This Dissonant, Disorienting Season of Advent

The chorus of the Rich Mullins’s song, Hold Me Jesus, goes:

So hold me Jesus,

Cause I’m shaking like a leaf

You have been King of my glory

Won’t You be my Prince of Peace

Maybe these lines do nothing for you, but in anxious times, these line find me and become a prayer: You have been King of my glory, Won’t You be my Prince of Peace?

Those of us who have grown up singing hymns and songs about God’s grandeur and goodness, if we have lived long enough, have bumped up against hard things—a disheartening diagnosis, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one. We’ve felt the dissonance between our belief in the transcendent and omnipotent God and our longing to feel God’s comfort and presence with us in places of profound struggle.

As we enter the second week of Advent the theme is peace, and honestly isn’t this so much of what we long for through the whole season? And the rest of year too? That Jesus would come to us and the peace of God would reign? That violence would end, that God would comfort our anxious thoughts and worries that keep us up at night? You have been King of my glory, Won’t You be my Prince of Peace?

In several of Walter Brueggemann’s books on the Psalms, he employs the typology of “Orientation, Disorientation and New Orientation on the Psalms”. When you read through the Psalms there certain ones that burst forth in praise to God, confident in his sure rescue, his glory. These are confident songs, which believe fully in a King of Glory. These are psalms of orientation

Then comes psalms of disorientation. The psalmists encounter war, sickness, oppression, exile. They cry out to God. They lament. They long for God, and ache at God’s absence.

Lastly there are psalms of New Orientation. These are songs for those who have gone through difficult times, and emerged with a new confidence that God has brought them through.

Brueggemann’s typology is useful, not only for categorizing Psalms, it also names stages of faith (akin to Ricoeur’s movement from a first naïveté to a second naïveté), and I think it is makes sense of our liturgical seasons. It has only been two Sundays ago that the liturgy proclaimed “Christ is King” before we entered this disorienting land of Advent. And it is now we lament, and we long, and we sigh, “how long?” When Christmas comes (because ‘a baby changes everything’), we occupy a space of ‘new orientation,’ sensing that God is with us, here, in the struggle of everyday life.

Certainly we may feel each of these to varying degrees. But in Advent I always feel the disorienting dissonance and the weight of absence of Christ’s already-not-yet reign. I feel the angst of wanting to know the peace of God more fully.

Somewhere in the communion of saints, Rich prays over us, ” You have been our King of my glory, Won’t You be our Prince of Peace?” as we long for swords to be beat into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4) and predators to give up their predatory ways (Isaiah 11:6-9).

Prayers for Veterans Day

A few miles north of me my Canadian friends observe Remembrance Day–a solemn day which honors those who have fallen in service to their country. Here in the United States, today is a day to honor the living soldiers who have served and on Memorial Day (in May) we honor our dead. However there is a certain bleed through with the two holidays. When we honor those scarred by war, we also acknowledge the reality of war, the wounds and the wounding, the death and dying. For all who have been touched by the ravages of war, Lord have mercy:

Almighty  and Living God,

    we rise with thanks for those whose sacrifice purchased our freedom,
      those who died in service of the nation, and those who have returned

        and have struggled to rebuild their lives.

Our hearts brim with gratitude and ache with sadness–

      We are grateful for all they’ve done
      We cry for all that they have suffered

Prince of Peace

    We pray for the wounds they carry–
      The horrors that haunt them,
      injuries, lost friends, PTSD.
    We cry out for your healing and full restoration
    of all whose souls are ravaged by war.

Spirit of Peace-

    provide rest for these weary souls
    and hasten the day when sword will be plowshares
    and Your Peace reigns on the earth.

Jehovah Jihad (or not): a book review

Alone With A JihadistL A Biblical Response to Holy War by Aaron D. Taylor

Aaron D. Taylor is a missionary and founder of the Great Commission Society. He has traveled the world sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He had heard through a film crew of an outspoken Irish convert to Islam who lived in London named Khalid. After delivering a sermon at a Pentecostal church in Brazil several months later, a man approached him saying that if he would go to London in the next year God would give him a great victory. Taylor took it as confirmation that he should go talk to Khalid and see if he could win him over to the Christian faith.

A documentary film maker put Taylor in a room with Khalid for seven hours (you can watch the film Holy Wars here) but things didn’t exactly go the way Taylor planned. Khalid was a man firmly convinced that Islam had a more comprehensive view of the world than Christianity. Khalid had a more holistic approach to his faith than your typical Western Christian and he challenged Taylor to think about how he would implement the Bible in his life or if he was in control of the government. Taylor doesn’t capitulate to Khalid’s worldview, but his challenge haunts him and causes him to think about what the implications for politics are for a follower of Jesus.

All this happens in chapter one of Alone With A Jihadist. Taylor’s debate with Khalid causes him to ask hard questions of his faith.  Khalid critiqued western society as corrupt and evil and it forces Taylor to take a long hard look at his politics, what he believes and how he should live.  Taylor concludes that following Jesus and working for the Kingdom of God necessarily implies a critique on the ways of the world, on nationalism, the promise of democracy, American military action, and the unquestioning support of the modern Israeli state from the religious far-right. He claims that following Jesus calls into questions all these things and calls us to embody the Spirit of Christ (who went to Calvary) for love of the world and not create war and strife.

Taylor shares a pacifist position similar to what you would find in the historic peace churches (such as the Mennonites). However he grew up in the Pentecostal tradition and has seen the ways that its leaders (evangelists and high-profile pastors) have sometimes been co-opted by the state and have supported means, initiatives and projects which seem to contradict the words and actions of Jesus. And so this book challenges those on the Right to think through the implications of their beliefs and politics in light of the gospel but also shows his conservative evangelical friends that he hasn’t just swung to the left, but is trying to follow Jesus.

Which is more Christ-like? The TV evangelist who cheered in 2006 as Israeli warplanes were dropping bombs on buses and bridges in Lebanon, calling the action a ‘miracle from God”–or the liberal Jew picking olives with a Palestinian farmer? Even more nagging is this question. What does it say about the state of the church in America when an American Christian has to write an entire book to defend his orthodox credentials for picking option two? (156)

Taylor manages to remain respectful  and evenhanded in his presentation of his position. For example, many evangelicals and Pentecostals are Zionists  applying the promise to Abraham in Genesis 12 to the modern Israeli state. Taylor is able to show some of the problems with this position as he discusses the injustice that has befallen the Palestinian people from the Israeli military and Jewish settlers; however he doesn’t say that the Israelis are all bad or that the Palestinians are all good. He simply shines a light on the side of the tension hat is not often explored by Pentecostal evangelicals and asks us to admit that the truth is much more complicated than we often allow. He also explores the way Jesus went out of his way to love and affirm the Canaanite woman ( a Palestinian) and was critical of the Jewish nationalism of his day (the Pharisees and Sadducees were the Jewish nationalists of their day).

Ethically there are two basic ways that Christians have sought to navigate political issues. Idealists commit to biblical principles and the values that reflect the coming Kingdom of God. If Christians are to partner with God in ushering in the Kingdom of God, than we should start acting like Jesus reigns and respond to issues as though the Kingdom was already here. On the other side, Christian Realists acknowledge that the Kingdom is coming, but we are not there yet. So we sometimes need to compromise and accommodate to have greatest impact on a world that is mired in sin.  Taylor stands with the idealists in his desire to live a life committed to the way of Jesus and accept the implications for his political life. The realists may ask the pragmatic question, ” does it work?   I really appreciate the perspective that Taylor brings and find I agree with many of his critiques (I have my own pacifist, idealist leaning); however I am not sure that he adequately answers  the second part of Khalid’s question, “How would you implement the Bible as a way of life or in government? (9)” Taylor gives you good reasons for deep personal convictions (many of which I share) but does not show how the Bible can implemented in government (along with the historic peace-churches, he questions if you can).

I liked this book and am amazed at how a conservative Christian was transformed by his encounter with a radical Islamist.  God uses Khalid to make Taylor more firm in his pacifist convictions. If you haven’t really thought through the ways in which your Christian faith should inform your foreign policy as a Christian, then this book may be a good place to start.

Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from the author and/or publisher through the Speakeasy blogging book review network. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR,Part 255.