God & Country: Love Letters from the Empire

“Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you…

Unless the fear mongers and politicians tell you, ‘Be afraid; your enemies will kill you.’

Then, fearing for your life, pledge your allegiance to the beast over the Lamb,

collude with the empire,

support its military endeavors unquestioningly,

honor those whom the empire tells you to honor,

hate those the empire tells you to hate.

*                 *                 *                    *                  *                    *

Do what you must to preserve your temporal life,

no matter the body count,

no matter the innocent blood,

no matter if it costs your very soul.

Preserve the illusion of dual allegiance,

that ultimately,

you may be children,

not of your Heavenly Father,

But of the empire

Crucifying,

(Shooting, bombing…) your enemies

in the name of God…

just like 2000 years ago,

rather than taking up your cross,

Dying

for your enemies

like God in Christ did.

*               *               *               *               *

Ignore the contradictions if you can,

burry your head in the red white and blue sand

that our illusory promise of self preservation

may serve the best interests of a superpower nation.

“Under God” we’ll say,

whatever on earth means…

But apparently it’s good enough for you religious types to play on our team

Christian Nation?

Glorious empire on land seized from Native Americans, built on the broken, bleeding backs of African Americans…

(don’t trip over the bodies as we make another pass on our Star Spangled parade)

Certainly,

if it makes you feel better; give it that label if you wish.

Just replace King Jesus with Mr. President, settle for pointless culture wars, and trade real Kingdom politics,

Matthew 25

for bumper stickers in the shape of a fish.

*                 *                 *                   *                   *

We don’t care which side

Left or right,

of the aisle you sit on, but participation is the key to it all:

not representation,

indoctrination.

Just make sure your real treasure is found in

life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Your Teacher said ‘your heart will be there too’ and we’ve taken him seriously.

Apparently even more so than you do.

Just be sure that your passing interest in the politics of this so-called heavenly kingdom

(You make it sound so far away. Is it real?)

Doesn’t interfere with the politics of Caesar

and we can work together;

You with US.

This addictive, thrilling cocktail:

Called Christendom

We’ll mix it.

You drink it.

Repeat.

*                *                *                   *

It’s worked so well for us so far.

Don’t go taking Jesus’ words too seriously.

You can totally serve God

And mammon.

Look at you!

In the system, like a champ.

A patriot.

A godly patriot.

You’ve come so far.

Don’t spoil it now.

Your comfort, and security depend on it.

Don’t

Stir

The pot.

*                *                 *                  *                *

Nations rise

And fall.

They always have.

But we’re asking you to bet with us that this one will break the cycle.

Place your faith

Life

Wellbeing

Security

In the “last beast best hope of the world.”

You can even say ‘Jesus is Lord’ while you’re at it

a flag in one hand, a gun in the other.

The Kingdom comes through the death of a Jewish peasant?

Ha!

Please!

We know,

you know you really don’t believe that.

The kingdom comes by death, not of you,

but of others’

sisters, brothers, fathers, uncles, mothers…

When you thank God for your liberty

We know our guns, tanks, ships, and fighter jets

are the table where you really place your bets.

Keep your spirituality just that:

spiritual.

Don’t let it affect reality.

That could screw things up.

Royally.

Start a revolution.

Get you killed.

And you wouldn’t want that.

You know that’s why this Jesus guy was a threat.

One thing had to go.

The revolutionary or the status quo.

‘Better one man die

For a nation.’

That’s how we empires operate time and again.

Built on the system set up by Cain.

But forget about that.

Nothing to see here.

Only stacks of bodies,

Victims of the empire

Covered by monuments, flying flags, myths, and war anthems.

But don’t weary yourself with such troubling talk…

Turn on the news.

Listen to the talking heads.

They’ll tell you what you need to hear to exist safely,

Cause minimal damage.

Open the paper and absorb the satisfying propaganda.

‘We’re right, they’re wrong.’

‘A threat to national security.’

‘Protect our foreign interests.’

Set aside the church calendar.

Adopt the empire’s calendar;

Observe the national liturgies of consumerism and militarism.

Black Friday.

July 4th.

Memorial Day.

We’ve even redone the Christmas season for you.

You’ll fit right in.

You God people-

You make such good, loyal patriots with a bit of…

Shall we say…

healthy reconditioning.

We’ll make you a model citizen in no time.

Say it with us.

“God and country,

God and country,

Country and God

Country and…?

Country.”

 

Yours forever,

The Empire

Books influential to this piece:

“A Farewell to Mars,” Brian Zahnd
“Disarming Scripture,” Derek Flood

“Love Your Enemies”

Yesterday my Twitter feed nearly exploded with nods and tributes to the passing of a hero and a peacemaker, whose legacy will far outlast his life.

I was thinking about it today and I had to wonder…

I’m curious if the world leaders lauding Nelson Mandela’s example in peacemaking and reconciliation with his enemies, thought of the fact that the same treatment of their own enemies might work similar wonders of healing and restoration to what happened in South Africa.

And believe it or not, the American empire, and her people who seem unusually fascinated by violence, would actually be included in those who could learn from his example.

Mandela showed us that even in government, Christ’s ways heal and restore.

I’m not claiming he did everything right, or that he was perfect, but I do say this: his kind hearted treatment of his enemies (the very people who imprisoned him for 27 years of his life, the people who were responsible for the death and mistreatment of his own people) when he became president, was Christlike and nothing short of heroic. He didn’t sweep their crimes under the rug, but rather than using it as his chance to finally get revenge, he went out of his way to help his enemies find restoration.

But to do that, he had to give up his rights: his right to even the score, to show his enemies how those terrible things felt to him.

But he didn’t.

It reminds me a lot of a Jewish carpenter who was killed by His enemies. The crazy thing was, after that, He rose from the dead.

Not many people ever have the chance to avenge their own death. It’s always someone else that does that for them. This man had that chance. Wow, did He ever! He could have done it in style–with vengeance that made all other vengeance look like toddlers scuffling over toys.

But possibly almost as strange as His resurrection, is this: rather than bringing in an army of angels, to help him torture and obliterate the people who hurt Him, He offered to forgive them! He gave up His right to revenge.

Two thousand years later, we still feel the aftershock of such love and forgiveness.

We feel it, because all of us bear an equal portion of the blame for His death in the first place.

Humanity would not exist if God would have taken revenge on all those who wronged Him.

And it’s all very surprising, but maybe we shouldn’t be surprised. It’s His very nature. He tells us in Scripture that He IS love.

I think that’s why He asks those of us who have tasted His radical love and mercy to do the same to those who hurt us.

People sometimes throw around “peace and love” like it just feels good. And maybe that’s because the results of peace and love do feel good, but what brings it about doesn’t very often.

It doesn’t feel good at all to give up the right to revenge. It hurts. It feels like dying. But without death there is no resurrection.

And do we want resurrection. We just don’t like the death that has happens first. At least I don’t. I pretty much hate it.

I don’t see how people think nonviolence is an easy way or a cop out. There are few things inside fallen humans that surpass the desire to preserve our own lives and to fight for what is ours. To win this fight against yourself is one of the most difficult things a human can ever accomplish, and rarely can be, without the help of the One who first showed us that way.

The way of peace is not free.

It really does cost: it costs you power and might even cost your life, but I think it’s worth it: partially because I believe in what Jesus said and did. And partially because history has shown us again and again that He is right: the cost of violence is high. Much, much higher than the cost of peace.

Death is an inevitability for all of us, but that doesn’t mean it’s good or the way things should be. World views that condone and partake in the destruction of human life are not compatible with what the Prince of Peace taught and lived.

I feel like every day I have to learn new ways of giving up my rights. I’ll spend the rest of my life learning it. But I’ve found that when I do, the people around me seem like people again–people God loves.

The interesting thing is when I treat people like people, they act more like people. When I stop controlling them and trying to push them around, they are then free to be more like they’re supposed to be, and they usually end up treating me more like a person too.

They don’t always respond right. But I’m not called to bend them back into shape. I’m called to be faithful.

It’s certainly not easy following the Prince of Peace. But the longer I live, and the more I discover about Him, I’m convinced it’s the only way.

May God give us grace; grace enough to love our enemies, bless those who curse us, do good to those who hate us, and pray for those who use us spitefully and persecute us, that we may be children of our Father in Heaven…

Some notes:

First off: please don’t take that earlier paragraph as a cheap shot at Americans. It really isn’t. I am American so I’m writing about what I know. I guess I’ve heard far too often people revere the way of peace for other people in other places, but then when it comes to the US, it’s somehow different.

America is a nice place to live and I like it here. But I will, by God’s grace, never fight or kill other people for what I have here. Freedom is great, but not when it makes my neighbors in other land die or become less free.

I’d rather (at least I hope so) give up some nice things than have other people die and be treated unfairly so I can have more “blessings” and prosperity. God loves those people dearly, the same as He loves me. And believe it or not, He cares more about them and whether they are loved (especially by those who claim to be His children) than He cares about whether or not the US is a world power.

The US has done much good and would even be considered benevolent and generous compared to a lot of countries, but it has also harmed. And while God does have ways of redeeming even the dark parts of our history, that doesn’t make those things good.

I’m not anarchist or telling people to disrespect the government. Definitely not. I only point out that if you look at United States’ priorities and you look at what we know about God’s priorities, and you still think they’re pretty much the same thing, you should probably read Jesus’ sermons and look at His life more carefully.

There are a lot of people who think: “As goes the US so goes the Kingdom of God.” That’s just not true. God’s Kingdom was being built long before the Declaration of Independence was signed and it will continue forever, long after the US is gone. The advance and power of God’s Kingdom does not hinge on America’s power and dominance in the world. I know it feels that way sometimes, because we like what we have here, but let’s please not change what’s true just because we’d rather it was that way.

I don’t hate America. I just love the ” “Kingdom of the Heavens” more.

(That was much longer than I intended, but it didn’t really fit with rest of the post and I wanted to clarify a few things.)

Second: The comments on this post are only for those interested in wrestling through this issue and discussing it civilly with helpful dialogue. Any comments that don’t fit that description will be deleted. I’m frankly not interested in hours of debate on hypothetical situations, first because they aren’t helpful, and second because I DON’T know what I’d do in certain situations. I only pray that in the heat of all conflict I will hear the Spirit’s above all others and obey it. That’s really all I have to say on that front. Blessings.

-rj