Thursday, December 03, 2009

Finding True Peace

On Sunday, as we gather to share in the observance of Advent, we will light the peace candle. We light this candle recognizing that the nation many us live in is at war. So, what is peace and what is it that we long for?

In contemplation of this question, one that may need to be taken through the refiner's fire of Malachi 3 -- the text I'm preaching Sunday -- I would like to reflect on a paragraph from Reinhold Niebuhr. Based on my earlier posts about Afghanistan, it may not surprise that I turn to this great ethicist, preacher, and theologian. So, consider this from his collected political writings:

The only true peace within and among human communities is the peace of forgiveness which grows out of contrition for sin. It is not a peace of perfect accord of life with life, but a peace which is established beyond the frictions of life. And this is a peace beyond the judgment of the moralists, who never fully recognize how much the judgment of the righteous upon the evil dower is below the ultimate and divine judgment. It is the judgment of an unrighteous self upon his fellows. There are of course legitimate judgments of the relatively righteous upon the unrighteous. But even when the unrighteous are obviously so, there is no vantage point in history from which a simple judgment against them can be pronounced. Reconciliation with even the most evil foe requires forgiveness; and forgiveness is possible only to those who have some recognition of common guilt. The pain of contrition is the root of the peace of forgiveness. (Larry Rasmussen, ed., Reinhold Niebuhr: theologian of public life. Harper Collins, 1989, p. 133).

I find this profoundly helpful -- we can only find peace, when we recognize our own need of forgiveness. If we believe that we are somehow more righteous than someone else, we will not be in a position to come together. Yes, there is need of justice and judgment, but who is in the position to cast such judgment? Surely, that is God -- and while we may play some role in this, we must always, it would seem to me, do so understanding that we are also among the judged.


John said...

As parishioners, humbly sitting in our seats and worshiping our God, how DO we properly acknowledge our own role in the violence we see around us, how DO we properly acknowledge our own role in the oppression around us?

It is easy enough to compartmentalize (even the pagans do this) and focus on worship and shut out the evil in the world.

But we worship from our vantage point located within a world which has seen fit to bless us with wealth beyond the dreams of the vast majority of God's children, and we cannot long ignore the violence and the oppression all around us until it comes crashing down upon us like a house afire.

And how genuine is our worship if we cannot see our own role in the evil around us, no matter how passive we perceive our role in the melee.

Perhaps we are too invested to see the connection to ourselves, or, if we can see the connection, perhaps we are too invested to do much in response. Nevertheless, as people engaged in genuine worship of their and creator, redeemer, and sustainer, we are bound to confess what we have done, and what we have witnessed in silence. If we do not confess it, we accept it.

We are being disingenuous to our God if we merely claim bystander status and/or blame shift.


Anonymous said...

If we wouldn't have our name affixed to the projectiles, if we can't put ourselves in our agents’ shoes, we are hypocrites. They are our weapons and our agents go in our place. That's the curse of freedom and democracy. If we don't scream that we are free and refuse the label. If we don't ponder and protest, we must own it, or admit complacency. If I was unemployed, I might sleep better. At least I wouldn't be financing this grotesque game. Who or what are we being “led” into? Are we there yet? David Mc

Anonymous said...

"but who is in the position to cast such judgment?"

I judge my actions, those I choose to follow and those with great power- yes. I'm not fearful of man's judgment. If they are fearful of mine, so be it. Fear is a good motivator for the selfish. The sins have not ended. I judge sin- for my own sake. David Mc