Last Sunday marked the 100th day that four Christian peace activists, including two Canadians James Loney and Harmeet Sooden, were kidnapped in Iraq. Church’s around the world remembered them by holding vigils and prayer services for their safe release. Since war broke out in Iraq in the spring of 2003, the CPT team has been working with Iraqi human rights organizations and documenting abuses against Iraqi prisoners. They are active around the world. Wherever there is violence they seem to be a non-violent presence stuck in the middle between two groups of people who seem to mix about as well as water and oil.
And it was reported yesterday that the body of one of their colleagues Mr. Tom Fox was found near a railway line in Baghdad yesterday.
When I heard this I found myself silently agreeing with a couple of folks who were discussing the foolishness of folks like Tom and James and Harmeet in a Macdonalds restaurant a month or so ago.
One guy said, Those extremists there crazy. They’ll kidnap and kill you, you can’t reason with them. “What are those CPT guys doing. The other guy replied, “Young fools if you ask me; a waste of time and life,
Then I notice that still the young fools keep stepping up to bat so to speak. Consider George Weber, a retired school teacher from Ontario who did a tour of duty with the CPT in Hebron. He said he felt like a fireman- always trying to put out the brush fires before they burned the forest down.
Then there is Allan Slater. He just finished his tour of duty in Baghdad as a Christian peacekeeper. He’s a 70 year old retired Canadian dairy farmer, who found himself a long way from a contented cow. When asked why he did it, he said, “
we are here to be a witness to the truth”
People scratch their heads and wonder why.
You can even hear them thinking,
No Allan, No! don’t go there!
Still, George and Allan- and all of them go.
Foolish belief? Misplaced hope? Wasted service?
Do your remember the movie Chariots of Fire. Eric Liddell, was a devout Scottish Christian who won the Olympic Gold medal for running. He said to his sister God made me fast and when I run I feel God’s pleasure. After the Olympics, he gave it all up to be a missionary in China.
People scratched their heads and wondered why. You can even hear them thinking, No Eric, No, don’t Go there!
Still Eric went. Foolish belief? Misplaced hope, wasted service?
Jesus said to the apostles somewhere outside of Capernum.
I think its time for us to go to Jerusalem.
When we get there, I will be arrested and tried by the rulers of this world.
They will sentence me to die and I will.
But, I’ll be back
If you want to come along, pick up your cross
Lose your life and find it.
And when he said this, the disciples, choked on their chicken mcnuggets
“We’ve only known you for three years! We want to keep you all to ourselves.
All those miracles, walking on water, feeding the multitudes,
Just keep giving us the signs and we’ll follow you anywhere.
Heal the sick, raise the dead, you can do it man,
Your the son of God!
Now you want to end it all.
Do you really want to die? That makes no sense. Its nonsense.
They scratched their heads and wondered why!
You could even hear them thinking
No Jesus No, don’t go there
Still, Jesus went,
Foolish belief? Misplaced hope, wasted service?
The cross of Christ as a defining Christian symbol of God’s unconditional love for the world is often also one of the most misused symbols of the Christian faith. People say, “I have arthritis, but that’s just my cross to bear.”
Or, they say, “I have a lazy spouse or boring job but that’s just my cross to bear”.
Maybe we know people who love to carry crosses in dramatic ways because it places them at the center of attention. It reminds me of that peanuts comic strip where Charlie Brown is reading something to Lucy. “It says here that the world revolves around the sun once a year.” Lucy responds, Huh “The world revolves around the sun? Are you sure? I thought it revolved around me.
I don’t think Jesus was thinking about himself, or his power or his own suffering when he spoke about picking up one’s cross and losing one’s life to find it. I think he knew it could lead to suffering but he did not welcome suffering for the sake of suffering. I think he had something else in mind.
Deborah Campbell is a Canadian journalist with Middle Eastern experience who recently wrote about the CPT “I don't have a lot of time for religion, but I have long been impressed by those faiths that place their emphasis on improving life in the world we share, on social justice and ending strife and violence”
It seems to me that in the rare moments when the world experiences justice and peace, wholeness, what we are in fact experiencing is the presence or reign of God among us. Jesus brought us a glimpse of the presence of God among us when he gave us all those signs or miracles. But we don’t put our faith in miracles, we put our faith in God. The signs pointed to the message of God- The world suffers yes and God enters and loves the suffering world.
And right in the middle, right at the center of the suffering world, we modern Christians just like those ancient followers of Jesus stumble over the image of him crucified on two pieces of wood.
We are going to watch him stumbling with the cross on the way to Golgotha and our hearts will break. We see him nailed to it on the hill and we feel at some level a deep sorrow. He’s not there because he chose to suffer a senseless death; others chose to do that to him. To blame God for his death is like blaming Tom Fox for his own death. Jesus and Tom did not do what they did because they wanted to die a senseless death in a cruel world. Jesus died because he believed that the whole world was so beautiful, so precious that we needed to see it as he saw it with the eyes of God. He brought the light of God to us. We did not have to do anything except reflect it.
Look at his cross, imagine him on it today in Iraq or Afghanistan or in a senior citizens home or living with the homeless at Bay and Younge. One hand is reaching out to those on his right and another to those on his left. One hand might be reaching out to innocent victims and another to their oppressors. He wants to bring the two together, reconcile them. Bring them together in one big divine bear hug. But he can’t, his hands are nailed tight.
The good news of course is that he is in fact risen. He is not up there anymore. He’s not nailed down. He’s free. In his resurrection we understand the wisdom of his foolish love.
But what is truly foolish is the world keeps trying to put others up there in his place and we don’t even see that we are doing it.
I was heartened to read that Captain Trevor Greene appears to be recovering. He was the Canadian officer who was cleaved in the head by an axe wielding boy in Afghanistan. The 16 year old Afgani boy who hit him was killed by other Canadian soldiers. You know what is foolish about our claim that Jesus is the resurrected son of the living God. Its this, through Jesus eyes, we see that God considers both this Canadian officer and this Afghani boy victims. Why? They label each other enemy when Jesus says no, no, I call you both my brothers.
I think Tom Fox was trying to make this point when his captors nailed him to the cross.
You know when archaeologists discovered the tomb of Emperor Charlemagne of France, the first emperor of the new Holy Roman Empire, who died in 814 AD, the first emperor of the empire that was built out of the rubble of Rome and the Caesars, they found a great throne and upon it sat the skeleton of Charlemagne with an open bible in his lap. His bony finger had been made to point to Mark 8:36:
“For what shall profit a person if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own?
Carrying ones cross today in order to lose ones life to find it, means what it always has meant since the resurrection. It means we who claim to be the followers of Christ are supposed to be nail pullers. Each and every time some innocent person gets crucified, we pull the nails, take them down from the cross and bandage the wounds. Though the world may go mad with rage around us, for foolishly thinking that we can be the nonviolent compassion of the Christ, we just concentrate in our own lives on pulling nails and bandaging wounds. When people start shouting, No, you fool, No don’t do that. We just keep pulling nails out and bandaging people up.
Thats what Tom Fox was doing when he lost his life. Thats what 70 year old retired dairy farmer Allan Slater is still doing.
That’s what Jesus did and is still doing through the power of the Spirit in us.