Aleppo et al.

Early in the week I was troubled by the news from Aleppo.  Syria has been locked up in a civil war that has cost tens of thousands of lives.  The news coming out suggests that long term agreements about warfare have been violated repeatedly.  Russia has stepped in behind Assad, which is disturbing on so many levels, making it harder for the international community to monitor or get involved on the humanitarian side.  Politics are playing a role, which means power is at stake.  When power is the primary goal, people take a back seat.  The most vulnerable people are the ones who pay the biggest price.  Children are the most vulnerable people everywhere – they don’t have the resources or power to help themselves.  Images of children fearing for their lives this week – and for so many weeks and months – have been haunting. 

A headline from China this week showed a child wearing a mask to help them breathe because the air pollution was so bad, she would not survive long without it.  Other images from the poorest parts of the world remind us how challenging getting through the day can be especially when there is not enough food.

As the thoughts of these children were running through my mind, I couldn’t help but think about the infant child we celebrate in our country beginning on September 6…  When this child was born, verses from the book of Isaiah was referenced, tying his birth to that of a king who lived hundreds of years before:

For a child is born to us,
    a son is given to us.
The government will rest on his shoulders.
    And he will be called:
Wonderful Counselor,[d] Mighty God,
    Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
7 His government and its peace
    will never end. (Isaiah 9:6-7a, NLT)

I was struck by the idea that this Prince of Peace would also be called a Wonderful Counselor.  I wondered what Jesus’ counsel was regarding life and faith as the champion of the cause of Shalom.  Toward the very end of his life, we get a glimpse at what was most important to him in a prayer which can be found in John 17:

And this is the way to have eternal life—to know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, the one you sent to earth…  I have given them the glory you gave me, so they may be one as we are one. I am in them and you are in me. May they experience such perfect unity that the world will know that you sent me and that you love them as much as you love me. – John 17:3; 22-23 (NLT)

What struck me here was that Jesus’ greatest hope was that we would be one with each other and with God, which in context would give us the experience of eternal life – not just a destination to come but a quality of life right now, in this life.  This being one with God and others thing was the secret to eternal life, which is marked by shalom, the fullest sense of peace and wholeness.

This same adult Jesus once was approached by parents who wanted him to bless their children.  The disciples thought it undignified and disrespectful, so they pushed them away.  Jesus had something to say about it:

 One day some parents brought their little children to Jesus so he could touch and bless them. But when the disciples saw this, they scolded the parents for bothering him.

16 Then Jesus called for the children and said to the disciples, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. 17 I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” – Luke 18:15-17 (NLT)

This idea that children are recipients of the Kingdom of God – another way of expressing eternal life and shalom and knowing God – initrigued me.  Brennan Manning gave us a masterpiece about the love of God in his book, The Ragamuffin Gospel.  As I was thinking about this week’s teaching, I was reminded of this quote from his book:

In Manning’s view, it was the vulnerability of children that gave them their special status.  A way of being that we need to emulate, perhaps, because its inherent humility leads to openness and discovery.

Douglas Wood created a children’s story of the Old Turtle and the Broken Truth.  In this story, a village receives a truth from heaven itself – half of it anyway – on a stone.  The truth: You are loved.  The community that received it loved it, then honored it, then worshipped it, then assumed it was a truth for themselves alone which led to horrible treatement of their neighbors.  One day a child sought counsel from and Old Wise Turtle, who revealed the other half of the truth to her.  The first half, remember, was this: You are loved.  The second half was simply this: so is everybody else.  Sometimes children’s books pack the most punch.  In this story, the child is the heroine.

To recap.  Jesus’ last prayer was that we would know eternal life, which is knowing God, which brings unity to us all, which proves that we really are God’s followers in the firsts place.  In another instance, we learn that we are to enter that relationship as children – vulnerable, without pretense, yet at the same time fully trusting that this heavenly father/mother loves us fully.  Being childlike in our relationship with God is what leads us into eternal life.

Julia Galef discovered one reason why we think we’re right when we’re wrong.  In short, she contends that when we have a warrior mindset, we are inclined to stand our ground on the cause we’re fighting for, and don’t waste time on facts.  She encourages her listeners to adopt a scout mindset instead, which is all about discovery and learning to make sure we actually know what we’re talking about.  An approach of humility, which sounds a bit childlike to me.  This also reminds me of a parable Jesus spoke about concerning wheat and weeds growing together.  We don’t have the capacity to always distinguish a weed from wheat because we lack perspective. 

Jamila Raqib has invested her life discovering the secret to nonviolent resistance.  As a leader in her field on an international stage, she has learned that there are ways to combat even ISIS that do not require conventional weapons.  Ways of nonviolence that actually do defeat the most violent regimes.  Sounds like a childlike response.  Sounds like something more like an answer to the prayer Jesus prayed.

Irmela Schramm, armed with spray paint, is doing her part to create peace.  Living in Berlin, Germany, she was horrified to see the swastika appear in graffiti around her city, as well as stickers from hate groups.  Instead sitting around thinking about it, she acted.  With a can of paint and a paint scraper.  One wall at a time, she is removing hatred and replacing it with love.  Sounds like Jesus.

The child born to us is a Prince of Peace and a Wonderful Counselor.  The question is, will we follow this leader, and will we listen to his counsel?

Watch the video of this teaching here.