Tuesday, August 12, 2014

On Robin Williams

by Lyndsey Graves

The first thing you have to say about Robin Williams is that he was brilliant. We watch his films over and over again, always in anticipation of catching the little things we missed the last time round: the quick aside, the triple entendre you didn’t appreciate before, the sincerity in a facial expression that made you really fall in love with his character. Williams was an intellectual and emotional genius who plied his craft with excellence.

But he was more than that, or we wouldn’t be bawling in public places. He is someone we carry with us, even if we didn’t realize it until tonight. So many of us bear some little piece of understanding about life and this world that we learned only from him, from the bits of himself that he brought to every part, whether gentle, bold, or playful.

I first connected with Mrs. Doubtfire and Genie as a young kid already enamored with words and wit; I recognized in Williams my own appreciation for language, as obliging as Mrs. Doubtfire’s overstuffed bag for supplying just the right tool for any job. Since becoming an improviser, though, I’ve drawn even more inspiration from his ability to play without pretense, without forethought, without reason. Williams’ comedy sprang from that improvised worldview and gave him an immense, but often underrated, power - the power to make us laugh in spite of ourselves.

Abandoning oneself completely to a given moment, without a thought for the next, is a mindset most people take years to really master. Williams seemed to do it instinctively and purely, without a thought for himself at all, simply from a desire to see what might happen. He was as happy as we were to see something funny come of it; and if something didn’t, in the words of a friend, he just kept going - barreling over any possibility of embarrassment or defeat. What may be hard to recognize in an actor is self-evident to another improviser: an immense and hard-won humility that trusts serendipity rather than one’s own whirling cogs, that risks dignity for art and laughter.

If every child of God inherits a special strand of kinship with the divine, perhaps this was part of Williams’; someone so rarely self-regarding who offers us an image of what it might mean to be confident, powerful, and humble all at once. So, too, Williams seemed to thrill to the small and the simple, a wisdom that enabled him to peer through convoluted situations and cultures into the core of things. Those simple truths are often piercingly funny, and Williams was able to celebrate them in all their hilarity and their poignancy. He shared, I think, God’s attention and appreciation for small things of beauty and oddity.

Because of that, he rarely, if ever, resorted to the cheap cynicism that is the fallback of most comedians. He delighted in the absurdities of life without trivializing them, without denying the wonder that is found in simple things. But neither did he glibly gloss over the pain in the world or the cruelly irreducible complexities that confront us in the midst of it. He did justice to the idiocy of golf and the bewilderment of divorce without making us feel that either one was meaningless – he had none of the comedian’s arrogance which leave the impression that life exists only to be mocked.

We can talk about the un-funniness of someone’s death brought on by depression when he had made so many millions of people happier. There is something about the sincerity Williams brought to a shifty and dissembling Hollywood, though, about his capacity for play and delight, that makes this feel so much more than unfunny; it feels unfair. Death is always cruel, but not because it is the opposite of laughter; it is because it is the thief of a genuine joy in the weirdness and beauty of human life that Williams taught us just by his own revelry in it.

To take him seriously is certainly not to try and conjure a happy ending or moral from this story. It is more frightening than anything to recognize that an impish comic can be as much a tortured genius as any dour painter of doom, or any self-righteous playwright of opaque satire. The suicide of someone whose characters brought so much joy and wisdom to others’ hard times reminds us that battling demons is not always just a metaphor. Depression is a real, dark, and enormous monster, all the more bewildering because others can hardly see it, because others are unable to fight it for you. Only stay with the person in your life with depression, even when you are helpless to understand or act. There is a persistent and quiet love that often means more than all the dramatic interventions ever devised.

Williams’ death is sad and wrong and worthy of our tears, yet it also seems much too pious and stuffy to try and remember him without laughter. In all the best and worst ways, things just do not make sense - and sometimes all there is to do for the moment is to laugh despite ourselves.

 Lyndsey lives in Boston, MA where she is pursuing her Master's in Theological Studies at Boston University. She enjoys Community, Mad Men and Beauty and the Beast and her spirit animal is a sloth. She would like to know if this is some kind of interactive theater art piece. You can follow her on Twitter @lyndseygraves and you can find more of her writing at her blog To Be Honest. 

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Monday, August 11, 2014

Christology, Munchkin and the God-World Relationship

by Kyle Baughman 

“Oh, my God.”

-the doxology of Kyle Baughman whilst playing board games with OPT editor Sebastian Faust

This post is about Christology, Munchkin and why I can’t play games with Sebastian Faust anymore.

[First, a quick primer on the game of Munchkin. It was created by Steve Jackson as a comedic and satirical take on role-playing games such as Dungeons and Dragons and his own creations, Melee and The Fantasy Trip. The result is a tongue-in-cheek dungeon game in which you do everything in your power to screw over all of your fellow dungeoneers (I said it first) and progress to level 10, thereby winning the game. It’s beautifully selfish, terribly greedy and ultimately destructive to any relationships you hold dear (screw off Oxford Comma!)]

“Oh, my God,” I exclaim. The move was so clear; if he’d chosen to go forward he would have won the game. And yet, despite all the petitioning and all the confusion, he refused to make the move that would secure victory. Instead, even when chastised, he insisted he simply didn’t want the game to end yet.

How frustrating it is to watch Sebastian Faust play Munchkin!

In a game premised upon destroying your neighbor and traversing the dungeon before anyone else can, where second place means nothing, it is inconceivable, it is humiliating for another person to sacrifice his turn, for him to desire the game to continue with the chances all but certain that someone else will win. Somewhere, high atop a mountain, Steve Jackson is now tossing sleeplessly on his bed made of literal clouds after hearing of someone incapable of playing a game that aligns so perfectly with our American ethos – a form that demands both a winner and a loser. That one would sacrifice his turn for the exaltation of play is nothing but foolishness, nay, a very insult. I hate these types of players; I despise playing with them. Whenever they arise on the field of play, I find myself wanting to quit before they ruin it, or barring that, to use all my wiles and cunning to crush them completely.

I must stop for a moment; my neurosis is clearly on display when it comes to board games.

I’m a purist. There are proper ways to play the game; they were handed down to us by our ancestors. We did not break from a tyrannical Monarchy all those years ago just to have Sebastian decide he didn’t want to win.

When given the chance, always choose to win! The point of winning is to prove your power, to dominate your foes; and to gloat, always gloat. By divine fiat, we, as a community, had established what it meant to play Munchkin in a way that would honor Sir Steve Jackson (knighthood pending). But here, Sebastian had the nerve, no, the audacity to come into my home and play the game the wrong way.

We decided to crucify Sebastian that day, and rightly so. We channeled our outrage against the one who played by different rules. Our righteous indignation said much about the law we love, and the blasphemer who fell under the weight of that love.

In a culture that demands a winner and a loser, Sebastian found himself caught in the crosshairs of ideology and pragmatism. But by rejecting our form of play, he revealed the motivation behind the form. And what did it reveal about my motivation?

Sure, here I could wax on about capitalism and political ideology at play, but that would be side-stepping the truth; the truth is simply this: I am selfish. My assumption in board games is that everybody is out for blood. My appeal was to my own pride, to prove myself the grand warrior half-elf I knew myself to be. But Sebastian, that lowly, lowly dwarf-wizard, was set ablaze that night as a sign to all others at the table that his form of play shall not be tolerated. I was indeed out for blood, but it wasn’t until I saw somebody play who had no intention of blood-letting that my manner of play was exposed, not in the instant, but only after I had crucified him.

And seeing him hanging there, dead in the balance of my indignation, I felt rebuked. He allowed himself to be crucified, and for what? One more turn.

This is the reason I get so mad at Jesus.

I enjoy hanging out with Jesus; I just can’t play board games with him.

And if it were only Munchkin with Jesus that was problematic, I would be ok. But I look through the stacks of board games we own, and I must admit it’s all of them, even Clue. Even Chutes and Ladders.

I hate playing games with Jesus because playing games with Jesus exposes the way I play the game.

It’s very easy for me to use Jesus to rebuke the systems and powers of ideology that hurt children in Palestine, that allow villages in Asia to become subservient to American enterprises or that promote the exploitation of West Virginian land, where the benefits of their loss never return to the state. But, it is not so easy when I am sitting across a game board from Jesus, and the same Jesus I wield as a sword against my opponents has shown himself to be the double-edged one.

There’s no new Christology here. Jesus has long been the challenge that Paul faced when he said “I am crucified with Christ.” The moment I am most confident to live and call myself a Christian, there is Jesus…sitting across from me. And he plays by a different rule set. He says:

“Do not resist the one who is evil,” and “give to the one who begs from you” and “love your enemies.”

These are less troubling when sitting in a pew. I can generalize these statements, hold them as tenets that the church should embody. And thus, when the church falls short and acts contrary to what it professes, I can denounce the church and repudiate it. But it’s much more difficult when Jesus is sitting across the table from me.

For, much as Sebastian’s joy was in delaying the end, for the sake of the game, for one more turn, so I see in Christ a willingness that the game not be decided by the present paradigm, and the willing of time, the willing of new opportunity.

I do not know what The Eschaton will look like, or when, or if, those things Jesus talked about will occur. But, what I do know from Jesus’ life is that he plays the game with a willingness that time be made for people to change. And here I see Paul’s note that, in God’s forbearance, God left past transgressions unpunished so that now he could demonstrate a righteous form of play. And here I also see that there was so much potential, so much more that could have been done in that game with Sebastian. So much opportunity for us to share joy, and Sebastian gave us the time by playing as he did.

God hasn’t come in trumpet blasts and with angels descending. I’m not here to argue time or dates, mythology and eschatology, or any of the rest. But perhaps in the silence, the non-return, is the answer to where God is. God desires one more turn. Maybe endless turns. Who knows?

What I do know is that I am alive today. And there is still time for yet one more round of play. 

Kyle Baughman is a human. He studied theology at Fuller Seminary and enjoys the attention he receives from flirting with several different theo-camps. He hits things with sticks as the drummer for Coyotes in Boxes. You can find him on Twitter @truekyleb.

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Saturday, August 9, 2014

Useful Signs and the Best Things You'll Read All Week

by Ben Howard and Sebastian Faust

Reads of the Week

1) The Cost of Repentance by Zack Hunt

"Our actions have consequences. And while we may no longer face eternal consequences for our sin because of Jesus, the earthly consequences are very real and aren’t going anywhere. Which is why forgiveness divorced from accountability is so dangerous."

2) Cripple by Shannan Martin

"We worry sometimes that we'll seem too churchy, too weird, and all Jesus ever did was be weird and ridiculous and shocking and bold. We tell ourselves the world wants us to be more like them, and caught in the exact-right light, it's true. But the harder truth is, the world wants us to love them with the heart-ruined love of the only thing that ever made us alive."

3) Letting Go of God by Heath Bradley

"Throughout the Christian tradition there has always been a constructive tension between saying things about God, and at the same time acknowledging that all our words fall short of the divine reality. It is to our detriment when this paradoxical polarity gets out of balance."

4) Farewell, StrongBlackWoman by Christena Cleveland

"Meanwhile, the StrongBlackWoman identity, which at first glance seems like a positive identity, has wreaked havoc on black women’s emotional, physical, spiritual and relational health. In an attempt to escape one set of racist/sexist stereotypes, black women have run smack dab into another stereotype, one that is also maintained by societal racism and sexism."

5) Sermon on Lembas Bread, the Feeding of the 5,000 and Why I Hated Pastoral Care Classes by Nadia Bolz-Weber

"Perhaps Jesus’ injunction against sending the crowd away wasn’t because he was about to magically multiply a couple loaves into thousands, (although, again, that is a totally valid reading of the text). Maybe he didn’t want the disciples to send the people away because Jesus knew that those people had what the disciples lacked."

Honorable Mention

Search Term Friday: Judas Suicide by Richard Beck

Holy Relics: A Focus on the Family Movie Review by Martyn Wendell Jones

The Book That Changed Amy's Life by Amy Peterson

Not Our Problem: Why Collectively Ignoring Mark Driscoll Isn't an Option by Richard Clark

Tweets of the Week

"When He Goes Limp You Have To Stop Punching, Charlie Brown" - @briangarr

"Good thing most planes have TVs. Nothings worse than having to look out the window at Earths sacred majesty from the point of view of angels" - @pharmasean

"I raised my kid as a philistine. "How about less Schopenhauer & more QVC Shopping Hour?" I'd scold—but German idealism already corrupted him" - @BigRedDreck

On Pop Theology Week in Review

Harry, Severus, & David: The Danger of a Single Narrative by Laura Brekke

"Recently, I had an epic weekend of re-watching all the Harry Potter films (okay, it was more than a weekend, because: sleep)."

Song of the Week

"Let Your Heart Hold Fast" by Fort Atlantic


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Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Harry, Severus, & David: The Danger of a Single Narrative

by Laura Brekke

WARNING: this post contains Harry Potter spoilers!

Recently, I had an epic weekend of re-watching all the Harry Potter films (okay, it was more than a weekend, because: sleep). I’ve read all the books, and have, at times, reflected on the fact that the relationship I began with the characters when I was about 12 years old constitutes one of the longest relationships of my life (I’m a bit of a commitment-phobe).

One of the many twists and turns I love about the Harry Potter series is the unfolding development of the character of Severus Snape. Ah yes, the wicked potions master who picks on poor Harry from the beginning; who seems to be out to get Harry and his meddlesome gang of Gryffindor’s at every turn. Snape, who we later discover is a spy for the Order of the Pheonix. Snape, who is the self-described Half-Blood Prince. Snape, who in the most brilliant, heart-wrenching revelation is actually nursing a broken heart.

Severus Snape is the perfect example of the dangers of listening to only one narrative. Despite insistence to the contrary by Professors Dumbledore and McGonagall, Harry remains convinced of Snape's villainany, and is incapable of trusting him. Harry cannot hear the alternative narrative, one in which Snape is a complex, complicated man who has earned the trust of Harry’s own much-admired mentor. Only after Severus’ death is Harry able to hear – or see, rather – the alternative narrative, as Snape’s memories reveal a deep and unwavering love for Lily Potter and a steadfast commitment to protect her only son which resulted from that love.

But the beauty of the Harry Potter series is that, while Harry and gang only accept the single narrative about the nature of Severus Snape, other characters are constantly offering another (albeit ignored) story. And in the end, that other story confronts us, unraveling the suspicions and convictions that we, too, carried against Snape. Such a single narrative is dangerous because it narrowly assumes that our experience is the only experience, and that there can be no other way of interpreting the same series of events.

Scripture knows that a single narrative is a dangerous thing1. Take the King David cycle in 1 and 2 Samuel. Most of us learned in Sunday School classrooms that David was the greatest of Israel’s kings; a man after God’s own heart. But he is a complicated figure, a man who becomes a rapist and murderer. He is a monarch whose son later leads a revolt against him to avenge his sister’s honor. These stories demonstrate skepticism about monarchy, and give clear indications that while David may have been a beloved king, he was much less universally loved that we often think.

However, 1 Chronicles 11-29 retells the story with a drastically different angle. The less-than-savory bits of King David’s sordid personal life are scrubbed clean. In fact, the only negative report about David’s reign concerns his taking of a census. The Chronicler makes it clear that David was tempted by Satan to take a census (1 Chronicles 21:1) – in direct opposition to God’s command – and the resulting plague could be traced by to this first transgression. This is the only instance from the Chronicler that seems to call into question what seems like a relatively peaceful, well-administered reign.

Regardless of the accuracy of either cycle of stories, what is most important is that there is more than one angle on this King David character. Neither story is allowed to supplant the other; they are asked to dwell in the tension, side by side. The pro-monarchy telling, in which he is a flawless monarch caring for his kingdom and living an upright and righteous life, is not the only picture painted. Nor is the story of David’s blunders and abuses of power the only presentation of the ancient king. Rather, there are multiple, competing narratives about the man and the king which give us perspective and remind us that, depending upon one’s position, our narratives may be wildly divergent2.

In Harry Potter, as in life, it’s dangerous to assume that our perspective on things is the only one which is valid. The story we tell ourselves about who is “good” and who is “bad” is always filtered through our perspective. How? Simple examples: are the police there to protect you or bully you? Or, is Kanye an entertainment genius or a self-absorbed uber narcissist? It is our own life narratives that will inform how we understand law enforcement and Kanye West (and everything in between).

Right now, a war rages in Gaza. As of writing this post, upwards of 1,200 Palestinians have died as a result of Israeli bombing. In the same conflict, 43 Israelis have died. One narrative would say that Israel, remembering the violence of the bus bombings of civilians, is doing everything in their power to crush a terrorist cell that is sending rockets across the Gaza border into Israeli lands. But, another narrative would say that the use of excessive force, and the targeted bombing of civilians in hospitals and schools reveal that Israel intends to decimate Gaza in a show of force. Both of these perspectives inform the larger narrative. History defies simplicity; there is no single way to understand what is happening in Gaza; rather, there are many – often competing – narratives, all which must be heard in order to work toward resolution.

The danger of a single narrative is that we begin to devalue the people who hold those other narratives, whether it’s refusing to acknowledge the complexity of a sardonic and sour-faced potions master, or ignoring that there are two (or more) valid experiences of the current conflict in Gaza. Only after the death of Severus Snape did Harry Potter learn another narrative of the events he himself experienced; let us learn from Harry’s blindness – let us remember that there is never just a single story, but the myriad and complex stories of human experience. 

1. There are 4 Gospels after all; Jesus brings a single message of Good News, but it is told from 4 different perspectives which emphasize different things. Our understanding of Jesus would be lessened without each of these narratives.  
2. John Green does an excellent job of looking at how the current crisis in Crimea has two wildly different (actually, opposing) narratives which can come from the same historical experience. Watch that video here.  

Laura Brekke is a woman of many names and many interests. When she is being a grown up, she directs Religious Diversity as a Catholic university in California. When she is being an academic, she ponders theological anthropology and popular culture. When she’s being a pastor, she writes a blog musing about faith, spirituality, and our reluctance to be vulnerable. And when she is just being herself, she proudly embraced her inner Whovian fangirl.

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Saturday, August 2, 2014

The Economic Insights of Children's Books and the Best Things You'll Read All Week

by Ben Howard and Sebastian Faust

Reads of the Week

1) Sermon on How Hard It Is Being Spiritual Without You by Nadia Bolz-Weber

"Of course I wasn’t thinking about God’s love much when I was away from you guys. Because as inconvenient and at times, unreliable as it might be – other people are the most common way of knowing and experiencing the love of God in Christ. And you guys are my other people. As much as experiencing the love of God in Christ though meditating alone on a mountain might sound awesome, that’s not what Jesus sent his disciples to do after he left. He told them to love each other as he loved them."

2) If Evil Has a Best Friend, It's Apathy by Jamie Wright

"I've spent the last 12 months trying to get my head around the language of modern day slavery and the fact that when we are using these words - word's like sold, smuggled, traded, transported, brokered, abused, starved, beaten, broken in – we're talking about human beings. Actual human beings. The kind with names and faces and families. The kind with dreams. The kind with hearts and souls. Real live people."

3) 'Send Them Away': A Homily for the Loaves and Fish (Proper 13A) by David R. Henson

"The priest, though, shrugged and offered the bread to him anyway. Now, it would have been easy for the priest to simply send Jeff away with a blessing only and not with the bread. It was technically the right thing to do. But by placing the thin wafer of Christ’s body onto Jeff’s tongue, the priest broke church law and, to some Catholics, violated the Sacrament itself."

4) I Don't Always Tell You by Rachel Held Evans

"I don’t always tell you about the mornings I wake up and feel the absence of God as though it were a presence—thick and certain, remembered all over again the way you remember in the morning that someone you love has died. Or about the days when the idea that a single religion can stop the CNN crawler from reporting one more missile strike, one more downed plane, one more bombed hospital, strikes me as freshly stupid, dangerously naïve."

5) "I Used to Believe X for Reason Y..." and the Failure of Intellectual Imagination by Derek Rishmawy (Note: Read the comments)

"This, as I said, is a failure of the intellectual imagination, and for reasons I’m not entirely sure of (and I’d love others to weigh in on), it’s one that seems increasingly common. I will say that I’m fairly sure it has something to do with the narcissism of human experience. The story we know best is our own and our human tendency is to shrink the world to fit our experiences. We take our personal stories, and instead of seeing them as one, particular, unique experience, we expand them out and unjustifiably universalize them."

Honorable Mention

Mark Driscoll and Me and Our Desperate Desire To Be "Okay" by Ben Moberg

Parched for Community by Katie Bergman

Those Who Are Not Like Us by Sarah Schwartz

Holy Relics: Super 3D Noah's Ark by Martyn Wendell Jones

Why I Think You Should (Sometimes) Ignore Your Children by Esther Emery

Tweets of the (Last Two) Week(s)

"I've seen a lot of Jesus billboards on this road trip. Call me crazy but I don't think he likes being hung up on display to make a point." - @primaawesome


"I'm just a girl, standing in front of a guy, asking him for all the money in the cash register." - @lindzeta 

"You can do anything if you put your mind to it and are willing to disassociate and become a goddamn monster" - @ashfein

"Maybe I'm reading this chart wrong, but according to my weight, I'm 7'3" tall." - @Thing_finder

"I violently wiped all the fingerprint smudges on my iPad and I think I accidentally earned an online degree from the University of Phoenix" - @MeetGreg

The Best Things You Could Have Hypothetically Read Last Week 

Without Justice, We're Not Reading the Same Book by Fred Clark  

 #FaithFeminisms: Faith, Feminism, and the Battle for Supremacy by Becca Rose

Faith Like a Kid by Shannan Martin 

#WeAreN: What the Media Misses About the Iraqi Christian Persecution by Jonathan Merritt 

Sweet Tea and Sympathy for Invisible Women by Melinda Jackson   

Defending the Powerful Is Not Our Mission by Joy Bennett

A Good Joke Can Change the World by Fred Clark

The Red Couch: Americanah Discussion by D.L. Mayfield

On Reading More Women: Examining Our Consumption Habits by Krista Dalton

#Sorrynotsorry: On Sexual Abuse in the Church by Janice Rees

On Pop Theology Fortnight in Review

On Pop Theology Podcast: Episode 58 - Arts & Entertainments w/ Christopher Beha

"This week on the show Ben talks with author Christopher Beha about his new novel Arts & Entertainments, his Catholic faith, and the nature of the novel of ultimate concern."

On Metaphors and Summer Breaks by Lyndsey Graves

"It has been ten weeks since I last attended church. I didn’t plan it this way, and there are a hundred reasons why this is a terrible state of affairs, but it is how the summer has turned out."

Chaos and Fictional Theology by Ben Howard

"As a writer who occasionally has opinions about Christianity I am required by divine fiat to have a definitive position on the issue of the afterlife."

How The Bachelor Illuminates the Falsehoods In Our Lives by Emily Joy Allison

"I get a lot of scornful, “I can’t believe YOU watch THE BACHELOR” sort of comments from my friends when they find out about my obsession. Granted, if you know me even a little, it’s a bit surprising."

The Cosmic Effect of Violence (and Peace) by Rebekah Mays

"A photo of a man holding a limp child lit up my computer screen as I clicked on the Twitter link. The boy was one of four Palestinian children playing on a beach, killed by an Israeli airstrike."

Song of the (Elongated) Week

"Secrets" by Mary Lambert


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Friday, August 1, 2014

The Cosmic Effect of Violence (and Peace)

by Rebekah Mays

A photo of a man holding a limp child lit up my computer screen as I clicked on the Twitter link. The boy was one of four Palestinian children playing on a beach, killed by an Israeli airstrike. One look at the man’s face was enough to feel a share of his sorrow and powerlessness.

But perhaps since I was separated by space, by culture, by relative safety, the sorrow I felt was still quite small. This man's reality is not my reality, I couldn't help think.

But powerlessness – that I can relate to. Because as we educate ourselves about the many injustices in the world, as we read about the centuries of violence between groups of people and we see how little has changed for the better, we feel helpless. We know all too well that our material resources are limited. We feel we can do little more than raise awareness, or give money to someone who may or may not know how best to use it.

As people of faith, the other option we have is prayer. "Pray without ceasing," we're told again and again. But if we're honest with ourselves, many of us feel we are throwing our wishes for world peace to the sky. Our prayers must have gotten stuck somewhere, and we think they're never going to come back down.

But here's my question: what if we did have the power to change the world?

We say we want peace, but if we had the power to institute it globally, would we use it?

Whether we believe it or not, our power is infinitely greater than we realize. World peace actually begins with us, as naïve as it sounds.

In the first place, it is because violence is found much closer than we like to think. It’s not only in the Middle East, or in Central Europe, or on the border. It’s not just being perpetrated by people who are less "civilized" or who have a different skin color than we do. The same seeds of violence reside in our own hearts, if we allow them to remain there.

The inner violence of American society can so easily be observed online. The current dialogue about any hotly debated political topic right now reveals how obsessed we are with being right, and how little we actually care about justice and truth. Even (especially) in Christian circles, we see pride oozing from the arguments of both liberals and conservatives, along with assumptions, hyperbole, and lies for the sake of attention and reaction. We see accusations, defensiveness, and escalations of outrage until the Internet is one big glowing ball of anger and malice.

Indeed, there is a very tangible difference between verbal violence and the kind that’s going on right now in Gaza. But Jesus preached that, with regard to the perpetrator, there is no distinction between violent thoughts and actions. “Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer,” he said.

We cannot say that the violence is far away, and that we are therefore unaffected by it. And we have to accept our own responsibility in perpetuating it.

But if violence produces more violence, so too does goodness.

In The Science of Being and the Art of Living, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi wrote that every single thing we do has some influence on the universe, whether for better or worse. Studies have shown that talking to a plant, especially in a positive way, will help it grow much faster. Similarly, he writes, “a good, sweet, loving expression to a child produces a loving and life-supporting influence in the whole of the cosmos."

Maharishi’s wisdom parallels that of Christianity. In addition to teaching that thoughts and actions are intimately connected, Jesus preached that we should not only love our friends and families, but our enemies as well. And to make it even more ridiculous, he called us to “pray for those who persecute [us].” Why?

Because somehow, our acts of kindness have an enormous, even cosmic effect. The "mere" act of praying for others creates a set of ripples -- ripples that begin with love instead of hatred. When we see our actions this way, with everything we do contributing to a chain reaction of either goodness or violence, we realize the importance and the potential of every single moment. As soon as we shift our perspective, it becomes easier to choose kindness over anger.

The great instigators of peace in our world – Nelson Mandela, Mother Theresa, Mahatma Gandhi, countless others -- weren’t afraid to look inward to find this peace. Mandela said that “We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us.” Gandhi, likewise, wrote that peace starts in our souls: “A man is but the product of his thoughts. What he thinks, he becomes.”

As many of us know, we can’t be purely good on our own – we need grace. But once we have received grace, what restrains us from living truly radical lives of peace?

I challenge us, as we’re reading the news about the sobering events throughout the world, to never entertain the idea that we are powerless. World peace begins with you and me. 

Rebekah Mays is a Barnard College graduate originally from Austin, Texas. She currently works and writes in Prague, Czech Republic. You can find more of her writing on her blog The Prague BLOG or follow her on Twitter @smallbeks.

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