Nils von Kalm

My take on faith, life and how it all might fit together

Category: Martin Luther King (page 1 of 3)

What Donald Trump and Jesus have in common

You may (or may not) be surprised to find that Donald Trump and Jesus have one significant thing in common…

Love in the face of terror

”We shall match your capacity to inflict suffering by our capacity to endure suffering. We will meet your physical force with soul force. Do to us what you will and we will still love you…Bomb our places of gathering and threaten our children, and, as difficult as it is, we will still love you. Drive into our crowds at busy markets and stab anyone in the way, shoot up people in our cinemas with your automatic weapons, and we will still love you. Send your messages of fear and hatred around the world, and we will still love you. But be assured that we’ll wear you down by our capacity to suffer, and one day we will win our freedom. We will not only win freedom for ourselves; we will appeal to your heart and conscience that we will win you in the process, and our victory will be a double victory.”

 – Paraphrasing Martin Luther King

No one should have to bury their own child. As I think of what happened in Manchester recently, and in London this week, and in Kabul last week (which you probably didn’t hear about because it wasn’t all over social media and mainstream media), I feel for the mothers of children who have died and who have to organise another funeral for a loved one. What the parents of those sweet young children have to go through when they identify bodies and grieve over innocence just cannot be comprehended.

As we wake up to more news of terror attacks, I am more convinced than ever that love is the only force that can truly make a difference. I am inspired by the words of Martin Luther King and his unshakable conviction about the power and influence of love in the face of tragedy.

The shock we feel when we hear of cowardly attacks like those in Manchester, Kabul and London can be overwhelming. Anger runs high, along with the disbelief. It all rings too close to home for most of us. We know it could have been us. So a natural and understandable response is to lash out and want to hit back and wipe out the bastards who took away our loved ones. What I am convinced of though is that there is no solution in that way of responding. As Dr King said, hate begets hate and violence begets violence. As long as political leaders keep calling for Muslim bans, make billion dollar deals with governments with shady links to terrorists (as the US did last week), and we keep bombing the crap out of Muslim countries, of course the problem is not going to end.

This boils down to what sort of society we want. If we destroy the terrorists, we don’t destroy terror, because more will come up and take their place. And by destroying the terrorists we stoop to their level. As Gandhi said, an eye for an eye just leaves everybody blind. 

So I am more convinced than ever that love is the only way. Many say that love is weakness and hopelessly idealistic, especially in the area of international terrorism. For a world in which violent thinking is so ingrained, love is indeed weakness. But it is the only option we have if we want an enlightened society.

As the great powers of the world advocate bombing the terrorists into submission, love quietly goes about its work, converting enemies into friends and thereby defeating its enemies. Abraham Lincoln, a President who really did make America great, said that.

Love absorbs suffering and thereby defeats it. That is what Jesus did on the cross. An innocent man, violently put to death, did not strike out violently in revenge against his oppressors . He took the suffering upon himself and exposed it for what it was. And thousands of Christians in the first century did the same, following in the footsteps of their Master.

As people live out the virtue of love, many suffer and even die. That is what Jesus meant in the first century context when he talked about taking up your cross. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, when Jesus tells someone to take up their cross, he bids them come and die. Bonhoeffer would know. He did exactly that. He did it because his hope was in a better day, a far country that was coming, a day when love will have finally won the victory. Death now had no sting for people like Bonhoeffer. It was impotent in the face of love.

N.T. Wright talks about this hope using the analogy of the D-Day landings in Normandy. The success of that invasion meant that the Second World War was effectively over. It was just a matter of time. But it would still take another year and the loss of thousands more lives for the war to be officially over. But it didn’t mean that the war hadn’t been effectively won on D-Day. It’s the same now. The fact that people die today for standing up for love in the face of terror doesn’t mean that love doesn’t work; it means that their hope is in something more powerful, something bigger, something inevitable.

Love is the only thing that will eventually defeat terrorism. Just even writing that feels hopelessly naive and idealistic. But that is a reflection of how deeply our culture of violence has ingrained that belief in us. To believe in love is to swim against the tide. Jesus was seen by many as just another failed messiah when he was lifted onto a Roman cross. But if we believe, like those first Christians did, that that was not the end of the story, then we will have the courage to show love in the face of terror.

Responding to the reality of a Trump Presidency

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Much has been written amidst the turmoil of Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the US election.

Disbelief was probably the main reaction, from people who voted against him as well as those who voted for him. As the world comes to terms with how the Trump Presidency might impact the world, much has also been written about the best way to respond. I have to confess to probably going a bit over the top with my emotional responses. When someone as divisive as Trump comes along, emotions can be overwhelming.

Whatever our reactions and thoughts, now is a time of great opportunity, an opportunity to bear witness to the Gospel loud and clear. Not the dualistic gospel that says you can get to heaven when you die if you just believe the right things; nor the same gospel that says you’re going to hell if you don’t believe those things.

No, the Gospel I am talking about is the Gospel of Jesus as we see in the Scriptures. It is the good news that another world is possible and another world is already here. It is the good news of inclusiveness for all, that there are no walls in this new world that Jesus came to bring. All are equal, male and female, black and white, (dare I say it) Muslim and Christian, Mexican and Trump supporter.

This is the good news that all are welcome if only they will come. Because God is President, not Donald Trump, a world order is being created where enemies are loved and where the broken are embraced and not ridiculed or shamed.

In a world which has already become more hostile as a result of Trump’s victory, this is our opportunity to shine, to live an alternative world, to be a light on a hill, to be a beacon for those who are not welcome elsewhere. This is our time to be a community of hope, of love and of faith. The politics of fear and division and hatred will never overcome faith, hope and love. Nothing can separate you from this love. Love does indeed save the world. 

So, what does it look like to respond in grace and love to those we disagree with? Yes, what does it mean to respond like Jesus would, whether you despise or rejoice at the Trump Presidency? Here are my thoughts:

Listen

As time goes on and we come to accept the reality of what has happened, we need to listen to the viewpoints of those with whom we disagree.

To take Trump supporters as an example, they have been vilified and lumped into a “basket of deplorables”, to use a quote from the campaign. There are many, many people however who voted for Trump because they genuinely believe he was the best choice for their country and for the world. That’s why they were willing to stick with him despite his racism, sexism and invectives of fear. These people are not stupid. Many of them can definitely be classified as racist, sexist and/or filled with hatred, and that needs to be confronted with courage and strength, but those classifications do not apply to all Trump supporters.

Trump tapped into something very deep in the soul of America. Millions of people have been angry for a very long time because they have felt that their voices have not been heard. History shows that when a group of people are ignored over time, they will eventually rise up and revolt. It is rather ironic that Trump supporters have long felt the same as African Americans did (and still do) during the civil rights movement of the 1950s and ‘60s. Back then, Martin Luther King, told by many white people to be patient, wrote about the fact that his people could no longer wait after suffering for so long. A movement rose up and it has happened again.

When we disagree, we don’t make it personal

We confront the issue, not the person. When we disagree with someone, we must show that we are not attacking them as a person. We can disagree strongly while maintaining the relationship with that person. Don’t ever shame anyone for their position. That will just turn them away even more and is not treating them as people of dignity made in the image of their Creator.

Unfortunately in the era of social media where anyone can voice their own opinion, personal abuse has become rife and healthy debate has been dumbed down. Responding in grace means listening while not attacking the person.

We remain true to our convictions

Responding with grace does not mean we roll over and have to compromise what we believe. Self-respect and respect from others is gained when we stand up for what we believe. As the old saying goes, “stand for something or fall for anything”.

Respect the other person’s viewpoint

There is a caveat to this though. Many people’s viewpoints are not thought out very thoroughly. What was revealed in the US election campaign was that much of the support for Trump was based on pure emotion and blind faith. When presented with the facts, the viewpoints of many were just further entrenched. You don’t need to respect a point of view that has not been thought out. Everyone is entitled to their opinion, but if they want their opinion to be respected, it has to be credible. That also means that if you are going to put forward a claim or point of view, you need to be able to back it up with facts.

As well as that, be prepared to suffer. You can present your case in the most Christlike way with undisputable facts and many people will still attack you as being unreasonable and ungodly. We are human. We will disagree, often vehemently. Bear it and get support if you need to. You can’t do this alone. Responding in love is about being part of a movement; it is not an individual stand.

Many people we disagree with are people with genuinely held beliefs

It is important to acknowledge this. They actually have thought through their motivations and have come to a conclusion that we thought was unconscionable. Suck it up. I know I need to.

Be open to having your views challenged

This relates to the previous point. And as well as being open to having your own views challenged, realise that you might need to change your point of view when presented with other facts. 

No issue is black and white

There will always be shreds of truth in any argument. Every situation is unique. Remember this is ultimately about real people, and real people are not “issues”. They are human beings with feelings, hopes and dreams.

Embody an alternative world

Remember, another world is possible and another world is here. ?The new world that Jesus inaugurated is both now and not yet. Protest is not enough. The world needs to hear a better story. And a better story includes people from all sides of the debate. Violence has been committed by both sides in the wake of the election. A true Christian response is not to constantly highlight one side’s violence and ignore the other’s. It is to make a strong statement that violence of any kind is unacceptable, no matter who perpetrates it.

We need to be the change we want to see in the world. People do not change until they see that their present way of living, based on their present worldview, is no longer working. It is then that we need to know there is a better way. Embody that way. 

Embody the way of love, of forgiveness, of speaking truth to power. Let your light shine so that others will praise your Father in heaven. Live a life of attraction so that people won’t have anything to pin on you.

Embodying an alternative world is also being on the side of the marginalised. God actually does play favourites. The Bible clearly shows God’s definite bias for the poor and oppressed. This is not because God loves them any more than the rich and powerful. To the contrary, it is because God made them equal and they deserve to be treated as such.

Now is the time for people of faith, hope and love to come together and show that love does indeed cast out fear, that there is indeed a better way. Now is the time to get together with others who want to live this way. It was Margaret Mead who said, “Never forget that a small group of people can change the world; indeed it is the only thing that ever has”.

We have nothing to fear in the post-Trump world, whether you support him or not. Remember Matthew 28:20 – “I am with you always, to the very end of the age”.

Jason Bourne and violence

Ok, here I go…I have to confess, Matt Damon is my man-crush. I love his movies and he comes across like a genuinely good bloke. So here is my review of his latest Bourne movie, Jason Bourne. It might not be what you expect…

Sight Magazine – ON THE SCREEN: A “WORLD-WEARY” BOURNE RETURNS TO SAVE THE WORLD AGAIN

In a word: Illuminating The Bourne franchise is back with this new instalment of the heroics of the maverick former CIA operative. This time Matt Damon is back as the title character, and he comes across as somewhat more world-weary than in previous Bourne movies.

Why the Resurrection still matters in the 21st century

Behold-the-Man-Antonio_Ciseri-e1330966503449Another Easter has come and gone. As we reflect on what it means 2,000 years after the event, I am reminded that the circumstances in which the world finds itself in today, early in the 21st century, are similar to that in which the first Christians found themselves 2,000 years ago.

On that first Easter day, a handful of Jesus’ disciples became convinced that a new King had been enthroned, a new Lord. They became convinced that the teacher from Nazareth who they had been following around for three years was alive again, was the saviour of the world, and was the world’s rightful Lord. He actually was who he said he was, and now they finally understood.

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Are the commands of Jesus only for Christians?

Where_is_the_loveThe recent speech by our former Prime Minister, Tony Abbott, in honour of the late Margaret Thatcher in London, has certainly stirred the pot in terms of what it means to love our neigbour.

In the speech, Abbott spoke about asylum seekers making their way into Europe, and compared the situation to his former Government’s attempt to stop asylum seekers from reaching Australia by boat. In invoking the command of Jesus to love your neighbour, Abbott made the point that, while it is a wholesome ethic, it is currently leading Europe into “catastrophic error”.

The speech predictably gave rise to much heated debate about the treatment of asylum seekers and, in particular, whether or not Abbott was actually trying to say that Jesus was misguided in saying that loving your neighbour is the best way to live life. It has also raised the question once again of whether or not Jesus’ command is meant only for Christians.

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Life, death, love and grief

white flower

A former colleague and friend of mine died last week. She was too young, and left behind a husband and two kids.

People who were closer to her than I was have been comforting each other this week in their grief. It has been terribly sad to witness.

The times in my life when I have known people who have died have been times of bonding with other loved ones of the deceased. It is not shared experiences necessarily or shared happiness that bonds people. It is shared suffering. When you grieve together over the suffering of a loved one, love comes to the fore.

It’s ultimately what life is about, really. Life is primarily about the experience of loss, ultimately to the loss of our life. 

Martin Luther King said once that suffering is redemptive. What he meant by that is that it is not meaningless. In a friendly universe, where the moral arc bends towards love, suffering can always be turned into good.

Jesus was known as a man of sorrows, one who was familiar with grief. He cried at the death of his friend Lazarus, he agonised over his coming suffering and death in the Garden of Gethsemane. and he cried out in desperation as he hung limp on a Roman cross. Jesus’ suffering was real, but it was not meaningless. Continue reading

Non-violence in the face of ISIS?

Once again, Sojourners are one of the very few Christian movements to put forward a credible, intelligent alternative to the violence of Empire in the face of the brutality of ISIS. This article by Micah Bales should be compulsory reading for every Christian wanting to articulate a Christian response to ISIS.

The way of the cross is indeed foolishness to many. As a believer, it is even foolishness to me at times. That just shows how entrenched in the way of the world I am.

Check out some of these quotes from the article above:

  • “When we choose to follow Jesus, it’s a death sentence. To become a disciple is to take up the cross, just as Jesus did. Followers of Jesus don’t get to kill our enemies. Followers of Jesus don’t get to conquer terrorists like ISIS with violent force. As followers of the slain lamb, we are conquerors through the blood of Jesus, through our commitment to show love even to those who want to behead us.”
  • “The world needs to know that the people of the cross are the ones who will die saying, Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do.”
  • “We are called to be the seed that dies – by beheading, if need be – in order to give birth to a world of beauty and justice that is unthinkable for those who are seen as reasonable and realistic in this blinded age.”
  • “This won’t protect us from the violence of evildoers…But it is the way that leads to life. This is the faith that overcomes the world. It’s a life of trust and joy that rings out like a bell in these times of fear and oppression.”

When we are willing to die for the way of Christ, to be martyrs for the kingdom of non-violence, we show that we would rather die than cooperate with the way of death that Empire tells us is right. That is the foolishness of the cross. We would rather follow a Messiah who gets himself killed than one who overthrows Empire and conquers all.

Yet the irony is that in following the Messiah who gets himself killed, we become those very conquerors. We are more than conquerors through him who loved us. That is the way of Christ that overcomes the world. In the end it is this way, and not the violent way of Empire, that wins. To quote Martin Luther King, the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.

American Sniper kills the myth of redemptive violence

americanjpg-bc1aa7War is hell. So said American soldier William Sherman, during the American Civil War. And this is exactly what we see in American Sniper, the true story of Navy SEAL Chris Kyle, the most deadly sniper in US military history.

I’ve recently been talking with a friend about events like Anzac Day and how it is viewed by different people. I have always had mixed feelings about what is seen by many to be Australia’s national day, whereas my friend, who had a relative who fought at Gallipoli, is able to resonate much more than me with what Anzac Day is about.

In a similar way, this movie does not glorify the American assault on Iraq following the terrorist attacks on the US on 11 September 2001. It does however tell the story of the effect that war has on ordinary people who simply want to do their best for their country. Continue reading

Life is a choice

german-shepherds-watching-catLife is a choice.

We find that this is true especially when we struggle. It is through struggle that character can grow. In fact I would say that it is only in struggle that character can grow. We can choose to rise above our troubles or decide to be overcome by them. Rising above them doesn’t mean ignoring them and pushing them asunder. It means moving forward regardless of the storms of life that are swirling all around us.

One of my great heroes, and probably the most courageous person I have ever known of (apart from Jesus, who chose to go to the cross knowing full well what it would cost) is Martin Luther King. Check out this quote from King from his sermon, Antidotes for fear (Don’t worry about the gender-specific language. It was written in the language of the day. Of course this quote applies equally to women as to men):

“Courage faces fear and thereby masters it. Cowardice represses fear and is thereby mastered by it. Courageous men never lose the zest for living even through their life situation is zestless; cowardly men, overwhelmed by the uncertainties of life, lose the will to live. We must constantly build dikes of courage to hold back the flood of fear.”

Often when trouble strikes, we can feel overwhelmed, even paralysed, by fear. It has certainly happened to me. What I have found is that it is through the growing understanding that we are always ok in God’s sight, and slowly coming to the realisation that we can no longer deny God’s unconditional love for us, that we gain the courage to face whatever is in front of us. This can take years, and in reality, is never fully completed until the day we pass from this earth.

Courage is not the absence of fear though; it is admitting that you might be scared sh*tless but moving forward anyway. That’s where it is a choice. There is nothing wrong with being scared; it is when we allow our fears to overcome us that we never deal with the challenges we are facing.

One of the many examples of Dr King’s courage in the face of adversity is captured in this quote from a sermon he wrote while in jail for civil disobedience:

“Throw us in jail and we shall still love you. Bomb our homes and threaten our children, and we shall still love you. Send your hooded perpetrators of violence into our community at the midnight hour and beat us and leave us half dead, and we shall still love you. But be ye assured that we will wear you down by our capacity to suffer. One day we shall win freedom but not only for ourselves. We shall so appeal to your heart and conscience that we shall win you in the process and our victory will be a double victory.”

This is what love does, love born of the courage to face fear, look it full in the face and say, like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, “you shall not pass!”.

Life is a choice. God give me the courage to face it on its terms.

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