cattle on a thousand hills” and looks after the raven and the flowers in the field; so we can indeed rest assured that he will look after us, especially if we live like the brothers and sisters that we are and look after one another.

But violence? Could Jesus have really meant to preach peace to those who were “near” to God and to those who were “far” away? Could he have really meant for me to work proactively at peacemaking with those around me, giving up violence as a viable option for those who would follow him just as we are clearly called to give up the pursuit of worldly goods, worldly success and power? What about all the horrible “what-ifs” we’re supposed to imagine whenever we get close to actually wanting to live like we follow the Prince of Peace? I’ve long advocated for a “consistent pro-life” stance that not only seeks to limit abortion by investing in women’s healthcare and early education and the social safety net and other resources for those who feel trapped when confronted with an unplanned pregnancy but that also eschews other forms of violence and murder including war and the death penalty. This seemed to make sense simply for integrity’s and again consistency’s sake. It made sense because I came to see that Jesus is supposed to matter in the “real world” or he isn’t much of a savior. He’s supposed to matter when secular politics get tense and nations are tempted to take up arms against one another. He’s supposed to matter in scientific labs where research is being done into ever more inventive ways to blow each other up. After all, how many wars have been fought mostly by people who claimed to be Christian? There’s a beautiful story about violence ceasing long enough for soldiers who had just been trying to kill each other to come together momentarily to celebrate Christmas, for example. But this moment of beauty begs the question of how they could stop for a moment to celebrate God-with-us, the coming of the Prince of Peace, only to resume their worldly blood lust shortly thereafter? When truly considered, it just makes no sense.

So while I came to eschew violence in theory, I never bothered to do any work to become a peacemaker in practice, and it never occurred to me to consider for very long what I allowed to captivate my imagination. I never for very long considered the implications of peacemaking for how I chose to entertain myself. My family, for example, is committed as much as possible to a whole-food, plant-based diet. The more we learned about not only how much healthier such a diet is for our own bodies, but about how many resources that could be used to feed hungry people around the world have been diverted to raise livestock for meat-eaters, the more convinced we became that we could not participate in this injustice. Some readers may or may not know that in order to meet the demand for chicken and the eggs they produce, etc., the poultry industry simply discards baby male chickens. Sometimes they “just” discard them; in other cases baby male chickens ride a conveyor belt at the end of which is a grinder that chews them up, alive. This is (hopefully) obviously abhorrent and entirely inconsistent with the way of life we try to practice as a family; thus we don’t make popcorn on a Friday night and watch videos of chickens or any other living creatures being butchered. Why, then, has it been “okay” all these years to entertain ourselves with people– bearers of the image of God- being butchered, even if for some arguably justifiable reason?

The fact is that I am every day more convinced that this simply is not “okay.” Eyeballs=dollars for advertisers and content producers, after all, and for too long I’ve allowed mine to be seduced by the dark side (Star Wars pun intended). This realization has been dawning in my awareness for some time. Most recently, it occurred as I discovered the origin of Christian Peacemaker Teams. I’ve known about them for quite a while, since our early Circle of Hope days in 1996, but I never knew that they grew out of a talk given by Ron Sider in 1984, which I recently wrote about.  I’m including much of what I said then, because it’s so very relevant to this discussion. I said:

I’ve long been familiar with Ron Sider through his work with ESA and his seminal book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger, which was instrumental when I first read it so many years ago in helping me learn not only that God has a special concern for the poor, but that if I want to follow Jesus well and closely, I should too. What I was less familiar with was his work and advocacy in regard to peacemaking and that it was the talk he gave…that spurred the formation of Christian Peacemaker Teams, whom I likewise have the utmost respect for.

One of the most remarkable, and heartbreaking, things about this speech is that Sider gave it over 30 years ago, but it’s as if it could have been written today. Some of the threats to peace may have changed, but the instability of the world order feels just as fragile these days and the likelihood of global conflict, even nuclear conflict, feels just as ominously possible. Indeed, it was a mere four days ago that the “Doomsday Clock” moved closer to, well, doomsday than it has not in 30 years but in 64.

Against this perilous backdrop, Sider reminds us not only that Jesus was a peacemaker, but that we are to be agents of God’s shalom too. Remember that the Biblical vision of “Shalom” is not one of mere peace. Instead, Sider reminds that “God desires that ‘justice and peace will kiss each other’ (Psalm 85:10). If we try to separate justice and peace, we tear asunder what God has joined together.” But this dynamic works both ways. We can not achieve true peace without justice; nor can we achieve true justice violently. Our current political leaders could take a lesson from this, but I don’t think they will. As Sider says in reference to Jesus’ command “not to resist the one who is evil:” “Apparently Jesus thought that protesting police brutality or engaging in civil disobedience in a nonviolent fashion was entirely consistent with his command not to resist the one who is evil.” Again, Sider wrote this 30 years ago. Sadly, police brutality still commands front page headlines, and nonviolent civil disobedience remains a potent tool in the (nonviolent) arsenal of those who would resist evil, and may be even more necessary in the days to come.

So often those who object to peacemaking as a viable strategy for resisting violence, oppression, and injustice raise hypothetical scenarios in which there are only two options (much as is the case with our polarized secular politics these days, but I digress). Brian Zahnd speaks of this in his important work, A Farewell to Mars. Likewise, Sider reminds us that:

“The most famous advocate of our time, Mahatma Gandhi, once said that if the only two choices are to kill or to stand quietly by doing nothing while the weak are oppressed and killed, then, of course, we must kill. I agree. But there is always a third option. We can always prayerfully and nonviolently place ourselves between the weak and the oppressor.”

Notice what Sider did? He agrees with Gandhi in suggesting that if the only choice were to kill or stand idly by while others are killed, then we must kill. Just as surely, though, those are not the only two choices. Another way, a third option (of perhaps many others) is to stand between the oppressor and the oppressed. This reminds me of a recent sermon Michael Binder of Mill City Church preached about how Jesus confronted others. He speculates that Jesus may have placed himself directly between the woman caught in adultery and those who would stone her when he challenged them to throw the first stone if they were without sin, so that if they did so, he would be directly in the line of fire. Indeed, as I keep learning, what we would-be Jesus followers these days lack perhaps more than anything else is a good “Christian” imagination. We can’t resign ourselves to accepting the choices the domination system gives us. We can’t accept the boxes or categories we keep getting placed in. More often than not, Jesus calls us down a different path.

There are many, many more gems to be mined below that I could go on about, but I want to let Sider speak for himself, after I highlight one final thing. Sider says:

“We must take up our cross and follow Jesus to Golgotha. We must be prepared to die by the thousands. Those who have believed in peace through the sword have not hesitated to die. Proudly, courageously, they gave their lives. Again and again, they sacrificed bright futures to the tragic illusion that one more righteous crusade would bring peace in their time. For their loved ones, for justice, and for peace, they have laid down their lives by the millions. Why do we pacifists think that our way — Jesus’ way — to peace will be less costly?”

That bears repeating: We must be prepared to die by the thousands. How can we who would make peace nonviolently be less courageous than those who think they can do so violently? This is a hard teaching, but no less of a true one than that which caused so many would-be Jesus followers to leave his side in Scripture. In that passage from John, Jesus foreshadows his own willingness to stand in the path of violence for our sake as he tells his followers that his very flesh is the bread of life which alone can sustain and fully satisfy us. This is a hard teaching, indeed, but we can be no less courageous than our leader, Lord, and master, Jesus.

Then, as I was reading another Jonathan Wilson-Hartgrove book which I would highly recommend, The Awakening of Hope

…I came across this page:

This actually came in a chapter about fasting. There’s a whole other chapter titled “Why We Would Rather Die Than Kill.” I don’t want to delve too deeply into atonement theories here, as they’re not the focus of this post. What was so startling about this little bit above though was the re-framing of Jesus’ work on the cross as the ultimate, even salvific, act of non-violence. Among the many things the cross no doubt represents, it also shows us how not only does the end of our story as Jesus-followers (when God’s shalom and his reign of love and justice finally and fully come) interrupt us in the middle of it, but also how God acts in Jesus to interrupt the cycle of violence that has been at work since the fall. Wilson-Hartgrove writes about our inability to stop the perpetuation of retributive violence (see: the Middle East from time immemorial through the present day, or the “war on terror,” or our system of capital punishment) and holds up Jesus as the model of God’s willingness to interrupt the cycle of retributive violence for us. Jesus absorbed the world’s violence on the cross without retaliating. We are called to do likewise.

So, given that Lent was just beginning, I realized what I needed to do. I needed to once and for all do my best to give up violence- and violent entertainment- not just for Lent, but for life. It was the next step in the many ways Jesus has been “interrupting” my life and that of my family over the last little while. So this became our family “focus” for Lent:

…and these are the books I’m reading in preparation for Easter:

Missing from this stack is Ron Sider’s “Nonviolent Action: What Christian Ethics Demands but Most Christians Have Never Really Tried,” which I will read too.

In the meantime the call of “that preacher of peace” in my life has given me the opportunity to get “smaller” and simplify my life even a bit more. The Star Wars and Dallas Cowboys memorabilia I had accumulated over the years is gone, and the time I would have spent consuming violent entertainment has been redeemed, along with a little more, I hope, of my own violent soul. Thanks be to God.


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