Swords into Plowshares: Turn the Other Cheek and Let Freedom Ring

Swords into Plowshares: Turn the Other Cheek and Let Freedom Ring January 20, 2014

By Jim Kast-Keat
Associate Minister for Education
Middle Collegiate Church, New York City

People often speak about swords and plowshares as if one ominously threatens to poke your eye out while the other lulls you to cuddle up and go to sleep. The truth is that both these objects are deadly. Yet one threatens life while the other cultivates it. A plowshare is just as sharp as a sword, maybe even sharper. The difference isn’t in the blade but in the way it is wielded. Turning a sword into a plowshare isn’t so much about changing the object as it is changing the object’s purpose, from death to life, from violence to peace.

At Middle Collegiate Church we take the call to turn swords into plowshares literally, forging a gun into a farming tool during our MLK Worship Celebration and Intergenerational Human Rights Teach-In on Sunday, January 19th. Mike Martin from Raw Tools will spend the day reshaping a gun from a symbol of violence into a symbol of peace, the sounds of a hammer striking anvil ringing out for the East Village of Manhattan to hear.

We live in a world filled with sounds that ring out around us, from the growl of empty stomachs to the wail of an ambulance to the echo of a gunshot to the cry of all those plagued by systemic injustice and oppression. We are called to hear their cry and grant them justice so that freedom may ring.

In our world human rights continue to be extended only to those deemed to be the right kind of human. Yet we are called to rehearse a reign of God that envisions a day when all are welcome and our instruments of death become instruments of peace, a day when we will know war no more, a day when we can let freedom ring.

In the New Testament Jesus tells his followers they are to “turn the other cheek.” The call to turn the other check is a call for human rights. In the first century when someone would slap you with the back of their hand they were treating you as an object rather than a subject. But when you turn the other cheek they are unable to land a second dehumanizing slap and instead must strike you with a blow reserved for an equal. You force them to recognize your humanity, to confront you as a person rather than property. They may still strike you, but this time they will recognize your right to be human.

We are not called to be passive and let someone dehumanize us. Nor are we called to retaliate blow for blow with violence gone viral. Instead we are called to turn the other cheek, to lift up our inherent human rights and confront the systems of violence and injustice that plague our swords become plowshares and our world of violence becomes a world of peace.

Joined by the Children’s Defense Fund, Auburn Seminary, Faith in New York, PICO Lifelines to Healing, Intersections International, The Middle Project, Gray Panthers NYC, and the Gray Panthers, Middle Church is exploring the undercurrent of race in gun violence, criminal justice, economic inequality, education disparity, and health care. Middle Church is a community that seeks to embody peace rather than simply think about it. We are a community committed to reshaping ourselves and our communities from death to life, from despair to equality, from hate and injustice to love period. We are committed to a world where we let freedom ring, hearing the cries around us and responding with grace and peace.

May our swords continue to be transformed into plowshares, instruments of peace rather than hate. May freedom ring through us in a way that it is heard around the world. May we recognize the humanity in every person, or in the words of St. Francis, “Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy.”

Watch the video from Middle Collegiate Church’s MLK Jr. Worship Celebration:

To find out more about Middle Church, the Human Rights Teach-In, or the transformation of the gun into a farming tool visit www.middlechurch.org.

Jim Kast-Keat is a divergent thinker, ideation specialist, and aspiring minimalist. He is, among other things, a writer, speaker, theologian, designer, photographer, and all around good guy. (Also, he always wears a shirt and a tie.) Jim spent over half a decade as a pastor at Mars Hill Bible Church in Grand Rapids, MI and currently works as a Product Designer with sparkhouse in Minneapolis, MN. Jim and his wife Jes (the Rev. JKK) currently live in New York City where they do their best to smile, breathe, and go slowly. To find out more about Jim, go to www.jimkastkeat.com and start exploring.

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3 responses to “Swords into Plowshares: Turn the Other Cheek and Let Freedom Ring”

  1. Turning plowshares into swords is an exercise in futility, if one understands what anthropology has been trying to teach us these last 70 years: Agriculture (plowshares) is the primary cause for the increase in human violence (swords.)

    “Agriculture creates government.” ~Richard Manning (2005) Against the Grain: How Agriculture Has Hijacked Civilization, p. 73

    “…we chose the latter [agriculture] and ended up with starvation, warfare, and tyranny.” ~Jared Diamond (May 1987) The Worst Mistake In The History Of The Human Race. Discover Magazine. pp. 64-66. discovermagazine.com/1987/may/02-the-worst-mistake-in-the-history-of-the-human-race

    “The emergence of systematic warfare, fortifications, and weapons of destruction follows the path of agriculture.” ~Violent Origins (Stanford University Press, 1987)

    Even Jesus tried to point this out what anthropology now evidences, with his denunciations of building more barns, accumulating more stuff, and reminding us of those who still roam plain and forest, foraging a free lunch from the hands of the gods.

    Consider the ravens.

    Thus, some theologians now consider the agricultural revolution, what Jared Diamond calls the “worst mistake,” to be the equivalent of humankind’s Original Sin, or The Fall.

    Ched Myers (2005) The Fall. Encyclopedia of Religion and Nature. Edited by Bron Taylor. NY: Continuum.

  2. P.S. If we’re going to keep this violent arrangement we call agricultural civilization (State society, as anthropologist classify it,) and it appears it is here to stay a long time, it will continue to take heavy doses of State violence, that is, the force of swords and guns, to defend land upon which we raise food crops and live sedentary lives.

    Then I would rather live in a State society in which that power of the gun is shared, rather than concentrated into the higher, tighter hands of a hierarchy, as the Second Amendment ensures. This social arrangement is called Egalitarian power sharing in anthropology.

    Here in the United States, we carry on our evolutionary heritage (Boehm, 1999; Service, 1975), or “natural rights” if you prefer, of Egalitarian power sharing in our national documents stating “all men are created equal,” and “We the people.”

    Even Jesus believed in egalitarian power sharing, rather than concentrating sociopolitical power into a few higher, tighter hands.

    “Rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you.” ~Jesus

    Those who do not want to share the power of the State embrace Philistine Politics.

    Not a blacksmith could be found in the whole land of Israel, because the Philistines had said, “Otherwise the Hebrews will make swords or spears!” ~1 Samuel 13:19

    Who wants to end up on the wrong side of the Hebrew/Philistine struggle like Goliath did?

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