Five Fold Today Preaching Revolution - Lost In The Lust Of the Werewolves - Time for Christians to Preach Peace - You Are Not Your Own - The Church Has Lost His Head - A Predator Becomes More Dangerous When Wounded - You Are The Light

March 20, 2007

Preaching Revolution

A new evangelical movement offers lessons for the left

By Zack Exley

Recently, I blogged a series of essays titled "The Revolution Misses You," in which I called for progressives to revive the forgotten dream of practical yet radical change. Friends and colleagues immediately scolded me for using "extreme" terms such as "revolution" and "radical." "You'll only alienate people," they said. "This will come back to haunt you."

At first, I was surprised by what felt like a dramatic overreaction. But I soon realized why I had fallen out of sync with the progressive mainstream on the use of the "R-words": I had been spending time listening to and reading evangelical Christians who are preaching revolution.

In Grand Rapids, Mich., a 36-year-old evangelical pastor named Rob Bell regularly describes his ministry as "revolutionary," "radical" and "an insurgency." Far from alienating people with such language, Bell's Mars Hill Bible Church draws thousands of new worshipers each year from the mostly conservative and white suburbs of west Michigan. In one recent sermon, available as a podcast from, Bell tells his congregation that the only time Jesus speaks of God directly taking someone's life is the Parable of the Rich Fool (Luke 12:13-22), a story about a man who builds bigger barns to store a surplus harvest instead of sharing it with those in need. He closed the sermon by listing a dozen places around Grand Rapids where congregants could unload their own surplus wealth.

In his book Irresistible Revolution, 30-year-old author Shane Claiborne, who is currently living in Iraq to "stand in the way of war," asks evangelicals why their literal reading of the Bible doesn't lead them to do what Jesus so clearly told wealthy and middle-class people to do in his day: give up everything to help others.

The popular evangelical Christian magazine Relevant, launched in 2003 by Cameron Strang, the son of a Christian publishing magnate, contains a "Revolution" section complete with a raised red fist for a logo. They've also released The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World, a compilation by radical, Christian social-justice campaigners from around the world.

Bell and Claiborne are two of the better-known young voices of a broad, explicitly nonviolent, anti-imperialist and anticapitalist theology that is surging at the heart of white, suburban Evangelical Christianity. I first saw this movement at a local, conservative, nondenominational church in North Carolina where the pastor preached a sermon called "Two Fists in the Face of Empire." Looking further, I found a movement whose book sales tower over their secular progressive counterparts in Amazon rankings; whose sermon podcasts reach thousands of listeners each week; and whose messages, in one form or another, reach millions of churchgoers. Bell alone preaches to more than 10,000 people every Sunday, with more than 50,000 listening in online.

But this movement is still barely aware of its own existence, and has not chosen a label for itself. George Barna, who studies trends among Christians for clients such as the Billy Graham Evangelical Association and Focus on the Family, calls it simply "The Revolution" and its adherents "Revolutionaries."

"The media are oblivious to it," Barna wrote in his 2006 book Revolution: Finding Vibrant Faith Beyond the Walls of the Sanctuary. "Scholars are clueless about it. The government caught a glimpse of it in the 2004 presidential election but has mostly misinterpreted its nature and motivations." According to his research, there are more than 20 million Revolutionaries in America, differentiated from mainstream evangelicals by a greater likelihood of serving their community and the poor and oppressed within it, a more "intimate, personally stirring worship of God" in daily life, and a much greater chance of studying the Bible every day.

One indication that this movement is new, nebulous and spontaneous is that Gregory Boyd, a like-minded mega-church pastor two states away in St. Paul, Minn., knew nothing of Rob Bell's theology until recently. He only heard of the pastors' conference after the fact because his book Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power is Destroying the Church was distributed to conference participants.

"There's definitely something going on," says Boyd. "I've only become aware of it as people have responded to my book. It's not organized -- it's amorphic. It would include the 'emerging church movement,' but it's bigger than that. It's a vision of the kingdom [of God]. It's a new kind of Christianity."

Heather Zydek, the former "Revolution" section editor for Relevant magazine and the editor of The Revolution: A Field Manual for Changing Your World, says, "I definitely don't have a name for it, but, yes, something is happening. Some people say it's a Generation X -- or Y -- thing. But baby boomers are in on it too."

Jim Wallis, the founder of Sojourners magazine and author of the bestseller God's Politics, says, "'Progressive evangelicals' was thought to be a misnomer, but now we're a movement." He was as surprised as anyone when his 2006 book tour for God's Politics began to develop the feel of a revival tour. At evangelical Christian Bethel University in St. Paul, Wallis spoke shortly after a rally held by Dr. James Dobson of Focus on the Family. More people attended Wallis' event. "One of the Dobson organizers came over and told me, 'If they make us keep focusing on just two issues [abortion and gay marriage], they're going to lose all of us,'" he says.

Wallis has long been known on the left as a progressive evangelical voice in the wilderness. But in fact, over the past decades Wallis has had plenty of company, including Brian McLaren, Tony Campolo, Ron Sider and N.T. Wright, among others. And while this new generation has been inspired by many of those teachers, they do not have the same association with the organized left that some of their predecessors do. Shane Claiborne is one of the few young voices in this movement who at least knows the history of cross-pollination between the Left and Christianity, mentioning Catholic Worker founder Dorothy Day's socialist origins in Irresistible Revolution.

Zydek characterizes the movement this way: "We want to get back to the roots of Christianity, to the essence of Christianity, which is about service to those in need, sacrifice, denial of self for others -- it's about [Jesus saying] 'pick up your cross and follow me.' But for too long we've spread a gospel of suburbanism, of self-centeredness, of capitalism, of political conservatism -- but not the gospel: the gospel that came from Christ."

I had been a regular listener of Rob Bell's sermon podcasts for a few months when he announced the January 20-21 "Isn't She Beautiful" conference ("She" being the church). The invitation was open to "Church leaders, pastors, and basically just revolutionaries and insurgents from all over the world." I signed right up.

I arrived at Mars Hill the evening before the conference, in a heavy snow, just in time to catch the regular Sunday night service. The Mars Hill church building is a converted mall. From the outside it looks just like any other old shopping center -- they've never put up a sign. So when you walk in and see the teeming, logo-free community inside that has taken over every inch of this entire mall, you get the feeling that you've walked into an alternate universe. Imagine walking into a McDonalds to find your mom's kitchen inside.

The sanctuary is a hollowed-out department store that used to host RV shows and swap meets -- no decoration, just exposed aluminum walls, ducts and beams. As I walked in, a volunteer handed me a Bible. Three thousand people were on their feet, singing powerfully and worshiping in an explosive expression of collective joy that simply does not exist in the left of this era. There were certainly some "hipster Christians" in the crowd (tattoos, goatees, etc.), but overwhelmingly the congregants were mainstream-looking Michiganders.

Rob Bell finally took to the stage, sporting plastic-rim, hipster glasses, a white belt and cool shirt. He looks like a grown-up indie rock star (and used to play in a popular Grand Rapids band). The son of a Reagan-appointed federal judge, Bell graduated from Wheaton College, where male and female students live in separate dorms with curfews and are encouraged to abstain from physical intimacy. After receiving his M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, Calif., Bell interned at a conservative, non-denominational evangelical church in Grand Rapids, from which he launched Mars Hill as a "church plant" in February 1999. The name Mars Hill refers to the site where the apostle Paul preached to non-Jews by making the gospel current and relevant to their own culture.

On this night, Bell barely preached himself, and instead spent the evening, as he often does, interviewing a member of the church about how she was living out the gospel. She and her husband had moved to a broken inner-city neighborhood and begun a tutoring and family assistance ministry that is now in the process of expanding out of a church basement to fill an entire renovated warehouse.

If you compare the Mars Hill complex to progressive community centers or union halls, it has no rival. The entire mall has been converted. Most of the stores are now classrooms for the different grades of its enormous Sunday school. One of the large department stores has been converted into an events and youth meeting space with a stage, and ping pong and pool tables. The broad, carpeted concourse is now filled with comfy sofas and chairs for sitting and talking. Though the complex is perfectly clean and attractive, you get the feeling that the church, in renovating the facilities, has spent the minimum possible resources to meet functional needs.

More striking than the size of Mars Hill is the intensity of participation among the membership. The Mars Hill house church program -- where small numbers of people come together in a home for Bible study, fellowship, mutual support and as a launching point for outreach into the community -- involves more than 2,000 members in hundreds of groups, each with its own leaders. Several hundred volunteer as childcare providers and Sunday school teachers. And hundreds more serve each Sunday as ushers, parking helpers and medics. (With 3,500 people in a room, you never know what can happen.)

Yet Mars Hill is not atypical. According to the Barna Group, nine percent of Americans attend house churches (up from one percent 10 years ago). And tens of thousands of churches are de facto community centers, serving and supporting virtually all aspects of their members' lives, usually with a significant percentage of members acting as volunteers. In this way, churches have left progressives in the dust in terms of serving and engaging people directly. The union hall is the left's nearest equivalent, but not only is it dying, it rarely attempts to serve anywhere near as many of the needs -- spiritual and practical -- as churches do.

Could the shift in focus from personal salvation to the building of the "kingdom of Heaven" be the inevitable result of the long rise of "back to the Bible" fundamentalism? Tens of millions of American Christians are not only reading the Bible, but getting together in groups and studying it -- studying the historical context in which the authors wrote, the nuances of the original Greek and Hebrew, and the issues raised by translation and conflicting source texts.

Zydek says, "No matter how you pick and choose your favorite Bible passages, if you know that Jesus died on the cross for you, that's going to affect the way you treat other people. If you're a Bible-believing Christian, maybe you choose to emphasize evangelism or maybe you emphasize works, but you can't ignore Jesus' example of unconditional love on the cross."

Wallis agrees. "The religious right is being replaced by Jesus," he says. "They're just really digging into Jesus, and what they read in [the Book of] Acts doesn't correspond to their churches. And so they're changing them or going out and creating new communities."

The Revolutionaries' faith in the Bible leads them to a gospel of social justice, but it also leads to a morality that is far out of step with mainstream American culture and the left. Sex outside of marriage, divorce, "lust," "sexual immorality" and homosexuality are all things Jesus or other New Testament voices spoke about with varying degrees of intensity.

According to Wallis, the Revolutionaries are "breaking away from the Right in droves -- but they will never be captured by the left. They're going to challenge the left on a lot of things: For these Christians, sex is covenantal and not recreational. And they oppose abortion and they are not going to move away from that."

Where Revolutionaries most part ways with many mainstream evangelical churches' interpretation of the Bible is in their embrace of women as leaders, elders and preachers. Mars Hill's lead elder (board chair) is a woman. A similar process of reversal of the restriction on women in leadership is taking place in many evangelical churches across the country.

Boyd's Myth of a Christian Nation is based on a series of six sermons called "The Cross and the Sword" he delivered at his St. Paul church in the politically-charged atmosphere of the 2004 presidential election, in which Minnesota was a heavily-targeted swing state. In those sermons, which made national news, he said:

    Never in history have we had a Christian theocracy where it wasn't bloody and barbaric. That's why our Constitution wisely put in a separation of church and state. ... I am sorry to tell you, that America is not the light of the world and the hope of the world. The light of the world and the hope of the world is Jesus Christ.

He also spoke out against the exclusive focus on abortion and gay marriage by many evangelical leaders. "Those are the two buttons to push if you want to get Christians to act," he said. "And those are the two buttons Jesus never pushed."

His not-very subtle rebuke of Republican electioneering caused around 1,000 members of his congregation to leave. "Close to 700 left during the six-week 'Cross and the Sword' sermon series," he says. "Another 300 or so left when I 'didn't have the good sense' to back off the topic but rather returned to it once again just prior to the election." But 4,000 stayed. And he said he had never received so much positive feedback in his career: "Some people literally wept with gratitude, saying that they had always felt like outsiders in the evangelical community for not 'toeing the conservative party line.'"

Yet the Revolution is not primarily a reaction to Republican attempts to politicize the church. What sets it apart from mainstream evangelicalism is not a liberal rejection of Republican politics, but rather a more radical rejection of conservatism and liberalism, and anything else that is not the "kingdom of God."

To the Revolutionaries, what seems righteous or commonsensical to humans does not matter; all that matters is what God wants. Boyd writes in Myth of a Christian Nation: "To the extent that an individual or group looks like Jesus -- dying for those who crucified him and praying for their forgiveness in the process -- to that degree they can be said to manifest the kingdom of God. To the degree that they do not look like this, they do not manifest God's kingdom."

And that is where anticapitalism and anti-imperialism come in. Capitalism doesn't look like Jesus. Empire doesn't look like Jesus. In their critique of the political and economic institutions of the "kingdom of the world," the Revolutionaries are following in the tradition of early Christianity. In Colossians Remixed: Subverting the Empire, pastor and theologian Brian J. Walsh and theologian Sylvia C. Keesmaat write:

    Just as in the ancient world, the [Roman imperial] images of peace and prosperity masked the reality of inequality and violence, so the contemporary images projected by advertising mask the reality of sweatshops, inequality, and domestic and international violence created by our lifestyles. And in the face of the ubiquitous imagery of the empire, Paul proclaims Jesus as the true image of God (Col 1:15) and calls the Colossian Christians to bear the image of Jesus in shaping an alternative to the empire.

For the Revolutionaries, the new "temple" -- from which Jesus chased the money changers in the Bible -- is the shopping mall. They write:

    Globalization isn't just an aggressive stage in the history of capitalism. It is a religious movement of previously unheard-of proportions. Progress is its underlying myth, unlimited economic growth its foundational faith, the shopping mall its place of worship, consumerism its overriding image, 'I'll have a Big Mac and fries' its ritual of initiation, and global domination its ultimate goal.

In the shopping mall liberated by Mars Hill, the Colossians Remixed authors -- a married couple who home school their children -- discussed their work during an all-day forum attended by a thousand suburban, white, middle-class moms and dads. How many authors from the anti-globalization left have presented their ideas to a willing mass audience of middle-class suburbanites?

The thinking and dreaming of this movement is as utopian as the most far-out sect of antiglobalization anarchists, yet they are living it right at the heart of mainstream America. And they are organizing with unbelievable success, attracting thousands of new participants every week and spawning hundreds of new churches and thousands of new small groups and house churches every year.

At the "Isn't She Beautiful" conference, the non-theological sessions were devoted to one of the secrets of this movement's success: leaders -- identifying them, recruiting them, "loving them" and letting them lead. The pastors at the conference all seemed to view their church memberships as seas of under-utilized leaders, and spent as much time as they could learning from each other and the Mars Hill staff how to be the best "fishers of men" they believe Jesus called them to be.

This high-density leadership organizing model stands in stark contrast to anything I've ever seen working in unions, progressive organizations and Democratic political campaigns. On the left, recruiting and mobilizing leaders has become devalued work that is typically left to inexperienced recent college graduates. The pastors at this conference, however, saw recruiting and inspiring leaders as one of their central callings. Too often, the left pays lip service to the grassroots, but lacks faith in grassroots leaders. The result is that too many of our organizations are one person deep and stretched impossibly thin. At the conference, I tried to imagine what Kerry campaign field offices (where I spent a lot of time in 2004) would have looked like if we had recruited leaders instead of "bodies" and expected them to be "faithful, committed members of a team" (words included in Mars Hill volunteer job descriptions). Some organizations on the left do include "leadership development" in their organizing models. But churches seem to assume that there are already plenty of "developed" leaders in their midst and go straight to giving them as much responsibility as they can.

Andrew Richards is the "local outreach pastor" at Mars Hill, charged with driving the Mars Hill house church program to reach people in need in the greater Grand Rapids community. "We're not only taking care of the needs of our own community, but we want to respond to the needs that are in the greater community," he said before a recent Sunday service while trying to recruit more leaders. He laid out five areas of focus: urban at-risk youth, refugees, poverty, community development and HIV/AIDS.

Rob Bell and other church leaders seem to be building up to a big challenge. It is unclear exactly what is in the works. (Bell does not give interviews.) But he has been preaching more and more about "systemic oppression," poverty, debt and disease -- not just locally but globally. And other leaders have indicated to the membership that the current level of sacrifice for others in the community and the world is not in line with Jesus' teachings.

On Dec. 10, 2006, Bell kicked off a series of sermons, titled "Calling all Peacemakers," during which he said:

    Never before in history have there been a group of people as resourced as us. ... Never before has there been a group of people who could look at the most pressing needs of the world and think: well, we could do it ... History is like sitting right there, in the middle of war, and great expenditure, and violence, and the world torn apart in a thousand directions -- [waiting for] a whole ground swell of people to say, 'Well, we could, we could, we could do this. We could do what Jesus said to do.'

But, as of now, the Revolutionaries seem to be embracing person-to-person, "be the alternative" solutions to the exclusion of advocating for social policy that is more in line with their vision of the kingdom. Boyd says, "I never see Jesus trying to resolve any of Caesar's problems."

Wallis believes this reluctance comes from the recent experience of being dragged into the mess of partisan politics on the terms of the Republican party.

"But the prophets [of the Bible] don't talk about just being an island of hope -- they talk about land, labor, capital, equity, fairness, wages," says Wallis. "And who are the prophets addressing? Employers, judges, rulers. On behalf of widows, orphans, workers, farmers, ordinary people. The gospel is deeply political. It's not partisan politics, but a prophetic politics. It is what the prophets and Jesus finally call us to."

"Take any big issue we've got: Politics is failing to deal with it. They see that," Wallis continues. "But I'm saying that we need to change politics. Social movements change politics -- and the strongest social movements have spiritual foundations."

I asked Wallis if leaders like Rob Bell were part of a rebirth of the Liberation Theology movement that took root in Latin America in the '60s and '70s. "This movement is in a sense liberation theology in the best sense of the word," he says, "but it's more personally faith-based, more street-based and finally more community-based. I remember you'd go to a [liberation theology] event and it would be analysis, analysis, analysis -- and there would never even be a prayer."

This new generation of Christian Revolutionaries most definitely places prayer above analysis. But where will their prayers lead them? Will they forever restrict themselves to person-to-person, "relational" solutions? Or will they choose to influence political leaders on issues they share with the left -- poverty, war, environmental destruction -- with the same force that the Christian Right exerted around abortion, gay marriage and other areas?

All that's certain is that they will keep praying for answers with a desperate yearning and remarkable openness -- as Rob Bell did recently:

    God, give us a vision for a new kind of world. We grieve, we honor, we condemn. But we want to move through that. We want to have asked the hard, hard questions. But we want to move though that too. And we want to be people of a dream, which we believe is your dream for the world. But then, God, we want to move past that. We want to move to action. ... God, what would this look like? Show us millions of different ways to bless -- to bless in such a way that it would literally shake the foundation of the Earth and capture us with this kind of dream. ... Please, God, open our eyes.

And 10,000 American suburbanites replied, "Amen."

Zack Exley is a senior strategist with OMP, a D.C.-based communications and fundraising firm, and co-founder of the New Organizing Institute. He can be reached at his Web site,

Lost In The Lust Of the Werewolves

By Sheila Samples

    "A lost infant in the ashes, lost faces in the dust, a lost finger in the garbage dumps, a lost mother in the debris, a nation lost in the fire, a country lost in the greed...and eyes lost in that endless tunnel of helplessness, anguish and despair...lost in the total emptiness, in the void of the living dead."~~Layla Anwar, "Ashes & Dust"
Sometimes I wonder if Americans are unaware of the malicious devastation the Bush administrtion is wreaking upon this good earth and its inhabitants, or if they just don't give a damn. I wonder if they ever put a "face" on even one of the hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children who are lost forever -- victims of arrogance, lust for power, insatiable greed. And lies .. all lost because of evil, deliberate lies.

    I wonder why so many denizens of this Christian nation seem unable or unwilling to wrap their minds around the reality that Iraqi people are human beings just as they, themselves, are -- not rabid dogs to be hunted down and slaughtered. Perhaps it's because, in order to remain sane or to avoid being targeted by the Bush administration, they traded their Christianity for Religion, their Love for Hate -- their Life for Death. For protection from the Butcher of Baghdad, far too many Americans far too easily traded their souls to the Werewolf of Washington.

    They don't want to know what it's like for families to cower in terror as their doors are kicked in, mothers and daughters raped, fathers and sons dragged off, never to be seen again. They don't want to know about prisoners being humiliated and tortured, secretly "rendered" to countries for more torture, held captive for endless years without charges, without hope, without life. They don't want to know about Iraq's rich culture, its secular society, its formidable institutiions of learning. According to the late Columbia University professor Edward Said, all of this, along with Iraq's "long-suffering people were made invisible, the better to smash the country as if it were only a den of thieves and murderers." (Al-Ahram Weekly, 24 - 30 April 2003)

    Even if it were possible to know how many innocent civilians have been needlessly murdered, it wouldn't matter. Because America's leaders don't know and they don't care. As General Colin Powell, then Chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, retorted to an April 1991 question about Iraqi casualties -- "That's not really a number I'm terribly interested in." And, following the assault on Afghanistan, General Tommy Franks, CENTCOM commander and architect of both the Afghanistan and Iraqi killing sprees, quipped at a March 2002 news conference at Bagram Air Base -- "We don't do body counts."

    Even President George Bush, the commander-in-chief -- the Energizer Bunny Decider -- pleaded ignorance and apathy when asked on Dec. 12, 2005 about the number of iraqi civilians slain since the March 2003 invasion. "How many Iraqi civilians have this war?" he asked. "Um...I would say about 30,000 -- more or less..."

    Reporters in the room knew that more than a year before, the British medical journal, The Lancet, had reported for the period March 2003 - Sept. 2004, an excess mortality of nearly 100,000 civilian deaths. Yet none dared challenge Bush then nor in October 2006 when the journal released an indepth study that an estimated 655,000 Iraqis had died since the invasion, with more than 600,000 due to violence.

    Is Politics really more important than life? Of course, when you consider the gandy-dancing, moon-walking and flip-flopping that's gone on within the political axis -- the administration, the Congress and the media -- since the November elections. If there were doubts that this axis considers the nation's military anything more than "dumb, stupid animals to be used as pawns for foreign policy," the spectacle that has unfolded since Bush was backed into a corner with the release of the James Baker/Les Hamilton Iraq Study Group (ISG) report put them to rest. Its 84 pages boiled down to one sentence in the Executive Summary - "The United States has long-term relationships and interests at stake in the Middle East, and needs to stay engaged," which was another way of telling Bush not to cut and run until the oil law was passed which will legalize US corporate plunder of Iraq's oil fields via 35-year contracts.

    The ISG was nine months in the making, March through October 2006, during which time 556 coalition "troops" were killed -- 515 of them American. For political reasons, Baker and Hamilton waited until after the election to release it, hardly noticing that 77 servicemen and women were killed in November. On Dec. 13, when Bush tossed the report on the table with the rest of the options and announced he'd make his decision after Christmas, US casualties stood at 2,937. On Christmas Day, when he bowed his head to thank God for making him The Decider, 2,975 Americans would never open another present.

    The overwhelming vote in November 2006 was a national demand to stop the war. Bush responded in January 2007 by announcing not only that he was staying the course, but that he was "surging" an additional 21,500 military in a "New Way Forward" plan. Since that time, with the surge underway, Democrats and Republicans have sparred in a shameful display of shadow-boxing oratory and endless debates on debates, resulting in a single limp, non-binding resolution designed to do little more than give political cover to those voting for it. With the surge nearly complete, House Democrats now say they're working on a plan to restrict Bush's ability to wage war, with the stipulation, of course, that he can continue to kill if he "publicly justifies" his position.

    With cruel indifference this pack of werewolves, led by a creature who deserted his post in a time of war, continue to fund a surge they claim they are against while shouting, "Support the troops!" They neither know nor care that, above all things, support means full force protection -- sufficient training, proper equipment -- and medical care for those who return broken in body, mind and spirit.

    Like their more than 650,000 Iraqi counterparts, the 3,185 US victims of the Iraqi inferno have no individual form or substance in the minds of the general public -- certainly not in those of the media or the Congress. One is merely "collateral damage," the other a heap of body bags labeled "troops." Senators John McCain and Barack Obama were exactly right when they said that so many lives in this illegal war have been "wasted," rather than sacrificed. Victims of this war -- Iraqi and American -- are little more than debris scattered in the wake of the werewolves' lust to dominate the world and control its resources.

    They are, as described so eloquently by Iraq's Layla Anwar -- "lost faces in the dust."

    Sheila Samples is an Oklahoma writer and a former civilian US Army Public Information Officer. She is a regular contributor for a variety of Internet sites. Contact her at

Time for Christians to Preach Peace

by Marion C. Bascom and Andrew Foster Connors

On Sept. 14, 2001, President Bush stood in the pulpit of the National Cathedral in Washington and issued a call for vengeance.

"Just three days removed from these events, Americans do not yet have the distance of history," he told the nation and the world. "But our responsibility to history is already clear: to answer these attacks and rid the world of evil."

It was an unmistakable prediction of war to come and a statement of theological justification shared with a people still in shock and raw with grief.

On Friday, we will return to the National Cathedral with more than 200 Baltimoreans, but we will be guided by a theological vision different from the president's. We will join thousands of Christians and others of like mind from around the country to call for an end to the war in Iraq.

The Christian Witness for Peace in Iraq was born out of frustration and anger with a war justified far too often in vaguely Christian terms, a battle of good vs. evil. At least once, the president referred to a crusade. Disturbingly, public opinion polls reveal that the group that has consistently been most supportive of the president's war policy has been regular churchgoers. Somehow this image of Christian soldiers has permeated the mass culture and, occasionally, the media.

This is not a theology that we recognize, or one that we accept. Jesus, the president's favorite philosopher, preached a vision of peace and social justice. The Jesus we know told his followers to put down their swords. Steeped in the prophets of his Jewish faith, he called on all people to embrace Isaiah's moral commitment to judge a nation's well-being by how well it responds to the oppressed of the world.

We believe Jesus' moral vision is utterly inconsistent with the war in Iraq. Jesus understood that violence exercised by human beings seldom achieves the "just ends" that legitimize its use. In particular, he rejected the Roman Empire's claim that peace and security were primarily a function of military might.

More than four years ago, the president laid out a cause for preventive war that swayed the nation. Today, whatever moral authority he had to wage war in Iraq has vanished. Indeed, we believe we have a moral imperative to stand up and demand an end to an unjustifiable war.

In April 1967, the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. caused considerable controversy when he took to the pulpit at Riverside Church in New York and spoke out against the war in Vietnam, saying, "My conscience leaves me no other choice." At the time he spoke, 9,000 Americans had lost their lives in the war. Almost 50,000 more would be lost before we finally ended our fight.

Most national churches in America have publicly declared this war immoral. And yet it will take more than words to end this war. It will take the leadership of the people.

Dr. King laid down the challenge: "We in the churches and synagogues have a continuing task while we urge our government to disengage itself from a disgraceful commitment. We must be prepared to match actions with words by seeking out every creative means of protest possible."

We will worship again at the National Cathedral - but espousing a message different from President Bush's: We have had enough of war. It is time to find a new way forward. Following the worship service, we'll take that message out of the church and into the streets.

It takes leadership to end a war. We're determined to exercise that leadership now before more troops and civilians die in this costly, misguided conflict.

The Rev. Marion C. Bascom was pastor of Douglas Memorial Church in Upton for 46 years. The Rev. Andrew Foster Connors is pastor of Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church in Bolton Hill.

Copyright © 2007, The Baltimore Sun

You are not your own…

Jim Grayson
Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body. 1 Corinthians 6:19, 20 (NIV)
“The groaning of Creation for the revealing of the Sons of God are the left-over heart pangs I felt as I gave My Own Son Jesus to you as a price for your sin. I did it willingly and willingly He obeyed and now He has a Name, given by Me, which is above every Name. I have glorified Him for He has glorified Me through His obedience. I watched as His flesh was rent, as He was mocked and spat upon, as He carried His cross, His altar, and with each step, the weight of your sins became heavier and heavier on Him, bringing gross disfigurement to My Son, until I could no longer look upon Him, bringing out the cry of His Own heart, asking why I had forsaken Him. Although I could not look upon Him at the time, for I AM a Holy God and cannot look upon sin, I heard Him as He cried out to me and that cry reverberates around the universe as you know it even now. It rent My heart to hear His cry but I ignored it for My great love for you, oh, you of little faith. I ask you, do you think it was easy for Me to ignore the cries of My Own dear Son? It took all I had within Me, more than you could ever dream, to ignore those cries and not deliver Him from that cruel cross and, instead, with one word, destroy all My creation on this earth, including you. I say this to make you understand how great a price was paid for your freedom but it´s time now for you to take that freedom seriously.
I say this plainly, Beloved: you are not your own. Your body does not belong to you, if you are in Christ. You have not the freedom to do or say whatever you choose, for again, you are not your own. You may say, ‘But Your Son said we should forgive our brother countless times in a day and are You not held to that same principle?´ and my answer is, yes, of course, but is that the way you want to live, always toying with sin and having to come to Me time after time for forgiveness?
Let Me show you a better way, a way which will bring you joy and happiness beyond anything of which you could dream. Come to Me, without pretense or games, and say, ‘Take me and make me the person you want me to be. Kill me, destroying anything in me You find distasteful or unacceptable, so that only Jesus is seen in me. Do with me as You will, my Father, for I cannot, nor will not, drink from two cups any longer.´ I promise you, My Beloved, if you obey Me in this, I will bring about a miracle of cleansing which will fill you with great joy. My Word uses the term “the pleasures of sin’ when I was speaking of My servant Moses, but I say to you, those “pleasures’ are nothing compared to the holiness which comes from Me, given to an open, honest and receptive heart. Only My holiness and perfection, given to an open and honest heart, can bring true and lasting joy.
I have exhorted you to be holy. I have exhorted you to be perfect. It is in My Word and yet, many preach from the “pulpit’ (what is that thing, behind which you hide?) that no one can be perfect, calling My Son a liar. The holiness and perfection of which I speak comes from ME, not from the strivings and groanings of men. You can never make yourself holy, perfect or acceptable on your own but if you will turn your life completely over to Me, I will delight you…hear Me…I will delight you with the life I give you, a life which is hid in Christ in Me. Oh, the joys of freedom you will experience if you only come to Me.
You need not understand all these words to accept them. Simply come to Me, just as you are, and I will make you the person of your dreams, a Child of the Most High King, capable of doing anything, even miracles, at any given time, so long as I sanction them in your heart and then you obey Me. I tell you, only a holy vessel can carry the Power of My Holy Spirit.
The time of the greater works has always been here but now, they are called for even more for you are in the end times, the great preparation of the Bride of My Son, and She will not be a mixture of man and Me. She will be holy, acceptable and beautiful, fully deserving of the Kingly Groom Who will take Her hand and love Her in ways you have not perceived.
Listen, Beloved…some of you have been so unhappy for so long you wonder if you will ever be happy again. I say to you, come to Me this day…this day…and I will turn your tears of pain and grief to tears of great joy. That is My promise to you. I only wish you would open your heart of hearts to Me, so you can see just how very much I love you.
Come to Me, today. Wait no longer. Trade your misery for joy and I will make you a treasure unto Me of great price, for great was the price with which you were bought.
I love you, Beloved. Do what I say and your joy will be complete.’

A Freshening Wind
Jim Grayson

The Church Has Lost His Head

Mary Lloyd

Someone said to me once, “If I knew who you really were, I would probably not like you’.

My heart was searching for the Lord. I was in my room and feeling the sweep of the sorrow of unworthiness and despair. To my surprise He drew close, and I sensed the heavy weight of His peace begin to spread through me against my rising anxieties, against my logic and in spite of my condition. The peace of God that passes all understanding, for sure.

That peace I need and you need and in the days to come no other peace will do. That peace is a promise. I need you to know if He is continuing to give it to me, He certainly will do the same for you. He is comfort when there is no other. He lives in the Truth and sees us as we are, and in spite of this, His love and His promises never fail.

While I was in that place I felt Him before I began to see Him. I felt a compassion like a great warm sea. A tenderness without a limit. A knowing love and acceptance and great gathering beautiful heartbreakingly kindly and merciful presence right there with me where no words could speak.

I felt an encouragement within me to yield to Him.

And then I began to see Him.

But I saw Him standing and a white robe was on Him, and there was blood dripping down on the lower part of Him, where I saw His hand. The hand held His head, by the hair, low down, way too low down from where it should be, bleeding at the neck.

I realised He was showing me the Body of Christ, the Church.

The body of Christ has removed His head and holds it way down with her own hand. There is bloodshed. What does that mean?

It means she is killing herself. It means she is taking authority into her own hands and removing the Kingship of Christ. It means she is claiming to have the authority of Christ while denying Him, while executing Him, while esteeming Him low and beneath her.

She has raised up a haughty neck of pride above Him, an idol of self-praise where she has seated the authority that should be His.

His authority is in all lowliness and meekness and gentleness and humility. His authority is the love of man, tireless and self sacrificial. His authority is in the compassion that knows no bounds. His authority is what can melt a heart of stone.

The church makes religious statements and calls it authority. She quotes Bible verses and calls it authority. She institutes leaderships and calls it authority. She plans programmes and fills her days with activities not to be tampered with and calls it authority. She sends out prophecies and calls it authority. She writes great masterpieces of theology and calls it authority.

The world and I need to know the authority that is Jesus Christ. When the church begins to feel His Kingship, and to desire to place Him above all her haughty designs, she will have His authority once more. But she will not have it through pride. It must come through sorrow and through brokenness.

The church and I need brokenness and sorrow, and when we will truly feel the love of Christ in our needy place, we will know Who He Is, and fall at His feet.

When we know Who He Is like this the world will know that we have been with Him.

And we will love the people that come to us: we will no longer shed their blood. We will not turn them away because Jesus could not do that to us. And because we know that He does not despise us, however we look, whatever we have done, however bad we smell, whatever the secret perversions of our human thoughts, and whatever shape our human failure takes.

When the church in all humility will love with the love of Christ, He will be once again her Head. Once again it will be His authority, and not ours, so stiff-necked and haughty. The church will once again be “in her right mind’: the mind of Christ.

And the power of His love

Will pierce the darkness of pain and sorrow

And melt the hearts of stone.

Love from Mary

A Predator Becomes More Dangerous When Wounded

by Noam Chomsky

In the energy-rich Middle East, only two countries have failed to subordinate themselves to Washington's basic demands: Iran and Syria. Accordingly both are enemies, Iran by far the more important. As was the norm during the cold war, resort to violence is regularly justified as a reaction to the malign influence of the main enemy, often on the flimsiest of pretexts. Unsurprisingly, as Bush sends more troops to Iraq, tales surface of Iranian interference in the internal affairs of Iraq - a country otherwise free from any foreign interference - on the tacit assumption that Washington rules the world.

In the cold war-like mentality in Washington, Tehran is portrayed as the pinnacle in the so-called Shia crescent that stretches from Iran to Hizbullah in Lebanon, through Shia southern Iraq and Syria. And again unsurprisingly, the "surge" in Iraq and escalation of threats and accusations against Iran is accompanied by grudging willingness to attend a conference of regional powers, with the agenda limited to Iraq.

Presumably this minimal gesture toward diplomacy is intended to allay the growing fears and anger elicited by Washington's heightened aggressiveness. These concerns are given new substance in a detailed study of "the Iraq effect" by terrorism experts Peter Bergen and Paul Cruickshank, revealing that the Iraq war "has increased terrorism sevenfold worldwide". An "Iran effect" could be even more severe.

For the US, the primary issue in the Middle East has been, and remains, effective control of its unparalleled energy resources. Access is a secondary matter. Once the oil is on the seas it goes anywhere. Control is understood to be an instrument of global dominance. Iranian influence in the "crescent" challenges US control. By an accident of geography, the world's major oil resources are in largely Shia areas of the Middle East: southern Iraq, adjacent regions of Saudi Arabia and Iran, with some of the major reserves of natural gas as well. Washington's worst nightmare would be a loose Shia alliance controlling most of the world's oil and independent of the US.

Such a bloc, if it emerges, might even join the Asian Energy Security Grid based in China. Iran could be a lynchpin. If the Bush planners bring that about, they will have seriously undermined the US position of power in the world.

To Washington, Tehran's principal offence has been its defiance, going back to the overthrow of the Shah in 1979 and the hostage crisis at the US embassy. In retribution, Washington turned to support Saddam Hussein's aggression against Iran, which left hundreds of thousands dead. Then came murderous sanctions and, under Bush, rejection of Iranian diplomatic efforts.

Last July, Israel invaded Lebanon, the fifth invasion since 1978. As before, US support was a critical factor, the pretexts quickly collapse on inspection, and the consequences for the people of Lebanon are severe. Among the reasons for the US-Israel invasion is that Hizbullah's rockets could be a deterrent to a US-Israeli attack on Iran. Despite the sabre-rattling it is, I suspect, unlikely that the Bush administration will attack Iran. Public opinion in the US and around the world is overwhelmingly opposed. It appears that the US military and intelligence community is also opposed. Iran cannot defend itself against US attack, but it can respond in other ways, among them by inciting even more havoc in Iraq. Some issue warnings that are far more grave, among them the British military historian Corelli Barnett, who writes that "an attack on Iran would effectively launch world war three".

Then again, a predator becomes even more dangerous, and less predictable, when wounded. In desperation to salvage something, the administration might risk even greater disasters. The Bush administration has created an unimaginable catastrophe in Iraq. It has been unable to establish a reliable client state within, and cannot withdraw without facing the possible loss of control of the Middle East's energy resources.

Meanwhile Washington may be seeking to destabilise Iran from within. The ethnic mix in Iran is complex; much of the population isn't Persian. There are secessionist tendencies and it is likely that Washington is trying to stir them up - in Khuzestan on the Gulf, for example, where Iran's oil is concentrated, a region that is largely Arab, not Persian.

Threat escalation also serves to pressure others to join US efforts to strangle Iran economically, with predictable success in Europe. Another predictable consequence, presumably intended, is to induce the Iranian leadership to be as repressive as possible, fomenting disorder while undermining reformers.

It is also necessary to demonise the leadership. In the west, any wild statement by President Ahmadinejad is circulated in headlines, dubiously translated. But Ahmadinejad has no control over foreign policy, which is in the hands of his superior, the Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. The US media tend to ignore Khamenei's statements, especially if they are conciliatory. It's widely reported when Ahmadinejad says Israel shouldn't exist - but there is silence when Khamenei says that Iran supports the Arab League position on Israel-Palestine, calling for normalisation of relations with Israel if it accepts the international consensus of a two-state settlement.

The US invasion of Iraq virtually instructed Iran to develop a nuclear deterrent. The message was that the US attacks at will, as long as the target is defenceless. Now Iran is ringed by US forces in Afghanistan, Iraq, Turkey and the Persian Gulf, and close by are nuclear-armed Pakistan and Israel, the regional superpower, thanks to US support.

In 2003, Iran offered negotiations on all outstanding issues, including nuclear policies and Israel-Palestine relations. Washington's response was to censure the Swiss diplomat who brought the offer. The following year, the EU and Iran reached an agreement that Iran would suspend enriching uranium; in return the EU would provide "firm guarantees on security issues" - code for US-Israeli threats to bomb Iran.

Apparently under US pressure, Europe did not live up to the bargain. Iran then resumed uranium enrichment. A genuine interest in preventing the development of nuclear weapons in Iran would lead Washington to implement the EU bargain, agree to meaningful negotiations and join with others to move toward integrating Iran into the international economic system.

Noam Chomsky is co-author, with Gilbert Achcar, of Perilous Power: The Middle East and US Foreign Policy.

© Noam Chomsky, New York Times Syndicate

You Are The Light

Steven Bliss

My children, I want to remind you Who sits on the throne of the highest heavens. I am yet creator, king and commander of the hosts of Heaven. Do not become distracted by the enemy; he roars to see who is scared and who he can flush out, so that they might react on their own.

Fear not and stay near Me. Nothing has changed except your circumstances. My word brings forth light, My voice continues to dispel darkness, so walk secure in My truth.

Darkness is just an absence of My light. Darkness is the place where I send those I trust, so that I might breakthrough and destroy the works of evil. You are the light of the world. My glory illuminates the truth, it breaks the lies of bondage, and it utterly destroys all that resists Me.

Walk in the love you have been shown and know that I am the Lord of Hosts. I will accomplish what I have planned. I am the great restorer.

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