Thursday, September 06, 2007

Prayer or Action?

This comment on my last post (go read the Prayer Surge post below for context) really got me thinking:

I have never seen a christian take this approach to activism in regard to war (in a blog, that is). Weird...shouldn't it be the first approach. Instead of bitching, moaning, and ad hominen attacks, you want to pray. Thanks, your blog encouraged me, and I will send in my prayer through the link you have provided.

This was my response, and I am serious about hearing from you on this:

I'm delighted that it was encouraging! Thank Jim Wallis - he's the man.

I must say that at least in the churches I've attended, we've prayed about the war every week since it began. Even the really liberal bitchy-moaney activist church never neglected to lift up the war and our president by name each and every week.

I learned in class once that this was the traditional Russian Orthodox response to the violence raging around them as well: to enter the church and pray. Now, it didn't work out great for them much of the time (from the world's perspective, that is), but even though their bodies and churches were harmed, their souls were not.

It's really hard to know where to draw the line between praying for peace and acting for peace. Thoughts from others? Do we intervene when injustice is being done? Is our intervention to be anything beyond putting ourselves in harm's way instead? (and if so, how can that really change things, in the long run?)

I've been thinking about this a lot lately and really crave some discussion on it. I had a debate with a friend over whether we should have a military at all. In the end, we decided that what the state does, really, isn't much of our business, since we have our primary citizenship in God's kingdom rather than America's or any other nation (thinking this way causes a paradigm shift on many issues, particularly immigration, but also it allows us to let go of a lot of anxiety about politics in general).

My husband is a full-on pacifist whose answer to tyrants is to literally lay down our lives. Well first it's to call Christians to their true nature, which is not to kill. That would take care of a lot of the wars, if Christians refused to fight each other (in the name of a state or a cause is not an excuse - no more than "I was only following orders" - that's just ignoring your role in the systemic sin). Seems like our armed forces would be quite depleted if Christians stopped joining up, or if they joined up, refused to carry weapons or use them.

But let's say that won't happen - there are only a few of us who really believe that's the way Jesus calls us to anyway. So what can we who believe that do? We can go stand in front of the tyrant's armies and let them mow us down until they get tired. Gandhi used a similar tactic that led to many of his people being beaten brutally until the British realized what they were doing to fellow human beings and stopped (this is very well-portrayed in the movie, btw). I know most people find this masochistic and depressing. But is it what Jesus wanted - is it what turn the other cheek meant?

I don't know. I've heard a lot of rationalizations of that command that explain it away as not actually laying yourself down. But I see what Jesus did - dying - and things he said like "do not fear those who can harm the body, only the soul", and I wonder. I really wonder. Would we be in the right place if we actually had no attachment to even our own health and body? If we recognized that everything should be laid down for the kingdom, and in the grand scheme, WE are not important - God can accomplish God's purposes without our help, or our help might just be that we stand before the tyrant and be killed. Martyrs are powerful witnesses. Just look at the Muslim world, or early Christianity.

Isn't this what this week's gospel text is about? Not holding on to anything - ANYTHING - on this earth? Ah, it's Jesus at his most Buddhist. What are we supposed to hold on to? The only thing he says to carry is the instrument of torture and death. When he says to take up the cross, what else can it mean?

But in the end, if they kill all the people who believe this way (since there's not many of us), then what?? Everybody is left with dictatorship, tyrants. Have we done right by them? By God? we really believe God is in control? That if I lay down my own life, God can still somehow manage to make things right even without me living? That's a humbling thought.

Or maybe the armies of freedom do win, and our own sacrifice didn't much matter in the war, or wasn't necessary. Can we just stay out of it, like we probably should stay out of politics? Do we have to stand up for injustice? If so, how? Prayer is a good start; is it enough? Will God actually answer our prayers using the armies we don't belong to? Or will God interfere at all? (probably not if we don't ask)

I know we hate to hear these things - nobody says such things, not out loud, not in print. Telling Christians, stop killing other people - anyone, not just other Christians, not just other Americans. Christians, if there is a tyrant, you may be called to die alongside others so that the witness of martyrs will prevail. What would have happened if all the Christians in Germany had quit aligning with the Nazis or running from the country or plotting to assassinate Hitler and instead insisted that they go to the gas chambers with the others? Even the darling of the Christian resistance, Bonhoeffer, sold out to the "kill one for the sake of many" idea. He died for it. But could his witness have been more powerful if he'd not tried to kill, but rather tried to die?

I think about these things. I don't have answers. I push hard against the excuses others give me. I challenge and question a lot. Rarely do I come to conclusions, except the nagging feeling in my gut that what Christ has asked of us is usually the last thing we think of and are willing to do.

I am often told something new I hadn't thought of, which I always appreciate. That's why I open this forum to you. I know it could devolve into ugliness (why do intra-religious debates always do that??), but I'm hoping we can keep it civil, biblical, thoughtful. Emotional is OK, but we have to recognize when we're thinking with our hearts and admit it, and then really try to overcome both hearts and heads when they are against the way of Christ. When Jesus calls us to something that our emotions or our logic rail against, we have to sort out what is human, selfish, frightened, angry....from what is loving, merciful, just, humble, and in all other ways like God.

1 comment:

Brenda said...

You know, I've been thinking these same things for a long time. For me it comes down to, "What would God have me do?" and the only way to find that out is by praying for knowledge of Her will for me. Sometimes it is writing, or speaking up. Other times, it's just showing up and doing my job.

Or am I oversimplifying things? I think everyone is called to do different things at different times. And that changes depending on the choices we have made in the past. I don't think it was God's will that either Gandhi's supporters should be beaten or that Jesus should die on the cross until there was no other way. Am I a heretic? I don't know. But I do know that God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit all love me and ask that I show that love to the rest of the world. How I do so changes every day. I'd really like to hear what you think about these ideas as I have been reading your blog for a while and I truly respect and relate to what you write.

Thanks for bringing this up! It's helping me to clarify my thinking in other areas.