Colonizing Death

Last night, as I lay in bed, I was thinking about some of the things we were talking about on badguy’s blog a couple weeks ago, specifically the call to be peacemakers. Ric Booth asked me in the thread about “Being in the World but not of it” about whether it was not easier to want to be a sacrificial peacemaker without a family to risk. I’ve often thought that it is our fear of death that keeps us from participating in nonviolent, risky peacemaking. As I lay in bed, I revised that to say that maybe our fear is a fear of pain, especially emotional pain. We’re afraid of losing loved ones, of being absent from people we love. That makes good sense to be nervous about that, but it calls to mind Christ’s question,”What profits a man to gain the whole world but forfeit his soul?” And his warning that whoever would keep is life will lose it, but whoever forfeits his life for the sake of the Gospel will save it.

But as I kept thinking, I actually began to see that maybe it is really a fear of death that keeps us from peacemaking. Though emotional pain is part of that, it’s the fear of a complete unknown that haunts us. Death makes us face the big questions of life: is what I believe in really true? What will happen when I die? I have pondered those questions too, but as I thought more, I was comforted by a new way of thinking about the resurrection for me. As Christ comes, he announces that his kingdom is now available to all in a new way-repentence and turning to follow. His empire is different than Caesar’s, but even more powerful. Perhaps one way to think of the resurrection is to think Christ’s kingdom is colonizing the world of death. Christ is often described has having conquered death, and having victory over it. But maybe the imagery of colonization works here, because Christ’s kingdom now extends beyond the grave. We need not fear what is beyond death, because it is the same life that Christ promises us when he comes as a human being. We can be assured of the kingdom of God’s presence on both sides of the grave.

This may not be anything new to anyone, but it helps me conceive of the resurrection in another light. Peacemaking still requires us to believe this wholeheartedly, but maybe instead of becoming so focused on death, we can focus on life and the kingdom we’re taking part in now. Death becomes less scary if we belive that life in the kingdom extends into death as well. Death, the final frontier, has been settled for the Kingdom of God.

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9 comments

  1. ric booth · September 24, 2008

    For me it is a little more complex than this… not that death isn’t complex.

    Here’s a scenario: Say I was so committed to peace that I decided to go to Iraq and pray on the steps of the Ministry of Defense in Baghdad back on the eve of the first attack. I know this will very likely mean my death.

    In one scenario, I die. I leave my wife, children and grandchildren without a husband, father, grandfather. Without a bread-winner. They have to fight the insurance companies because, frankly it looks like suicide. My wife has to sell the house, get a job and eek out an existence consisting of loneliness and poverty.

    In another scenario, I am seriously injured. Health insurance company battles. I am put on the DoD watch list of suspected traitors/terrorist sympathizers. I lose my job. I lose my health insurance. I sell the house. We eek out.

    I am to follow Christ. I am to love God. I am to love my wife just as Christ loves the church. I am to love my enemies. Now when I throw all those balls into the air, what exactly does that look like? I do not know the answer to that question. I am still seeking.

  2. brianjgorman · September 24, 2008

    Eric,
    I guess I didn’t quite mean this post to be a direct answer to your comments before, which I think are a little different than what I think is a general unwillingness to be peacemakers. Specific to every person in this matter is a host of other fears too. I mostly just wanted to post this because while I was thinking about the peacemaking stuff, I kinda stumbled onto the image of death being colonized by Christ in his death and resurrection.

    And you’re right, a fear of death or lack of one doesn’t explain the other things that come with sacrificial peacemaking. I don’t know the answer to that, but I wish I could believe that was most people’s genuine reason for hesitating about peacemaking. Maybe only unmarried single people should go die in other countries for peace, but there are plenty of other ways to practice peacemaking at home (which I’ve already seen you do on a blog, ha, so that’s not to say that you’re not doing them). Either way, I would prefer more dialogue that dealt with your hesitations about peacemaking than what we have now, which is a displacement of our responsibility onto the government.

  3. ric booth · September 25, 2008

    Hey Brian,

    You’re right, your post is a continuation of your thoughts on the matter of peacemaking and the body’s hesitancy to participate. As such, I should have opened with, “Excellent post” because it in fact does raise an important issue.

    We seek to preserve out lives here on earth at the expense of other lives… this is driven by fear. We fear the terrorists and anti-American dictators. We fear they might harm us and so we kill them. This is an oversimplification but generally, wars are started out of anger, fear, or greed. I am not aware of any nation that grudgingly and with great remorse, picked up their weapons crying as they fired at their enemy. If such a war occurred, I stand corrected and will eagerly read about the case.

    I did want to continue the discussion and add in my thoughts as to why I and many others may not be jumping into the foray of radical peacemaking. You’re right, my peacemaking is more subtle and risks only my reputation or relationship with other American Christians. I stop there. I do not risk my job or my life. I am unsure if I am honoring God by providing for and protecting my family or if I am conveniently hiding behind those commands. I continue to seek His will in my life.

  4. Susan · September 26, 2008

    Interesting thoughts Brian. I agree with Eric’s response that it’s not necessarily about fear of the “death.” I think most parents would die FOR their children in a heartbeat. To be honest, I dont even think death is the worst thing that could happen to my child. (Although it would absolutely CRUSH me.)

    A little story… My parents were robbed in the middle of the night last year, while they were home. Thankfully, in the middle of the robbery, my brother’s approaching footsteps scared them off…causing only monetary loss and some sentimental pieces gone. However, upon hearing the news, my first thought was “what if it was my mom who had come down the stairs?” I think, from a woman’s point of view, “death” is not the worst thing that could happen to us or our loved ones. Rape, torture, continued abuse are much worse. A time when I dont think I could be passive, would be if there was a risk of these things happening to my daughter. What do you think the appropriate response is if someone has come into your home and is attacking your child? In that case, I dont think it is the fear of the “unknown” that would prevent me from being a peacemaker. It is the “known.”

    Also, my pastor gave a sermon about a month ago about peacemakers. He brought up the arguement (not in the war sense…but just in personal relationships) that a person who is passive is not necessarily always a “peacemaker.” If he is allowing pain and further conflict to happen by being passive, he is actually an enemy of establishing TRUE peace. He didn’t mention war or soldiers…this was simply in the context of personal relationships. Thoughts? If somebody were to break into your home and you did not respond with the possibility of physical violence to protect your family… have you really helped to establish peace?

    I think that the absence of physical violence in resolving any conflict is ideal, of course! But do you agree that, at times, it might be necessary for establishing true peace?

    note: Thankfully, in my parents case, violence was not needed. They beefed up security though, and now their house has an alarm system that would rival Ft Knox. Guns or weapons of any kind are not part of their security (although Dad does have a sword for ceremonial use), but I know that my dad and brother would both throw a punch or two to defend my mom…but not our “stuff.”

  5. brianjgorman · September 26, 2008

    Hey Susan! Good to hear some of your thoughts!

    I agree with both you and Eric that for a lot of people, the immediate fear in terms of peacemaking is about things that seem worse than death, like torture, rape, injury to others, leaving behind problems/worries for loved ones, leaving a family without a father/grandfather. The list certainly goes on. I do think that fear is ultimately connected to death in some way-death of relationships, emotional death, psychological death, and physical death. But Christ’s kingdom extends into those things too.

    And I also agree with you that passivity is not the answer. I don’t think that Christ calls us to be Passive peacemakers. But passivity and nonviolence are not the same thing.

    Your example of the robbery is a good question too, about physical force, and not uncommon either. Every time people talk about being nonviolent, the question comes up, “What would you do if someone was raping your grandmother, sister, or mother?” And I think it’s a fair question, for the most part. I think that it points out a problem that many Christians face- what are my options? I think that we’ve been told that we can either do nothing about violence (passivity-stand back and watch it), or react violently (punch a guy out, fight a war, shoot a criminal). But I don’t know if those are the only two options. I feel like in Scripture, Christ always comes up with some creative third option.

    When the woman is caught in adultery, the options (supposedly) are: stone her according to the law, or tell them not to stone her and put himself at odds with the people. Jesus does something completely unexpected. he tells his disciples when they’re forced to walk one mile, walk two with a soldier. When someone wants your cloak, give them your tunic too, which makes you naked and shames the robber for seeing your nakedness (like in Genesis with Noah and his son). Now, that doesn’t immediately translate over to things like rape, but it does suggest that we need to get more creative about peacemaking.

    Think of Les Mis- the guy who gets caught with the candlesticks. Instead of being sent off to prison, he is given the rest of the valuables as well.

    My point is that there has to be a third way, the Jesus way, that doesn’t deal in the 2-d spectrum of options we’re used to. And with that said, nobody has ever attacked my sister. I don’t know what I would do, but I know that I’m broken and could contradict my ideals in this matter. But I pray if I’m ever in such a situation, God will grant me holy imagination.

    Eric,
    Maybe not all radical peacemaking involves risk of death (though I think more of it should for many Christians) or injury. I think radical peacemaking is needed between the gay community and the church. That probably won’t involve death, but it is certainly a necessity. Death penalty and other forms of state sponsored violence also need prophetic witness, and again may not mean that you go to jail even or put your physical life at risk.

  6. Susan · September 26, 2008

    I agree with you Brian. Well said. We definitely need to get more creative. (I have this frustration with a lot of parents who think that if they don’t spank, they are not disciplining…. at some point you need to outwit your 3 year old!) I’m still not sure that there is always 100% of the time a way to always avoid using physical force. I’m not saying we have to blow everybody to pieces, but if somebody was coming toward my daughter, I think I could definitely do enough damage to stop the act, without excessively doing harm for the purpose of inflicting pain. So, maybe, in some circumstances, physical action is not neccesarily “violence.” Do you think it might depend upon motives or intent?

    A short story… When we lived in Bahrain, we had a few “employees” that worked on our property. (We all employeed people to do whatever we could think of, just for the sake of giving them an income that they otherwise were not legally allowed to earn.) One of the employees, while we were on vacation, stole beer out of our fridge that my dad had bought for some of the sailors that used to stop by. When, my dad confronted “Jake” (not his real name, but he never told us his real name), he simply said “If you wanted a beer, you just needed to ask”… and offered him the rest, along with a box of my dad’s old clothes. Jake never stole or deceived my dad again. In that part of the world, he could have lost a hand or been deported. Dad’s mercy, but also his generousity, helped to not only deal with the crime, but the motive as well. Still… had Jake somehow assualted me, I dont think Dad’s response would have been to handover Katherine as well. haha

  7. ric booth · September 26, 2008

    Still… had Jake somehow assualted me, I dont think Dad’s response would have been to handover Katherine as well. haha

    PLUS

    although Dad does have a sword for ceremonial use

    Has me laughing.

    That’s how my mind rolls.

  8. ric booth · September 26, 2008

    Oh and this contributed as well:

    he could have lost a hand or …

  9. Susan · September 26, 2008

    glad I can provide comic relief Eric! haha

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