To love and resist

Mar 31, 2014 by

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This is how I think about the way of the cross. Compassion, curiosity, humility and grace linked with courageous opposition to sin, injustice and evil. Jesus held these things together. That is a rare thing.

Gingerich Stoner

Gingerich Stoner

Along with other Mennonites, I have long thought of the cross as the ultimate expression of Jesus’ unlimited love. This was a love that was willing to give everything and that reached out to everyone, even enemies. I have often recited the stirring crescendo in Romans 5: While we were weak . . . while we were sinners . . . even while we were enemies . . . Christ so loved us that he gave his life for us.

Some years back, however, a phrase in a book by Jesuit priest John Dear jumped out at me. He spoke of “the cross of nonviolent resistance and love.” Resistance, he reminds us, is central to the way of the cross. Jesus resisted religious rules that had become more important than people. He refused to participate in practices that labeled some as unclean or outside the realm of grace. He healed on the Sabbath, ate with sinners, cleansed the temple. And it led him to the cross.

One of the most powerful Lenten experiences I have ever had was with an ecumenical group of Christian peacemakers six years ago. The group Christian Peace Witness for Iraq had brought us together: Presbyterians, Catholics, Baptists, Mennonites and many others. We gathered in a circle in the lobby of the Hart Senate Office Building to sing and pray and witness against the practice of torture being inflicted by our government on the bodies of men and women in Iraqi prisons and elsewhere.

The spirit of the group was prayerful and determined, joyful and serious. A large stone art piece nearby reminded me of the cross. In the shadow of this cross, one by one we were arrested and led off to a waiting police van.

We had started the day with a nonviolence training that included a “mill­ing” exercise. We moved around the room and then stopped and stood in silence in front of another person. We were asked to reflect on the journey of that person, the struggles, disappointments, wounds that person carried. We held them gently in our thoughts and prayers.

And then we started milling again, stopping at some point in front of another person. This time we thought about the wonderful unique way this person had been created. That they were blessed and beloved by God. Beautiful. Gifted. Created in the image of God.
It was a wonderful way of opening ourselves to the people we encountered. Of learning to see the way God sees us.

And now, as we were being arrested we encountered the police officers, too, in that same way — as beautiful and broken, wounded and beloved. There was a spirit of respect, care, almost reverence, even as we were deliberately and clearly saying “no” to the practice of torture. Love and resistance.

In the church, too, among brothers and sisters, we need to constantly learn how to be honest about our convictions and concerns even as we are generous, gracious, patient and compassionate.

The challenge isn’t to somehow balance these values. The invitation is to move deeper in our capacity both to love fiercely and generously and to live the truth we have been given with humility. “For we have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”

Andre Gingerich Stoner is director of interchurch relations and director of holistic witness for Mennonite Church USA.

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