Tag Archives: violence

Trump, the Pax Romana, and Palm Sunday

This Sunday, many churches around the world, including our own, will take time to remember and honour Palm Sunday: the moment when Jesus enters into Jerusalem and begins the events prior to his arrest and crucifixion.

Two particular things happen on Palm Sunday: Jesus rides a donkey colt, and a number of people wave palm branches and shout, “Hosanna!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The symbol of riding on a donkey colt was meant to conjure up the image of a King riding into Jerusalem.  Solomon rides on a mule when he is anointed as King over all of Israel.  Zechariah also prophesies that when the long-awaited Messiah, the great King of Zion, will enter Jerusalem “riding on a donkey’s colt” (Zech. 9:9).

The addition of palm branches is interesting.  Palm branches were already a common symbol of royalty in Jewish culture at the time; but palm branches were particularly connected to when the King entered the Temple and performed a sacrifice upon the altar.

Palm Sunday is a celebration of Jesus’ triumphal entry as a King into Jerusalem and we see two things quickly emerge in this image of Jesus: 1) the donkey colt was also a symbol of humility and 2) Jesus is going to be a King performing a sacrifice.  But instead of sacrificing an animal on the altar, he sacrifices himself upon the cross to heal the world of its sins.

Now try lining up this image of King with that we see quickly emerging in our beloved Donald J. Trump.  As a leader or ruler, Trump says things like:

“We will have so much winning if I get elected that you may get bored with winning. Believe me.”

[Speaking of a protester] “I want to punch him in the face.”

“If you see somebody getting ready to throw a tomato, knock the crap out of ’em, would you? Seriously. Okay?”

“See, in the good old days this didn’t use to happen [people protesting], because they used to treat them very rough. We’ve become very weak.”

When asked about the recent assault of a protester who was subsequently manhandled by three police officers (not the man who actually assaulted him), Trump says, “He deserved it. The next time we see him, we might have to kill him. We don’t know who he is. He might be with a terrorist organization.”

Trump represents what we could call the Pax Romana or “Peace of Rome.”  Just before the birth of Christ until about 180 A.D., Rome enjoyed about a relative peace for about 200 years.  Their claim was that the civilization and military expansion of the Roman Empire had engineered this peace.

However, the Pax Romana was anything but peaceful.  The Empire engaged in widespread torture and executions in order to maintain power over oppressed cultures, and it still engaged in warfare.  It just didn’t have any major civil wars during this time or any major opponents who threatened the stability of the Empire.

But the basic concept of the Pax Romana was that physical force and violence against your enemies creates security and peace.

This is what Donald Trump believes will happen when he uses physical and verbal force against protesters.  This is also what also lead Trump to say things like: “The other thing with the terrorists is you have to take out their families, when you get these terrorists, you have to take out their families.”

This was the logic of the Pax Romana.  Use whatever physical force is necessary in order to ensure peace.

Two different leaders.  Two different concepts of “King.”  One leader advocates that because he is so rich and powerful, he will make America great again.  The other leader rides on a donkey colt to announce his arrival.

One leader says you have to sacrifice people on the altar of peace and security in order to be safe.  The other leader sacrifices himself to save the world.

This Palm Sunday let’s ask ourselves “What is truly the peace that we want for the world? And which kind of King will we ultimately follow?”

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An unsettled Christmas

This was an unsettled Christmas.  It was December 17th.  We were all getting ready for Christmas, going to Christmas programs, enjoying Christmas banquests, doing Christmas shopping when we listened to the news.  Maybe you heard it on the radio, or on TV, or someone told you.  A man had walked into an elementary school in Newtown, Connecticut.  By the end 27 people were killed, 20 of them small children.

For the next week you couldn’t turn on the TV or open the newspaper without hearing details about the massacre.  Pictures of the children, newsclips of parents of the murdered, speculations about why Adam Lanza had done this crime.  Everyone was talking about this, everyone was shaken.

It was jarring to look at the Christmas tree, seeing children doing a Christmas program, while thinking of the horror that happened. How did that shooting affect you?

This Sunday we are going to be talking about the “Slaughter of the Innocents”; the children that Herod murdered when he was trying to kill Jesus.  The writer of the gospel of Matthew puts this story right next to the story of Jesus’ birth.  Birth and murder in one breath.  Why?

Come to church, and we’ll think about this together, and what this means for our church and our world today.

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Hot Potato!

Did you ever play the game hot potato?  We played this all the time in school. We usually used a bean bag, not a potato.   We would be standing or sitting in a circle and the music would begin.  The idea was that you had to pass the object to the next person in the circle as fast you could, because the person who was holding the object when the music stopped would be “out”.

It’s only as an adult that the game made any sense, because a hot baked potato is like that; you can touch it briefly because the potato skin is not that hot at first.  But if you hold onto it, it will burn your fingers as the heat penetrates your skin!

This week we’re going to be talking about how violence can be spread like a hot potato.  Violence can be passed on from person to person without actually harming the people who are carrying it, until it hits the intended target, and then “Bang!”

Think about gossip.  It doesn’t hurt to pass on a tidbit of juicy gossip, many people pass it on until it hits the ears of the person it’s about and then “Bang!”

Or think about a bomb. Someone has the idea of a bomb, and they make plans, which are then constructed in a factory, the bomb is transported to an airplane, it’s carried by a crew in the air, someone presses a button and then a few seconds later “Bang!”   No one who touched the bomb up to that point was hurt, even though hundreds of people might have been involved in its construction and deployment.

In the hot potato game, who is responsible?  The next to last person in the game?  Or is everyone who handled the potato somehow involved in the result?  This Sunday we’re going to be talking about someone in the Bible who played a dangerous game of hot potato.  See you Sunday!

This week’s prayer:   Open our eyes this week to see the rules of the games we play. 

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Peace on the home front

This Sunday is peace Sunday. Mennonites believe that Jesus is the Prince of Peace, and that as Christians we should be peaceful people. We have a peace position as a denomination. When push came to shove in world politics, and Canada went to war in 1939, it turns out that just over 50% of Mennonites eligible to enlist decided to be conscientious objectors, choosing to not take up arms. That leaves a pretty big percentage of Mennonites who did choose to fight.

There’s lots to discuss here. Why did they fight, how did they fit that in with their Christian faith, what do people believe now, what is our position about military involvement, should Christians ever bear arms, what about being a police officer? (to name a few discussion directions!) There are lots of debatable points.

The peace I want to talk about this Sunday is closer to home. Do almost 50% of Mennonites tolerate violence in their homes, or are we more peaceful the closer to home we get? And just what is a violent act? It’s time to take a good hard look at our home lives, and see whether the Prince of Peace is welcome there. Take a deep breath…here we go!

This week’s prayer: Too often we cry peace, peace, when there is no peace. Lord, open our hearts to think clearly about violence that is close to home. Show us the paths to peace that we need to walk.

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Remembering Hiroshima

If certain events hadn’t happened, you probably could only name one city in Japan, the capital Tokyo (unless you travelled there, are or are from there!) But on August 6, 1945, an atomic bomb was dropped on Hiroshima, and three days later another bomb was dropped on Nagasaki. It’s important that we all remember the names of these cities, and what happened those days.

Hiroshima had a population of 350,000….that is slightly smaller than the today’s regional municipality of Niagara. When the bomb dropped, it instantly killed 80,000 people. 50,000 people were seriously injured, with another 80,000 injured. For a one mile radius absolutely everything was obliterated. The heat of the bomb burned charred telephone poles almost two miles from the epicentre…it burned any exposed skin. The heat from the bomb ignited fires, which caused a firestorm. The bomb and the fires it caused destroyed 80-90% of the buildings in the city.

With destruction this massive, there was almost no official response to the wounded for a day and a half. Read an eyewitness account by a german priest, which puts a human face to what it was go through this holocaust. http://www.wtj.com/archives/hiroshima.htm   There was just an overwhelming amount of suffering, and not enough resources to help even a small fraction of people. You walked by the dying, because there was just too many of them. And then there was radiation sickness. In the weeks and months following the blast, even people who seemed to have survived unscathed, suddenly got sick and died. Estimates vary perhaps another fifty to sixty thousand people died.  People died of leukemia and many cancers, and babies were born with birth defects for generations.

So today is a day of mourning for those events…but it also is a reminder that nuclear weapons are very real, and very dangerous. As followers of the Prince of Peace, bombs are an abomination to us. It’s a sin to build a nuclear weapon. It’s a day to raise our voices for peace, and to call for the reduction and elimination of nuclear warfare.

Today’s prayer: God of hope, forgive us for building nuclear weapons, help us to build a world where weapons like these are only history.


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Before and after moments

Every generation has a “before” and “after” moment. I’ve heard seniors talk about their life saying, “Oh, but that was before the war.” Or they’d say, “Well, after the war everything changed!” They were talking about the Second World War. For the generation before them, the defining moment was the Great War. It was the war to end all wars, the war that we now know was the first of two world wars that marked the twentieth century.

For our time in North America, the terrorism attacks of September 11, 2001 are such a before and after moment. Those attacks triggered the wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. Before 9/11 you could fly without having to stand in line for hours in airport security. After 9/11 you had to have a passport to cross the border. For many people, 9/11 before and after stories are filled with grief for loved ones lost.

This week in our worship we will be talking about the before and after context of Luke’s gospel, and how his readers would have reacted to Zechariah’s song in Luke 1. Read it this week.  It is a song of thanks for being saved from enemies. That song would have had a different feel, depending on whether you read it on September 10, or September 12, 2001.

Of course, for many people there are many small, more personal defining moments that have a before and after component. Before/after the baby, before/after the house burned down, before/after we moved, before/after my brother committed suicide, before/after I committed my life to Christ. Zechariah’s song is a puzzle that we read and ponder in before and after moments, it’s a mystery that gives hope. In this “before” Christmas time, where there is so much to be done, when you may even long for the peace of “after” Christmas, take time to savour this mystery.

Thank you God for the gift of scripture, and the hope it offers. Be with us in this busy before Christmas time, awakening us to the after-effects of your Presence.

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What does $177.20 get you?

Every day it seems I get an opportunity to give to a good cause. There are so many very real needs…on my desk right now I have appeals for the Heart and Stroke Foundation, Niagara Child & Youth Services (which funds desperately needed children’s mental health programs), and I still haven’t gotten around to going on-line and sponsoring Jennifer in the Great Strides walkathon for Cystic Fibrosis (her little niece was diagnosed this year). I want to give.

And so that’s why I’m reflecting on $177.20. I figured it out today, that’s the amount I gave to the Canadian military last year. I looked at my tax return, and calculated 8.4% of my federal taxes, since that is the portion of the federal budget that is earmarked for military spending.

Everyone who pays taxes supports the military, it is something we are required to do by law. But if I was conscripted, I would not join the army, because I believe it goes against the example Jesus gave us. I think I’d go to jail rather than join the military. But this $177.20…it’s not that much money, is it? Does it really matter?

I wonder how much federal tax people in our congregation pay…and what First Mennonite collectively gives to the military each year? Or what Mennonites across the country give? Maybe there should be a fighter jet with our name on it. We may not go to war, but we are certainly paying for it. What’s a person to do?

Right now MP Bill Siksay has introduced a private member’s bill into the House of Commons, which allows for the military portion of income tax to be re-directed to a more peaceful purpose. If you could check a box on your income tax form, which diverted money from the military to a peaceful cause, would you check it? I would. Check out http://www.consciencecanada.ca/legislation to find out more.

I challenge you to look at your tax return and figure out the exact amount you gave to the Canadian military last year. What did that amount get you?

This week’s prayer:  God of grace, in a complicated world, give me clarity.  Every word, every deed building your kingdom.  Amen.

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