Posts Tagged ‘Christian’

March 12 is the feast day of Maximilian of Thavaste, whom tradition holds was beheaded for refusing to serve in the Roman military because he was a Christian.

1. On the 12th day of March during the consulship of Tuscus and Anolinus [295], when Fabius Victor had been brought into the forum at Tebessa, together with Maximilianus, and their advocate Pompeianus had been granted an audience, the last declared, “The temonarius Fabius Victor is present, together with Valerianus Quintianus, the praepositus Caesariensis, and the fine recruit Maximilianus, Victor’s son. Since he is acceptable, I ask that he be measured.” The proconsul Dion said, “What are you called ?” Maximilianus replied, “Why do you want to know my name ? It is not permitted to me to serve in the military since I am a Christian”. The proconsul Dion said, “Ready him”. When he was being got ready, Maximilianus replied, “I cannot serve in the military; I cannot do wrong; I am a Christian.” The proconsul Dion said, “Let him be measured”. When he had been measured, an official reported, “He is five feet ten inches tall.” Dion said to the official, “Let him be marked.” And as Maximilianus resisted, he replied, “I will not do it; I cannot serve in the military.”

2. Dion said, “Serve so that you do not perish.” Maximilianus replied, “I will not serve; cut off my head; I do not serve the world, but I do serve my God.”Dion the proconsul said, “Who has persuaded you of this ?” Maximilianus replied, “My soul and he who has called me.” Dion said to his father Victor, “Advise your son.” Victor replied, “He himself knows – he has his purpose – what is best for him.” Dion said to Maximilianus, “Serve and accept the seal.” He replied, “I will not accept the seal: I already have the seal of my Christ.” Dion the proconsul said, “I will send you to your Christ right now.” He replied, “I wish that you would do so. That is even my title to glory.” Dion said to his staff, “Let him be marked.” And when he was resisting, he replied, “I do not accept the world’s seal, and if you give it to me, I will break it, since I value it at nought. I am a Christian. It is not permitted to me to bear the lead upon my neck after [having received] the saving seal of my Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of the Living God, he whom you do not know, who suffered for the life of the world, whom God surrendered for our sins. All of us Christians serve Him. Him we follow as the source of life and author of salvation.” Dion said, “Serve, and accept the seal, so that you do not suffer a terrible death.” Maximilianus replied, “I will not die. My name is already with my Lord; I cannot serve in the military.” Dion said, “Have regard to your youth and serve; for this befits a young man.” Maximilianus replied, “My service is for my Lord; I cannot serve the world. I have already said: I am a Christian.” Dion the proconsul said, “There are Christian soldiers in the sacred retinue of our lords Diocletian, Maximianus, Constantius, and Maximus, and they serve.” Maximilianus replied, “They themselves know what is best for them. But I am a Christian, and I cannot do wrong.” Dio said, “What wrong do they who serve do ?” Maximilianus replied, “You know well what they do.” Dion replied, “Serve, lest, having scorned military service, you begin upon a terrible death.” Maximilianus replied, “I will will not die; even if I do depart the world, my spirit will live with my Lord Christ.”

3. Dion said, “Strike out his name.” And when it had been struck out, Dion said, “Because you have disloyally refused military service, you will receive the appropriate sentence in order to serve as an example to others.” And he read his decision from his tablet, “Maximilianus, since you have disloyally refused the military oath, it has been decided for you to be punished by the sword.” Maximilianus replied, “Thanks be to God.” He was 21 years, 3 months, and 18 days old. And when he was being led to the place [of execution], he spoke as follows, “Dearest brothers, with an eager desire, hurry with as much courage as you can so that it may befall you to see the Lord and that he may reward you also with a similar crown.” And with a joyous face, he addressed his father as follows, “Give that guard the new clothing which you had got ready for me during my military service, so that I may welcome you with a hundredfold reward and we may glory with the Lord together.” And so he suffered death shortly afterwards. And the matron Pompeiana obtained his body from the judge and, having placed it in her carriage, she brought it to Carthage, and buried it beneath a little hill near the martyr Cyprian and the palace. And so, after the 13th day, the same woman died, and was buried there. But his father Victor returned to his home with great joy, thanking God that he had sent on ahead such a gift to the Lord, he who was about to follow shortly afterwards.

As I wrote about this account last year:

Controversy surrounds the historicity of this account. However, what’s important about this story is not its historicity, but that the early church would celebrate the protagonist of such a story as a martyr. Declaring someone a saint is a political act, and the canonization of Maximilian as a saint in the eyes of the church also tells us something about the orientation of the early church to questions of war and violence. Interestingly, the author of the above-linked article debunking the historicity of the martyr story dates its composition to C.E. 384-439, during the time when the militarized Constantinian version of Christianity was supplanting the earlier anti-violent incarnation.

Today is also the anniversary of Fr. Rutilio Grande’s murder in El Salvador in 1977. Grande was a close friend of Archbishop Oscar Romero and an outspoken opponent of the abuses of the U.S.-backed government. The speech that probably got him killed was his “Apopa sermon,” delivered on February 13, denouncing the expulsion of a fellow priest from the country. He said:

“I am fully aware that very soon the Bible and the Gospels will not be allowed to cross the border.  All that will reach us will be the covers, since all the pages are subversive—against sin, it is said.  So that if Jesus crosses the border at Chalatenango, they will not allow him to enter.  They would accuse him, the man-God, the prototype of man, of being an agitator, of being a Jewish foreigner, who confuses the people with exotic and foreign ideas, anti-democratic ideas, and i.e., against the minorities. …Brothers, they would undoubtedly crucify him again.  And they have said so.”

One month after delivering the Apopa sermon, Grande was gunned down, and the local government authorities refused to order an autopsy. The Jesuits hired their own physician to conduct an autopsy, which determined that Grande had been shot by the same type of automatic rifles used by the police. This was only one of several signs of government complicity in the murder.

Grande’s death was a crucial moment in Romero’s life, and triggered his move to openly oppose the Salvadoran government. He canceled all future attendance at state events and meetings with the president pending the fulfillment of his demands for an official investigation, and that investigation never took place.

H/t to Common Prayer: A Liturgy for Ordinary Radicals, for reminding me of these anniversaries.

Theologian Marcus Borg’s interview with Sojourners included a great indictment of the designation of the U.S. as a “Christian” nation:

What do you say to those who claim the United States is a “Christian” nation?

The negative side of the ambiguity of faith is that religions have often endorsed extraordinary cruelty and violence. For example, when cultural conventions said slavery was OK, Christians accepted slavery. You can make your own list  — segregation, wars, heterosexism, patriarchy, vast differences between rich and poor, and so forth. On the positive side, Christianity and other religions have also been protests against the way things are and [have affirmed] another possibility. The United States is statistically the most Christian country in the world in terms of [the] percentage of the population who will identify as Christian and in absolute numbers. Yet, the church is the only large institution in the United States where hate speech is still OK. This hate speech is directed mostly against LGBT people, but also against other religions, especially Islam. Can you imagine any corporation allowing its leaders to make statements about gay and lesbian people that are routinely said within the church?

Borg goes on to describe his idea of religious pluralism with a great analogy: religion as a kind of language.

One of my definitions of what it means to be Christian is, “a Christian is someone who lives their life with God within the framework of the Christian tradition.”…I really like the analogy of religions, in an important respect, being like languages. To be Christian, means [to speak] Christian, to be Jewish means [to speak]  Jewish, and so forth. Obviously, I’m not talking about speaking the ancient languages of the tradition but knowing and understanding the stories and vocabulary of your tradition. So being a Christian in a pluralized society, means to live deeply within the Christian tradition while being able to recognize the riches and saints of other traditions.

This analogy really helps crystallize a feeling of unease I’ve had towards “The Church” over the last several months.

Thinking of religion as a language opens up an analogous relationship–thinking of what it means to be “American.” There are a lot of people in the U.S. who speak “American,” or American English. Yet only a much smaller subset of these American English speakers are actually dyed-in-the-wool “Americans” in the sense that they are deeply committed to the values set forth in the Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. There’s a lot of folks who fly flags in their front yards, say the Pledge of Allegiance or who will slap a “Support the Troops” or an “America, Love It or Leave It” bumper sticker on their car, but often these are the folks most contemptuous of American values like free speech or civilian control of the military.

In the same way, there are a lot of people who speak “Christian” in the U.S.  They go to church every Sunday (or run churches every Sunday) but seem to have escaped any deep convictions derived from Jesus’ teachings. In fact, a good portion of the education they give and receive is designed to get them out of any obligation to the plain meaning of Jesus’ words. And like the “ugly American” tourists, these folks often set the impression about what a “Christian” is.

The funny thing is, the people who speak “American” but don’t absorb the values and the people who speak “Christian” but don’t absorb the values are often the same people.

The text from the lectionary for tomorrow in Christian churches is the story of the parable of the prodigal son. The deeper meaning of the story is Jesus’ warning to his ethnic brethren that the cultural purity movement they’d mounted in resistance to the Roman occupation of Palestine had become so exclusionary as to render it ripe for the judgment of God. And so it’s fitting that those of us who show up in church tomorrow, the day after September 11, should have to sit and listen to it. It’s especially fitting considering the rising tide of anti-Muslim bigotry washing over the United States, driven largely by people who declare this a “Christian nation.”

Let me put this as clearly as I can: the folks in New York City who want to build an Islamic center in Lower Manhattan should be welcomed. If there’s construction work to be done, Christians should be out there with their sleeves rolled up and their brows sweating to get it built.

Here’s what one cultural center opponent had to say today about his desire to see the cultural center moved:

“Got to be someplace else, not over here, because that’s like a slap on the face of the people who lost their families over here,” said another opponent.

Alongside the mosque’s opponents were anti-abortion activists and other demonstrators who were focused on Christian topics.

News flash, bigots. Muslims died when the towers fell. In fact, the 17th floor of the south tower of the World Trade Center contained an Islamic prayer room. Muslims have lived in New York long before 9/11, and they have every right to build whatever center they want to build to deepen their involvement in the community. What does your convenient white-and-Jesus-washing of the dead in the attacks say to your neighbors (oh, be careful how you relate to those folks as Christians…not a lot of fine print in that commandment from your Lord and Savior)? Do you think maybe it could be interpreted as a slap in the face? And just what was Jesus’ command in the Sermon on the Mount about a slap in the face, anyway?

Shame on those of you out there pushing that smug, self-righteous message that Muslims in this country should be culturally sensitive because of September 11 and what happened at Ground Zero. Do you have any idea what it was like for Muslims across this country the day after September 11?

I remember riding on a bus in Lubbock, Texas in September 2001, when some cocky jackass college kid stood up and started showing off for his friends by yelling, “Where the fuck are the Afghans on this bus? I’ll fuck you up!” I’m sure that was the least of the white Christian cultural sensitivity the Muslim community in Lubbock had to endure. Every Muslim had to suddenly declare in public that they condemn an act of horrendous violence, and if they didn’t out of self-respect, watch out for the ugly arguments from silence coming from the culturally sensitive Christian majority. I believe there’s another saying of Jesus about a plank in one’s own eye, or something.

This Islamophobia isn’t limited to the rallies in New York. Here in my own state of Texas, the State Board of Education is actually going to consider a resolution later this month that claims that the textbooks we use in this state are biased toward Muslims and against Christians. Raise your hand if you felt pressured to declare “There is no god but Allah, and Mohammed is his profit” while sitting through World History in Texas. I’d be willing to bet my next margarita that your hands, dear Texans, are down.

But Texas is just the tip of the iceberg. There is a cultural purity movement afoot in this country, and what’s worse, political demagogues, having humiliated themselves by failing to govern for 8 years and getting thrown out of office, are trying to stoke a populist, bigoted backlash to get back into power. Even the dead on September 11 have to all be non-Muslims–reality be damned.

Know this, fellow Christians: claiming that you belong to a “Christian nation” is not a trivial thing. And while you’re sitting there in church tomorrow, listening to the words of Jesus echoing forward through the centuries, you better really listen. You better think twice about trying to exclude the unworthy from your culture. God is running toward the outsider, always and forever. If you are trying to keep the Other out, “your mouth is writing a check your butt can’t cash.” As we say here in Texas.

Love the Lord God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. The second is like unto it. You shall love your Muslim New York neighbor as yourself.

From tomorrow’s reading, Luke 15:11-32:

11Then Jesus said, “There was a man who had two sons. 12The younger of them said to his father, ‘Father, give me the share of the property that will belong to me.’ So he divided his property between them. 13A few days later the younger son gathered all he had and traveled to a distant country, and there he squandered his property in dissolute living. 14When he had spent everything, a severe famine took place throughout that country, and he began to be in need. 15So he went and hired himself out to one of the citizens of that country, who sent him to his fields to feed the pigs. 16He would gladly have filled himself with the pods that the pigs were eating; and no one gave him anything. 17But when he came to himself he said, ‘How many of my father’s hired hands have bread enough and to spare, but here I am dying of hunger! 18I will get up and go to my father, and I will say to him, “Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; 19I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me like one of your hired hands.”’ 20So he set off and went to his father. But while he was still far off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion; he ran and put his arms around him and kissed him. 21Then the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’ 22But the father said to his slaves, ‘Quickly, bring out a robe—the best one—and put it on him; put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. 23And get the fatted calf and kill it, and let us eat and celebrate; 24for this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found!’ And they began to celebrate. 25“Now his elder son was in the field; and when he came and approached the house, he heard music and dancing. 26He called one of the slaves and asked what was going on. 27He replied, ‘Your brother has come, and your father has killed the fatted calf, because he has got him back safe and sound.’ 28Then he became angry and refused to go in. His father came out and began to plead with him. 29But he answered his father, ‘Listen! For all these years I have been working like a slave for you, and I have never disobeyed your command; yet you have never given me even a young goat so that I might celebrate with my friends. 30But when this son of yours came back, who has devoured your property with prostitutes, you killed the fatted calf for him!’ 31Then the father said to him, ‘Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours. 32But we had to celebrate and rejoice, because this brother of yours was dead and has come to life; he was lost and has been found.’”

So, I just Googled this quote to get the proper citation:

I’m convinced that love is stronger than any other force in the world, including death.

This was the result:

Result of a Google search for , at roughly 7:30 p.m. CST on Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Result of a Google search for "I'm convinced that love is stronger than any other force in the world, including death," at roughly 7:30 p.m. CST on Wednesday, September 16, 2009

In the time of Moses, stone tablets. Today, Google.

During and after the 2008 campaign, President Obama repeatedly identified himself as a Christian for whom the Sermon on the Mount figured prominently in his faith. The Sermon on the Mount, as he has acknowledged, is a radical text of nonviolence, self-sacrifice, and enemy love.

Since taking office, President Obama has massively escalated the war in Afghanistan, resulting in increasing civilian deaths and massive human suffering on the part of Afghans and Americans sent to fight his war.

This video is offered not as an attack on the President’s personal faith. Instead, it’s intended to be an illustration of the way in which many Christians, including President Obama, seem willing to set aside the ethical content of the Sermon on the Mount when it conflicts with national goals.

Mr. President, for Christ’s sake, end this war.

This video uses clips from Rethink Afghanistan (http://rethinkafghanistan.com), The Passion of the Christ, Gandhi, and various bits of footage from around the Internet. The music featured in the final montage is “Agnus Dei” by Psalters (http://www.psalters.org).

CBS News/The New York Times sponsored a poll on the question of troop levels in Afghanistan that shows the number of people who want less or the same number of troops in Afghanistan outnumber those who want escalation.

More Americans want the same or less troops vs. more in Afghanistan

More Americans want the same or less troops vs. more in Afghanistan

These numbers are more consistent with the Harris/BBC America poll I blogged about a few weeks ago than the surprising Gallup poll that showed strong support for the decision to add troops. My hypothesis about the wide variation between the CBS/NYT poll and the Harris/BBC America poll on one hand and the Gallup poll on the other is that the framing of the Gallup poll question had a deep impact on the results.

The Harris/BBC America poll asked:

Do you believe the United States should commit more or less troops to the war in Afghanistan?

Result: 33 percent want more, 21 percent want same, 27 percent want less, meaning more people favor status quo or fewer numbers of troops than want more troops.

This most recent CBS News/NYT poll asked:

U.S. troop levels in Afghanistan should be…? (increased, decreased, or kept the same?)

Result: 42 percent said increased, 24 percent decreased, 23 percent kept the same. Still, a plurality wants status quo or fewer troops vs. wanting more troops sent to Afghanistan.

But take a look what happens when you reframe the question a bit. The Gallup poll asked:

Do you approve or disapprove of Obama’s decision to send 17,000 more troops to Afghanistan?

Result: 65 percent approve, 33 percent disapprove.

The first two questions only ask about the respondent’s opinion about troop levels. The Gallup question, though, is in past tense (troops are already on their way), but more importantly (I think), it calls the new troop deployment “Obama’s decision.” A significant slice of Americans seem willing to trust Obama even when it goes against their gut. In principle, I’m ambivalent about whether that’s a good or a bad thing, but with regards to Afghanistan, I think that dynamic could be disastrous. The President is out in front of the people on this one, not vice versa. While political advisors in the White House may want to celebrate Obama’s ability to bring the public along on this issue, I’d hold off on popping open any champagne bottles. Because Obama is creating his own political space on this issue, if it collapses, it will cost him dearly in terms of political capital.

I’ve written at length about the strategic problems with our attempt to apply counterinsurgency doctrine to Afghanistan, but my true objection is a moral and spiritual objection: Jesus teaches us to love both our neighbor and our enemy and to reject violence as a means to participate in conflict. Catholic scholar John L. McKenzie wrote:

“If we cannot know from the New Testament that Jesus absolutely rejected violence, we can know nothing of his person or message. It is the clearest of teachings.” (as cited here)

Obama campaigned at length on his Christian bona fides after rumors circulated that he was a secret Muslim. The Jesus he loudly proclaimed during the election has things to say about the current conflict, and if I were on the political and strategic highwire he’s on right now, I’d be praying. But more than that, I’d start listening.

‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you. [Matthew 5:38-41, NRSV]

A few days ago, ex-Vice President Dick Cheney gave an interview to The Politico in which he criticized the new administration’s restrictions on torture. The reporter wrote:

Protecting the country’s security is “a tough, mean, dirty, nasty business,” [Cheney] said. “These are evil people. And we’re not going to win this fight by turning the other cheek.”

Cheney used (and derided, intentionally or not) one of Jesus most central and radical teachings as the antithesis of strength and responsible leadership in the face of violence. He implied that, when dealing with real, mortal enemies, the Sermon on the Mount has nothing to say.

He’s not alone.

A while back, then-Senator Barack Obama said something with similar implications [emphasis mine]:

Which passages of Scripture should guide our public policy? Should we go with Leviticus, which suggests slavery is ok and that eating shellfish is abomination? How about Deuteronomy, which suggests stoning your child if he strays from the faith? Or should we just stick to the Sermon on the Mount – a passage that is so radical that it’s doubtful that our own Defense Department would survive its application?

Obama is now the President of the United States. Presumably, he plans to keep the Pentagon open. In fact, he just ordered 17,000 more troops to deploy to Afghanistan. Obama has intoned the Sermon on the Mount as central to his faith, but, like Cheney, does not seem to trust it to guide a response to evil in the “tough, mean, dirty, nasty” real world of Talibans, al-Qaidas and Iranians.

Cheney and Obama seem to have found a little bit of bipartisan agreement. They both have faith in the power of violence to solve problems. And, as Obama’s new troop deployment and Cheney’s sadistic defense of torture show, they act (or order others to act) on their faith. Both are stuck on anachronistic readings of the Sermon on the Mount.

Theologian Walter Wink’s exegesis on the Sermon shows what a caricature the modern concept of Jesus’ teachings has become. Jesus, speaking to a crowd, living under a humiliating occupation, watching his people bubble towards a suicidal rebellion, gives in the Sermon one of the most revolutionary teachings on love and nonviolence in history. This sermon lays the foundation for a movement that will, in the years after his death and resurrection, become the first totally anti-violence sects in recorded history.

Wink explains:

“Turn the other cheek” suggests the passive, Christian doormat quality that has made so many Christians cowardly and complicit in the face of injustice. “Resist not evil” seems to break the back of all opposition to evil and counsel submission. “Going the second mile” has become a platitude meaning nothing more than “extend yourself.” Rather than fostering structural change, such attitudes encourage collaboration with the oppressor.

Jesus never behaved in such ways. Whatever the source of the misunderstanding, it is neither Jesus nor his teaching, which…is arguably one of the most revolutionary political statements ever uttered.

The Greek word [commonly translated “resist”] means…to resist violently, to revolt or rebel, to engage in an insurrection. Jesus did not tell his oppressed hearers not to resist evil. …He is, rather, warning against responding to evil in kind by letting the oppressor set the terms of our opposition.

A proper translation of Jesus’ teaching would then be, “Do not retaliate against violence with violence [emphasis mine].”

Jesus clarifies his meaning by three brief examples. “If anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also.” Why the right cheek? How does one strike another on the right cheek anyway? Try it. A blow by the right fist in that right-handed world would land on the left cheek of the opponent. To strike the right cheek with the fist would require using the left hand, but in that society the left hand was used only for unclean tasks. As the Dead Sea Scrolls specify, even to gesture with the left hand at Qumran carried the penalty of ten days penance. The only way one could strike the right cheek with the right hand would be with the back of the hand.

What we are dealing with here is unmistakably an insult, not a fistfight. The intention is not to injure but to humiliate, to put someone in his or her place. One normally did not strike a peer in this way, and if one did the fine was exorbitant (four zuz was the fine for a blow to a peer with a fist, 400 zuz for backhanding him; but to an underling, no penalty whatever). A backhand slap was the normal way of admonishing inferiors. Masters backhanded slaves; husbands, wives; parents, children; men, women; Romans, Jews.

We have here a set of unequal relations, in each of which retaliation would be suicidal. The only normal response would be cowering submission. It is important to ask who Jesus’ audience is. In every case, Jesus’ listeners are not those who strike, initiate lawsuits, or impose forced labor. Rather, Jesus is speaking to their victims, people who have been subjected to these very indignities. They have been forced to stifle their inner outrage at the dehumanizing treatment meted out to them by the hierarchical system of caste and class, race and gender, age and status, and by the guardians of imperial occupation.

Why then does Jesus counsel these already humiliated people to turn the other cheek? Because this action robs the oppressor of power to humiliate them. The person who turns the other cheek is saying, in effect, “Try again. Your first blow failed to achieve its intended effect. I deny you the power to humiliate me. I am a human being just like you. Your status (gender, race, age, wealth) does not alter that. You cannot demean me.” Such a response would create enormous difficulties for the striker. Purely logistically, how can he now hit the other cheek? He cannot backhand it with his right hand. If he hits with a fist, he makes himself an equal, acknowledging the other as a peer. But the whole point of the back of the hand is to reinforce the caste system and its institutionalized inequality.

The second example Jesus gives is set in a court of law. Someone is being sued for his outer garment. Who would do that and under what circumstances? Only the poorest of the poor would have nothing but an outer garment to give as collateral for a loan. Jewish law strictly required its return every evening at sunset, for that was all the poor had in which to sleep. The situation to which Jesus alludes is one with which his hearers would have been too familiar: the poor debtor has sunk ever deeper into poverty, the debt cannot be repaid, and his creditor has hauled him into court to wring out repayment.

Indebtedness was the most serious social problem in first-century Palestine. Jesus’ parables are full of debtors struggling to salvage their lives. It is in this context that Jesus speaks. His hearers are the poor (“if anyone would sue you”). They share a rankling hatred for a system that subjects them to humiliation by stripping them of their lands, their goods, finally even their outer garments.

Why then does Jesus counsel them to give over their inner garment as well? This would mean stripping off all their clothing…Put yourself in the debtor’s place…There stands the creditor, beet-red with embarrassment, your outer garment in one hand, your underwear in the other. You have suddenly turned the tables on him. You had no hope of winning the trial; the law was entirely in his favor. But you have refused to be humiliated…You have said, in effect, “You want my robe? Here, take everything! Now you’ve got all I have except my body. Is that what you’ll take next?”

Nakedness was taboo in Judaism. Shame fell not on the naked party but the person viewing or causing one’s nakedness (Genesis 9:20-27). By stripping you have brought the creditor under the same prohibition that led to the curse of Canaan…The creditor is revealed to be not a “respectable” moneylender but a party in the reduction of an entire social class to landlessness and destitution. This unmasking is not simply punitive, however; it offers the creditor a chance to see, perhaps for the first time in his life, what his practices cause-and to repent.

Jesus’ third example, the one about going the second mile, is drawn from the enlightened practice of limiting the amount of forced labor that Roman soldiers could levy on subject peoples. A soldier could impress a civilian to carry his pack one mile only; to force the civilian to go further carried with it severe penalties under military law. In this way Rome tried to limit the anger of the occupied people and still keep its armies on the move. Nevertheless, this levy was a bitter reminder to the Jews that they were a subject people even in the Promised Land.

Imagine then the soldier’s surprise when, at the next mile marker, he reluctantly reaches to assume his pack (sixty-five to eighty-five pounds in full gear). You say, “Oh no, let me carry it another mile.” Normally he has to coerce your kinsmen to carry his pack; now you do it cheerfully and will not stop! Is this a provocation? Are you insulting his strength? Being kind? Trying to get him disciplined for seeming to make you go farther then you should? Are you planning to file a complaint? To create trouble?

From a situation of servile impressment, you have once more seized the initiative. You have taken back the power of choice. The soldier is thrown off-balance by being deprived of the predictability of your response.

This is not the passivity mocked by Cheney nor discarded by the president. In Jesus’ statements we have a perfect illustration of active, nonviolent, loving resistance to evil and oppression. These statements helped build the foundation for the nonviolence of Tolstoy, and later, Gandhi.

Wink asserts that every act of violence is an act of faith in a violent system. Right now, the U.S. is offering up 17,000 more troops and who-knows-how-many civilians on the altar of that system. The American Friends Service Committee has put together an online letter you can send to your federal representatives, asking them to deny funding for troop increases in Afghanistan. It’s a small offering to the nonviolent God revealed in Jesus, but small offerings can be the seeds of miracles.