Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Franciscan pacifist

A friend of mine, Barbara Crafton, has observed that the list of names and titles at the beginning of the Gospel passage (Luke 3:1-6) are often used to establish the preaching of John the baptist in history, when it happened. But, she wonders, perhaps it’s not the when but the WHO. Not to Tiberias, not to Pilate, not to Herod or Philip, not to Lysanias, not to Annas nor Caiaphas. Not to the political and religious leaders. Not to the “big boys” (as she calls them) at the helm of the important institutions of government and religion. But the word of God came to John, son of Zechariah in the desert. It came to a virtual nobody, nowhere.

This choice is Good News. It privileges our puny lives. God chose the weak to shame the strong (sounds familiar to Franciscan ears, doesn’t it?), and to let the “big boys” know that they won’t last forever. The meek will inherit the earth; “every valley will be filled up, every mountain levelled off…” We tend to think of the meek as the milquetoasts, but really it is the poor people the minores. They can be brave and endued with power when they work together. John’s message is a warning to the rich and powerful: “Watch out!” Things are going to change, you don’t know when, but they will change when you least expect it. John got his head chopped off for speaking truth to power. but his populist message is durable. It is part of our cherished tradition and recalled as requisite in our preparations to welcome Christ at his coming. In other words, you can make a difference, and every one of us matters. The people around John were the Occupy Judea Movement. Who isn’t stirred at the thought of a capacious and inclusive vision like John’s? Maybe the rich, but that’s the point!

The trouble is that fear can corrupt the populist message of hope and inclusion, turning it into vigilante nightmare where ordinary people become judge and executioner, arming themselves with guns rather than equipping themselves with skills of negotiation, reserves of compassion, the attributes of love. This fear based flip makes it extremely important that Christians cultivate a profound awareness and relationship with Jesus Christ. Now is the time to make the Christian difference felt. The qualities of forgiveness and love and skills of negotiation and collaboration are the truly good qualities that St. Paul tells the Philippians only Jesus Christ can produce. We know that they are produced in every religion, but our profession requires a radical Christ consciousness. To make the road ready for the Lord we need to pray for love. For forgiveness. For courage to speak truth to power. For the largeness of heart to transform the fears we have into vulnerability. For the grace to be vulnerable and honest.

Our country is grappling with a watershed moment of truth about guns. Instead of guns, I am calling for courage to enter conflicts unarmed. Instead of protecting self and loved ones with bullets I am calling for skilled listening and negotiating, radical forgiveness. This foolish approach has worked with Boko Haran in Nigeria, where the Anabaptists have faced the terrorists in their villages, befriending them in some cases, and at the cost of their lives in others. As a Franciscan friar it is the only way I can live out my commitment with integrity. It is a chance to show the world what being Christian means. We cannot just wring our hands about this terrible situation. Each of us must live differently, gather under the banner of John in the desert where we can confess our sins and prepare ourselves as heirs and heralds of the most radically loving God-initiative in human history.

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