Is There Any Hope for Peace in the New Year?

Is There Any Hope for Peace in the New Year? December 31, 2014

peace / worship

“Bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.”

– Stanley Hauerwas & William Willimon, The Truth About God.

I was recently offered the opportunity to write on the following assigned topic: “make realistic and judicious suggestions about how individuals, communities, and even larger social units… might contribute to peace within families, between adversaries, in the political arena, and even on a global scale.”

I know of only one suggestion I could make: Worship.

I don’t mean worship as in singing a bunch of Chris Tomlin songs with two thousand of your closest friends. The kind of worship I’m recommending cannot happen in a mega church, or any church that is obsessed with church growth. Theologian Stanley Hauerwas once wrote, “Bad liturgy eventually leads to bad ethics. You begin by singing some sappy, sentimental hymn, then you pray some pointless prayer, and the next thing you know you have murdered your best friend.” If Hauerwas is correct, much of what passes for contemporary worship will lead to violence.

I’m talking about a different kind of worship: participation in the life of a local church that is so rooted in a neighborhood, in the scriptures, and in the traditions of the Christian faith that they become hospitable to those they would otherwise leave out.

I’m talking about worship that includes those living on the margins of society.

The church I pastor in Kansas City is called Redemption Church. It’s a small congregation of maybe two hundred people, fifty or sixty of whom are homeless. Members of Redemption offer rides to and from church, a hot shower, coffee, donuts, and a chance to participate in worship to our members who live off the grid. Most of our homeless members are in the throes of addiction, mental illness, or they are hiding from the law. Many come in various stages of insobriety, hoping to sneak a drink or hit of something while they are with us.

Our homeless brothers and sisters are not a project; they are simply part of our church. Yet, the reality is that their participation in worship causes tension—not unlike the tension created in a family when one member has an active addiction. It has taken many years for our congregation to make space for the “crazy” that comes along with homelessness. Worshipping together requires constant adjustment.

One Sunday a homeless man came to receive communion. As he took a piece of bread and dipped it in the cup I saw that his hands were dirty, his fingernails blackened from whatever he had been smoking. He plunged his grimy fingers a couple of inches below the surface of the liquid and received the bread.

Out of the corner of my eye I noticed that the girl who was next in line saw those blackened fingers dip down into the cup as well. I know this woman to be a kind and loving soul. As our eyes met, a moment of understanding passed between us. She was next. She had to dip her bread in the cup not knowing what was on those fingers. “’Remember the body and blood of Christ,” I said. She grabbed a piece of bread, plunged it into the cup, and put it in her mouth. I could see her having to almost choke down the body of Christ.

The memory of my friend having to choke down the body of Christ in order to share this common meal with someone who is terribly addicted and broken is seared into my consciousness. Worship should be costly in just such a way.

Q1.001Worshipping with “the other” in all its forms requires us to choke down the hostility we would otherwise feel toward those who are not like us, those with whom we are most likely to end up in some kind of violent confrontation. Worship is meant to train us in this proficiency. If we don’t have to choke down the body of Christ every now and then, then we have no hope of living in peace.

Peace is not an accomplishment or a status. Peace is an orientation of the soul that is formed by a community of peace. In a society such as ours (a community steeped in violence), the soul must undergo serious training in order to cultivate the willingness to suffer violence rather than commit violence. Nowhere else in Western society does that kind of soul-formation have the potential to happen except in the local church.

Not that participation in most American churches would constitute a guarantee against the kind of individualistic, self-referential lifestyle that inevitably leads to violence, (See Hauerwas above). But, if there’s any place left in our culture where a human being can be formed by a different story—one that is defiant in the face of the inhuman, inhumane, and dehumanizing nature of American life—it would have to be the church… and not just any church.

But, in order for a church to train its members for peace it must include in its worship those we are tempted to avoid: the poor, marginalized, and mentally ill, those who are racially different from us, the undocumented alien, our neighbors in the LGBT community, anyone who might often be left out or left behind, and so on. Participation in such a community can train us for peace precisely because it would require us to make space for other people’s “crazy.” We all have some crazy; a freak flag; those quirks, foibles, oddities, deficiencies, prejudices, and eccentricities that make us hard to love.

This kind of worship is nearly always inconvenient and costly, but scripture consistently teaches that if worship costs us nothing, then it has no value to God, or to us. However, worship that requires us to make space for otherness holds great value.

Worship involves the kind of intimacy that mitigates violence. Worship requires an absence of hostility. Jesus was explicit about this command. “If you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment… So when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister.” (Mt. 5:22-24). Apparently there is no way to draw closer to God without drawing closer to one another.

When we worship we become vulnerable to those who may hurt us. We lay down our weapons, grievances, grudges, anger and hostility in order to approach the communion table, or we do not approach at all. If we want to pursue peace, then we need to worship not only with the poor and the marginalized, but also with our enemies.

When we worship with “the other”—especially those who make us uncomfortable, whose presence feels offensive or distasteful, those toward whom we feel a sense of hostility—we will automatically feel tension. God’s plan seems to be to use this tension to help our soul shift toward peace.

The hostility we feel toward those who are not like us is acceptable in almost every other part of our society, but it is distinctly out of place in Christian worship. Any hostility toward “the other” offends God, and it offends the community. As we worship together, we are forced to give it up. Only then are we free to make any lasting movement toward peace.

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  • charlesburchfield

    It’s odd to be reading ‘marginal’. Those not like me are neurotypical. ‘they’ hold down jobs, raise children, are college educated & have great customer service skills! That is my fantasy. When it comes to being around the neurotypicals it generally makes me want to put up barriers so I won’t get hurt. Today I will try to be fearless and let tim’s words encourage me. Whenever I step out my door I think ‘I am carrying church in my heart to share in a ‘i’/’thou’ encounter with anyone.’ It means I am disciplining myself to practice a felt sense of Jesus being always present w/ me. 40+ years ago I started faking it. Now I’m making it!

  • billwald

    (If I am contemplating a potentially dangerous action) Taking chances with my life is one thing. Taking chances with the lives of my minor children is a different matter.

    Peace, like safety and freedom, are internal mental states.

  • billwald

    Wrong question? Peace, like safety and freedom, is an internal mental state that is not dictated by external circumstances.

    Will political, social, and personal violence disappear? Maybe when Jesus returns, the space aliens land on the White House lawn, or the next mass extinction occurs.

  • Weismonger

    No….there is NO hope for peace in 2015.
    There is no such thing as “peace.” Peace is a misnomer of when you are asleep and your enemy is preparing for war against you.
    Fouquet…Napolean’s Minister of War stated: god is on the side of those with the most guns.
    Those who love peace…must first prepare for war. And at this time we are not preparing for war….Obama is surrending the United States to the enemy of all freedom, Islamic terrorism…and just possibly Russian aggression and territorialism.
    Dreams of peace is a romantic’s delusion of a utopian world…which in reality can only attempt to become actual…through a police state. This is why the word “Islam” means “submission.” You must submit, become a slave, and have no individual rights or freedoms….to achieve peace. Islam recognized this fact of human nature a 1000 years ago…. but a religious dicatorship is not true peace, it is slavery.
    Human beings are NOT evolved and intelligent enough to achieve “peace”…because what disturbs “peace” is when one person or a group’s idea…conflicts with another group’s ideas of peace…and thus war begins.
    Religion has murdered more people in the name of god than any other reason. Religion causes wars….and it could therefore be said that the ore Atheististic one becomes in their own person…the less war and more individual rights will lead to some semblance of over all peace…by some.

  • chrijeff

    Peace is a beautiful idea, but in practice I very much doubt that there has been one single year since humanity first stood up on its hind legs when somebody hasn’t fought somebody somewhere over something. Human nature isn’t going to change. It is what it is.

  • Weismonger

    NO…peace is not going to come to this planet…ever. Why? Because of human nature….as indeed we are animals, and war is what animals do. Even the so called peaceful “cows” fight among each other….rabbits engage in battles to get the best mates and on and on.

    There is no such thing as “peace.” Peace is when you are asleep, and your enemy is preparing for war against you. The idea of “peace” is most often offered up on the alter of religious fantasy…and religion has never, ever solved the problem of human behavior leading to war…to wit:

    Peace has never been achieved by mouthing the words “peace” and feeling good about yourself that you are promoting peace.

    Very few religions if any have been successful in defending freedom or secularism. In fact, most religious countries today are being over run by a more powerful Islamic force…which hates the idea of individual rights and freedom. In many ways all religions have basically given up on life, and have turned inward as a form of escapism. Religion is the paragon of escapism…. and serves no purpose other than to help the believer “hide” from reality.

    When someone plays the “peace” word game…as if merely saying the word “peace” solves anything, they signal that they are weak targets in which the enemy believes they are dealing with the “simple minded” and…easily dispatched into the imaginary heaven various religions believe in. Religious “Peace” serves no purpose in how to achieve peace, tolerance, and progress. None.

    Nothing replaces the beauty of reality to solve real problems using real solutions. However, no religion has any solutions grounded in reality. Atheists however, are promoting a book that explains where the fantasy of religions came from and why. To wit:

    Millions of The Belief Book need to be printed, and handed out to every elementary school child in America. “The Belief Book” explains where all the imaginary gods and religions came from….and why they don’t exist.

    I am also advocating that Ayn Rand Kindergartens be set up to teach the simplistic beauty, and wonderful thought process of reality, logic, and objectivism.

    The ONLY way to secure our future is to begin with the young…plant the seeds of the value of reality and logic in their minds before they are over taken with religious fantasies.

    Once a child believes in religious fantasies they begin to think that all is a fantasy and that they can call upon imaginary gods to solve their problems, or that life is like a video game…making them completely unprepared for adult life, voting, and citizenship.

    Yes, it will piss the Christians, Jews, and Moslems off to no end…but so what? The religious have been attempting to “MIND RAPE” our children with religion for millenia. It is OUR turn to save their souls (elementary energy and intelligence) from making the same mistakes as our forebearers…who de-evolved into war, hate, intolerance, and today…a return by the Christians to a Christian police state…where women no longer have any rights over their own bodies…when pregnant.

    We have to step up our game…because 2016 if fast coming upon us in which it is likely a religious GOP president will be elected…who will no doubt… write executive orders, and get the GOP dominated house and senate to pass proreligion laws….which would surely create a Christian police state.