September 11, 2009


Some rambling reflections for 9/11...

The Hawthorn House, the little community that is my "church," my best friends and housemates is an ecumenical bunch. We represent a variety of Christian backgrounds; Catholic, Southern Baptist, Episcopal, Vineyard, Presbyterian, non-denominational mega-church, and on. With that in mind, I'm often asked why I consider myself an Anabaptist. My father was raised in a Swedish/Norwegian Lutheran household in Minnesota. My mother grew up in Southern transplant family in Orange County, with a long tradition in the Foursquare church. They raised my brother and I in a Free Methodist church and I ended up on staff at a Southern Baptist church years ago. So, how'd I end up a convinced Anabaptist?

It started on an early weekday morning in late 2001.

I got out of bed and started to pack my bags. I would soon be on a plane to conduct a training session for church leaders on the east coast. My wife’s aunt called. “Turn on the T.V.,” she said. The shock in her voice made me sit down on the sofa as I grabbed for the remote. My wife, who was 9-month’s pregnant with our first child, sat down next to me. As the screen flicked on we watched as a plane crashed into the second of the Twin Towers. My arm was wrapped around my wife. I could feel her belly, stretched tight with our child inside against the palm of my hand. “What kind of world are we bringing this child into?” was all that she could say to me. I had no response.

I didn’t end up getting on a plane that day. Instead, I went into the office in a daze just as everyone else did. We talked about the latest news information we had around the coffee pot. For weeks, as the world cast accusations towards religious radicals for these terrible acts of violence, I asked myself, “What does my faith have to say about violence?”

I am a Christian. I took Church History. I knew what the Church had to say about violence. It wasn't just radical Muslims who embraced violence. We embraced it. We became it. I didn’t like that. No more than you like reading it. But it was true. The crusades, inquisitions, slavery and on. As a political, social and cultural force the Church could historically be found at the center of some of the most horrific moments in history.

But then there was Jesus. While Jerry Falwell was casting judgment on prime time, I found myself reading the Gospels. I could not find anything resembling the seething Falwell in Jesus. Jesus blessed peacemakers. He healed the ear of those arresting him, chastising his friend who had attacked the arresting officer. He was tortured and sentenced to capital punishment, yet refused to retaliate. Jesus embodied the very opposite of violence.

After pouring over Scripture for about a year, reading John Howard Yoder, Walter Wink and others, I felt I needed some conversation partners on the subject. I was introduced to Rev. Jeff Wright, a Mennonite pastor in LA. Jeff started giving me more reading material by John Driver, Gerhard Lohfink, Donald Kraybill, Hendrik Berkhof, Andre Trocme, and early Anabaptist writers such as Menno Simons and Pilgram Marpeck.

I never understood nonviolence in the common passive understanding of pacifism. In fact, it was Jeff that showed me the bravery, strength and justice within nonviolent engagement with the world. Similar to what I learned through my many talks with Jeff, in his recent book, Just Courage, Gary Haugen–the founder and CEO of International Justice Mission (IJM)–has equated violence to the absence of justice. And Jeff connected this to a more holistic view of the Gospel for me.

These are all ideas that I could go further into but not today. Today, I am focusing on what I learned about faith and violence on September 11, 2001.

Radical convictions have consistently–throughout history and currently–proven to lead to violence, eventually. My simple conclusion has been that if we are to be people that believe full-heartedly in something, than nonviolence must be a fundamental piece to that. Otherwise, the outcome of all radical or fundamentalist convictions seems inevitable: violence. Even then, violence will happen. I realize that. But that was the impetus for my landing within the Anabaptist tradition. I recognize that there is more to Anabaptism than a theological framework for nonviolence. But today, I remembering that this is where it began for me.

The term "nonviolence" is a negative. The question continues to be what is the positive of such a term. It seems to be found in several words that are practically and theologically profound: love, forgiveness, reconciliation, justice. We simply require an understanding of these terms that deliberately excludes violence as an option. (For more practical insights to this check out Glen Stassen's Just Peacemaking)

That may be part of the reason why our community is so eclectic and egalitarian. It has been a consistent tangible application of that nonviolent ethic. We welcome and intend to reconcile our varied traditions through our common life and we refuse to allow one to dominate the others. Addressing division and dominance in our midst are certainly subtle forms of violence in comparison to what we hear on the news. Yet, this is where it begins for us.

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