Preparing the Way for Peace

What do we mean when we talk about peace? Are we referring to a political peace, the absence of war and violence, or an internal peace, a deep spiritual contentment? Sometimes peace gets defined as a lack of violence but I wonder if it wouldn’t be better defined as a lack of fear. Jesus connects peace and fear more than once in his interactions with the disciples. We often let our fears control us whether we realize it or not. We shop like crazy because we fear not having enough. We think power means prestige because we fear not being in control. And when our fears make us desperate, we turn to violence. But we can achieve peace if we stop letting our fears run our lives.

A first step in preparing the way for peace within ourselves and in the world is to follow the model of John the Baptist who prepares the way for Jesus, whom we might call the bringer of peace, with a “baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sin.” This is just a church-y way of saying that to turn to God (i.e. repent) we need to take that which separates us from God (i.e. sin), our fear, and remove its power over us, leaving it behind. To do that we need to name our fears, recognize, and confess them so we can leave them behind. Naming something can reduce its power over us. To leave our fears ignored, un-named and un-challenged is to leave them in charge. In naming and rejecting the power of our fears, we repent, turning instead to the Divine, to God. We put our trust in the power of love that is our very nature as children of the Divine.

There are a couple of other tools that are helpful in preparing our hearts for peace as well. The first is the practice of non-judgement. Jesus teaches us not to judge others. When we spend too much time and effort on judging people and situations we create fear, anger, and disappointment in ourselves instead of living in peace. We do need to make judgements sometimes but what would it be like if we were extra-slow to judge people and situations as bad or good, right or wrong, as just or unjust? Might we be able to see others in a new perspective? To be more compassionate for what others are going through? To avoid self-pity and depression, always thinking how unfair life is?

The second tool is mindfulness. What if we took just a little bit of time each day to not worry about the past or the future but just live in the moment? Take five minutes today to just pay attention to what’s going on around you, hear the sounds you might normally ignore, look for something that’s always been there but you’ve never noticed before. Engage all of your senses. In that moment, realize that you’re alive and that God loves you. In that moment, when you don’t worry about past or future, there’s nothing else you need. There is nothing to fear. And because in that moment you fear nothing, you let a little peace into your heart.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, December 10, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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Doubling Down

Doubling down is a betting term that involves taking a risk for increased reward. It can also mean to become more tenacious or resolute. In the Parable of the Talents found in Matthew 25:14-30, we can find examples of both. In the parable, a rich landowner entrusts funds to three servants and then goes away on a trip. When the landowner returns, he finds two of the servants have invested the money and doubled it. The third servant buried the money, neither gaining or losing. In accounting for his actions, the third servant basically calls the landowner a tyrant and says he buried the money out of fear. The landowner gives the third servant’s money to the first two and then has the third servant banished, declaring that the rich will get richer and those that have little will lose it.

The first two servants in the parable took a risk, invested their funds, doubled the money, and were rewarded by the landowner. In a way, they doubled down and it paid off. These first two servants are often portrayed as the good guys in this story because we almost automatically interpret the landowner as analogous to God. In this view the first two servants took risks with the gifts they were entrusted with and multiplied them. To be willing to take risks on behalf of the Divine is not a bad lesson.

However, what if the third servant is right? The landowner concludes the parable with the declaration that the rich will get richer but this isn’t what Jesus teaches us elsewhere. Jesus consistently teaches that God will humble the powerful and lift up the poor, that wealth is more problem than virtue. So, what if the landowner really is a tyrant, not meant to represent God at all in the story but instead meant to be just what he is named as – an unfair and dishonest business person? Then, the third servant becomes not the lazy servant but the hero of the story because he refuses to use the money he was given to participate in the systemic evils of the economic system. And, when called to account, he doubles down. He becomes more tenacious and resolute even though it costs him all that he has. What if acting in the manner of this third servant is really what it means to live in the kin-dom of God?

We always come across those forks in the road where we have to decide which path to take and we have to struggle with the indecision and fear, much like I imagine that third servant did. We have to struggle a little to hear God’s call for us. Perhaps this parable is telling us that to follow God’s way of love, to live in the kin-dom, is to face our fears and walk through them, even knowing that things may or may not work out as we want. Because it’s the right thing to do and because, well, what if we spoke truth to the world and it did work out? What if we created new life where before there was death? What if we created a flourishing, abundant world of love, peace, and justice?

God’s kin-dom is a way of life, a way of living into the future. There may be delays and distractions. There may be failures along the journey. But there is also the promise of new life, the promise of something always waiting to be born again. Jesus’ own story doesn’t end with death but with resurrection. Let us be kin-dom people, putting our trust in God and walking God’s path boldly, walking tenaciously and resolutely through our fears into the promise of new, abundant life. Let us be the seeds from which God’s kin-dom of love and justice grows.

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, November 19, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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Called to Serve

Jesus calls his followers to be servant leaders: to lead others by serving them, by doing for them, by acting out of concern for their well-being. This leadership model reminds me of Martin Luther King, Jr’s statement that no one is free until we are all free. By calling us as servant leaders, Jesus asks us to work on our own freedom by freeing others from whatever injustice holds them down: racism, sexism, homophobia, ageism, violence, poverty, and on and on. Until we can free our neighbors from these evils, we cannot ourselves be free of them.

This is the vision of a world free of injustice, filled with love, peace, and hope. It’s what we mean when we talk of the kin-dom of God. But is such a world really possible? I trust in God that it is. If we can envision it we can build it. When we begin to live by the principles of the kin-dom (love, justice, and peace) then the kin-dom begins to exist within each of us. Born within our hearts, the kin-dom begins to grow in the world.

We answer this call to be servant leaders by humbling ourselves in the service of others and not worrying about what we get out of it but serving out of compassion and concern. This type of leadership by example is sorely needed in our “me-first” culture. Jesus’ call to servant leadership stresses the equality of all, that we’re all equally important in God’s sight. It also acknowledges that our true leader as Christians is Christ, God’s word of love to the world. Above all else, we are led by Love.

There are also temptations and dangers when we start to think of ourselves as leaders. We can fall prey to hypocrisy, not practicing what we preach. We can get attached to the power and the praise, becoming all show and no substance. We can also give in to greed, serving only those who can give us something back. A strong relationship with the Holy Spirit can give us the strength and courage we need to help us avoid these kinds of temptations as we answer Christ’s call to work for a justice filled kin-dom.

As followers of Christ we are called to be servant leaders, to serve where, as Frederick Beuchner says, “the place of our deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” By beginning to build the kin-dom within ourselves by opening our hearts to the strength of the Spirit and by offering ourselves as God’s servants in the world, we can make God’s kin-dom a reality. We are called to serve. How will we respond?

(I originally wrote this short reflection for my church’s newsletter. It was inspired by my sermon from Sunday, November 5, 2017. The church’s website is http://www.phoenixchurch.org)

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Growing Up

A poem of mine, Growing Up, has been published over at the Skinny Poetry Journal.

They published the first of a set of three which I had written under that title. Here are parts 2 and 3 of the poem:


A youth disdainfully grasps
futility
within
soapy
spheres.
Futility
bursts
fragile
bubbles.
Futility
grasps a youth disdainfully.


A man respects the wildness,
watches
beautiful
rainbow
refractions,
watches
fleeting
delicate
orbs.
Watches.
The wildness respects a man.

©2017 Kenneth W. Arthur
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More Prayer, Not Less

One of the lessons Christians take from the teaching of the resurrection of Jesus the Christ is that senseless violence is no match for the love of God. Although the world may reject love way in favor or greed, violence, and a thirst for power, we put our trust in the promise that love, forgiveness, and peace will win out in the end. This does not negate our grief or our anger over tragedies of violence that make no sense. It doesn’t lessen our call to act to make such atrocities less likely. Indeed, it offers hope and renews the call to act, to live out of the love of God that is rejected by the world and build the kin-dom with faithful action, compassion, and resolve.

In the face of tragic heart-breaking violence I understand the frustration behind the sentiment that people don’t need our thoughts and prayers, especially when the prayers come from the mouths of politicians who refuse to otherwise act to reduce the violence in our culture. But I’m a little confused when people of faith say we don’t need prayers. We actually need more prayer, not less. Of course, although I think prayer is indeed necessary, prayer alone is not sufficient. We also must act.

I think those who speak against prayer have a basic misunderstanding of what prayer is and is not. It is true we don’t need empty prayers. Jesus teaches in Matthew 6:5-8 that we should not pray empty prayers meant only to put on a show for others. Unfortunately, these are the prayers we get from politicians who want to look like they care but who refuse to act when it is in their power to do so. However, sincere prayer, understood properly, is needed more than ever from people of faith. Prayer is not a magical murmuring that calls upon God to solve all of our problems for us. Such prayer is also useless because it actually discourages us from acting. Prayer is not a magical solution and it never absolves us of the responsibility to care for the world. Prayer is meant to help us act and not avoid acting. Prayer is meant to express our compassion, to open our hearts to God’s call to love and justice, giving us the courage and strength to act. We are the instruments of the Divine. We are God’s voice and hands in this world. We are the means through which God acts in this world. We need more prayer, not less, that God may work through us to end the madness of our culture’s violence. Let us pray for healing, for forgiveness, for wisdom and for courage and when we’re done praying let us take action.

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