Foundry United Methodist Church

Rev. Dean Snyder, Senior Minister

 

 

 

“Finding Community in an Acrimonious World”


Sunday, October 3, 2010

 

 

Dean

Rev. Dean Snyder

We are beginning a new series of sermons on Finding Community in an Acrimonious World.

The word acrimony has its origins in a series of Greek words: akis "sharp point," akros "pointed," oxys "sharp, bitter;"

The Latin word acer means "sharp, pungent, bitter, fierce."

There is a Sanskrit word that belongs to the same family acani- "point of an arrow."

The word acrid which is the root word for acrimonious shares some common roots with the word acid.

Synonyms of acrimony are bitterness, animosity, spitefulness, asperity, spite.

Antonyms are goodwill, civility, kindness, politeness.

Is it just me or does it feel as if we living in an unusually acrimonious time? It is not just that we disagree and have conflict but the tenor and tone of the conflict seems particularly sharp and bitter and acidic.

It is not just that there are competing world views in our world but that one side calls the other The Great Satan and that side calls the other the Axis of Evil.

One side flies planes into buildings full of civilians while the other bombards a city of civilians with 1700 bombs, including 500 cruise missiles, in a strategy named “Shock and Awe.”

One side beheads people on the internet while elected leaders in high office on the other side defend torture as a legitimate interrogation technique.

Is it just me, or are our international conflicts these days more openly barbaric – more proudly violent – than they used to be? It is not that humanity has not been barbaric before but we seem somehow to have less shame about it. Even the Nazis tried to hide the death camps.

Partisan politics seems to be more partisan than politic. Glen Beck demonstrates at one end of the mall and Al Sharpton demonstrates at the other on the anniversary of Dr. King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, and Dr. King’s dream was not competing rallies on the Mall.  

I don’t know. I really don’t know. Everybody’s decision – from the Supreme Court to the governor of Virginia – the decision to execute a woman with a marginal IQ of 72 seems to me to be unsettlingly harsh. I slept poorly that night.

In the last three weeks, five boys have taken their lives as a result of anti-gay bullying, and a sixth has committed suicide under still-unknown circumstances at this time. These are the ones we know about. I read their names.

Justin Aaberg, age 15, Anoka, Minnesota, hanged himself
Seth Walsh, age 13, Technapi, California, hanged himself
Billy Lucas, age 15, Greensburg, Indiana, hanged himself
Asher Brown, age 13, Cypress, Texas, shot himself
Tyler Clementi, age 18, Rutgers University, jumped off the Washington Bridge
Raymond Chase, age 19, Johnson & Wales University, hanged himself

The question for this series is how we find community in the midst of this kind of acrimony. How do we find global community? How do we find community within our faith groups? How do we find community in our workplaces? How do we find community in our families? In our own inner depths?

How does the Bible and our faith heritage help us find community?

I want to suggest three things about how the Bible helps us find community in a warring world today.

First, the Bible is not naïve about war and violence in our world.

In my home, when I was a boy, we had a book entitle One Thousand Questions and Answers from the Bible. For a time, my mother would ask my sister and I questions from the book and we’d see if we could remember the answers.

One of the first questions was: “Who killed one-fourth of the earth’s population?” The answer was Cain when he killed his brother Abel.

One of the first stories in the Bible is a story of genocide. One of the Bible’s primal myths is about genocide. The Bible says from the very beginning: this is who we seem to be – a people capable of genocide, capable of war, capable of bullying, capable of make each others’ lives absolutely miserable.  

The Bible is not naïve.

Occasionally parents ask us about why the baptism vows they take when they bring their baby to this altar to be baptized talk so much about evil.

The first baptismal question is: “Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sins?”

The second is: “Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?”

Occasionally parents ask: Why so much emphasis on evil and wickedness?

I am sympathetic. Here they are, bringing a beautiful innocent baby to the altar who has no ounce of evil in them; babies who are pure and all goodness and who are closer to Christ than any of the rest of us here; and we do a ritual that talks so much about evil. Why?

Because ours is a faith that is not naïve about the evil in a world that we are preparing them to live in.

There is amazing evil in our world…violence and hatred and war.

Rollo May used to teach that one of the most destructive things in the world is something he called pseudo-innocence: a refusal to face the evil that exists in the world. Because when we deny the evil in the world, we do not face our complicity in it.

Paul Lacey who taught at the Quaker Earlham College used to shock students. They’d talk about pacifism and students would say they were pacifists because they knew they couldn’t kill anyone. Dr. Lacey would shock them by saying that he was a pacifist because he knew he could kill.

The Bible is not pseudo-innocent. It does not teach that evil isn’t real, or that we are innocent and pure, or that awful things do not happen in our world.

But, and this is the second point, but the Bible teaches that war and violence are not the last word.

It began during the time of the prophets but was, for us, more clearly articulated in Jesus. War and violence are not the last word. God has faced evil and overcome it. Because God has faced evil and overcome it, the “Son of Man,” in the language most of us are used to, can face evil and overcome it. The “Son of Man” is Jesus Christ, is humanity, is you and me.

We are not powerless in the presence of war and violence. We are not hopeless. War and violence are not the last word about us. They are not the defining word. The world doesn’t need to be this way.

Be careful what you believe.

I’ve been trying to read the philosopher Leo Strauss who supposedly was influential in the thinking of some government officials in high places after 9/11. I find Leo Strauss almost impossible to understand but those who have studied him claim that he taught a theory of “perpetual war.”

War is the human condition, Strauss apparently taught. Matter of fact, war is almost necessary because without war, nations and societies turn decadent, unless they are required to sacrifice and die for something.

Supposedly, I don’t know if it is true, part of the justification for beginning a preemptive war against Iraq was because of a theory that war is inevitable, so why wait for it to come to us again?

Be careful what you believe.

War and violence is our human condition but it is not inevitable and it is not perpetual. God has overcome it and he has revealed to us in Christ and the followers of Christ, the possibility of the “Son of Man,” you and me, overcoming it.  

A group of us are studying the Gospel of Mark right now. I love doing this because it gives me an excuse to study the gospel again and because I get to hear the questions other people ask when they are reading the gospel.

The gospel of Mark starts out with a lot of exorcisms, Jesus casting out evil spirits, and demons. Jesus talking to the demons, telling them to shut up and to get out of people and to leave them alone.

And if you read the stories with 21st century eyes they can sound sort of unscientific and uncomfortable. Until you remember that the Gospel of Mark was probably written in Rome during the Nero persecution when Christians were being thrown into the Coliseum and ripped apart by wild animals while the crowds, full of blood lust, watched and cheered and roared.

How important it was then to hear stories about Jesus having power over the demonic; about the Jesus being the strong person who could bind Satan.

Satan has been bound. He just doesn’t know it yet. The Son of Man – the Human One – has bound Satan. For any who have experience violence and evil, it does get better.  

The last thing I want to say today about finding community in a warring world is that peace is always spiritual. Community is always spiritual. It always comes from the inside out.

I love the book of James. James never minces words. Martin Luther wanted to edit James out of the Bible. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, loved the book of James.

Why is there war? James asks. Where does war come from? It comes from inside of us, he says. It comes from the greed and the lust and the craving for worldly accomplishment and success and recognition inside of us.

War is rooted in your heart and mine.

I’m not sure I understand this. No, I am sure I don’t understand it, but it rings of truth to me.

I pray for Hillary Clinton. An article I read recently said she should not work for peace in the Middle East because it just demonstrates how impotent America is. When I read that I went and sat in the pew where the Clintons used to sit when they worshipped here and prayed for Hillary to never give up.

The perpetual war in the Middle East is rooted in something in your heart and mine. Peace begins when we humble ourselves and kneel before God, and draw near to God so that God might draw near to us. I don’t understand it, but I believe it.  

 

Tony Bing, “Albert Camus: The Plague and an Ethic of Nonviolence” at http://www.earlham.edu/~tonyb/bing_charles1.html.

The debate about Leo Strauss and the so-called “Neo-Con” movement is not resolved. For one take, see “Noble lies and perpetual war: Leo Strauss, the neo-cons, and Iraq” at http://www.informationclearinghouse.info/article5010.htm. Fort another view see “The Truth about Leo Strauss” at http://www.press.uchicago.edu/Misc/Chicago/993329.html.  The most helpful material I’ve read on Leo Strauss is in Andrew Sullivan’s book The Conservative Soul: How We Lost It, How to Get It Back (Harper Collins), 259 ff.

Leslie H. Gelb, “Hillary's Dangerous Mideast Leap” at http://www.thedailybeast.com/blogs-and-stories/2010-09-15/hillarys-perilous-mideast-leap/.

 

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