N is for Non-Violence (an alphabet for penitents).

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

-1 Cor. 1:18

For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. -1 Cor. 2:2

Non-violence is not passive pacifism. It is not a silent winking at injustice. Non violence is the way of the cross.

Violence is regarded both as a problem—gun violence, bullying, terrorism, war—and a necessity. How else are we going to quash terrorism, depose dictators, police inner-cities and create the conditions necessary for peace? While pacifism was the default position of the early church, Christian’s gradually accepted military service and war. Augustine’s famously articulated what has come to be known as Just War Theory— a statement on the conditions of when war is a moral good (or at least a moral necessity). John Howard Yoder rightly questioned whether the conditions of Just War have ever been satisfied, though even within the constraints of Just War theory, the cessation of violence is the goal, and war ought to be rare.

In the gospels, and in our celebration of Lent, we are reminded that Jesus’ answer to human violence was not war and violence but a cross. He didn’t kick-ass and take names. He rode a donkey foal into Jerusalem, knowing he would die there. He gave his life to bring an end to the cycle of human violence. Following Jesus means walking with Him on Calvary road. Our Model in life and conduct chose self-sacrifice over destruction and harm.

How do you combat the evils in the world? What should be our response to terrorism? The horror of ISIS and the refugee crisis? What about North Korean nuclear armament? Or Russia’s encroachment in Crimea? Or racial violence against African students in India?

Closer to home, what about policies like stop-and-frisk, the incarceration of minorities or injustice toward immigrant communities? What about the proliferation of hate crimes against Jews and Muslims? Violence How do we respond?

The answer is the cross. It was Jesus response, and it should be ours too.

Following Jesus means that our imagination is cruciform. We are shaped by Christ’s cross as we take up our own cross and follow him (Matt 16:24). Against the violence which pervades our culture and our world, we are being shaped into God’s non-violent people.

There are practical questions about what this means, especially as we aim non-violence at large systemic and trans-national problems.  But then again how was a crucifixion (a death sentence for failed revolutionaries) in a marginal province of the Roman Empire a decisive response to human sinfulness? The past century showed us several examples (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela) of the power of non-violence to effect social change. But more than that if we participate with the Son of God in his cross, we can expect that God to continue his good work in us and our world.



The Third Word from the Cross

Jesus’ mother was standing next to his cross along with her sister, Mary the wife of Clopas, and Mary Magdalene. Jesus looked to see His mother and the disciple He loved standing near by.

Jesus (to Mary, His Mother): Dear woman, this is your son(motioning to the beloved disciple)! (to John, His disciple) This is now your mother. (John 19:25-27-The Voice)

Throughout the gospel narratives, Jesus’ relationship with his mother seemed strained. When he was twelve he ditched his parents to go to temple(Luke 2:41-49). As an adult, Mary approaches Jesus to help with a wine shortage at a wedding, he responds, “Woman, what has that to do with me?(John 2:4)” I know, from years of Bible studies and commentaries that ‘Woman’ was a common address during the time, something like “Dear woman.” But try as I might I cannot make this phrase of Jesus sound like he’s being nice to mom.

mary&JohnOnce when his mother and brothers came to get him, fearing he was off his rocker, he virtually disowned them. “Who are my mother and brothers? You here are my mothers and brothers! Whoever does the will of God is my true family (Mark 3:33,35).”

And it is this Jesus who uttered the words that warm every mother’s heart, “If you come to me without hating your own father, mother, wife, children, brother, sister, and yes, even your own life, you can’t be my disciple. (Luke 14:26).

But on the cross, Jesus took a moment away from dying for are sins to focus on the family. “This is your son. . .this is now your mother.” What does this mean? What is the significance of this little interchange?

Was Jesus taking time to make sure his mother is cared for in his absence? Was he giving his mom and disciple shoulders to cry on in their grief? Certainly there is an element of provision here for his grieving mother. A good Jewish boy would see that his mother was properly cared for in her old age. Augustine observes as much:

AUGUSTINE. (Tr. cxix. 1) This truly is that hour of the which Jesus, when about to change the water into wine, said, Mother, what have I to do with thee? Mine hour is not yet come. Then, about to act divinely, He repelled the mother of His humanity, of His infirmity, as if He knew her not: now, suffering humanly, He commends with human affection her of whom He was made man. Here is a moral lesson. The good Teacher shews us by His example how that pious sons should take care of their parents. The cross of the sufferer, is the chair of the Master.

But this brief episode also invites reflection on the significance of Mary. As Stanley Hauerwas writes:

Mary, the Jew is in a singular fashion becomes for us the forerunner of the faith, making it impossible for Christians to forget without God’s promise to Israel our faith is in vain. When Christians repress the role of Mary in our salvation we are tempted to forget that God remains faithful to his promises to his people, the Jews. Our Savior was born of Mary, making us, like the Jews, a bodily people who live by faith in the One who asks us to behold his crucified body.

Jesus therefore, commands the disciple, his beloved disciple, not to regard Mary as Jesus’s mother but rather to recognize that Mary is “your mother.” Mary’s peculiar role in our salvation does not mean that she is seperate from the church. Rather, Mary’s role in our salvation is singular because, beginning with the beloved disciple she is made a member of the church. Mary is one of us which means the distance between her and us is that constituted by both her and our distance between the Trinity and us, that is, between creatures and Creator. (Cross-Shattered Christ, 53-54)

Mary’s yes thirty-something years before inaugurated the events that led to this moment. Her son, the God of the universe, was stretched out on a cross. With dying breath he honors her for her role and her love for him. He gave John to her as a son, reconstituting family. It is not an overstatement to say, that church is born at the foot of the cross. And the hopes of Mary, and with her all of Israel, are bound up in the Son she saw die.

Can a Kid’s book carry the cross? (a book review)

This is the first time I have reviewed a kids book here on my blog, but as the father of three young kids, reading kids books comprises the better part of my reading. I also am highly invested in their spiritual formation, so when Kregel Publications offered me an Easter kids book, Simon and the Easter Miracle, I jumped at the opportunity to review it.

Synopsis: Based on a traditional Polish folktale, Simon and the Easter Miracle tells the story of Simon, a farmer, heading to Jerusalem to sell his wares at the market. When he gets into the city, on a busy festival day, he sees an angry crowd sneering, shouting, “Crucify Him!” and a beaten prisoner struggling under the weight of the cross. A solider orders Simon to put his wares down and to carry the cross for the prisoner. As Simon nears the man to take the cross, the prisoner thanks Simon and Simon is amazed at his gentle sincerity. He asks the man what he did to deserve death and he replies with a shrug, “Preaching a message of peace.”

Simon carries the cross and when they came to the place of crucifixion, he leaves, unable to bear the cruelty and jeering of the man’s enemies. He returns to his wares only to find his pack had been overturned, his bread trampled, his wine spilt and all but a dozen eggs broken. Dismayed, he carries the dozen eggs home knowing it was hardly worth his time to sell them at the market.

At home, after a day of Sabbath rest, he finds the dozen eggs he brought home broken and empty as though hatched. He walks out to his olive grove and sees a dozen white doves and understands these birds as a sign of God’s peace because God blesses all those who work for peace. And he noticed how quickly spring had “warmed the new city’s crop.”

How well is the story told? Does it reflect the Great Story?

Mary Joslin tells this story in an engaging and interesting manner. It is well paced and full of symbolic significance (trampled bread and spilt out wine at the moment of crucifixion, broken eggs, the doves, Simon’s crops). As a children’s book, most of these symbols will not be readily understood by young readers ( i.e. my children) but it does open up interesting discussions.

I was disappointed that the author had Jesus giving the reason for his crucifixion as his ‘preaching a message of peace.” Clearly there is more to it than this, the Prince of Peace didn’t bring peace but a sword, pitting family members against one another. Jesus was crucified because he challenged the social, economic and political institutions of this day. He didn’t go to the cross for preaching a message of peace, but to obtain our peace with God and others. Preaching peace doesn’t get you killed, calling into question the ‘peace’ of the establishment does.

So while I think Joslin is fine writer, this doesn’t come off as a full-orbed account of the gospel. Perhaps Joslin thought that little kids wouldn’t yet fully understand, but there is so much in this book that is over their heads so I see little excuse for softening this point.

How Well is this Story Illustrated?

Anna Luraschi did a nice job of illustrating this story. I enjoyed looking at the various pictures and images. My one complaint is that Jesus, Simon and all the other characters in the book are pink-skinned rather than boasting Mediterranean olive-toned complexions. I know too many children and adults who were hurt by an eurocentric presentation of the gospel and have rejected Jesus as being a “white man’s God.” So perhaps if this is only read by white kids in a white community, no harm no foul, but I really would have loved to see some colors besides pink and pasty. I would suggest reading this book alongside others which are more culturally sensitive.

How did my kids like the book?

My kids loved the illustrations and they sat through multiple readings, asking questions and were engaged by the story line.For this reason I like the book even if I think Joslin oversimplifies Jesus crucifixion. Lots of Christian kids books miss the point at one point or another. A Christian parent’s responsibility is to fill in the gaps where necessary. This book does tell the story of Christ’s crucifxion (and resurrection, symbolically). Because of the rich symbolism here, it might be a fun book to read along side ‘resurrection eggs’ or a similar activity.

Thank you to Kregel Publications for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for this fair and honest review.