Joy to the World (and Me Too?)
The Prince of Peace is coming!!
I want to rejoice this Christmas. I want to celebrate the Prince of Peace. I want to know what that means and with whom I can rejoice this year.
Allegiance to The Prince of Peace
As an angry teenager, I renounced Christianity as a sham. I said that most of the Christians I knew were so different from the Story they told that I could not take them seriously.
After a successful hostage rescue, the USMC left me to wander Israel for a week in the fall of 1985. The historical realities of ancient Israel awakened my curiosity. How did the Stories explain the morally ambiguous world I fought for? Were the promises of Peace real in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary?
I pledged my allegiance to The Prince of Peace one year later. That is when I began to struggle with two questions:
- What am I supposed to believe in addition to “Jesus is the resurrected Lord”?
- Who do I belong with in my journey forward in the Way of Jesus?
My struggle with those two questions continued as I planted churches among the poor, often with the financial support of upper-middle-class American Christians. I have preached the Prince of Peace on every continent outside of Antarctica. Christians, rich and poor, journeyed with me. Joy was common, though concerns never completely left me. 2016 reversed the order.
I believe that The Lamb is greater than The Beasts
Apocalyptic obsession was an early problem with my efforts at resolving “What am I supposed to believe?”. Way too much of my gospel understanding was entangled with “End Times” speculations. I learned how to see details in the Text and in the news as synonymous, though frequently needing to be adjusted. Eventually I realized that there was a forest from those trees.
The final book in the Bible is not “Revelations of Scary Things.” The culmination of Divine Revelation is “The Revelation of Jesus Christ.” The Story is about the character of God and humanity as revealed in the Lamb. Humanity is lured to justify, even worship, the beastliness of successful wealth and power. Christ shows the True Way, but antichrists keep looping back to a religious veneer of the worldly ways; the Beastly ways.
Revelation chapter 5 contains a vision of the Lion of the Tribe of Judah. John turns, hoping to see a Godly Beast to counter the Worldly Beasts. Christian bookstores used to sell posters of The Lion. Christian addiction to militancy bought that false image. What John saw was not an über-beast of God to defeat The Beast of the Adversary. What did John see?
“Lamb first, then Lion” is a compromised belief I once held. No longer. The Lamb has always been the Way. It was for Abel, for Abraham, for Jesus and for John. My allegiance to Jesus is an allegiance to sacrificial love, to The Way of The Lamb.
Lamb > Beasts
I belong with the vulnerable lambs, not the lamb-frocked beasts.
One of my best friends serving among the vulnerable felt comfortable sharing a racist moment with me. We had just seen an irredeemable action film.
“Wasn’t that disgusting?” he asked.
“All the killing?”
“No. When she kissed that black man. Why did they have to show that?”
I tried to figure out how deep his feeling went, but my respect for this man, developed prior to this comment, was, and is, an obstacle in me untangling it all. The issue was raised and dropped quickly. Over time, however, an uncomfortable collection of beastly thinking from fellow Christian sojourners grew.
In 2012 I accepted an invitation to a staff position at an American mega-church. I joked about the fog machine ministry to voice my discomfort with being an insider of such wealth and power. I was part of a project to raise tens of millions of dollars in a couple of years, including distributing wealth locally, nationally, and globally. I couldn’t suppress my cynicism. I asked in an early meeting if we were going to be using pictures of African children to fund an expensive suburban expansion. One staff member, who eventually became one of my dearest friends, openly expressed his shock at my provocative question and the implications. A few years later he brought it up again, shaking his head and saying something about “prophets.”
My time on staff taught me to appreciate people and programs at a mega-church in ways that I did not expect. Programs for the poor and the vulnerable, fully funded by free will offerings of American Christians, are often profoundly moving examples of The Way of the Lamb. But my celebration of generosity to the least of these was undermined by a recurring hint of lingering loyalties to beastly ways.
Confederate Flags and other issues of racism and bigotry began to elevate hidden layers of concern about American Christianity. I began to debate with friends about things I could not believe they wanted to hold on to. And then came the presidential race of 2016.
I will not rehash the debates we have all become too familiar with over the past 18 months. What I will say is that by November 7, 2016, I had had enough. The day before the election I chose to separate from a community that had, in my opinion, rationalized for beastly alliances more persistently, and intentionally, and officially than I could in accept in good conscience.
Where is the Joy?
I’m not well; yet. I have called out to friends publicly and privately hoping that they help resolve the gap of 2016. Some have tried arguing things through, but many choose to simply ignore me. Am I even worth talking with, or have I hardened my heart so much that trying to reason with me would only make things worse?
I want resolution with people. The peace I long for would be mutual agreement on what matters, even if we all had to adjust significantly. A peace I’d be happy with would involve an acknowledgment of where our disagreements remain along with a humble request that God would judge between us as we trust Christ to be our reconciler in due season. For some I might even have to accept that the only peace we have is as former friends, now revealed to be more distant in convictions than once thought. I do not want that, but I prefer it to the silence of a relationship unworthy of vulnerability.
I am open to rapprochement for the sake of Peace.
I am open to The Way of the Lamb.
I pray that I will share companionship with others welcoming the Prince of Peace at the end of 2016 as well.