The New Commandments of Love: Blessed are the Peacemakers

This might become a series. May not. It’s more just me having Andy Rooney moments and going on old-man rants. Hope you get something out of it.

Some days I feel like a complete outsider to every Christian sub-culture. It’s no secret to most people who’ve read my previous writings that I’m sympathetic to the Eastern Orthodox position within the wave-spectrum of Christian thought, but even I get perturbed by Eastern Orthodox people who latch on to a fundamentalist, “black or white” mindset that is commonly known as “hyperdox”. Likewise, I consider myself prone to a more “liberal Christian” views on social justice, but I often am annoyed by the tribalism that can pervade even this group of open-minded individuals, with a rabid demonization of all conservative perspectives. In short, I half-jokingly refer to myself as “an anomaly of middle convictions.”

Yes, I do like to rock boats and poke bears, but I don’t particularly like it when the bears bite back. I’m a provocateur, but I’m provoking everyone. I’m trying to get in the wedge between the two sides and find the middle way. Even when my mom and dad would fight when I was little I’d get between the two of them, say “You’re both right! Now stop!” and try to be a physical manifestation of their love so they’d forget for a second their petty differences.

All this is to say that being someone who desires to see people come to their senses, I’d like to think of myself as a peacemaker. What does it really mean to be a peacemaker though? The reality is it’s a lot harder and more dangerous than it sounds. I reflect on Christ’s own words on what that means. Why do we want to pursue peace and what does it even mean to have peace?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. (Matt. 5:9)

This is supposed to be the point where I should be cracking my knuckles and give you 10 points on what it means to be a peacemaker so you can share it with your friends and say something like “I like number five. That’s so me!” I’m not going to do that. I’m also not going to tackle “Just War theory” or anything on a grander scale, because I think we first need to have a conversation on what this means from an individual level first. I’m not into giving easy answers. Rather, I’m going to let some old, (physically) dead guys tell you what they believe it means, because frankly…they know koine Greek a heck of a lot better than I do.

First up, one of my favorite preachers of the post-Nicene era, John Chrysostom, Mr. Golden-tongue himself:

Here He not only takes away altogether our own strife and hatred among ourselves, but He requires besides this something more, namely, that we should set at one again others, who are at strife. (Homily 15, Homilies on Matthew)

We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart. (Homily 20, Homilies on Matthew)

Another favorite preacher and honorable father of the Church, Basil of Caesarea has this to say:

I cannot persuade myself that without love to others, and without, as far as rests with me, peaceableness towards all, I can be called a worthy servant of Jesus Christ. (Letter 203,2)

And the coup de gras, one of my all time favorite teachers and monks, Isaac of Ninevah has this to say on peace:

Let yourself be persecuted, but do not persecute others.
Be crucified, but do not crucify others.
Be slandered, but do not slander others.
Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep: such is the sign of purity.
Suffer with the sick.
Be afflicted with sinners.
Exult with those who repent.
Be the friend of all, but in your spirit remain alone.
Be a partaker of the sufferings of all, but keep your body distant from all.
Rebuke no one, revile no one, not even those who live very wickedly.
Spread your cloak over those who fall into sin, each and every one, and shield them.
And if you cannot take the fault on yourself and accept punishment in their place, do not destroy their character.

See, to me, all of these sayings point to a revolutionary idea. That idea is that no matter how right I may believe myself to be; no matter the injustice I perceive before me, I must actually follow Christ’s command to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.This dangerous idea is one that demands a sacrifice of ourselves and to be truly selfless to the point where it hurts. It demands that I give up my right to be right for Christ’s kingdom to be manifest in my life and the lives of others. It’s almost as if Jesus is daring us to let go of our own ideas ideas of justice and peace in a sense and see every person in the image of God. That’s impractical! That’s shockingly reckless! And that scares us because it means we have to give up control. Millions of martyrs throughout history gave up their control and we exalt their memory for it.

The other side to this coin is that when we see people being oppressed or being encompassed by the mob, lynched for their crimes by the masses; no matter how despicable that person may seem, we are to approach that person with love and to shout down the furious hatred rising from the mob, which is breaking into the world like a cancer. Does this mean we never speak out, never stand up and that we let all evil people go free? No. Here’s what it does mean: you do not exchange your humility and peacemaking imperative just because you have some moral upper-hand. You don’t exchange the gospel of peace for a poison, even a poisonous tongue (James 3:1-12), just because you are not identified as a pedophile, rapist, murderer or thief and the other person is. You do and you put tribal justice before a kingdom imperative.

Solidarity is a powerful tool to stand up to power, but it is also a fearsome weapon, able to ensue chaos and a whirlwind that can catch up the innocents in it’s wake. As an example of this, consider the nation’s founders of the United States who saw that such a problem could occur, which is why they segmented the democratic republic and created check’s and balances. The “tyranny of the majority” is just as frightening.

Every person is made in the image of God, from the money-grubbing pastor to the petty thief to the Wall Street executive. Let’s seek justice for those who have been hurt in the wake of injustice by evil men, but let’s remember that the evil that lurks in the hearts of all men can just as easily blind us and numb us from our sins, so we then justify our actions through righteous indignation. In world where hashtags on Twitter and rumors on Facebook can quickly destroy someone’s life, to be a peacemaker is a dangerous ideology because it asks you to give up your vendetta (even if it’s a “just” one) and your control and let the King of the Universe take them into His hands.


Where the Light Gets In: A Story from My Family

Lost people come into our lives and we reach out to rescue them, but some don’t want to be saved.

This is a story about my family. Specifically, it’s a story about someone my family met and loved as best as we could.

Mom was always bringing in stray human beings to our home.  She would often meet people with a wounded past at church or through mutual friends and before long, they’d be staying at our house. She didn’t go looking for these people, but she saw a need and she decided to fill it. I can remember numerous young men and women who my parents became sort of “ad hoc” parents for and after awhile they’d move on. Some of these people remained wounded and some sought help, and got back on their feet, but they all had an impact on our family.

I remember in my teen years, Mike, the rascally, good ol’ boy with a thick southern drawl and a battered psyche. Mike had gone through a Christian rehabilitation program and my mom and dad knew him through a ministry which had good Christian people like my parents volunteer to drive the guys in the program to our church on Sunday mornings.

My mom tells the story of how we met Mike and how she was affected by him:

“Don’t remember the year, I believe it was somewhere between 2005-2007.  We use to go pick up these guys once in a while and take them to church with us.  One day we picked up three guys and Mike was one of them.  We would always ask them their story on the way to church, so began to learn a bit about Mike at that time.  We invited them over for dinner the next week, and that’s where the relationship really began.

“Mike was from Tennessee.  He had this big, bold voice with a Tennessee accent that would shake a room when he talked; and when he laughed, oh my!  I usually connect pretty quickly with young men, God has given me a heart for them.  We sat and talked as we ate, and he told us a bit more about his story.

“He was a Pastors son, and an only child.  When he was 3 years old his mother up and left him and started another family with another man.  Mike never got over this abandonment, and to this day I feel that was one of the reasons he couldn’t get past a certain point in his life.  When he got a little older, his dad did the same thing, started a new family with someone else.  Leaving Mike feeling abandoned altogether, and never getting approval or feeling loved from any of them.  The only person he was really close to were his grandparents, he lived with them a lot, and they stayed with him through everything he went through in his life.  I believe his grandmas name was Rose, he loved her so much and talked about her all the time.

“Mike had been in this Christian rehabilitation program for drug and alcohol addiction.  The program was really good at preaching grace, but not very good at showing it.  They had very strict rules for these adult men (Mike was 30 or 32 when we met), and treated them a lot like children.  Early curfews and a short stick.  Mike went against the leader of the houses rules, and left to buy a new pair of pants for a job.  They told him he was bucking authority, and that it just wasn’t going to work.

“Mike called me and we talked about it, and he needed a place to stay.  We didn’t know him very well at this time, but I have a heart for stray, wounded people from broken families for some reason, I asked Jeff (dad) and he said “okay”.

“Mike lived with us 2-3 times.  There was at least once we had to tell him to not come around because he kept getting into trouble.  I would always help him if I could, but there comes a place where helping him is hurting him, and I have always been aware of those boundaries.

“He lived out on his own, but had a hard time keeping a job and money because he also liked to gamble.  We loved on him, he knew we loved him, but his strongholds were just too big.  He would cry out to the Lord and the Lord would rescue him, but he could never stay in that place.  I know he knew Jesus, he just didn’t know how to get over the past hurts in his life.  He also had a very guilty conscience, so when he would mess up, he was his worst condemner.

“The last time he lived with us he was actually on house arrest.  It was for a couple of weeks.  After he got off of house arrest, he was planning to go back to Tennessee.  We loved this guy so much.  He would drive me crazy, but he had a very sweet, soft heart.  We knew, and he knew, and his grandma knew that if he went back to Tennessee he wouldn’t make it because there was too much temptation there.  I remember standing around him, while he was sitting in the chair, and our family wept and prayed over him, trying to get him to stay.  We just knew it wasn’t going to be good.

“I wanna say it was about 6 months after he moved back to Tennessee that I got the dreaded call.  He had committed suicide.  He had a girlfriend in Tennessee, and after his grandma called me I called her.  I got the number from his grandma.  She told me that Mike had gone out to buy some nice clothes two days before he died, which lets me know he was probably planning this.  She said he would get drunk, and be talking to God and repenting while he was drunk.  He was so messed up.  We cried together, and I hung up the phone.  I was so sad.  I loved him like an adopted son.

“I believe with all of my heart that he is with Jesus.  God loves the broken hearted and understands their pain.  So I have no question in my mind that he knew Mikes heart, and that he had Mikes heart as much as he knew how to give it.”

What I have learned under my mom and dad is that love is vulnerable. Love takes chances to reach out and bring comfort to the unloved. However, sometimes the unloved are consumed by their own inner demons to the point of no return.

All we can do as Christians is be present, be vulnerable and be willing to make a place in are home for stray human souls, just as God made a home for us in a lost world through Christ. Christ in us may be the only crack of light in a pitch black world for some people. Our call is to be present and love the unloved because He first loved us.

A special thank you to my mom for contributing her story.

On The Infilling of the Holy Spirit by St. Cyril of Alexandria

I haven’t been able to write lately, so I’m filling in some time with great quotes by church fathers. Take the time to also study the Holy Bible after reading these words and see how this fits into God’s character for yourself. I find it wholly scriptural and by a man filled with the wisdom of God, but you may feel differently than I do about that. That’s OK. We’re learning and growing together.

I hope to have my essays on the Gospel of John up starting this week, so this will be a little primer for that. Blessings to you!

After Christ had completed his mission on earth, it still remained necessary for us to become sharers in the divine nature of the Word. We had to give up our own life and be so transformed that we would begin to live an entirely new kind of life that would be pleasing to God. This was something we could do only by sharing in the Holy Spirit.

It was most fitting that the sending of the Spirit and his descent upon us should take place after the departure of Christ our Savior. As long as Christ was with them in the flesh, it must have seemed to believers that they possessed every blessing in him; but when the time came for him to ascend to his heavenly Father, it was necessary for him to be united through his Spirit to those who worshipped him, and to dwell in our hearts through faith. Only by his own presence within us in this way could he give us confidence to cry out, Abba, Father, make it easy for us to grow in holiness and, through our possession of the all-powerful Spirit, fortify us invincibly against the wiles of the devil and the assaults of men.

It can easily be shown from examples both in the Old Testament and the New that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell; he so transforms them that they begin to live a completely new kind of life. Saul was told by the prophet Samuel: The Spirit of the Lord will take possession of you, and you shall be changed into another man. Saint Paul writes: As we behold the glory of the Lord with unveiled faces, that glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit, transforms us all into his own likeness, from one degree of glory to another.

Does this not show that the Spirit changes those in whom he comes to dwell and alters the whole pattern of their lives? With the Spirit within them it is quite natural for people who had been absorbed by the things of this world to become entirely other-worldly in outlook, and for cowards to become men of great courage. There can be no doubt that this is what happened to the disciples. The strength they received from the Spirit enabled them to hold firmly to the love of Christ, facing the violence of their persecutors unafraid. Very true, then, was our Saviour’s saying that it was to their advantage for him to return to heaven: his return was the time appointed for the descent of the Holy Spirit.

– St. Cyril of Alexandria, from his commentary on the Gospel of John (c. 400)