The Church as Occupying a War-Zone

Posted: April 25, 2013 in Things of Faith

ImageIn his recent blog, The War on Drugs and the birth of a police state : Restorative Theology, Brian Gumm observes the militarization of police in the U.S. and its implicit effects upon the wider society. This was particularly evident in the horrific scene which unfolded in last week’s bombing of the Boston Marathon. While I agree and appreciate Brian’s observations and argument, I’d like to take it in a bit of a different direction.

The events of last week struck close to home for me. I was born and raised in Southeastern Massachusetts and the Boston area (and its unique and diverse subcultures) played a significant role in my identity formation. I am no longer a resident of Mass. but a large portion of my family still lives there. I have a close cousin who serves as a police chief in one of the suburban residential communities in the southeastern region and a long time friend who is a helicopter pilot for the Mass. state police (who was probably actively involved in the search). It’s been more than a decade since Laura and I moved out of our home state to begin a remarkable faith journey that finally led us to neo-anabaptism and northeast Ohio.

As I was driving to Akron last week, having just spoken with my sister who was told that work was cancelled because of the events in the neighboring town, I suddenly noticed tears streaming down my face. It was really quite odd because I wasn’t expecting it nor was I aware of its source. As I processed I realized that I was mourning the loss of life, injuries sustained, terrorizing threats to my family and friends, but most of all the long lasting traumatic effects such acts of violence and the responses they instigate have upon communities. In this case it is one which is very close to home.

In the midst of processing all of this, many questions arose within me; two in particular rose to the top (neither of which am I sure to have an adequate answer). First, where was the redeeming presence of God being manifested in the midst of this? And secondly, in a world so highly militarized how does the church announce the in-breaking kingdom of God through Jesus, the messiah? What spawned these questions was the seemingly dark abyss being stared into as bombs were going off amid bursts of gunfire on a night darkened street in Watertown, Mass. Where is the place of the church here?

In his book, War and the American Difference, Stanley Hauerwas argues that the church as mission bears witness to the kingdom incarnationally. Following in these steps, David Fitch and Geoff Holsclaw (Prodigal Christianity) refer to this as “being with those on the fringes.” The fundamental ontology of the radical (at the root of) ecclesia is the embedded nature of its existence. The potential witness and transforming effects of this incarnational presence could disrupt the status quo culture to such an extent that healing and reconciliatory wholeness would inaugurate the advent of God’s revolutionary kingdom locally. What I mean by this is that when believers (disciples of Jesus) look for instances and locations where God’s Spirit is working it is in those occasions that we move the kingdom with us into our neighborhoods, work places, schools and other public spaces. However it is only when this radical ecclesia is abiding on the fringes with the “least of these” in ways in which their lives are relationally invested in the lives of their neighbors through hospitable friendship that the church incarnates the missio dei.

Essentially what all this means is that the church’s place is to occupy the war-zone with the peace of Christ. It is precisely in these places that Jesus’ presence is most needed. Even and especially amid the violence and desperation of battle God is “Immanuel,” God with us. I wonder what it would look like if God’s kingdom emerged within a community that has been ruptured with such violence? Could such an event quell the effects of patriotic vitriol and fear? Could this radical ecclesia efficaciously bear witness to the cruciform contrast of God’s kingdom? While I no longer reside in Mass., I am looking for those places where God’s Spirit is already at work so that I might submit to Jesus’ lordship and participate regardless of the surrounding circumstances. And simultaneously I lament the tragedy of lost lives and mutilated bodies. I mourn the loss of the community’s sense of security. I remember as a child walking the streets of Boston looking around in wonder at the skyline and the diverse multitude of people that make up that community. It seems like yesterday that I woke up early and took my daughter to Boston to walk the streets before the city woke. We walked through little Italy and past the Old North Church all the way up to Boston common. There was a remarkable sense of peace and newness as the day was just beginning. I never felt as sense of threat or danger. Now this is but a memory. Like the days following 9/11 everything has changed and I lament that loss. Like the psalmist I cry out to God, “How long, O Lord?” My hope is not in the government’s response or its ability to keep me safe. My hope is in the emergence and establishment of God’s “kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven.” And so, this I pray.

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