Some days of our lives are thematic. We don’t know it at the time, but throughout the day we’re learning a single significant life grounding lesson through seemingly random and disparate experiences. At the end of the day, or perhaps in the middle of the night, we can see that there was one theme played by several instruments, and that if we’ll only have ears to hear, we’ll be changed for the better. Yesterday was just such a day for me, as it included encounters with Boko Haram, the Pope, and Dracula, all offering the same life giving message….
It began with this remarkable story from Nigeria about learning to love Boko Haram. “What enemies, precisely, are we to love Jesus? I mean, there are those who gossip about us, or we find annoying at work. I’ll get there. But terrorists? Be serious Jesus” Boko Haram has destroyed 278 buildings and 1674 gathering places for Christians in Nigeria. Monica Dna watched Boko Haram behead her husband and slit the throats of two sons after forcibly entering her home in the middle of the night. Her throat was cut too and she was left for dead but survived and is one of many survivor voices advocating ‘the way of Jesus’ as response.
There’s been a systematic campaign of assassinations and bombings of Christians since 2009. What’s less known is that the Christians of Nigeria are overwhelmingly Anabaptist, which means that they are theologically and philosophically committed to non-violence, and as such have had their ideology deeply tested. It’s one thing to be pacifist in the USA, another thing entirely in 2015 Nigeria. The stories in the article tell of the profound otherworldly courage which exists in such faith communities. Sacrifice, prayer, faith, love for one’s enemies, and depth of courage are present here in a way that seems conspicuously absent among those vocally arguing for the right to own guns in the name of freedom. One pastor writes, “because I was raised Muslim I know how they think and how to calm them down and make peace. I always treat them as fellow human beings, trying to understand them.” He then adds, “We take what Jesus said about forgiveness seriously…” as he speaks of a vision to break the cycle of violence through the way of forgiveness and unconditional love of one’s enemies.
I put the article down, convicted and chastened by the example of my Nigerian brothers and sisters, and then turn on the TV to watch while I work out. The Pope is just being introduced to the US Congress, and so I sit and watch, transfixed as this godly man speaks truth to power. He’ll challenge our political leaders to value all life, including life in the womb and the lives of immigrants fleeing terror and oppression. He’ll challenge the crass consumption of consumerist capitalism as a source not only of soul grief, but environmental degradation. But most significant, he’ll speak of the need for civility and cooperation as the most vital ingredients those charged with governing must exercise in these perilous challenging times. I watch, grief stricken, as the respective sides of the aisle cheer only when their party’s agenda is vindicated by his words, offering stony silence when chastened.
Here too, I see that the way of Jesus is the way of surrender. I see that I’ll not get everything I want; ever. Therefore, if I’m to work of the common good of a culture, I’ll need to work with those who view the world differently than I, and this will require listening, dialogue, friendship, and the willingness to lay down my ideological arms at times in pursuit of real answers that will only arise when people listen and work together.
That this Pope will leave this hall of power and dine with the homeless reminds me that looking like Jesus means not just serving, actually loving, the vulnerable and marginalized who are in our worlds, and they are in all of our worlds if we’ll but open our eyes. But this too requires sacrifice, of time, comfort, and personal agendas.
Finally, the day ends at the theater, where my wife and I watch Dracula, a play adaption of the Bram Stoker novel. Without giving too much away, I’ll simply say two things:
1) If you’re near Seattle, don’t miss it – playing at Taproot Theater now.
2) The play tied the day together perfectly, as it became apparent, one last time, that the dark and destructive powers of this world will always and only be disarmed by sacrifice. The broken body. The poured blood, The crushed grape. The cross. The non-violence of the Anabaptists of Nigeria. The release of one’s fundamentalist political ideology, sacrificed for the common good.
All day long, God was saying the same thing to me. “You think that power and influence are the fuel of the gospel Richard? Think again. It’s always been the same, whether in resistance Germany, or MLK’s south, or present day Nigeria. God’s weapons are love, service, and sacrifice. “ Take those out of your Christianity and you have words; you have religious systems; you have institutions — but the essence will be gone.
I’m still thinking about all three encounters today, as I look over my sermon notes for Sunday, split wood, and pray for Nigeria, the US Congress, and those stuck in the oppression of addiction and darkness.
O thou Christ
Thank you for speaking into our dark world through the example of suffering saints, speeches to Congress, and dark novels. Give us not only eyes to see, but hearts that are receptive enough to respond, in order the way might become people of hope and light in the midst of all that’s unfolding in our dark world. Amen.