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.


Perfect Love Casts Out War

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The Machine of War

As I’m writing this, the news is breaking that Israel has invaded Gaza. This is the culmination of weeks of tension, which has now ratcheted up to all-out war. I can only observe this from a distance. I’m able to see the bloodshed and tears through video and pictures, on my TV screen while sitting in the comfort of my own living room. I don’t want to dismiss the lives of men, women and children who have been lost on either side.

This is why I want to be very careful in what I’m about to say.

The world today is in many ways safer but also scarier than it was past centuries. We also have bigger and more deadly weapons, capable of ending millions of lives in an instant. We continue to live in this cycle of war, in spite of our best intentions. We shroud the implications of death and violence with consequential reasons for defending the weak and the innocent. We constantly try to justify war through our belief that God sees is it as a moral imperative. My question is, “who or what really controls us when each individual has to decide the value of life, even the lives of those we deem ‘evil’?” I don’t believe it is God. I believe it is fear.  The question Christians need to ask is “why are we afraid when we have perfect love over us?”


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5 Arguments Not to Have on Facebook

I co-authored this article with the venerable Brandon W. Peach. The entire article is available for reading at RELEVANT here.

First things first: Please note, this isn’t an article about what shouldn’t be discussed on Facebook. All of these topics are worthy of interesting conversation, and social media can be a helpful platform for just that purpose. This is a list of things that aren’t worth arguing over on Facebook. When a social media conversation devolves into a fight, it’s generally advisable to be the bigger person, or inform the dissenter that you’d love to continue the debate in person at some other time.

Are there any topics that are completely taboo for Christians to engage in discussion across social media? Perhaps. But the most dangerous ones in fact present themselves as opportunities rather than traps. The political discussion may seem like a great place to inject reason and clarity, when posting an opinion might only stir the pot of dissension. Engaging in “media activism” by sharing the social justice cause du jour isn’t always the best way to help effect change. Social media offers the most universal, accessible and easily searchable link to your public identity in history.

Here are a few of the topics that, outside of a compelling reason, are probably best to avoid:

Read the rest at RELEVANT here.

The Me Gospel

Keeping our eyes on Christ for His sake, not our own.

Every now and then I’ll listen to sermons online from churches that I don’t go to, just to see what other churches are talking about. What I’ve recently noticed in many sermons from what some might call “affluent churches”, is there is almost a different brand of preaching. The pastor who comes onto the stage is often very charismatic and a great orator. He has a knack for telling stories about his own life and relating them to the Gospel (albeit loosely). What may seem appealing about this is that it creates a relationship to the audience that makes the audience feel as though the center of their lives are all that matters to God.

Is that a bad thing? I don’t think the core idea is. God does want to be involved in our daily lives. He does want to be a part of everything you do. Jesus said that the thief comes to steal and destroy but He came that we may have abundant life -eternal life. I already have a lot of ideas that vary from many evangelicals, but my only real objection to this type of preaching is that when you frame the Gospel as a personal narrative from the preacher’s perspective, you create an idea that God’s interpersonal nature stops at His ability to relate to our circumstances. It creates a self-centered gospel message for the individual.

But when Jesus came to earth, He didn’t just come to relate to us. He came to redeem us and conform us to His image. So the result of this can be people creating an image of Jesus Christ as this “buddy Christ” figure, whose presence is just meant to relate to your daily woe. I call this “the me gospel”, because it’s not exactly the prosperity gospel, but it’s a message of the gospel that does entail focusing on how our personal happiness is somehow the ultimate end of the Cross. It often ignores seeking a holy God who will ask you to suffer for Him, die for Him, walk in holiness for Him, serve for Him, and ultimately let your entire life be consumed by Him for the sake of your own comfort.

Let me put it another way…Jesus isn’t made to be a genie in a bottle in this “gospel”, but He’s not too far off. He becomes like a good friend you call up every once in awhile to ask for advice, like what car you should buy or for help passing a test and get a “pick me up”. I’m going to be completely honest and say that God is not as much concerned about your material interest and minor anxiety. He rather would get into your heart and do surgery. He’d rather see you stop thinking less about whether you should get a Mazda Miata or a Chevy Impala, and more about repenting. He’d rather you do His commandments, because as Jesus says in John 14:14, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”

The me gospel says that God came down as a man to make my life “less of a drag” rather than saying He came down to reconcile all of creation (including you) to Himself. Paul writes about this in 2 Corinthians 5:17-19:

Therefore, if any one is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come.  All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation;  that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation. (RSV)

The idea of reconciliation is to restore creation back to communion with the Creator. It’s to bless that which has stewarded us and give it back into His order. Every good thing God has given us is to be abundantly appreciated, whether it’s our health, our material goods or even our family. However, all of these good things He gives us through His divine power are to be blessed for Him and in turn used to reconcile us back to Him. In 1 Peter 1:3-4 it says:

His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, that through these you may escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion, and become partakers of the divine nature. For this very reason make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. (RSV)

So, the core point I’m driving at rests here. When we reduce Jesus Christ to a template for wellness and goodness, we then disconnect ourselves from the part which causes virtue to spring forth in our lives. Cultivating virtue becomes tertiary to our sanctification rather than becoming the forefront of it. We are to become “partakers of the divine” nature and to “escape from the corruption that is in the world because of passion”. To quote C.S. Lewis, we become “like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.

I’d personally rather seek and invite others to a holiday with God  than embrace the comfort of this mudbath.