Love supreme, supreme danger

Feb 18, 2019 by

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I’ve been catching up on the literature of Christian Peacemaker Teams. But today when I read their publications, I more often read the adjective “Christian” in reference to problematic nouns like “hegemony” or “Zionism.” You can still see “christian” in the small font of their elegant logo, a white dove sitting on a length of barbed wire that is vining into an olive branch under the dove’s feet. The dove’s eyes are keeping close watch on the barb. The olive leaves are either less interesting than the barb, or simply growing of their accord, like the seed of the kingdom that sprouts and grows, we know not how (Mark 4:27).

In its repentance of Christian hegemony and its growing friendships with peacemakers of many faiths, CPT today identifies its mission as “Inclusive, multi-faith, spiritually guided peacemaking.” I am encouraged and troubled by this, both at the same time. CPT for years has been a light on the hill that I could point to to say, this is what authentic Christian action looks like in the world. With so many abuses committed in the name of my savior, CPT was an example I could feel proud of. “No one after lighting a lamp puts it under a bushel basket,” says Christ in the conclusion of the Beatitudes. Then, not long after, he says, “Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them.” Oh, Christ, you’re on to me again.

The early Christians, in their astonishment at the light of Christ, made bold claims. “God . . . highly exalted him . . . so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend . . . and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord” (Phil. 2:9-11). David Cayley, in a recent interview on The Ferment podcast, says that anyone who is a Christian, if they really are a Christian, wants to share the Good News. But he soon after adds that the prerequisite of this sharing is a profound silence before the other.

In the great “every knee, every tongue” hymn of Phillipians, Christ’s glory is coupled with and preceded by Christ’s supreme humility:

“Though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of human likeness.
And being found in human form,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to the point of death —
even death on a cross” (2:6-8).

In light of this example Christians are exhorted: “Let the same mind be in you that was also in Christ Jesus” (2:5).

It is such a mind that repents of chauvinism, that resists the temptations of prestige and recognition, that empties itself of divine claims in order to bring out divinity in the other. It is such a mind that drops me to my knees.

For many of us Christians who are waking up to our history of arrogance and our complicity in colonial oppression, there is an impulse to recoil at the early church’s proclamation of the universal lordship of Jesus Christ. Of course. A more convenient handmaiden to empire could hardly be found.

But this continues to cast the problem of Christian mission into the categories of who is better than whom. The early church cast the problem in categories that are more radical, and more revealing: Christ/Anti-Christ. They understood the Love Supreme that was astonishingly, uniquely and indispensably revealed on the Cross of Christ to be accompanied by a supreme danger: a new “mystery of wickedness” nested in the church, capable of a kind of evil not seen in the world before.

Ivan Illich, who I am following here, taught me to see that the lordship of Christ, uncoupled from Christ’s humility, could become an imperial standard that could violate not only the geographic sovereignty, but the spiritual sovereignty of the other. Roman spiritual imperialism only insisted that you bow before their gods. Christian spiritual imperialism insisted that you invite the colonial anti-Christ into your heart.

In a recent interview, Cree elder Walking Buffalo (Stan McKay), reflecting on the confusing character of Canadian racism that he experienced in residential school, said, “Many of them were nice to us, even as they were destroying us.” As I watched the viral video this week of calm, polite Child and Family Services workers and Royal Canadian Mounted Police officers take yet another baby from the arms of yet another weeping indigenous mother, McKay’s words rang in my ears. There is a mysterious, confusing evil at work among us.

When McKay recalls the teachings of his mother and father to never take more than you need from the earth, and to consider anything extra you have as something to be shared in community, I have to confess (as did a significant minority of early missionaries) that the cultures that Europeans encountered on Turtle Island were spiritually more attuned to the way of life outlined in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount than the grasping, control-seeking, imperial cultures that funded the drive for Christian conversions in this place.

When my Haudenosaunee friend Adrian Jacobs asserts in an Indigenous Testamur that indigenous theology is the host of any non-indigenous spiritual tradition brought into this place, I breathe in the hope of the Beatitudes: that it is the anawim, the humble, righteous, simple-living people — who we call in English “the meek” — who are the rightful inheritors of the earth. When the people who in their own languages call themselves Inninew or Anishnaabeeg tell us that they are the keepers of the earth in this place, set here by the Creator to practice Mino Pimatissiwin — the good life lived in harmony with all our relations, I understand them to be saying little else. When these meek (again) inherit the earth, I will understand our prayers for Christ’s kingdom to “come on earth as it is in heaven” to be answered.

Marcus Peter Rempel is a farmer, author and speaker who lives at Ploughshares Community Farm in South St. Ouen’s, Man., and is author of Life at the End of Us Versus Them. He cohosts The Ferment podcast and blogs at Brokenheaded Sojourn, where this post first appeared.


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