Violence on Christmas– Inhabiting the Same Space

Managing differences between people, and containing potential violence, is a challenge as old as clans and kinship. What’s new, is both the unprecedented proximity of very different people, and the distance that their violence can be projected. This is true of both state-sanctioned and “religion”-sanctioned violence. (For “religion”-sanctioned violence projected over a large distance, think 9/11; for state-sanctioned violence projected over a large distance, think US drone attacks in the tribal regions of Pakistan.)

This report of today’s violence [excerpted below] in Nigeria is getting some airtime in the mainstream American media, as it should. I think the only faithful response to people who kill others because of their Other-ness, is to continue to build the bridges that make our unprecedented proximity less threatening.

While the history of Christianity is littered with instances of shameful violence directed at “infidels,” the child of Bethlehem came to reveal both the humanity and the divinity of all victims. The Other is not a devil; we share a humanity. And the humanity we share is in the image of God.

In honesty, I remain unconvinced that non-violence is the best– or even the most faithful– response in all situations. However, if we take seriously the God who is revealed in Christ, then we need to think much more deeply than we do, before we kill.

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Pope Benedict XVI issued pleas for peace to reign across the world during his traditional Christmas address Sunday, a call marred by Muslim extremists who bombed a Catholic church in Nigeria, striking after worshippers celebrated Mass.

The assault on the Catholic church left 35 dead in Madalla, near the Nigerian capital. A failed bombing also occurred near a church in the city of Jos, followed by a shooting that killed a police officer. The blast came a year after a series of Christmas Eve bombs in Jos claimed by Islamist militants killed 32.

via Nigerian blasts mar pope’s Christmas peace appeal | cleveland.com.

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Christmas in Bethlehem

Altar Servers at the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem

The people who were looking for a savior in the time of Jesus were people who had suffered much. They needed deliverance. But whom should they look for? A new Moses? A prophet, like Elijah? Or were things so bad, that only God could make it right?

As the story goes, a baby is born to Mary. Herod gets some inkling that this baby won’t be good for business– his business being domination and coercive power– and so, in order to hedge his bets,  he orders all the babies to be killed. These are not the best conditions under which to raise a family, so Joseph scurries to Egypt with his wife and boy, until the danger passes. The cute manger scene does not last for long.

To sentimentalize and domesticate Christmas is to ignore what the story really says. What the story tells us, again and again, is that people are frightened at the reality of God’s coming into the world: Mary is scared, Joseph is scared, the shepherds are scared, and Herod– the king!– is scared. Why are they scared?

Because when God comes into the world, things change– and they don’t change  just a little. For those who have much, the risk of change is loss. For those who have nothing, the risk of change is hope. Either way, the Christmas story ends up revealing the truth of our vulnerability, kings and shepherds alike. But that’s not all the story does. This revelation of mutual vulnerability shines with the possibility for new life and restored relationships, because in the Christmas story, God is vulnerable too.

Latin Patriarch of Palestine and Jordan Fuad Twal arrived at the Nativity Church in Bethlehem on Saturday, as thousands gathered to celebrate the annual Christmas mass.”We ask the baby of Bethlehem to give us the peace we really need, peace in all the countries of the Middle East. We demand peace in the Holy Land,” said Twal.

via Maan News Agency: Latin patriarch demands ‘peace in the Holy Land’.

Good Will and Peace

George Fox, Friend of the Truth: founder of the Quakers

John Howard Yoder traces the roots of Quaker non-violence to the 17th-century English puritan understanding of conversion: God doesn’t coerce belief; rather, we come to believe through a process of authentic inward change, wrought by the searching– and sometimes painful– presence of God’s Light within. In the same way, the transformation of enmity to amity cannot be brought by coercion. Enemies are conquered the same way that God conquers us– by the relentless willing of good for the other, even when all the evidence suggests that the other doesn’t give a damn.

That’s the condition– the seeming “not giving a damn” for the other– that marks the public stance of the Palestinian Authority and the Israeli government today, as we move toward the Christian holy day of Christmas. Bethlehem is in the West Bank. It’s behind a wall that Israel is building, one of the measures it takes to protect itself from violence.

Also behind the wall, north of Jerusalem, is the Friends International Center, in Ramallah. The Quakers have been in Ramallah since before Israel existed, founding schools there in the late-19th century. Today, the Friends International Center aims to be a place where people can worship in the Quaker tradition, can meet others who are committed to peace, and can support the local community in its desire for a more hopeful future.

The official stance of “not giving a damn” for the other, is not the stance of many, many people of genuine good will from both sides. May they all– including the Ramallah Friends and their supporters around the world– continue their work, strengthened in conviction for peace by the grace of Light: the power of God, so tender and mild, holy infant of Mary.

via George Fox.

Empty

Empty

One theme in Religion in the Balance is the ultimate failure of market-ism and consumerism to provide us with what we need: meaning, connection, purpose, relationship. This shell of a building is suggestive, the perfect location for a declaration of current emptiness.

What’s hopeful is the humor– the playful, self-deprecating irony that implicates all of us as accountable for the depletion of the stock. Accepting responsibility is an authentic religious act.

(Thanks again to http://www.whelliston.com/ for the lead)

Banksy – Sorry – The lifestyle you ordered is currently out of stock | Flickr – Photo Sharing!.

The Phony “War on Christmas”

Rich Simpson has some cutting words for Rick Perry’s “Strong” ad, Fox News, and the so-called “war on Christmas” [an excerpt and link are below].

The “war” on Christmas is a pernicious off-shoot of what we have known, for decades, as the “culture wars.” What’s true, is that various factions in our society hold different ideas about important things. Two of the battlegrounds in these “culture wars” are:  morality (including, but not limited to, sexual morality); and patriotism (what does it mean to love America?). Religion is naturally brought into the fray, but please, don’t blame God for that.

Many of the differences and disagreements in our society are worth serious conversation, but serious conversation gets mocked in most (not all) public discourse today– especially when the public discourse gets highly politicized. Highly politicized public discourse is happening whenever the desire to “score points” for your side, trumps a disinterested, fair-minded love of the truth. No one can ever be totally disinterested, but it is possible to love truth enough to recognize one’s own biases, and to engage in humble self-reflection.

How we manage public language around this time of year does matter– and on that, at least, we might find initial agreement between those with differing ideas about whether the tree on the town square is a “Holiday Tree” or a “Christmas Tree.” Both sides agree that words matter.

And if we can agree that words matter, then that agreement can become a promising start for the kind of listening that is the precondition for “Peace on Earth.”

Here’s Rich:

In any event, I prefer to keep the Christmas greetings in church – not because I think faith can be segmented from real life but because I seek to build bridges and find common ground with all of God’s children who seek good will for all, and peace on earth in this time. Moreover, I’m not sure that a Christmas greeting at Walmart or the mall makes me somehow feel more special. At the very least it cheapens and distorts and commercializes what matters so deeply to me; the Incarnation. If I hear one more time about ABC-Family’s 25 days of Christmas I am going to scream! For the record, it’s still Advent, and there are twelve days of Christmas that culminate in Epiphany! I don’t expect ABC-Family to preach that. But I’d so much rather they call this the 25 days of Solstice than distort my tradition!

Happy Holidays!

via Rich’s Ruminations.