Thursday, 27 August 2015

Some thoughts on ministry and “Holy Envy”

(Address at the Annual Meeting, Tasmanian chapter of Spiritual Care Australia, 27th August 2015)

When I was invited to speak to this annual meeting, my brief was to speak on “Providing Pastoral Care to people of differing Faith Traditions to our own - and to those of no faith”.

Thinking about the topic, I tweaked the title, thinking of the experienced chaplains around this table and given that I am one of the “new kids on the block”, chaplaincy-wise, in Tasmania.



My title now is “Some thoughts on ministry and ‘Holy Envy’”, borrowing what I see as a very useful idea from a leader in ecumenical and interfaith relations in the second half of the 20th century: the late Krister Stendahl. Dr. Stendhal was a Swedish Lutheran who served for most of his career as Professor of New Testament at Harvard. Late in his career, he was invited back to Sweden to serve as the Lutheran bishop of Stockholm.

Much of Stendahl’s scholarly work was relevant to the area of the relationship of Christians and Jews. He served on many international dialogue groups involving Christians and Jews.

One phrase, however, for which Stendahl has become very well known in recent decades, comes from his involvement in another area of the relationships among people of faith. It’s the idea of “Holy Envy”. It actually arose in the context of the relations between mainstream Christians and Latter-day Saints. This idea of “Holy Envy” has been applied to many other areas of ecumenical and interfaith relations. (For example, I was introduced to the notion myself in the context of Christian-Jewish relations.)

In 1985, soon after Stendahl had begun his service as bishop, there was a public controversy in Sweden over the fact that the Latter-day Saints Church – the Mormons – were building a temple in suburban Stockholm as a regional centre for their ministry in the Nordic countries.

In the midst of that controversy, Stendahl suggested some principles for ecumenical and interfaith relations which he called “Stendahl's three rules of religious understanding”. They are:

1. When you are trying to understand another faith group, you should ask the adherents of that faith and not the faith’s enemies.

2. Don't compare your best to their worst.

3. Leave room for "holy envy."

By “holy envy”, Stendahl meant that you should be willing to recognize elements in the other religious tradition or faith that you admire and that you wish could, in some way, be reflected in your own religious tradition or faith.  In other words, you’re saying in regard to some aspect of the faith’s beliefs and practices, “Wow! I’d like it if our lot had a bit of that!” That’s “holy envy”.

Now, I can talk about some of my own areas of “holy envy” and some of you may find it interesting … and others may find it boring. And besides, I’m planning to write a book over the next few years using that actual theme … and I don’t want to discourage y’all from buying my book – when and if it ever comes out.

But, anyway, I think this time may be far more useful to y’all if you do some of the work yourselves. So that’s what we’ll be doing.

For the next few minutes, sit in silence, on your own and think for a bit about other communities of God’s people whom you know, but which are not your own. … For some of you, you may think of faith groups that are very similar to yours in many ways … for others, it may be faith groups that are radically different to yours. … Think about some aspect of some group – at least one aspect, but perhaps more - that leads you to experience “holy envy”, that leads you to think “Wow! I’d like it if our lot had a bit of that!”

 
(silence and reflection)

 
Now that you’ve had a chance to think about this, and come up with at least one example of “holy envy”, pair up with one other person and share your examples of “holy envy”.
(conversation in pairs)

 
Right, as the TV chefs frequently say, here’s some I prepared earlier.

I can think of a number of examples where I relate to another community of God’s people with some “holy envy”. But then, again, I’ve had a fair bit of time to think about this.

I’ll only mention two examples … but I can think of more. But I’d like for you do more of the talking (and besides, I want you to buy my book whenever it gets finished).

The two examples of “holy envy” I’ll mention today each relate to Christian churches (although I can also think of examples related to communities outside the Christian faith as well).

 
Firstly, I frequently say “Wow! I’d like it if our lot had a bit of that!” when I think of the practice of prayer and spirituality within the Roman Catholic Church. Wherever you go in the world, if a group of Christian are seeking to make their practice of prayer a bit deeper, a bit more profound, a bit more contemplative, and a bit less of a “wish list”, one thing is very likely. Whatever the denominational background of the group, the chances are high that the person leading the exercise is Catholic … or else learned much of their practice of prayer and contemplation in a Catholic setting. “Wow! I’d like it if our lot had a bit of that!” Holy envy.

Secondly, there’s the Anglican Communion. Those of you who are Anglicans have the good fortune to be part of a church whose practice of worship demonstrates that, when the people of God gather to worship God, it can be an occasion of great beauty and elegance. And this isn’t only for special occasions (even if you do pull off special occasions brilliantly) but even on the most ordinary Sunday sometime in August or September. “Wow! I’d like it if our lot had a bit of that!” Holy envy.

Those are my two examples. What are yours?


(Sharing and discussion)


Just in closing, for those of us who are involved in pastoral care in chaplaincy-type settings experience the practice of ministry that crosses the bounds of our regular faith traditions.
· Each of us is a person who lives and worships within a particular style of faith and spirituality.
· Most of us frequently minister to people of very different styles of faith and spirituality – on a regular basis – some more frequently than others.

Finding those aspects in the faith and practice of our neighbours which create this sense of “holy envy” within us may be a good start for us in the process of ministering to people who are religiously different to ourselves in a way that combines:
· integrity for our own faith and spirituality,
· integrity for the faith and spirituality of the person receiving pastoral care,
· compassion for all, and
· acknowledging the one God who is far greater than any of our theologies.

 

(general discussion)

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Sacred Spaces: a sermon (1st Kings 8: 22-30, 41-43)

Today’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures picks up a theme from the Old Testament lesson from five weeks ago.  
 
Five weeks ago, our lesson from 2nd Samuel had King David declare his desire to build a temple for God, a permanent shrine for the Ark of the Covenant. Even though Nathan the Prophet thought this was a good idea at first, God gave Nathan another message for David: “I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.”
 
In other words, God told Nathan, “Give Dave a different message. I’m not the kind of small-g god that needs a shrine. I’m the kind of big-G God that moves around among people, the kind of God that can’t be confined in any shrine.”  
 
By the time we get to today’s lesson, there were a few changes. David had died, and his son Solomon was king. Solomon had picked up on this temple project. The temple was completed and ready to be dedicated.
 
Today’s lesson from the Hebrew Scriptures is the prayer which tradition says was prayed by Solomon at the dedication of the temple in Jerusalem. There are a number of important things in this prayer. I’ll mention three:
  • One is the affirmation that God is not contained by our places of worship. God does not need the buildings we erect for God. “But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Even heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you, much less this house that I have built.”
  • The second is that, while God is not contained by our places of worship, while God does not need the buildings we erect for God, we need them. (I’ll get back to this in a moment.)
  • The third is the affirmation that God who made Godself known to the Jews will also make Godself known to other peoples. “Likewise when a foreigner … comes and prays … then hear in heaven your dwelling place … so that all the peoples of the earth may know your name ….” This statement was a very early move, almost unique among all the cultures of the world at the time, toward understanding God as far more than the tribal God of a single culture.
 
But, anyway, as I said a moment ago, while God is not contained by our places of worship, while God does not need the buildings we erect for God, we need them. We hear this in some of the words of Solomon’s prayer: “Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.”
 
While God is not contained by our places of worship, while God does not need the buildings we erect for God, we need them. As part of our human nature, we need all the visible and tangible reminders of the sacred that we can get.
 
There are many well-meaning Christians who would tell us that we don’t need our places of worship; that we can worship just as well in someone’s loungeroom, or in a school classroom, or on the golf course, or whereever. And of course, when the need arises, the people of God can and will do just that.
 
 But, for most of us, the experience of worship includes the experience of being in a sacred space, of being in a location that was hallowed by many others worshipping God over the years. While there are those saints who can see any spot as hallowed ground, for most of us there is this real need for a sacred space.
 
Even for those who are not regular worshippers, there is often this need. Thus there are public controversies whenever a denomination proposes to close a church building. There are many who, while not frequent worshippers themselves, see their own sense of the sacred diminished by any proposal to close a place of worship. 
 
While God is not contained by our places of worship, while God does not need the buildings we erect for God, we need them. As part of our human nature, we need all the visible and tangible reminders of the sacred that we can get.
 
As Solomon prayed, “Regard your servant’s prayer and his plea, O Lord my God, heeding the cry and the prayer that your servant prays to you today; that your eyes may be open night and day toward this house, the place of which you said, ‘My name shall be there,’ that you may heed the prayer that your servant prays toward this place. Hear the plea of your servant and of your people Israel when they pray toward this place; O hear in heaven your dwelling place; heed and forgive.”

Monday, 17 August 2015

“The Law that Liberates: the Ten Commandments Today”: (8) “Liberating our thoughts” (Exodus 20: 1-2, 17)

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.

To repeat, my general introduction to this series of posts:
It is timely to speak to speak of the Ten Commandments today. Politicians – whether religious or not - are referring to these ancient Jewish laws a great deal these days. It is interesting (but not surprising) that the secular world often gives more importance to these commandments as a key aspect to the life of faith than do people who attend worship regularly.
  • Traditionally, people who view religion mostly in terms of a set of moral rules and regulations are usually not the people who attend worship regularly.
  • Traditionally, people who attend worship regularly know that there is much more to the life of faith. God offers unconditional grace, mercy, compassion, and love to all people ... regardless of our ethical standing.
In a sense, this series of articles may be an example of the secular world setting at least part of the church’s agenda. Sometimes, though, the church needs to let the world set its agenda.
 
And, for all people of faith, there has traditionally been a tension between “law” and “grace”. I believe that this is an artificial tension. 
  • For each of the Peoples of the One God (for Christians, for Jews, for Muslims, and for others) God’s compassion comes first, before we do anything, before we can do anything. God’s compassion always precedes any response we would ever make. The one living God is always the God of radical grace.
  • But, as well, for each of the Peoples of the One God, God’s compassion calls forth our own response of gratitude. And a significant part of our response always includes the ethical quality of our lives. 
The two go hand-in-hand.
 
And, in all this, there are those who always see legalism as someone else’s problem.
  • Christians who see legalism as “a Jewish problem”, ... and not as our own problem.
  • Protestants who see legalism as “a Catholic problem”, ... and not as our own problem.
  • Mainstream Christians who see legalism as “an evangelical problem”, ... and not as our own problem.
Legalism is a temptation faced by all the people of God:
  • Christian, Jewish, or Muslim;
  • Protestant, Catholic, or Orthodox;
  • Mainstream, evangelical, or “progressive”. 
Legalism is a temptation faced by us all. We can all say, with the writer of the comic strip “Pogo”: “We have met the enemy, ... and he is us.”
 
And there also may be issues here of how we view the origins of these Ten Commandments.
  • Some will view the giving of the Ten Commandments literally, in the way that the Book of Exodus describes it. Moses was up there on the mountain, getting the stone tablets directly from God. (Those of us who remember Cecil B. DeMille’s movie – with Charlton Heston as Moses and the late Yul Brynner as the Pharoah – may have very vivid visual images of Moses getting the tablets from God.)
  • Others may view the origins in another way, as the product of a community of people in exile, under great pressure in their life together. The community sought to state their deepest core values in a simple way. The community also sought to link these core values intimately to the God who liberated them centuries before. 
I’ll put my own cards on the table. I prefer the latter view. (So do the majority of contemporary biblical scholars, both Christian and Jewish.) But, in reality, with either view, we are still invited to honour these ten ancient Jewish laws and to receive them with the utmost seriousness for our own life of faith.
 
So here we go for one more time.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.

Traditionally, this commandment was directed at the less economically prosperous members of society.  The commandment was interpreted as particularly advising ... directing ... even demanding that the poor and those of modest means must be content with their lot in life.  Don’t desire a better lot in life too much.  Some are destined to prosper economically.  Others are not.  If you are one of the “have-nots”, be content with your lot in life.  As one verse of “All things bright and beautiful”, now thankfully omitted from most hymnbooks, puts it:
The rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate,
God made them high or lowly and ordered their estate.

It is a good thing that this verse has been omitted from hymnbooks.  It is very bad theology.  God does not will social inequality.  God never has willed social inequality.

And, in fact, if we consider the scriptures, whenever we see examples of people violating this commandment against coveting, the violators are usually the rich and the powerful and the victims are usually far more vulnerable than the violators.

·         King David coveted Bathsheba, the wife of his general Uriah.

·         King Ahab coveted a vineyard owned by a small farmer named Naboth.

This commandment against coveting has very little to do with the just and rational desire of the “have-nots” to improve their lot in life.

This commandment against coveting has everything to do with the unjust and irrational desire of the “haves” to acquire more and more, often at the expense of the “have-nots”.

This commandment is not about:
The rich man in his castle, the poor man at the gate,
God made them high or lowly and ordered their estate.

Rather, this commandment is about encouraging all of us (but particularly those of us who are more fortunate economically) to “live simply ... so that others may simply live”.

But this idea runs counter to what we have been brain-washed by our advertising-driven culture into believing we need. 

·         We are being taught by the media that we need – and that we have a right to own – great petrol-guzzling four-wheel-drive Toorak tractors.

·         We are being taught by the media that we need – and that we have a right to own – huge McMansions.

·         We are being taught by the media that we need – and that we have a right to own – all the latest electronic adult toys.

·         We are being taught by the media that those who do not believe that we need all this stuff – and do not believe that we have an inalienable right to all these possessions - are strange people; and threats to our economic and social well-being.  It’s like the message proclaimed in one film from the decade of greed, the 1980s:  “He who dies with the most toys, wins.” 

But, running counter to all this we hear the challenge of today’s commandment:

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.

Perhaps, in contemporary terms, we also hear:

·         You shall not covet your neighbour’s McMansion;

·         ... or your neighbour’s trophy wife,

·         ... or your neighbour’s toyboy,

·         ... or your neighbour’s personal trainer,

·         ... or your neighbour’s Toorak tractor,

·         ... or your neighbour’s iPhone or digital TV,

·         ... or your neighbour’s facelift or silicone implants,

·         ... or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.

Perhaps, in contemporary terms, we are being encouraged by this commandment to liberate our thoughts from the tyranny of “He who dies with the most toys, wins.”.  We are being challenged to embrace the freedom to “live simply ... so that others may simply live”.

You shall not covet your neighbour’s house; you shall not covet your neighbour’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything else that belongs to your neighbour.

Monday, 10 August 2015

“The Law that Liberates: the Ten Commandments Today”: (7) “The loyalty that liberates ... the generosity that liberates ... the honesty that liberates” (Exodus 20: 1-2, 14-16)

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; ...

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

I’m looking at three of the commandments together today, for two reasons because I believe these three commandments really belong together, as we shall see.

First of all, I’d like to tell two brief jokes.  I know three jokes about the Ten Commandments.  I’ve already told one of the three (the one where the businessman looked himself in the mirror after hearing a rousing sermon on the Ten Commandments and said to himself, “Well, at least I’ve never made a graven image.”).  The other two are relevant to today’s group of commandments.

In the first joke, Moses was seen coming down from the mountain with the stone tablets, and he said to the Israelites:  “I have some good news and some bad news.”

“What’s the good news?” they asked.

“I managed to negotiate him down to ten.”

“What’s the bad news?” they asked.

“I couldn’t get him to budge on adultery.”

And, as they would have said in the English of the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer, the second joke is like unto it.

There was a minister, a real fire-and-brimstone type who lost his wristwatch.  To make matters worse, he believed a member of his congregation stole the watch.  While playing golf on his day off with an older, more experienced minister, similarly inclined to a fire-and-brimstone approach, he asked his colleague what to do.

“Well, it’s easy,” said the older minister.  “You preach a sermon on the Ten Commandments, and when you get to the part about ‘Thou shalt not steal,’ you confront them about the watch.  If all goes well, you’ll get the watch back by Monday morning.”

A week later, the two ministers met again.

“Well,’ said the older minister, “did my idea work?”

“Did it ever?  I preached the sermon on the Ten Commandments and, when I got to the part about committing adultery, I remembered where I left my watch.”

But, even discounting these two old jokes, these three commandments belong together.  They are profoundly linked together by the two verses that introduce the whole group of commandments:

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; ...

The message here was: You were once slaves, but God has liberated you.  You are no longer a gang of slaves but a nation of free people.  Do not act like slaves.  Act like free people.

A slave could not form a lasting intimate relationship.  A slave could be sold.  A slave’s partner could be sold.  A slave was expected, if instructed to do so, to satisfy the sexual urges of the master or a member of the master’s family.  A slave had no choice.  A slave’s intimate relationships were, by necessity, very temporary and very provisional, and not always voluntary.  By contrast, a free person had the privilege of entering into a lasting intimate relationship into which one could give one’s full loyalty.

Similarly, a slave had no property.  A slave was property.  The only person a slave was in a position to rob was the master.  Since the master had already stolen the slave’s freedom, ethically it wasn’t really theft if the slave ripped off the master’s goods.  The master still had stolen far more from the slave than the slave had stolen from the master.

As well, a slave in the ancient world could not give evidence in court.  This right was reserved for free people.  A slave could not bear witness, either false or true, against anyone.

These three commandments recognise and celebrate the reality that the people who received them were free people:

·         people whom God had liberated;

·         people to whom God had given both the rights and responsibilities of living in civil society;

·         people enjoying the loyalty that liberates, the generosity that liberates, and the honesty that liberates.

And, as well each of these three commandments have been further sharpened over the years.

You shall not commit adultery.

Originally, this commandment was only applied to situations where the woman was married.  For many centuries, people believe that a married man, as long as he kept away from married women, could stray.  But over the centuries, (for Christians, for Jews, and for the broadly non-religious) the sense of this commandment has been broadened so that now there is the more just expectation of marital loyalty both from married women and from married men.

And today, the expectation is broadening even further.  There is an expectation of loyalty not only for those who are married in a formal sense, but increasingly now for anyone in an intimate relationship, whether formally married or not.  And I believe that communities of faith need to provide similar levels of pastoral support and encouragement for these couples as we for do couples in traditional marriages.

And (as they say in the TV ads for steak knives) ... and there’s more!  This loyalty that liberates needs to be about far more than just sex.  Some religious people seem to have picked up the idea that, for a couple, as long as you aren’t doing anything overtly sexual with anybody else, you can treat each other as badly as you wish.  The loyalty that liberates needs to be about far more than sex.

You shall not steal.

Theft takes many forms.  Increasingly, many people in our society have come to realise that an unjust distribution of financial and material resources is a form of theft.

As a result, to live in the light of this commandment needs to include a consciousness on the part of those of us who are comparatively prosperous to work for a just community, a just nation, and a just world, where all people can enjoy the necessities of life.  When we do this, we live within the light of this commandment and participate in the generosity that liberates.

If we do not do this, we are stealing, even if we do so in a far more subtle way than the burglar, the armed robber, or the tax cheat.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

Today, we are not only confronted with individuals bearing false witness against other individuals.  We are also confronted with groups of people bearing false witness against other groups of people.

To give a humourous example, think of the stereotypes that exist of the supporters of one sporting team or another.  Think of the rough-and-ready working blokes who are reputed to follow Collingwood, Port Power, or the Western Bulldogs.  Think also of the effete elites who are said to follow Hawthorn or Melbourne.  There are similar contrasts in in the stereotypes of sports fans in other cities around the world:  Celtic and the Rangers in Glasgow, the Mets and the Yankees in New York.  These stereotypes, while essentially humourous, are a form of false witness (except of course, in the case of fans of the New York Yankees).

More seriously, in politics, the various parties all try to cast each other in the worst possible light and, increasingly, in as personal a way as possible.  Is this negative campaigning a form of false witness?

And it goes even deeper.

·         Our Australian community has spent most of the time since 1788 bearing false witness against our indigenous population.
"
·         Throughout the English-speaking world, many "Protestants" have spent much of the past five hundred years bearing false witness against Roman Catholics.  We still hear this stuff today, even if it now comes more readily from people of no faith than from people of "Protestant" faith. 

·         Christians generally have spent much of the past fifteen hundred years bearing false witness against Muslims.  We have also spent much of the past two thousand years bearing false witness against Jews.

We are all challenged to find the ways in which we have borne false witness against any group of our neighbours:

·         whether Aboriginal or Catholic,

·         whether Jewish or Muslim,

·         whether Liberal or Labor,

·         whether Carlton or Collingwood,

and to transform our practices so as to embrace the honesty that liberates.

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; ...

You shall not commit adultery.

You shall not steal.

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour.

As a gang of slaves was liberated by God to become a nation of free people, they were also challenged by God to take up the rights and responsibilities of their freedom.

So are we.
 
In the first post in this series of articles, there is a general introduction to the series.

Monday, 3 August 2015

“The Law that Liberates: the Ten Commandments Today”: (6) “Breaking the cycle of violence ... establishing a culture of peace” (Exodus 20: 1-2, 13)

In the Book of Exodus, we find this fifth of the commandments, as it we find it in the New Revised Standard Version: 

You shall not murder.

And then, the same verse from the Jerusalem Bible:

You shall not kill.

There’s a difference of opinion among recent translators of the Hebrew Scriptures as to the best translation of today’s key text.  The text is rendered either “You shall not kill”, or else “You shall not murder” (or “You shall not commit murder”.)  Various translations render this commandment in either way.

The relevant Hebrew verb found in this commandment can be translated in either way.  At some places in the Hebrew scriptures, this word refers to premeditated murder; to the sort of rare, carefully planned murder that happens more in the pages of mystery novels than it does in real life.

However, elsewhere in the Hebrew Scriptures, the word found in this commandment also refers to killing without the intent to do so, even to completely accidental killing.  The word also then speaks of killing in contexts other than the premeditated murder that taxes the brain of Miss Marple, Monsieur Poirot, and other literary sleuths.

As a result, I find I prefer the broader usage here, and prefer the more traditional translation of this commandment as “You shall not kill.”  The more limited, “You shall not murder”, even if preferred by many recent translations, does not do justice to the way this word is used in scripture.

What does this tell us ethically?

Does this commandment call all people of faith to be absolute pacifists?

Does this commandment call all people of faith to be absolute right-to-lifers?

For that matter, if we broaden the definition of our neighbour from humanity to all creatures, does this commandment call all people of faith to be absolute vegetarians?

In practice, I’m personally committed to saying that I don’t think so.  I’m personally not a vegetarian.  I’m personally pro-choice.  While I believe most of the wars in the period following the Second World War could have been avoided (and should have been avoided), I also believe that I would have borne arms had I been living at the time of the Second World War and been confronted by the threat of Nazism.  As a result, while I may be a practical pacifist, I’m not an absolute pacifist.

This commandment presents us all with a range of difficult ethical choices.  As this commandment is part of the spiritual and cultural inheritance of three great faith communities, these choices are presented to people of faith in many different cultures.

The choices are not only relevant to the handful of people who are tempted to engage in acts of violence themselves personally, whether they do so for financial gain, to make some sort of political point, or even just to express one’s own personal alienation.  These choices are addressed not only to the unhinged perpetrators of personal violence, but they are addressed to all of us and to the communities in which we live.

We live in a community that seems to believe that the only acceptable response to violence is further violence.  Many people in our community have bought this message, including many influential people. 

·         Many talk-back radio hosts speak with great nostalgia of the hangman’s noose or the headmaster’s cane. 

·         The underlying message of many films and television programmes is that violence is an acceptable way to solve your problems.

The message of this commandment is that violence is never an acceptable way to solve a problem, not for an individual, not for a community.  Violence always creates new and worse problems.  Violence usually invites further violence, worse violence.  And so the cycle of violence upon violence, retribution upon retribution continues. 

·         The retributions taken by the Allies upon Germany after the First World War created the social conditions that led to the rise of the Nazis and the start of the Second World War.

·         Many of the long-standing ethnic-based and religious-based conflicts in our lifetimes had been simmering for centuries: in the Middle East, in the former Yugoslavia, in South Africa, and in Northern Ireland.  (And the people caught up in most of these conflicts were not so fortunate as to find both a Mandela and a DeKlerk in place at the same time.)

It is difficult to break this cycle of violence upon violence, of retribution upon retribution.  When Jesus prayed for forgiveness for those who were executing him, he set a high standard for us all, a standard that is difficult for us to achieve all the time, but one that we are called to at least attempt. 

This commandment is an invitation for our whole community to break the cycle of violence and to establish a culture of peace.  Whether we speak of

·         bullying in schools or workplaces;

·         abuse within families;

·         punch-ups on the football field;

·         thugs wandering the streets in gangs looking for someone to bash, preferably someone black, or someone Asian, or someone gay, or someone Jewish, or someone Muslim;

·         or any of the other intolerable acts of violence that our society somehow tolerates;

we are invited, as people of faith, to challenge our society to reject the way of violence and to establish a culture of peace.  This is not only something that a rare person such as a Martin Luther King is called to do, but it’s a challenge for each person of faith.

Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; ...

You shall not kill.

This commandment is about far more than the sort of planned, premeditated murder found in a mystery novel.  We are challenged, as well, to examine the violence in the community around us and in the depths of our being.  Both socially and personally, we are challenged to break the cycle of violence and to establish a culture of peace. 
 
In the first post in this series of articles, there is a general introduction to the series.