Wrist Holds and Grace

1 Peter 5:1-5 (NLT)

And now, a word to you who are elders in the churches. I, too, am an elder and a witness to the sufferings of Christ. And I, too, will share in his glory when he is revealed to the whole world. As a fellow elder, I appeal to you: Care for the flock that God has entrusted to you. Watch over it willingly, not grudgingly—not for what you will get out of it, but because you are eager to serve God. Don’t lord it over the people assigned to your care, but lead them by your own good example. And when the Great Shepherd appears, you will receive a crown of never-ending glory and honor.

In the same way, you who are younger must accept the authority of the elders. And all of you, dress yourselves in humility as you relate to one another, for “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.”

By Chuck Griffin

Today’s Bible passage from the daily lectionary was written by a church leader to leaders, encouraging care of the flock through suspension of self-interest and a focus on humility. The timing is most excellent.

More than anything today, I wanted to be sure readers of this LifeTalk blog have had an opportunity to read an April 23 article by the Rev. Carolyn Moore, a Georgia pastor and one of the leaders of the Wesleyan Covenant Association. Entitled “There Is a Simple Solution,” Rev. Moore makes a gentle, grace-filled appeal to United Methodist bishops, saying they have the power to end the painful struggle we find ourselves in, allowing churches wanting to leave the denomination to do so with their property and without punitive costs.

I’ll let her article make her appeal. I can add to it only by way of analogy.

I have practiced martial arts for four decades as of this year. As part of that practice, we spend time learning various ways to escape all sorts of grabs and holds.

One of the most basic holds we learn to deal with is the wrist hold, where someone grabs your wrist to prevent you from escaping whatever attack might follow. There are lots of ways, some simple, some elaborate, to free yourself from a wrist hold.

For example, if you raise your grasped wrist high, turning your palm in, it’s easy to use your other hand to take hold of the back of the attacker’s hand, free yourself, and then use both your hands to apply painful pressure to the attacker’s wrist. If you’re standing, you can use your own body weight to drive your opponent backward into the ground.

If the attack proves to be ongoing and powerful, the defensive responses inflict higher levels of pain and violence. For example, if the attacker locks down really hard, making it difficult to get loose, a swift kick or stomp will allow the release to work, a technique known as “loosening.”

Here’s what we don’t bother practicing in a martial arts class: Always presuming we prepare for violence, we don’t waste time looking at the opponent and saying, “Would you please let go of my wrist?”

Reading Rev. Moore’s article, I had a realization. Progressives, institutionalists and traditionalists in the United Methodist Church have been circling each other as if we are presuming violent intent. We strategize, we project ideal outcomes, and we take defensive or offensive postures over the issue of church property. 

Church is not a martial arts class, however. As peaceful, grace-filled Christians, we should be able to look at each other and say, “Please, let go of my wrist,” and receive a graceful response.

That’s what Rev. Moore asks in her article. The trust clause, which the bishops control, has become the wrist hold binding traditional Methodists to a system they want to escape.

It’s a simple request. Please, let go of our wrists.

Lord, in times of strife, let grace and mercy among brothers and sisters in Christ reign. Amen.

Peaceful Warriors

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Psalm 144:1-2
A psalm of David.
Praise the Lord, who is my rock.
    He trains my hands for war
    and gives my fingers skill for battle.
He is my loving ally and my fortress,
    my tower of safety, my rescuer.
He is my shield, and I take refuge in him.
    He makes the nations submit to me.

As followers of Jesus Christ, we should have a deep aversion to violence. Our savior and teacher had a lot to say about radical forgiveness, turning the other cheek, and forgiveness for enemies.

And yet, evil remains in the world. Since the days when the church and institutional power first began to blend, Christians have struggled with how to  follow Jesus’ teachings when confronted with the potential for great violence.

There are two basic paths thoughtful Christians have promoted through the years. The first is pacifism, where Christians say violence is unacceptable under any circumstances. True Christian pacifists are relatively few in number, although that doesn’t necessarily make them wrong—I have enormous respect for the creative ways they will try to confront violence with nonviolent countermeasures.

The second involves something called Just War Theory. Essentially, war is never good, but sometimes it is necessary in a broken world. There are, however, principles that should never be violated in deciding to go to war or during its prosecution.

I pray there are no more wars in my lifetime for Americans to justify, but if one arises, we likely will hear a leader at some point describe the cause as “just.” He or she will be trying to convince the public that principles of a just war have been considered.

We should always be dubious, by the way. Just wars inherently should be rare events, far more rare than what we have experienced since the end of World War II.

By the way, some of these just war principles can be applied to the “when and how” of Christians individually defending themselves. It has been my experience that martial arts training will cause people to back into these ethical debates without realizing they’re touching on Just War Theory.

For most Christians, it is a reality that some will train their hands for war, trusting God to give their fingers skill for battle. Certainly, soldiers should train, as should our police and others willing to protect innocent lives.

We need to pray for those who train, asking that they also maintain their humanity and their connection to God. Indeed, let’s pray they feel guided by God if forced into action.

Simultaneously, we need to pray for political leaders who will not abuse how they make use of these willing warriors.

I look forward to the day when Jesus’ sword of truth has overcome all evil, and violence is part of a former world.

Lord, grant us creative solutions to ancient problems, and may we all learn to think of violent solutions as acts of last resort. Amen.

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