Thursday, June 19, 2014


The prophet Isaiah once dreamed what seemed an utterly impossible dream. Imagining the world’s nations, he foresaw a day when they would, “Beat their swords into plowshares, and neither would they study war anymore.” In the 1960s, that vision became lyrics to a Vietnam protest song. The words are frequently used as shorthand for peace advocacy. Most soldiers, of course, no longer use swords, and I suspect John Deere has replaced most plowshares. Nevertheless, it’s beautiful to dream that our energies would go toward productive enterprises more than destructive ones.

Maybe an updated form of that vision, therefore, would go: “They will transform their bomb factories into football factories, and study war no more.” FYI, by football, I mean what Americans typically call soccer, contrary to the rest of the world. And for us football (soccer) fans, the next few weeks will be awesome. The World Cup Finals are finally upon us!

For the uninitiated, here’s a brief explanation. The World Cup gathers together almost every country every four years into one collective, athletic enterprise. Currently, the Finals are being held in Brazil, but the tournament began a couple years ago. Over many months, each country played teams from other countries in their region for the right to compete in Brazil. 32 countries “made it through”, as we football fans say, and now the great game is on.

Exactly one century ago, the world was focused on one collective enterprise too. But that great game, you’ll remember, wasn’t international football. It was war. June 28 is the centennial anniversary of an event that ignited World War I. An angry young man in Sarajevo assassinated an Austrian archduke and soon after, the globe was fighting. Last year, I read a comprehensive history of that war, and the brutality shocked me anew. Beforehand, humanity seemed unaware of just how destructive our modern machines could be. They quickly learned, however, to the horror of all, and dubbed it, “The war to end all wars.” Tragically, a few decades later, Nazi politicians proved how naïve that claim was too.

And maybe all predictions of peace are naïve in some way, from Isaiah’s to Vietnam protestors. International sporting events like the World Cup often style themselves as alternatives to armed conflict among nations. It’s a neat ideal, and since the 1940s widespread violence hasn’t threatened the global order, thankfully. But that hasn’t stopped some nations from invading other nations, armed groups from holding citizens hostage, troubled individuals from bombing roadside cafes, or flying planes into buildings.

From our movement’s beginning, Christians have struggled over war and peace. Jesus said both, “Turn the other cheek,” and “I came not to bring peace, but the sword.” So…that’s confusing! Especially if you think our task is to apply Jesus’ words literally. I don’t believe that, however, knowing that the Gospels’ records of Jesus’ life and words are, necessarily, incomplete. Rather, I think we’re called to discern the big picture of God’s plan through the great themes of Jesus’ ministry. And it seems that, complications aside, God advocates peace, while honoring sacrifice and compassion.

After all, Jesus gave his life so all life could receive abundant life. He put himself at risk to help “the least of these.” Confronting the Roman Empire- as he did- to lift up that message would’ve seemed naïve, as he hung on the cross. But days, weeks, centuries later, another picture emerges. One of the Prince of Peace triumphant, a global religious movement of unity and love. It hasn’t conquered the worst angels of humanity’s nature, yet, but important progress has transpired. There’s less death by war in our century than ever in human history. Peace advocates helped end wars, and secured important rights for marginalized people. In the face of news stories that show brutality continuing, conflict raging and struggle enduring, maybe it’s the naïve amongst us- the peacemakers- we should bless and turn to again. At least, that’s what will be on my mind as I watch the World Cup this month, and pray for Iraq, Ukraine Syria. That football cleats will become more prominent that assault weapons, and we’ll study soccer tactics, no longer war.

Grace and Peace,
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