Only One Victory

Theologian Miroslav Volf said:

To triumph fully, evil needs two victories, not one. The first victory happens when an evil deed is perpetrated; the second victory, when evil is returned. After the first victory, evil would die if the second victory did not infuse it with new life.

At our parish Sunday, we had one of the lost boys of Sudan speak to us, Father Daniel Deng Kuot (he is pictured on the far right). Father Daniel is from southern Sudan and in the early 90’s, his village was destroyed and his family killed by soldiers from the Khartoum trained Islamic government. The government of Khartoum convinced the Muslims of Darfur (western Sudan) that the black Christians of the south were hindering the spread of Islam, and that the natural resources in the south (gold, oil) should go to the rest of the country. So, many of the attacks on the southern blacks of Sudan were carried out by Darfurian Muslims.

In 2003, the Muslims of Darfur realized that they had been used by the government and the share of the natural resources in the south was not a reality. Many of them felt used and betrayed, so they spoke out. Therefore, that same year, the Khartoum government decided to wipe out the Darfurians as they had attempted to do to the black Christians. As you know, many from Darfur have been killed or displaced and live in refugee camps.

Fr. Daniel has made most of his recent missionary efforts to the people of Darfur. He has brought to the same people who killed his loved ones food, clothing, medical aid, and the love of Jesus Christ. He, and others from the Sudanese community who have settled in the United States and other places after being displaced in part because of the Darfurians, have decided that the love of Jesus is more effective than revenge.

This is love of the most powerful and difficult kind. “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, pray for those who abuse you…”

Fr. Daniel has a bullet hole in his back from a radical Muslim. Yet he is not afraid. And he loves them. In Fr. Daniel’s life, evil is dying.

Give me that upscale religion

A Methodist is a Baptist who can read.
A Presbyterian is a Methodist with money.
An Episcopalian is a Presbyterian with manners.

While there are many problems with my own church in the US (The Episcopal Church), the reason it has been unable to be indigenous like other Anglican bodies around the world, is primarily because it is the church of gin and lace.  It was once the ‘Republican party at prayer’ and now it is the ‘Green party at prayer.’

With all of its claim to progressiveness you would think it was the religion of the masses.  Not so.  It is the religion of the elite.  We never learned (with some notable exceptions) how to be accessible to people of all hues and economic backgrounds.  In fact we have persecuted those who have tried to do just that (Wesley, as an example).

How do we get away from the wine and cheese culture?

Benedictine Household


So the true difficulty is making time and space amidst ‘household’ responsibility.  If you look at the Apostolic Tradition of Hippolytus (250 A.D), you discover that the ‘hours of prayer’ made famous by the monastic tradition, actually began in the church among ‘ordinary’ Christians.  So, the early Christians rose at midnight and prayed, and prayed several times during the day (7 times total), both corporately (before work the community would gather daily) and privately, presumably with the children around and the chaos that accompanies little ones.

Folks get their knickers in a knot when kids are present at worship fidgeting and doing things kids do, but I wonder if that’s not the beauty of it.  Should we not all learn to pray, worship and receive the sacraments as soon as possible? Should we not all learn to be silent, even when the world around us is buzzing.  Should we not ‘take our cells’ into the world?

Silence as Conversation

I heard that when Henri Nouwen used to teach workshops to seminarians on prayer, he would begin by gathering the class together (and of course they were in rapt attention), say a few words, then request that they sit in silence—for four hours!

Nouwen would observe that the seminarians would squirm and fidget during the first two hours before finally sitting still. What Nouwen concluded and what his students learned was that, in our cultural cacophony of distractions, it takes two whole hours to block out the noise, and that only then can we begin to listen to the Spirit of God.

Silence as Conversion

I have gone back to Henri Nouwen’s book, The Way of the Heart, his reflection on how the sayings and stories of the Desert Fathers can inform ministry in our day (and any day). What struck me was his notion that silence is not usually what we think of. We think of silence as an opportunity to have ‘me’ time or to have our ‘privacy.’

Silence from the desert perspective is not to have a quiet moment for ‘getting away from it all.’ Desert silence is going in your cell to be mortified; to be purged; to be converted. It is to leave the world, face the Devil and one’s own disordered passions. It is to stand in God’s presence, with all that we are and all that we are not laid before him. To stand before him to whom all hearts are open, all desires known and to whom no secrets are hid.

Indeed, the Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before Him no creature is hidden, but all are naked and laid bare to the eyes of the one to whom we must render an account.

Neo-Monasticism (no pun intended)

Muslim women dress so as not to be taken advantage of.

Jewish (Hasidic and Orthodox) men ‘wear’ their faith so that all can see.

Buddhists look like, Buddhists.

Christians priests are obvious, but what makes the body as a whole distinct?  I know, no ritual or dress ‘saves’ us, but do the rituals of Western culture bring us down to Gehenna?  I know, we love, so that all will know we are disciples, we live righteously (theoretically on both of those) but it seems there should be something physical, tangible and obvious about our faith as there is for the other faiths of the world.  We are not Gnostics are we?

Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up.  Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.  Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

Transcend Community

As I wrote below, to find success in our culture is not to find one’s place in the group, but to transcend it. I was reading a recent Touchstone article (‘Unmarried, Still Children” by Joan Frawley Desmond) and the author quotes Jeffrey Arnett’s recent work Emerging Adulthood, where Arnett says that those in their late teens and twenties define adulthood as “accepting responsibility for the consequences of your actions,” and choosing “personal beliefs and values independently of parents or other influences.”

Even the old Lutheran Hiedelberg Catechism, while emphasizing strongly individual salvation and  individual justification says,

Question 54. What believest thou concerning the “holy catholic church” of Christ?

Answer: That the Son of God from the beginning to the end of the world, gathers, defends, and preserves  to himself by his Spirit and word,  out of the whole human race, a church chosen to everlasting life, agreeing in true faith;  and that I am and forever shall remain,  a living member thereof.

Turkish for Community

A recent article in Prism (Ron Sider’s publication) by Wendy Bilgen shows a fascinating snapshot of life in Turkey. Bilgen and her husband, a Turkish native, recently returned to Turkey to live. She writes:

One day our son’s new Turkish friend asked my husband, a Turkish native returning to his homeland to preach the gospel,”Why do you follow Isa?”

“Jesus invited me to follow him,” my husband answered “His words are true. I couldn’t say no. Why are you a Muslim?”

“My chevre invites me to follow Islam,” the young boy answered. “How can I say no?”

What is a chevre? Bilgen says,

In the West community is sometimes considered optional, in Turkey it is difficult to do much of anything without your chevre. It’s the group you depend onto help you get that first job, pay your bills when money is tight, find a mate, even learn how to live with your mate. It’s the group that defines who you are and what you will do in life. Without a chevre you’re on the outside, unprotected and vulnerable.

In our culture, transcending the group is considered successful while being a part of the group is considered failure. You learn how to fend for yourself so you will not be ‘dependent’ or ‘defined’ by anyone except for y.o.u. Success is transcending family, church and anything else that keeps you from your ultimate goal–complete freedom and (mostly financial) independence.

We Christians can learn from the chevre, not in terms of intimidation or for control, but to point to what the Body of Christ is supposed to be about. Ours is the first Christian culture in history that acts as if it were disembodied. Jesus is necessary, the church not so much. Jesus saves, the church is a distraction or a necessary evil.

But the Church is God’s idea, not ours.  Our calling is to be a Body which is consecrated, set apart, to be a light and a blessing to the nations.  Being a part of the people of God is a privilege; being grafted in by baptism an awesome responsibility.  Our promises made at baptism and our sacramental union with Christ in the church ‘defines who we are and what we will do in life.’  The Church is the ultimate chevre.


There is a new breed of Christ-follower in America today. These are people who are more interested in being the Church than in going to church. They are more eager to produce fruit for the kingdom of God than to become comfortable in the Christian subculture. They are focused on the…spiritual passions that facilitate their growth as genuine people of God and citizens of the kingdom. These people are Revolutionaries.

So says pollster George Barna in his recent book.   His argument is, since regular churches are not turning out Christians, the ‘new breed’ of Christ-follower of the future (and in many places right now) will be ‘non-churched’ Christians.  This new kind of Christian will never darken the door of the church, and within a generation, most Christians will belong to a house church or some kind of other version of Christian community–Barna even sees online community filling the role of traditional churches someday.

Barna has some important points to consider.  The so-called traditional church is not getting it done in a lot of ways.   House churches and para-church organizations don’t have the ball and chain of a denomination or the curmudgeons of the church holding them back.

But, isn’t the trend to get away from the Christian community a denial of the very strengths inherent in the community?  At our small but growing parish, for example, we have ‘ all various conditions of men (and women),’ from different backgrounds, economic situations, ethnicities and generations.

For many suburban or urban professionals, this kind of mix is too much to handle.  Barna uses an example of a couple of men who meet on the golf course before prayer and study.  This is one of his shining examples of something that finally ‘works.’  While these faithful golfers may be accomplishing decent things in the name of Christ, they never have to struggle with living as the Body of Christ.  There are no crazy family dynamics to worry about.  You have a good time, put your clubs away, and you never have to mess with crying babies or complaints from old-timers or different colored faces.  You have pure, unadulterated, convenient Christianity on your own terms.

Like it or not, God chose a group of people to be ambassadors of his name, not a bunch of individuals.  First it was Israel, and now the Gentiles are grafted into the vine of the people of God to point the world to God’s work in Christ.  We may bugger it up on a regular basis, but if we learn to act collectively, rather than as mini-messiah’s, the world might just take notice.