Changing the Game — Center for Action and Contemplation

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Changing the Game

Love Summary for the Year: Week 2

Changing the Game
Monday, December 26, 2016
(Feast of St. Stephen)

Today I encourage you to read the account of the death of Stephen (Acts 7:58-60). Stephen, the proto-martyr of Christianity, has become a new Jesus, which is henceforth the only and never-ending goal. Jesus and Stephen state their truth, forgive their enemies, fully let go, and are released into a transformed state that we call “resurrection.” Stephen is presented as a perfect model and imitation of the new consciousness that is now let loose in the world.

Both Jesus and Stephen are victims of the “sacred violence” that has been foundational to culture from the very beginning of human consciousness, starting with Cain and Abel. If it’s true, as René Girard and Gil Bailie both demonstrate, that all groups and ideologies are formed by an unconscious scapegoat mechanism [1], then we have to find a way out of this default pattern. Jesus replaces the de facto operating story line of “redemptive violence” with a new story line of redemptive suffering. There is the Gospel in one sentence! Unfortunately, only a minority of Christians got the point after Jesus and Stephen. To this day, most Christians still believe in the myth of redemptive violence. The church was supposed to be a “called out people’’ (ekklesia) who no longer believed the lie, which John the Baptist calls “the sin of the world” (John 1:29), using the singular word for sin. Ignorant hating, excluding, and killing is the universal sin of the world to this day.

Bailie calls the revolution of tenderness, which was released into common consciousness at the death of Jesus, “the virus of the Gospel.” In every age, denomination, and culture, only a few understood the message. By grace and conversion, they realized that they could no longer project their inner violence outward, either creating victims or playing the victim themselves for their own empowerment. They see the only way to be victim in a generative and healing way is as Jesus did, by forgiving and releasing his crucifiers and himself.

The Gospel demands a great deal of us. It calls us to a perennially unpopular and unselfish path. Little wonder Jesus said, “The world’s going to hate you” (John 15:18-19). When you can no longer play the game of judging, labeling, and punishing others, you will quickly become the outsider at most every cocktail party you attend. But Jesus has taught us how to hold the pain of the world until it transforms and resurrects us. This dangerous virus is what Jesus calls “the hidden leaven” inside the Gospel (Matthew 13:33, Luke 13:20), the resurrecting power that will keep the world from its ordinary path toward self-destruction.

What cleverness and courage it took to place this feast of Stephen on the day following Christmas so we could not miss the Gospel’s direct implication and could quickly move beyond all sentimentality. Any full Incarnation will inevitably lead to passion, death, and resurrection. It is a certain progression.

Gateway to Silence:
Be the change you wish to see in the world. —Gandhi

[1] See René Girard, Violence and the Sacred (Johns Hopkins University Press: 1979), and Gil Bailie, Violence Unveiled: Humanity at the Crossroads (The Crossroad Publishing Company: 1996).

Adapted from Richard Rohr, “Love Your Enemy: The Gospel Call to Nonviolence,Richard Rohr on Scripture, disc 4 (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 1996); and
Things Hidden: Scripture as Spirituality (St. Anthony Messenger Press: 2008), 144.

Image credit: Doves and Pear Blossoms after Rain (detail) 1266-1300, Qian Xuan (1235-1305), Cincinnati Art Museum.
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