Have you ever justified yourself to yourself?
You know – have you created such a good excuse for something you’ve done that you actually convinced yourself it was good?
You’re not making any sense, weirdo – give us an example.
Okay. Well my first ever cheesecake is sitting in the fridge right now; it’s not perfect but it tastes pretty darn good just the same. It is better for me if I only eat a small sliver of it
several times once a day for breakfast after lunch but the truth is that I spend most of the day looking for an excuse to eat some more. What I mean is:
- Cheryl mentioned that she likes cheesecake so I made one to bring her happiness.
- It needs to be eaten quickly because I’m an adult who is concerned about spoilage.
- My slice needs to look more symmetrical so I will cut it just a bit more to the left… no, a bit more…
- If I have cheesecake in bed at midnight it doesn’t count toward either day’s allotment.
See what I mean? I can convince myself of almost anything.
Consider the cheesecake.
We christians find all kinds of creative ways to convince ourselves that we are people of peace. Perhaps we are technically peaceful, since there is more than enough talk of it in our scriptures and theologies. It’s just that we aren’t so good at putting all that peace talk into action.
It reminds me of the Seinfeld episode where Jerry reserves a rental car only to arrive at the agency to find they don’t have the car he asked for. His ensuing diatribe toward the agent contains this little gem: “See, you know how to take the reservation, you just don’t know how to hold the reservation, and really, that’s the most important part of the reservation – the holding.” (S3 E11)
See, we know how to preach peace, we just don’t know how to keep the peace. And really, that’s the most important part of peace – the keeping.
I have to wonder how healthy our dualistic doctrines are … simplistic answers to complex difficulties. There are still lots of christians who are more than happy to justify their correctness against everyone else’s wrongness. Pointing out wrong doctrines, wrong biblical interpretations, and a very long list of sins that will be punished doesn’t build – only detracts.
Christians love punishment. After all, our God obviously punishes sin so we should too, right? Statistically, christians (especially fundamentalists) favour corporal punishment, stricter laws, tougher law enforcement, increased incarceration, pro-active military intervention, death penalty, gun rights, military torture, etc. more than other demographics.
That’s not a good picture of God and it’s a curious approach for people of peace.
But we convince ourselves that believing and enforcing the right things is what brings peace. Unfortunately it’s an unconvincing peace, promoting values that have very little to do with peace … or goodness. As the Benedictine author Joan Chittister wrote, “It is the kind of God we choose to believe in that makes all the difference”.
I spent a fair amount of time yesterday researching statistics and examples of how christians are actually peace haters. Then I deleted it. I didn’t delete it because I think silence is a peaceful activity but because it’s not really true. The problem is not that christians hate peace, it’s that we are letting our beliefs dictate our peace.
Yeah, you heard me: we think being christian means believing the right things and then enforcing them. However that makes us no different than the troublesome religious teachers of Jesus’ time who were so full of self-proclaimed righteousness that they had no grace, no patience for others.
The well-known prophecy predicted how Jesus would interact with us:
“And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”¹ – a prophecy
The implication is that Jesus replicated his Father’s character as a caring counsellor, a strong deity, a loving parent, a haven of peace. By extension we need to ask ourselves who Jesus is because he is God’s ideal for how we should think.
Traditionally the second Sunday of Advent has the theme of Peace. What better place to begin to be peaceful than within ourselves?
- In spite of what I tell myself, am I really at peace deep within?
- Regardless of what I believe, does peace flow through me to bless others?
A friend reminded me recently of how Advent themes can have the effect of stripping our harshness and purifying our intentions. I realized he was right. It is challenging and healthy to explore our own hope, peace, love, joy.
This is a perfect time to sit with those basic values and let them infuse us. Our hearts are inevitably softened and peaceful when we reflect on how Jesus lived in the flesh.
It’s true, you know, all God ever wanted was our hearts. I’ll leave it to you to decide what that means but I can assure you it means much more than just a prayer or a set of ‘correct beliefs’. Rather, it’s something living, practical, peaceful.
“Blessed are the peacemakers,
for they will be called children of God.”²
~ ~ ~
¹ Isaiah 9:6b, NIV
² Matthew 5:9, NIV