Friday, April 23, 2010

Galassenheit, and Other Funny Words

If you’ve been following for a while, by know you should have figured out that I’m a pacifist. I updated my profile last week to emphasize that fact.

Before you get any crazy ideas about coming down to my house and robbing me while I sit by and watch, pacifism as a way of life is not passive. If attacked I will defend myself, up to a point. I recently learned a better word to describe the philosophy of pacifism; galassenheit.

Galassenheit is a German word that doesn’t have a direct English translation. The best definition I could find was in the book Amish Grace: How Forgiveness Transcended Tragedy - Kraybill, Nolt, and Weaver-Zerche. The authors define galassenheit as the attitude of yieldedness or submission to the will of God. It is lived out through yielding to one another, renouncing self defence and giving up the desire for justification or efforts at revenge.

Amish theology grew out of the Anabaptist movement of Southern Germany, Switzerland and Holland in the 16th century. I was raised Mennonite and today am a member of a Brethren in Christ congregation which both point back to the Anabaptists as their origin. Although the Amish are the most visible of the Anabaptist minority, with their traditional dress and distinctive lifestyle, they are not the only Anabaptists in the world today. The vast majority of us blend in to society undetected. We can be found in all walks of life, working in any profession, wearing the latest fashions, driving cars and even writing blogs.

I’ve talked a lot lately about Peace and Justice, Oppression and Reconciliation. In order to achieve these goals I think we need to better understand the theology of galassenheit and for that we need to turn our eyes and ears back to Jesus.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth - Jesus (Matthew 5:5)

Meek is another one of those words that we’ve forgotten the meaning of in the last few decades. goes so far as to say that the word is obsolete and has been replaced in the common vernacular with words like gentle or kind and then goes on to give a further list of synonyms – forbearing, yielding, unassuming, pacific, calm, and soft.

Did you catch it? Right there in the list of synonyms; yielding and pacific - Sounds like galassenheit to me!

But how does a person like that inherit the earth? Further down in Matthew 5 Jesus gives us another hint.

You have heard that it was said, 'Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth. But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. If someone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you. – Jesus (Matthew 5:38-42)

Whenever I hear my fellow Christians talk about trying to maintain their way of life politically, religiously or lifestyle related I wonder if they understand meekness. Christians in the west have, since the time of Constantine, held a lot of power but Jesus does not teach his followers how to hold on to power. Instead he says that the meek, those who are yielding, will gain it all.

In other words, if you want power give it away! How many Church Leaders, Fortune 500 CEOs, Military Officers and Politicians would take that deal?

Let’s all work on our meekness and galassenheit today...

Friday, April 16, 2010

It’s All There in Black And White

Both read the Bible day and night, but thou read black where I read white. – William Blake

The more I study the scriptures the more I am convinced that religion, especially Western Christianity, has it all wrong.

I’ve started to write this post a few times but I always abandon it because as I read it back I get too emotional. I tend to get angry but then usually end up just sad and tired when I think about how religion has distorted the plain and simple teachings of Jesus Christ.

I find myself getting drawn into arguments with my fellow Christians over doctrine and politics that when examined in the light of scripture are either irrelevant or plain as day. I also get drawn into arguments with non-Christians that centre on the sins of church history when my response should be one of compassion for the pain my predecessors have caused.

Somewhere in the two millennia since Jesus death his message has been terribly distorted for the political gain of an elite few and the masses have swallowed it hook line and sinker. Sadly the true message is still there in black and white, if we’d just look it up.

Why do you call me, 'Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say? – Jesus (Luke 6:46)

Many people have tried to explain away some of Jesus more difficult and politically incorrect teachings with arguments about translations and first century context. While it is important to understand what was going on in Israel at the time of Jesus and it is equally important to understand a bit of the Greek, Aramaic and Hebrew languages the Bible was originally written in we also need to recognize that all English translations of the Bible ever published are remarkably similar and the message remains consistent whether you prefer the King James, New International, Revised Standard or any other of the hundreds of translations that are available to us today.

And what is that core message? Jesus was asked that same question;

Jesus replied: " 'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)

Love, plain and simple, love God first and love your neighbour. Elsewhere Jesus further explained that neighbours also include our enemies and those who persecute us.

The saddest fact of all is that Christianity as a religion has been one of violence, oppression and segregation, yet Jesus, whose intention was to tear down the religious system not build a new one, was a teacher of peace, love and inclusion. There are no caveats in His teaching that allow us to condemn, persecute or oppress those who do not agree with us as Constantine and his brethren would have us believe. There is no wiggle room that can be used to justify witch hunts, crusades or inquisitions like the medieval Catholics invented. And there is no such thing as the redemptive violence or just war that most western evangelicals promote today. Those who would use scripture to justify such things are quite simply stretching the translation beyond all reasonable linguistics and misunderstanding historical context.

I could go on for days but I try to keep my postings as close to 500 words as possible. I will expand upon and back up my position in the coming weeks. For now I just leave you with this parting thought. If Jesus is your Lord re-read his longest sermon found in Matthew 5-7, submit to his authority and do as he says. I promise you, your life will never be the same.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Don’t Be Surprised if I Offer You My Left Hand

General Secretary Gorbachev, if you seek peace, if you seek prosperity for the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe, if you seek liberalization: Come here to this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, open this gate! Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall! - Ronald Reagan.

I’ve talked a lot lately about Peace and Justice and how inseparable they are. Remember the thesis, Peace without Justice is Oppression.

So if the path to true peace is a path toward justice where do we begin? If I’m going to develop my idea of peace and justice much further I need a new thesis statement. I’ve established that lasting peace requires justice but what then is justice?

Justice is Reconciliation and the forging of a Third Way.

According to Wikipedia the word Reconciliation literally means “to meet again”. In the early 90s, as decades long oppressive regimes came to an end in places like the Soviet Union and South Africa governments began launching something called “truth and reconciliation commissions”. The purpose of these commissions was to bring different groups together, to open dialogue and start to remove divisions.

We all know the story of South Africa. After years of immense pressure from the international community the white minority government finally allowed blacks to vote in multi-party elections. The result was the end of apartheid and the election of Nelson Mandela as the country’s first black president. Mr. Mandela could have easily turned around and punished his former rulers in the white elite, indeed a large portion of the population wanted him to do just that, but instead he opted to take the much harder and ultimately more just and peaceful third way to reconciliation. Today South Africa is the most politically and economically stable country in sub-Saharan Africa.

It is much easier to build walls and concentrate on maintaining security within an easily defined area. Walls divide. Walls hold people in and stifle expansion as much as they keep people out. Walls are an obvious marker of the “us” on the inside and the “them” on the outside. Reconciliation on the other hand requires us to become vulnerable. In order to “meet again” we have to tear down the wall.

On June 12, 1987 United States President Ronald Reagan delivered the now famous “Tear Down this Wall” speech while standing in front of the Brandenburg Gate. He called on the Soviet Union to allow the free flow of people, goods and ideas that would promote liberalization and peace. Within 3 years of that day the Berlin Wall was down and Germany was officially reunified. The Berlin Wall never would have come down if people on both sides hadn’t been willing to become vulnerable and forge a new path. Removing walls is tricky and often dangerous work. It’s not enough to lay down your arms. Reconciliation, if it is to be a removal of walls, requires us to let down our defenses.

One last example comes to mind. I was a Boy Scout. One of the first things I learned was that scouts great each other with a left-handed handshake. By way of explanation I was told that Roman soldiers carried their sword in their right hand and their shield in their left. The traditional offer of your right hand is a sign of peace showing that you are un-armed; indeed that’s where we get the concept of laying down arms. But Lord Baden Powell, the founder of the Boy Scouts took the concept one step further by instead offering his left hand as a sign that he had let down his defenses.

To this day I will often greet new people with a left-handed handshake. In the awkward moment that follows I have an opportunity to tell people a bit about my world-view, it’s been the start of some very interesting conversations. So if we ever get a chance to meet face to face don’t be surprised if drop my shield and offer you my left hand....

A word of caution, if you want to try this, I learned the hard way that certain cultures consider the offer of a left hand extremely insulting because they have traditionally used it to clean themselves after – ahem – “doing their business”. I don’t need to tell you how VERY awkward that conversation was but we both learned something that day and eventually had a good laugh.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Let’s Label

In his 1991 book “Simple Faith”, theologian, author and church pastor, Charles R. Swindoll describes the game we all play with one another and calls it Let’s Label. Here’s how to play;

1- Find someone who is different from you. Preferably only in the most superficial of ways like appearance, that way you don’t actually have to get to know the person to decide how different they are.
2- Form a negative and critical opinion based only on the externals.
3- Jump to conclusions about what makes the person behave the way they do.
4- Stick on a label and freely share your findings with others.

The object of the game is simple, to separate those who are like us from those who are different and to build walls between “us and them”.

Playing Let’s Label is the beginning of Injustice and Oppression. As stated in previous entries here; Peace without justice is oppression. We cannot promote peace without justice and we cannot promote justice if we stick labels of exclusion or separation on each other.

The most obvious and least useful labels originate in our race or ethnicity. It’s easy to identify “us and them” from a distance when all you have to do is look at person. The world is and has always been divided along these kinds of lines, some more obvious than others. But as the world becomes more globalized and integrated it is these very lines that are being blurred. It’s this blurring of the lines that makes the game harder to play and upsets the most active players.

There are two divergent trends in the world today. One is the erasure of the ethnic and cultural lines in essence the removal of labels through globalization, the opening of markets and homogenization of culture in the name of economics. This approach ignores diversity and oppresses those who wish to maintain a connection to their ethnicity. The other is the redoubling of efforts at separation and isolation along these very same ethnic lines in order to protect a way of life. Similar to the cold war strategy of containment, proponents of this approach refuse to engage with those who are different thus breeding distrust.

We all carry labels. Most are impossible to erase. The task in promoting justice is not to homogenize and erase the labels. Nor is it to isolate one’s self from those who are different. The task is to understand the labels, both yours and those placed on others, wear the good ones proudly and seek to erase only those that are destructive.

After explain the game in some detail Swindoll goes on to look at how Jesus told his followers to approach it.

1"Do not judge, or you too will be judged. 2For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you. 3"Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother's eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? 4How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye.
Matthew 7:1-5

We tear down the walls that divide by first recognizing what parts of the wall we ourselves have built. I realize I’m mixing my metaphors here but stay with me. When Jesus says to remove the plank from you own eye I believe he is also saying, take down your portion of the wall. It’s by taking the first step toward inclusion and understanding that we can begin to build up enough trust so that others are also willing to remove their walls and accept our help in doing so.

Understanding the labels and being honest about them is the first step toward inclusion and justice and therefore a requirement of peace.

Now, where did I leave my sledge-hammer?

Lauren Sheil (Male, White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant, Canadian)