Is Universalism Heresy?

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Many people reject Christian Universalism out of hand as heresy, as something outside the bounds of orthodox Christianity.  Whether I would have labelled it as “heresy” or not, I certainly saw it in the past as an option no genuine Christian could take.  I’ve been researching universalism quite a bit lately, and I must say I’m now convinced otherwise.  The following thoughts are for the most part, taken from “Towards a better understanding of universalism”, the first chapter, written by Thomas Talbott, in Universal Salvation? The Current Debate.  I’ve sprinkled in some of my own thoughts and rewordings, but the ideas are mostly Talbott’s.

Consider the following three propositions:

1.  God’s love for everyone means that he sincerely desires the redemption and salvation of every single human.

2.  Because of God’s sovereignty and his irresistable grace, God will triumph and successfully redeem all those he sincerely desires to redeem.

3.  Some humans will never be redeemed, but will instead be forever separated from God.

Two things are important to note about these three propositions:

a)  One can find, prima facie (on first sight), support for all three of these propositions within scripture.

b)  These three propositions are exclusive in that one can believe any two of them, but not believe all three.  Believing any two of these statements requires that the other one is false.

So knowing that one of these is to be rejected, which one do we reject?  Calvinists reject Proposition 1.  The Calvinist believes that God predestined some to salvation, and also predestined the rest to Hell.  In the Calvinist view, God does not desire all to be redeemed.  The Arminian rejects Proposition 2.  For the Arminian, the free will given by God means that God will not achieve his desire of redeeming every human, as some will not find his grace irresistable and will reject God.  The Universalist, on the other hand, rejects Proposition 3.  The Universalist accepts that God desires all to be saved, and also accepts that God will be triumphant in all his purposes in the end, and therefore must reject the third proposition, that some humans will find themselves separated from God for eternity.

I find this to be a good framework to see how universalism works and is different than Calvinism and Arminianism.  However, it doesn’t quite demonstrate that universalism is not heresy, because if Proposition 3 is the most important of the three propositions to hold, then it could be argued that universalism is heresy.  However, my experience is this:

a)  Calvinists will not maintain that the doctrine of Hell is more important than that of God’s sovereignty – his ability to accomplish all his purposes.  Arminians will not maintain that the doctrine of Hell is more important than that of God’s universal love for all.

b)  Calvinists in general do not consider Arminians to be heretics, and Arminians do not in general consider Calvinists to be heretics.

If a Calvinist will not see an Arminian as a heretic despite the Arminian denying that God achieves all His purposes, and if an Arminian will not see a Calvinist as a heretic despite the Calvinist’s denial that God’s love for all entails that he desires all to be saved, then it only follows that neither Calvinists or Arminians can view a universalist as a heretic.  The Universalist is denying a doctrine that the Calvinists and Arminians do not see as more important than other doctrines that they do not see as heretical to deny, so calling a Universalist a heretic is inconsistent.

Here are a few of my own thoughts that come out of this:

1.  We should not be so quick to kick universalists out of our circle, whether that be Christianity, or evangelicalism, or whatever circle that may be (with the obvious exceptions of Calvinism and Arminianism.)  We need to look deeper into someone’s theology than just the universalist label before we tell them, “Farewell.”

2.  Universalism is not merely using a half dozen “universalist” texts as the lens to read all other scripture, but is instead a combination of affirming a doctrine that Arminians agree with, also affirming a doctrine that Calvinists agree with, and then coming to the inevitable conclusion that comes from it.  In other words, universalism is a belief that (like Arminianism and Calvinism) takes into account large, over-arching themes of scripture, as opposed to one that just looks at a few pieces of scripture out of context, or one that just takes our human desires and projects them onto our image of God, as it is often portrayed to be like.

3.  A surface level reading of scripture will not provide an answer to this debate.  We cannot just do a battle of proof-texts and come up with the answer.  We necessarily have to bring in philosophy, theology, tradition, and reason, to help us resolve it.  To just say, “But the Bible clearly says this” is to not understand the problem.

I should clarify that the point of this post isn’t to defend universalism as true, but to demonstrate how it theologically fits in with competing doctrines.  I find this particular framework incredibly helpful as I investigate universalism further, and just wanted to share.

Adventures in Universalism

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While I overall didn’t find Rob Bell’s arguments in Love Wins to be terribly convincing, it did open the door for me to investigate the doctrine of universal salvation further.  Within all the debate and hoopla surrounding the book, the voices of several cogent universalists started surfacing, and it became clear to me that there was more to this universalism thing than Rob Bell’s thoughtful questions and vague answers.  Since reading Rob Bell’s book, I’ve read through plenty of blogs and websites on universalism, and have now just finished reading the excellent book, “Universal Salvation?  The Current Debate.”  I haven’t landed anywhere as far my own decision in the matter goes, but here are some observations I’ve had so far:

1)  Most people don’t understand Christian Universalism.  I’m reminded of when a year ago I started investigating open theism.  After reading about and coming to a good understanding of open theism, it was difficult to find any good rebuttals to the doctrine, as barely anyone understood it, even those that had written full books refuting the idea.  It was frustrating trying to find good debate on the issue between people who both understood what it was about, and I find the same thing with universalism.  Most people don’t understand the difference between pluralistic universalism (all roads lead to Heaven) and Christian universalism (salvation is only through faith in Christ and his saving work on the cross, but all will eventually come to that faith.)  They don’t understand that Christian universalists have quite a bit of Biblical support, believe in Hell, God’s judgement and holiness, and that sin is a serious matter.  Thus, most arguments I see against universalism totally miss the mark, as they are not even targetted at Christian universalism, but some other quite different idea instead.  I would highly recommend the article, “Bell’s Hells: seven myths about universalism”, as it clarifies much of these misconceptions.  Certainly to label universalism as heresy is to misunderstand it.

2)  People think that universalism is too good to be true.  I’m finding that there are a large number of “hopeful universalists”, those that hope universalism is true but wouldn’t bank on it.  I’d say there are a lot more of these kinds of universalists than convinced universalists.  They see universalism as a real possibility, and see the road-markers towards it in scripture, but feel that (a) it’s too good to be true, and (b) what if they’re wrong?  I can totally understand this, and at the moment feel like that might be what’s primarily holding me back from embracing the belief, but in the end I really hope this isn’t what holds me back.  I don’t want to hedge my bets when it comes to my faith in God’s abilities.  If I really believe that God wants everyone saved, and also that God is sovereign, and that he eventually will be victorious in his plans, then I can’t chicken out and say, “I hope that means he saves everyone”, because if those two propositions are true, then it means he definitely does, and I should have the faith to speak on those convictions.

3)  That said, I find this to be a really deep, complex subject, and I might not be able to come to a conclusion.  While I empathize greatly with the emerging church movement, their philosophy of “living in the mystery” does not really appeal to me, I must say.  I like to survey all the available information, and then make a decision and stick with it unless and until I am convinced to change my mind, and am not comfortable feeling like I’m in the dark.  But in this case, it’s easy to come up with plenty of proof-texts for whatever view you want to espouse, whether it be eternal conscious torment, annihilationism, or universalism.  Digging through all of them and trying to come out of it with a coherent doctrine is not an easy task.  Regardless of what view one holds, I can only believe that the Bible is much more concerned with how we live life now, rather than what’s going to happen when we die, and perhaps it’s not trying to be crystal clear on the afterlife, and I shouldn’t demand clarity where (perhaps) it does not exist.

As I dig deeper into this topic, my next read is “The Evangelical Universalist”, by Gregory McDonald.  It is supposed to be the most in-depth, scripturally-based argument for universalism out there, and hopefully it will shed even more light on things.  One thing I can be glad of, and that’s that God is the judge, not me.  Whatever we believe about the afterlife, we must have faith, and be content that God’s justice, love, and mercy will rule and He will do exactly what is right.

Bell, Mohler, Driscoll, and the theological house of cards

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There have been quite a few well-known Christian leaders taking a swing at Rob Bell’s latest book, Love Wins.  Probably the article I see getting the most circulation is Al Mohler’s article, “We Have Seen All This Before: Rob Bell and the (Re)Emergence of Liberal Theology.”

While most of what Mohler said came as no surprise, one paragraph in particular actually shocked me initially:

Like so many others, Bell wants to separate the message of Jesus from other voices even in the New Testament, particularly the voice of the Apostle Paul. Here we face the inescapable question of biblical authority. We will either affirm that every word of the Bible is true, trustworthy, and authoritative, or we will create our own Bible according to our own preferences. Put bluntly, if Jesus and Paul are not telling the same story, we have no idea what the true story is.” (emphasis mine)

My initial thought was, Wait a minute, Mohler can’t really be saying that if he was forced to choose between Paul and Jesus, he wouldn’t know who he’d choose, would he? If I was forced to make that choice, then it is obvious and easy. I’d choose Jesus.  You know, the guy who is God, and came to save the world from their sin?  Yeah, that guy.  Paul’s great and all, but he would be the first to say (and did say) that he doesn’t hold a match to Jesus.   It seems like an obvious answer to an easy question, so Mohler couldn’t really be saying that he wouldn’t be able to choose which of their stories to accept if he had to, could he?

But then I realized that this is exactly what Al Mohler is saying.  He is quite clearly saying here, and makes no apologies about it, that if someone were to genuinely convince him that there were unresolvable conflicts in the Bible, he would be completely lost.  Al Mohler puts the authority of scripture as the foundation of his faith as a Christian, and is quite eager to let people know.

And putting the authority of scripture as our foundation would make sense, I suppose, if we were “Biblians”.  But we’re Christians, and that means that Christ must be the foundation of our faith.  We don’t follow the Bible – we use the Bible as a means to following Jesus.  We as Christians should not believe Jesus is Lord because the Bible is authoritative, we believe the Bible is authoritative because Jesus is Lord and he believes the Bible is authoritative.

By placing scripture (or perhaps, more aptly, our interpretation of scripture) as our foundation, we end up building a theological house of cards, where our faith in Jesus is built on top of many various doctrines, and if any one of them falls over, our faith in Jesus does as well.

Rob Bell address this idea as well, in his book Velvet Elvis.  He gives the example of the virgin birth, and how, although it is an important doctrine that he affirms, if we were to discover incontrovertible proof that the virgin birth wasn’t true, that our faith should start with Jesus, and that this news should not crush our faith.  Mark Driscoll took particular exception to this idea.  He responds to it in his book, Vintage Jesus, but you can read the specific response online here.  His response is quite clear.  He states that the virgin birth is foundational to his faith, and then lists 4 reasons why.  He essentially says, You don’t think it would crush my faith to find out the virgin birth is false?  Of course it would!  It is one of my foundational cards, and here are 4 other cards that rest on top of it. Driscoll shows here that he doesn’t understand Bell’s point and then simultaneously proves it, by showing how his own faith is a house of cards where if you take out one piece, it all falls apart.

By not putting Jesus as our foundation, we set ourselves up for failure.  By making our faith in him conditional on other doctrines or ideas, we are setting those ideas before him, and scripture itself states that we should not put anything before God.

The point here isn’t to point fingers at Al Mohler or Mark Driscoll.  We all, including myself, are often putting things before God.  The Bible has a word for it – idolatry.  Some would say that any sin ultimately comes to idolatry – putting something in front of God, even if it’s simply our own desires.  Also, this theological house of cards isn’t an issue exclusive to conservatives.  Liberals have their own version, where they see Jesus’ precarious position in their theology, and so to compensate, they take away things from Jesus, such as his divinity, or the resurrection, so as to hedge their bets in case their card house tumbles.

There are other things at stake though than just the balance of our faith.  Our interpretation of scripture begins to change once we put Jesus right in the centre of our faith where he belongs.  When we put the authority of scripture at the centre, then when we see Paul and Jesus talking about the same topic from slightly different perspectives, we just mash their ideas together, as if we’re making a cake and it calls for “equal parts Paul and Jesus.”  But when we put Jesus at the centre, we view what Paul says through the eyes of Jesus – we read Paul’s words in the context of Jesus’ teachings.  We should do this for all of scripture. We do not read about Jesus and see how we can fit him in and amongst the rest of scripture; we read all of scripture and view it in light of Jesus, with an understanding that Jesus is the truest revelation of who God is.

We can see that the authors of the New Testament take this approach.  The writer of Hebrews starts off their letter by taking the creation story, and affirming that Jesus was there in it, that the universe was created through Jesus.  The letter continues by stating that Jesus is, “the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”  God is perfectly represented in Jesus, so we must view all of what scripture says about God through the lens of Jesus.  We see this same trend in 1 Corinthians 10, where Paul states that when Moses struck the rock and it produced water, “the rock was Christ.”  Here we see again, that Jesus is the foundation for Paul’s faith, and he reads his scripture in light of that, rather than the other way around.

Should we affirm the authority of scripture?  Yes, we most certainly should.  But it is because we have put our faith in Jesus, and Jesus takes scripture seriously, so we take it seriously too.  Scripture is wonderful, and I affirm that it is “God-breathed”, but we should never put the creation ahead of its creator.  We must affirm that, above all else, Jesus is Lord.

Did Love Wins win my love?

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Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you have most likely at least heard about the big debate going on about Rob Bell’s new book, entitled, “Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived.”  Before anyone had even read the book, Rob Bell was being labelled an ultra-liberal universalist heretic, based on a promotional video and a few snippets from the book.  I hadn’t read any of Rob Bell’s books since “Velvet Elvis”, which I enjoyed but wasn’t enthralled by, but I’m a sucker for theological controversy, so I pre-ordered the book on my Kindle.

The book came out this Tuesday and I finished it on Thursday.  As is usual with Rob Bell’s books, it’s not very long, even if it looks like it is.

He likes short sentences and short paragraphs.

Like this.

But I digress.

Before I read the book, and as I was reading it, I was inundated with facebook, twitter, blog, and news posts about what people were saying about Rob Bell, mostly pretty nasty negative stuff.  It made for an interesting reading experience.  So I’d like to share my thoughts on the book.

First, here, in a nutshell, is what Rob Bell is trying to argue in the book.  Rob (his style of writing makes it feel like we’re on a first name basis, so I think it’s ok to call him Rob) argues that the infinite nature of God’s love means that He will be forever patient with us, even into the afterlife, and there will never come a time when we have lost our chance to repent and put our faith in Him through Jesus.  He also argues for a definition of Heaven and Hell that means that both are existent now, currently, in our world, as well as in the afterlife.

The point Rob is trying to make is that we should approach God with a child-like attitude, trusting in His love, and not being distracted from that focus by ideas that God is a schizophrenic psychopath, where God’s love is saving us from God’s wrath, God saving us from God.  We also should not judge those outside the church; we shouldn’t be wishing Hell on them and should not be expecting them to rot in Hell for in eternal conscious torment.  He also stresses that God’s plan is redeeming this world, not escaping it, and thus we need to be focused, both in this life and the next (and the one after that) to be giving our lives over to God to partner with Him in redeeming the world.

So that’s basically, from what I could tell, what Rob is trying to get at in his book.  So here are some of my thoughts on it:

Things I liked:

Rob clears up many misconceptions about Heaven and Hell.  Heaven is not a place of disembodied timeless bliss where we sit on clouds and play harps and eat cream cheese, but there will be a life after death (in Sheol/ Hades) and then a life after life after death, with a bodily resurrection, where Heaven meets Earth and the Earth is redeemed.  He also clears up a lot of mistranslation issues with Hell, where “Hades” and “Sheol” are often (especially in older Bibles) mistranslated as “Hell”, when they mean very different things.

The book contains pretty decent arguments for the idea that people can come into a saving relationship with Jesus without necessarily recognizing the relationship as such, citing both philosophical arguments as well as Biblical texts that clearly support the idea.

There’s a really interesting little discussion on the book of John, and how the writer makes a point of numbering Jesus’ “signs”, and that the resurrection would be the 8th sign in the book, metaphorically referring to a new week, and thus a new creation.  It was something I hadn’t come across before.

Rob asks a lot of very good questions about our eternal fate that a lot of people are asking and aren’t finding the pat answers that their churches are giving them to be helpful.  Even if people don’t end up landing in the same place that Rob does, I think it is good to recognize that these are genuine questions that the evangelical church hasn’t always done a great job of addressing.

I think Rob did a decent job of demonstrating that the gospel is about more than just deciding who gets into what bin after they die.  The gospel is so huge and all-encompassing, I always enjoy reading about new perspectives and insights on it.

He really puts Jesus at the centre of everything.  You’ll find the word “Jesus” in this book a LOT.  I always like that; it is clear to see that Jesus is the foundation of Rob Bell’s faith.

Things that frustrated me:

Rob is no logician, and doesn’t always connect the dots very well, or sometimes, he doesn’t even try.  For instance, he put forward the idea that the “elect” in scripture refers to those who are being blessed so that they can bless others, similar to the nation of Israel (as opposed to those God “saves” and who get into Heaven).  He gave no argument for it, but just said it.  He shouldn’t wonder why Calvinists are generally not too happy with his book after saying that!

Similarly, he gives little support for his definition of Hell.  While I can accept his broad definition of Hell being separation from God and suffering due to evil (and thus Hell exists right now on Earth for many people) as a useful definition, Rob doesn’t really say enough to convince me that that’s exactly what Jesus meant when He used the word.

Rob essentially trades in one paradox for new one.  He discards the “God is all-loving but sends people to eternal conscious torment” paradox, and replaces it with “God is all-powerful, gets what He wants, He wants everyone saved, but some might still reject Him and not get saved” paradox.  Those who are trying to tell if Rob is a universalist or not will be confused by this book, because in some parts he seems to clearly say that God wants to save all and God gets what he wants, but then in other parts of the book says that God gets us free will, and it’s possible that some people will continue to reject him.  He recognizes the problem, but calls it a “tension” when it is really a contradiction.  Part of me believes that Rob really does believe that eventually everyone will repent and be “saved” by God, but doesn’t quite want to say so because he doesn’t want the universalist label.  I’d have rather he just be straight up and argue for the universalist view, if that’s what he really believes.  But then again, I’m not so afraid of differing ideas than many evangelicals.

While Rob spends a lot of time giving support to his views, he spends extremely little time interacting with the key verses used to refute his views, and a lot of them get ignored altogether.  A lot of people are going to read the book, and think, “But what about this verse?” and find little or no answer.  As such, I don’t think Rob’s going to win any converts to his ideas that weren’t already considering them.

Final thoughts:

So is Rob Bell a liberal heretic?  No, not particularly.  His views on the afterlife actually mirror purgatory in a lot of ways, which may not be a popular view in most evangelical circles, but isn’t particularly outside orthodoxy, and isn’t a “conservative” or “liberal” view.  After all the cries of “heresy”, I was expecting the book to be a lot more heterodox than it was; in the last few chapters especially Rob underlines many conservative views and affirms them, and he warns against Christian liberal ideas like ignoring or disbelieving in the afterlife as much as he warns conservative fundamentalists not to judge non-Christians or portray God as being hateful.

Do I think Rob Bell argues his case successfully?  While I agree with his final points and advice for Christians, I found his arguments for how the afterlife functions not so compelling.  He spurred my interesting in some of the ideas, and I will probably look further into what some more scholarly books may say on the matter, but I think Rob made too many leaps in logic without explaining them sufficiently.  Granted, the topics he addressed are way too big and complex to cover in such a short book, but he could have provided more support for his claims.

Did I enjoy the book?  There were times I quite enjoyed it, but overall it was kind of ho-hum.  I think I’m a bit more of the intellectual type, and Rob Bell is more “artsy”, so his style doesn’t always quite resonate with me.  I think those that are interested in this topic but aren’t wanting something too scholarly will probably enjoy the book a lot more.

Who would I recommend the book to?  I’d recommend it to someone who is really struggling with negative portrayals of God and who really find it difficult to see God as “good”.  I think this book would help them see some other perspectives on God’s goodness.  But that’s about it, I think.

In the end, I found it to be a decent book.  It’s an enjoyable quick read, but nothing worth the hype (negative or positive) that it has received.  I do hope people can look past the controversy though and glean out of the book the few gems that it contains.

Why I am a Pacifist

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I wasn’t too concerned with the idea of pacifism until the last year.  A few years ago, I read C.S. Lewis’ essay, “Why I am Not a Pacifist”, and it had me convinced.  At the time I had C.S. Lewis on a pretty high pedestal and I pretty much saw his work as almost as “inspired” as any part of the official canon of the Bible.  Years later, I realize now that C.S. Lewis’ essay missed out big in two ways – it equated “pacifist” with “passive”, and even more importantly, it left Jesus out of the picture altogether.

A couple years ago, Victoria and I started attending The Meeting House, which is an Anabaptist church that believes in Christian pacifism.  It wasn’t anything that ever really got pushed on us though, so I never really thought much about the issue until our pastor, Bruxy Cavey, did a sermon series earlier this year, entitled, “Inglorious Pastors”.  Through this series and a lot of personal digging, Jesus’ teachings were finally brought into focus on this issue.  I came to understand the simple truth that when Jesus says, “Love your enemy”, he doesn’t mean shoot them between the eyes.

Since then I’ve become quite a vocal proponent of pacifism, as I believe it is a critical part of following Jesus.  Although this was once a virtually unanimous position in the Church, now only a minority of Christians hold this viewpoint.  So I’ve come across my fair share of detractors.  It seems the most common response I’ve gotten goes something like, “But we have to be able to defend the faith, and stand for the truth!”  It’s an interesting response, and I do want to stand for truth.  But I found that digging into this idea just solidified my position as a pacifist.

If I’m going to stand for the truth, then there are two obvious questions that need to be answered:  what is the truth, and what does it mean to stand for it?

So first of all, as a Christian, what is THE truth – the single most important truth that I need to stand up for and defend?  Well, I think that truth would absolutely have to be this:  We have a God that is so loving, that he was willing, through Jesus, to lay his own life down, so that his enemies might be forgiven and saved.  That is really Christianity in a nutshell – for someone that follows Jesus, there can be no greater truth.

What does it look like to stand for this truth?  What does it look like to stand up for the truth that Jesus laid his own life down in his enemies’ stead to save them?  The only way to stand up for this truth, is to proclaim it and be willing to do the same for our enemies.  Anything short of that is standing against that truth, not for it.  If I attack my enemy, how can they possibly see this truth through my actions?  The moment I take a swing at, or fire at, my enemy, I am telling them that they are not worth saving, while I know that Christ died for them as much as he died for me.

At the end of the day, I still have some questions about Christian pacifism – some questions and doubts still linger, I have my own “but what about?” questions.  But in the end, I cannot get around the fact that Jesus loved his enemies so much he was willing to die for them, and I must be willing to do the same.  While it was Jesus’ teachings that brought me into the pacifist camp, it was his actions that kept me there.

Inviting our son into our story

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Here is a picture of our 3 month old son, Aubrey:

Aubrey and Mr. Bunny

Aubrey and his favourite toy

Aubrey really loves Mr. Bunny.  There’s not much he likes more than the soft, ticklish feeling of Mr. Bunny’s ears against his cheeks.  And right now, that’s pretty much Aubrey’s story.  He eats, sleeps, and plays with us and his good friend Mr. Bunny.  He’s pretty happy with this story, but one day he’ll be looking for a better one.

This past summer I read a great book, “A Million Miles In A Thousand Years: What I Learned While Editing My Life”, by Donald Miller.  In this book, Miller writes about how important it is to view your life in terms of story, and about becoming a character who lives a story, by having difficult goals, and overcoming conflict in order to achieve them.  One particular example in his book really struck me.  It was about a family whose daughter was getting into drugs and was in a relationship verging on abusive.  The parents did not know what to do about it.  But at some point the father realized that she was attempting to live the best story she could, and that the family needed a better one.  So he decided that they as a family would build an orphanage in Mexico.  While at first his family wasn’t too impressed with the idea, as they got more into it, they saw huge changes in their daughter’s life, as she abandoned her drug-taking abusive relationship story for the new one that was presented for her.

A little less than four years ago, Victoria and I began a similar story.  We were discussing our finances, and what we could do with them, as people who live in a country that is so wealthy compared to the rest of the world.  We decided that we would work towards being able to fully give away one of our incomes.  We would only live off one income and give the rest away, to charities, to people in our community in need, to wherever we thought it would help the most.  At the time, however, Victoria was doing an unpaid internship and I was on half-time income.  We were going more into debt, so this wouldn’t be as immediately as we had hoped.  We didn’t know where our future was going, so we gave ourselves 10 years to accomplish this goal.  With a goal in mind, and a story to play out, we began working on getting to this point.  We both had a large amount of debt and at the time little income, but over the past 4 years, we’ve made huge strides, and if all goes well, we’ll be meeting our goal a few years early.  Now that we see the realization of this goal in sight, we find ourselves excitedly talking about it all the time, and it just seeps into all of our decisions.

Three months ago, our story changed a bit, with the arrival of our son.  When I read the chapter in Donald Miller’s book about the family’s orphanage-building story, my immediate thought was, “how do I invite Aubrey into our story?”  I want him to be excited about the idea of giving to the rest of the world rather than just taking.  I want him to feel like he’s part of something bigger and making a difference.  I want him to experience how as a family unit, we can accomplish things that none of us can individually.  I also want him to find his own story too – to find something to be passionate about and to take risks and overcome obstacles to make it happen.  These are all high hopes indeed, and I suppose by Donald Miller’s definition of story, helping to Aubrey to find his own place in one is a story in itself!

For today, Aubrey is still pretty happy with his current story of fuzzy tickles from Mr. Bunny.  But I am looking forward to seeing how his story evolves, and how I will be a part of it.

A Pacifist on Remembrance Day

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Ten years ago today I was sitting in War Memorial Hall on the University of Guelph campus taking in the Remembrance Day service.  I had been to this service the previous two years, but this one was quite a different experience.  As usual, the place was packed and the first couple rows of seats were filled by veterans in full uniform that had been invited to the event.  But when the MC got up to speak, she made an interesting comment.  She said that as we remembered those troops who fought for us, we should also remember the many people who refused to go to war because they were pacifists.  She brought this up over and over again – it was clear that she thought the true heroes of the World Wars were those who stayed at home.

I was shocked and upset at this, to say the least.  While I respected a pacifist viewpoint, I thought it was terrible to invite veterans to an event to remember those lost in the wars, and then give all the praise to those who skipped out to let others fight their battles.  I felt like if I was one of those veterans, I would have been hurt, and felt totally denigrated.  That Remembrance Day left a sour taste in my mouth, and I have yet to go back to War Memorial Hall for another Remembrance Day.

Now, ten years later, I myself am a pacifist.  Over the last year, I’ve come to understand and believe that when Jesus said, “turn the other cheek,” he meant it.  I’ve come to see through Jesus’ teachings and examples that those who follow him are to be willing to lay down their lives for anyone; not just their friends and countrymen, but their enemies as well.  So as Remembrance Day (or Veteran’s Day in other parts of the world) came around again, I had to think about how I view this event now.  As a strict pacifist, how do I view a day that celebrates the actions of men who spent their days violently taking the lives of others?  How do I look back and see that Remembrance Day ceremony where pacifists were praised for refusing to go to war?  Well, some things have changed, and others, not so much.

Firstly, I still think even the hardcore of pacifists needs to be thankful for those who fought for our freedom, and to realize and recognize that these men and women risked their lives, gave their lives, and in many cases were genuine heroes, all in good conscience.  I live in a country with a ridiculous amount of freedom, and I have to recognize that much of it is thanks to the men and women who served in the World Wars.  So in this regard, I still look back on that Remembrance Day ceremony with a sadness for how it was run. This day is a day to remember and recognize those people who served in the wars, not those who stayed behind.

Secondly, as I’ve learned more about pacifism, I’ve come to realize that the MC at that Remembrance Day service didn’t just denigrate the soldiers, but denigrated the pacifists as well.  She confused those being “pacifist” with those being “passive”.  Pacifism isn’t about avoiding conflict, but about using peaceful measures to help in the midst of conflict and to try to help resolve it.  She ignored those pacifists that were serving on the front lines.  The thousands of Anabaptists and other pacifists serving the military through non-violent means, as field medics and with other assisting duties.  Or the Bulgarians who literally laid down on the tracks to stop the trains carrying Jews to concentration camps.  Or to the current day peacemakers, like Christian Peacemaker Teams who are jumping right into the midst of war-torn areas in the Middle East, promoting peace through peaceful means.

Remembrance Day is an important day, a day to remember those who fought, those who gave their lives, those who willingly jumped into the midst of horrible violent chaos, those whose heroic actions are hard to even comprehend as someone living in a peaceful North America.  Regardless of whether we are pacifist or not, and regardless of whether those heroes were pacifist or not, it is important to remember, and to continue to work towards peace, in our lives and around the world.

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