WAR OR PEACE: YOU DECIDE

War and peace. We have lived with both since that day when brother first slew brother in the name of religion and third-party intervention set forth the terms of a settlement meant to prevent further violence. Fat chance of that. The surge from peace to adversarial relations to conflict and war had settled in as an enduringly lamentable fact of human affairs. History reveals a race whose preference for solving crises through nonviolence stretches just so far and then snaps.

war and peaceIn our day, the incendiary conduct of nineteen men aboard four aircraft on September 11, 2001 was the snap heard round the world. With it, the optimism of a fledgling international peace that was in the air following the end of the Cold War fell to earth. Since then, prospects trending toward furthering peace rather than conflict and war have seemed pretty hopeless.

In the previous post, a moving story from Rabbi Marc Gopin hinted at how inner attitudes of one individual toward another (in this case a Jew toward an Arab) can remain tense or adversarial or can ease up and back down. What we think about others who are not like us is going to betray itself in our words, gestures, and deeds. Multiply his story by millions and it is easy to see why individuals matter to war and peace. Domestic attitudes matter to the shape and conditions of international life.

The most formal way in which domestic attitudes and views affect international life is through a nation’s foreign policy. True, foreign policy decision making in the West is not particularly “democratic.” It is superintended by relatively small communities of presidents, prime ministers, and foreign policy elites who do not submit their policies to direct popular votes. Yet domestic attitudes can loom large in a nation’s international politics.

If, for example, a large percentage of American voters favor an easing of tensions with Iran, that attitude will carry weight inside White House policy, whether it is a Democrat or a Republican administration. And if the policy is to succeed in the long run, it must grip the consciences of a large majority of individuals in the nation. If, as the saying goes, all politics are local, then it is equally true that all international peacemaking begins with the individual, with me and you.

Formally, however, the task falls to the diplomats, international mediators, negotiators, special envoys, and relevant others. These are the men and women who get tasked with making things happen when leaders and their nations have determined to end adversarial relations, conflict, or war with other nations and enter into peaceable relations. But diplomats and others who are trying to bring the parties to Yes can get a bad rap. They get accused of waffling, of going too slow, of selling out, and of much more besides. The populations back home, however, usually have no idea of the insurmountable odds that can be stacked against diplomatic teams. This is why I have gained a huge amount of respect for them. They are really up against it, and few understand that.

The historic wisdom literature tradition is not silent on the subject of wisdom-based diplomacy as vital for international cooperation and peace. Beginning with the next post, we will start exploring key narratives that bring this out. And maybe along the way we will discover some lost tools to help in today’s task.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

A RABBI WALKS INTO A SUK…, or, why you matter to the state of the world

Arab suk Rabbi Marc Gopin, who lives in America, often works between Washington and Middle East capitals as a seasoned practitioner of citizen diplomacy. I first met him around 2003 in Philadelphia at a conference on diplomacy and international relations. We were breakfasting in a noisy restaurant before the conference began that day, and I felt nervous and out of my depth. In the early stages of research for The Wisdom Project, I wanted to know what Marc, a rabbi familiar with the wisdom tradition and seasoned with years of diplomatic experience, thought about my thesis.

I was asking how he, Marc, thought that religious leaders and political actors in Washington and the Middle East – negotiators, mediators, policy advisers, relevant others – could benefit from the wisdom tradition. And how do you yourself do it, Marc, when at times it is like struggling in quicksand? To this veteran peacemaker I must have sounded like a babbling brook trying to explain my inchoate ideas about wisdom as a vital agency for creating peaceable Jewish / Muslim / Christian relations. But Marc patiently prodded, asked questions, and shared moving personal stories.

And I listened, hard. High-level initiatives of citizen diplomacy are hugely important to the crucial field of Track 2 diplomacy, which includes dialogue and problem-solving activities aimed at building relationships and encouraging new thinking that can inform Track 1, or official state to state diplomacy. In the best of both worlds, Track 1 and Track 2 initiatives and their diplomats intersect, talk to each other, and join their considerable resources to resolve adversarial relations, conflicts, and wars. At the conference I had already heard Marc speak about initiatives he had been engaged in at this intersection. Amid the bustle of waiters, the clatter of dishes, and the voices of other customers it struck me that I was hearing from someone whom Jesus meant when he spoke of blessed peacemakers.

Open, honest, and self-effacing, Gopin shares candidly in his talks and books about the personal struggles he has faced as a change agent in the Middle East, such as in dealing with the moral ambiguities involved in reaching peaceable agreements, the slow progress (when there is progress), the unexpected setbacks, the still unresolved issues. He has been a personal inspiration to me for the promise and potential of wisdom and resilience that people can draw on from deep within to overcome obstacles to peacemaking. Mind you, he wasn’t born that way. He had to get there, had to work hard at it, which for him included overcoming some a very real fear.

Arab sukSo, a rabbi walks into an Arab suk. It is the early 1980s, and this “newly-minted rabbi,” as Gopin calls himself in this story, is strolling through Jerusalem’s Old City to the Wailing Wall, when he enters the Arab suk (or souq), which looks like an old-world bizarre. There, he became fascinated with a small, alleyway shop that sold statues of Moses, Abraham, and other patriarchs. Those days, Gopin writes in Holy War, Holy Peace, he was at times “terrified, around Arabs,” so when the Arab shop owner approached him, hoping to make a sale, Marc wouldn’t speak to the man.

But Marc did not leave either. While he was handling an olive wood statue of Abraham, the elderly shop owner greeted him. Although he felt extremely nervous, Gopin “looked hard” into the elderly man’s smiling eyes and

saw something disarmingly familiar there, and it pained me in its gentleness. First I could not take my eyes off him, but then I refocused on the statues. I saw Moses. My name is Moses. I saw Abraham. And then I looked back at him intensely. The Arab man clearly could barely speak English but seemed not to value speaking very much anyway. I think he sensed I was in pain.

And then he did something that will stay with me for the rest of my life. He looked at me, just as I caressed the statue of Abraham, and he pointed up with his finger, and he said, with a heavy accent, “One father?” I nodded, feeling strangely commanded to do so, and I said quietly to him, “One father.” Overcome with emotion, and unable to speak, I said good-bye and walked on. I never saw him again.

Gopin later concluded that the powerful symbolic gesture broke down the wall of othering between them (Holy War, Holy Peace, pp. 25-26, for this and other stories). What we hold in our hearts about others is going to show up in our words, gestures, and deeds. As Jesus himself said, underlying attitudes will come out.

Marc’s poignant experience is just one of countless reasons why you and I matter to the shapes and conditions of of international life, including the foreign policies of our nations that we support or oppose. We’ll pick this up in the next post.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

WISDOM IS BETTER THAN WEAPONS OF WAR

negotiationsI also saw under the sun this example of wisdom that greatly impressed me. There was once a small city with only a few people in it. And a powerful king came against it, surrounded it and built huge siegeworks against it. Now there lived in that city a man poor but wise, and he saved the city by his wisdom. But nobody remembered that poor man. So I said, ‘Wisdom is better than strength.’ But the poor man’s wisdom is despised, and his words are no longer heeded. The quiet words of the wise are more to be heeded than the shouts of a ruler of fools. Wisdom is better than weapons of war. Ecclesiastes 9:13-18

As this reflection from the wisdom literature implies, skill in wisdom is vital to diplomacy, negotiations, and similar other efforts that seek peaceable resolutions to adversarial relations, approaching hostilities, conflict, or war. Here, the value of wisdom as greater than both military might and royal authority is evident. A powerful king was backed down by a skilled negotiator who, although poor in this world’s goods, was rich in wisdom and thereby able to prevent his city and its inhabitants from being destroyed. Afterward, however, this negotiator’s wisdom, which saved the city, became despised, scorned, and was no longer heeded. One can’t help but wonder if the next generation picked up the implements and machinery of war and, professing themselves wise, destroyed the “much good.”

Beginning with this post we are making a transition to the historic wisdom tradition’s vital role in efforts that seek peaceable resolutions to adversarial relations, approaching hostilities, conflict, or war. Traditionally this takes us into the fields of diplomacy, negotiations, mediation, and relevant other areas. But so as not to get too wordy in these posts, I will often just use the word “diplomacy.” Unfortunately, the wisdom tradition’s connection to diplomacy has pretty much been lost to us today. It is a missing dimension in our contemporary understanding of the resources the tradition provides.

So far in this series of posts on the wisdom tradition, we have been concentrating chiefly on wisdom as a vital agency for peaceableness in local, community, and regional contexts where human diversity is normative, cooperation essential, and flourishing desired. And I have tried to present this with a fresh take on the sages and their wisdom that is faithful to the wisdom texts.

To briefly recap the previous posts, I tried to show that the sages offer us more than books of wisdom, such as Proverbs, Job, and Ecclesiastes. That is, they call us to much more than simply memorizing some interesting proverbs so we can have them at the ready to apply when situations call for it. As good as that can be, the sages call us to a particular way of reasoning about life. A close reading of the biblical wisdom literature can reveal the sages way of reasoning. The previous posts have been seeking to do that, as will this next series.

Tolstoy quoteLong story short, the books of wisdom, like all books, emerged from a way of reasoning about life. For instance, Leo Tolstoy, a strong believer in Jesus’ teachings, grounded his novels in a way of reasoning that he called “nonresistance to violence.” Charles Dickens, whose many writings are hard to classify, seems to have reasoned from a moral outrage at the many and widespread injustices of urban, nineteenth century England. The same holds true for nonfiction books, whose authors have their ways of reasoning about life. Regarding foreign policy, for instance, to read books by political neoconservatives is to get a much different way of reasoning than you will get in books by religious writers who are pacifists. The former is known to lead to militaristic foreign polices; the latter never does.

The sages, too, had a way of reasoning about life, out of which an oral wisdom tradition emerged and, later, writings such as we have in the wisdom books of the Bible. In the previous posts, I have been trying introduce, mainly in situations of local, community, and regional diversity, several “lost” but vital aspects of the sages’ way of reasoning. If applied, these can help us to build and sustain cooperation and peace in our pluralistic societies.

We of course must be careful here. We cannot know the mind of these ancients with certainty. But from a close engagement with the wisdom literature, some things seem pretty clear, and to that end in the previous posts we have been identifying a way of reasoning about life that is:

  • foundationally about a peace that the Hebrew Bible calls shalom;
  • not partisan, sectarian, or nationalistic but intercultural (for all peoples everywhere);
  • not about religious instruction but our activities outside of church, synagogue, and mosque;
  • does not present wisdom as ideological, or as any sort of abstraction, but as personal and relational;
  • reveals wisdom as a highly respected legal arbiter in places of authority in the old-world Middle East;
  • central to the teaching of Jesus in Roman-occupied Palestine.

These aspects of the sages way of reasoning about life can be identified (summarized) as the wisdom norms of “peaceableness(shalom) and (human) “mutuality,” which were briefly introduced in some of the previous posts. Beginning with the next post, we will continue to keep local, community, and regional contexts in mind, but we will start looking at how relationships and views in those contexts affect the shapes and conditions of international life. We will be exploring some truly fascinating wisdom narratives in the old-world Middle East that take us into areas of diplomacy, negotiations, and international affairs.

On this journey, shalom and mutuality will come with us, and we will meet other norms of wisdom, such as insight and skill, that are essential to ending adversarial international relations and building more cooperative ones. And as we go along, as in the previous posts, I will include contemporary illustrations. Some, like the next one, may surprise. So, a rabbi walks into a suk . . . .

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

A personal note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present on important issues of the day, I want to invite you to follow the blog. Just click here and then find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address just above that button, and then click “Follow.” You will then receive a very short email notice whenever I publish a new article. And, hey, if you really like it here, tell some friends! Thank you.

“IF YOU SMILE AT ME, I WILL UNDERSTAND”

orchestra 3Gabe Lyons, the founder of Q Ideas, did a pretty outlandish thing for a Christian leader. He invited imam Feisal Abdul Rauf to a large Q Gathering in Portland, Oregon, in April 2011. Concerned about the heightened tensions between some Christians and Muslims in America that had not subsided since the previous summer, due to the ground-zero mosque controversy, Lyons knew that lack of understanding can be at the root of unnecessary relational problems. He simply wanted to interview the imam, a peaceable Sufi, and “get understanding” (Proverbs 4:5).

In a thoughtful article written in response to the ground-zero mosque controversy, Lyons had asked, “Can you imagine a future where Muslims and Christians would work alongside one another in our communities to fight for justice, care for the poor, and offer hope to those in need?” He cited the work of Eboo Patel, an Indian Muslim, American citizen, and founder of the respected Interfaith Youth Core, headquartered in Chicago, which works with Christians and Jews on community projects in many cities. Not long afterward, Lyons invited Eboo Patel to give the Q version of a TED talk.

To Christians who questioned his decision to hang with Muslims, Lyons in his article replied, “The longer I live the more I’m inspired by the life of Jesus and the way He was able to sit down and converse with people who were so unlike him.” Amen, brother. We need more such outlandish behavior.

An unspoken irony in these episodes is that if Muslims such as the Rauf and Patel can find justification in their religion to be peaceably engaged with Christians, can we Christians not find it in ours to be peaceably engaged with Muslims? After all, we are the ones who claim to follow the Prince of Peace (Sar Shalom).

In the series that just ended, we have looked at outlandish ways in which in Jesus the sages’ peaceable way of wisdom gets taken up in the love of God and transformed into the gospel-shaped wisdom for loving not only one’s neighbors but also one’s adversaries. It is a bold wisdom, one much easier to give the nod to than to personally practice, or at least practice without being misunderstood by co-religionists, as Lyons discovered even in the openly receptive audiences of Q. One reason for this, noted in a previous post, is because Jesus taught and modeled this wisdom in-person so long ago, in a culture so different than ours, that today, in twenty-first century America, the ways in which Jesus shocked their imaginations may not even startle us. If that is true, then much that is in the Gospel record may not even speak to us today.

wisdom traditionSo I have often wondered how Jesus as a teacher of wisdom would “stab us awake” [William Barclay] were he among us in the flesh in America today. What would he say, to us? How would he require us to conduct ourselves, today? Previously,  I hinted at one possible act with Stephen Sizer’s Parable of the Good Palestinian. You see, I think Jesus might, in his own wise way, want to call attention to how tightly, whether consciously or not, we hold to American attitudes and allegiances that conflict with his gospel-shaped peaceable wisdom. To put it in biblical language: How much of our social and political wisdom, for example, depends on the basic principles of this world rather than on the wisdom based on Christ?

Jesus liked to asked questions of his interlocutors, and I suspect that is a way Jesus would shock us today. Even to those of us who pride ourselves in being worldview sophisticates and Christians with a biblical worldview, Jesus, were he standing amid us today, might begin by asking something like: Through what grid, really, do you ultimately interpret domestic and international issues and events, or support policies, or engage with your political opponents or those of other faiths? Blue? Red? Liberal? Conservative? Democrat? Republican? Libertarian? Catholic? Orthodox? Protestant? The mainstream media? Talk radio? NPR? The blogosphere? American Exceptionalsim? Christian Zionism? Bashing others? I’m sure the questions would continue.

For those of us who stuck around to ask Jesus to help us work it through, we would find on offer a direction in life that deeply relied on his peaceable gospel-shaped wisdom. You want what’s best for your society? Then act on that, Jesus in effect said to his audiences in Palestine, and you will learn how to have community with people from different backgrounds. And perhaps someday you will even disciple nations this way. Is his message any fundamentally different today?

In our post-9/11 world, this certainly must mean exorcising from our praxis allegiances to the voices, values, and attitudes that conflict with that peaceable wisdom that comes from above (James 3:17). The red and the blue and so on. Does this seem strange to us today? I hope so. Upon hearing it and seeing it demonstrated in ancient Palestine, people “were amazed at his teaching, because he taught them as one who had authority, and not as their teachers” (Matthew 7:29). Dumbfounded, they asked, “Where did this man get this wisdom?” (Matthew 13:54). Where, indeed? And how may we today become agents of that wisdom ourselves?

©2014 by Charles Strohmer

JESUS AS A TEACHER OF WISDOM IN ANCIENT PALESTINE part 7 of 7

Was Jesus a philosopher? Before he became president of the United States the first time, George W. Bush seemed to think so. In 1999, when running for the Republican nomination for president, he was asked by a TV journalist: “Who is you favorite philosopher and thinker?” To which the then governor of Texas unhesitatingly replied, “Jesus Christ.”

Philosophers and thinkers dating back centuries have had views on the question. Suffice it to say that is has evoked negative and positive answers from the learned and others. Even as far back as the New Testament book of Acts, the apostle Paul is seen debating representatives of major philosophical schools in Athens. And it can be argued, I think truly, that the question was addressed in the striking prologue of John’s Gospel, as the answer to what Greek philosophers were grappling with regarding Logos.

Colossians title pageFor those who like this stuff, as I do, a short, readable book with the nifty little title On Jesus, by Doug Groothuis, is worth reading. Groothuis, a professor of philosophy at Denver seminary, and an old friend, I should probably add, employed the classic philosophical areas of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics to argue that Jesus was a unique kind of philosopher. But he concludes that the Gospel record does not present Jesus as merely a philosopher, or a healer, or exorcist, or a teachers, and so on.

A philosopher at heart with a passion for wisdom, I found myself challenged with the question around twenty-five years ago, when I began to get seriously into teaching and writing about a wisdom-based way of seeing life and living in it. (If you want a quick idea about a biblical use of the word “wisdom,” that is about as tight a one as you are going to get: a way of seeing life and living in it.) I became quite happy, and probably a bit conceited, when it occurred to me that the word philosophy means “love of wisdom.” But that does not come across in English as it does in the Greek: philo (love) + sophia (wisdom).

There are many ways we could take this, but let’s go this way. Follow me now. This is merely a short post on a fascinating idea, so I’ve got to cover a lot of ground quickly here. But at least you will have the start of a roadmap, which you can come back to, reflect on, and then go places yourself from here.

Let’s start with wisdom as “a way of seeing life and living in it”; or, alternatively: “a way of making sense of the creation in order to live in it effectively.” Now think of philosophy as “a love of wisdom.” There are only two places in the New Testament where philo+sophia is used. One is in Acts 17, where the apostle Paul debates Epicurean and Stoic “philosophers” (Acts 17:16-32). There, he relies on the resurrection of Jesus (although he does not use Jesus’ name) to radically challenge the religious ground motives of their philosophies. (Not unlike John’s challenge in his prologue, with his use of “Logos.”) The other is Colossians 2:8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy [philo+sophia], which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world, rather than on Christ.”

The passage in Colossians is often incorrectly interpreted to mean: Have nothing to do with philosophy whatsoever, when it is actually warning about a love for philosophy that is not based on Christ. The implication is: It’s okay to be taken captive by a love of wisdom that is based on Christ. But that meaning is hidden by the English word “philosophy” in the text. This conclusion is supported by previous verses, where the text explains that it is in Christ “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom [sophia] and knowledge” (Col. 2:3), and that it is to proclaim this that the apostle is “admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom [sophia]” (Col. 1:28).

It would take much more space than we have, here, to explore the richness of this. But having started you down a road, I’ll leave you with a few more signposts. Make your own paths from here, by reflecting on the biblical addresses. Many people ask, What is philosophy? Here is my simple definition by way of comparison, which is a key category of the wisdom literature. “Theology is way of thinking about God; philosophy is a way of thinking about the world. ” This, I believe, is what the Bible typically means by its use of the word “wisdom.” And that squares with wisdom as “a way of seeing life and living in it,” “a way of making sense of the creation in order to live in it effectively.”

Try reflecting on the “wisdom” verses, above, and the following verses, by using the definition of wisdom just given. In 1 Corinthians 1-2, Paul repeatedly contrasts two ways of seeing the world and living in it; that is, he denigrates “the wisdom of the world” as opposed to “the wisdom of God.” And this is the place where Paul indicates that Jesus is “the wisdom of God” (1 Cor. 1:24), God’s way of seeing the world is Jesus’ way of living in it. What the apostles John and Paul are on about is having a love that sees life and lives in it consistent with Jesus as Logos.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

JESUS AS A TEACHER OF WISDOM IN ANCIENT PALESTINE part 6 of 7

wisdom traditionThe ways in which Jesus personally modeled his peaceable wisdom were almost always controversial, beginning with his choice of his twelve closest followers, a motley crew for sure. And it went on from there, nonstop. Jesus kept reaching out to include persons whom others had excluded. Here are some vignettes.

A crowd in Jericho complained when Jesus included a rich tax official, Zacchaeus – who really was up a tree. A Pharisee named Simon threw a dinner party for Jesus and was shocked when Jesus not only permitted a “sinful” woman to remain in their midst but let her participate in a ceremony.

In the stories of the Samaritan and the Syrophoneican women, the twelve disciples (who were all Jews) learned to open up their hearts as Jesus crossed boundaries of ethnic, religious, social, and gender otherness to express God’s love to two women who were citizens of cultures that most Jews found repulsive. In Jesus, the Samaritan woman found “a Jew who did not impose on her the Jewish stereotype of a Samaritan [or of] a woman.” And the Syrophoneican woman, a Greek (a Gentile) who lived in the region of Tyre, historically a non-Jewish enclave, found in Jesus a Jew who practiced mercy over exclusivism. In both narratives, a Jewish rabbi is willing to dialogue with these excluded others in ways that initiate them into the community of compassion. (Quoting Judith Gundry in the “Introduction” to Glenn Stassen’s Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War, p. 28).

It may even be that the Syrophoneican woman’s clever appeal to Jesus, which seems to get him to change his mind, inspired him soon after he left that region to reach out with compassion to a huge gathering of probably chiefly Gentiles at the Sea of Galilee. There, Jesus clearly modeled for the twelve that Gentiles “are part of the community of compassion. God’s mercy had triumphed over ‘the prejudiced-based distance between nations and cultures.’” (Quoting Judith Gundry in Stassen, p. 29).

I am sure that those twelve Jewish men must have felt their faith was at great odds with itself many times seeing Jesus practice what he preached. Jesus was knocking their sectarian interests and exclusivist, social and religious ideologies to pieces.

And if you did not get it from the real-life travels of Jesus, you could get it from some of the parables. Parables are basic to the wisdom tradition and Jesus ingeniously supplied them. Some he told specifically in hopes of awakening his listeners to become agents on the gospel-shaped love of God that includes the excluded. In the parable of the dinner guests, for instance, social outcasts are brought in for fellowship with the rich. And in the often misunderstood parable of the good Samaritan, Jesus’ listeners are challenged to imagine themselves seeing a dying man who is in need of immediate mercy – and what would they do about it? Would they stop and provide for his well-being, reach out with shalom? Or would they leave him on the street corner to bleed to death because of their religious or other beliefs?

The parable, I believe, calls us to exercise impartial justice to one another even when we have religious and other basic differences. This a biblical principle of justice, through and through, from Leviticus 19:33-34 to 1 Timothy 5:21. “Wisdom is proved right by her actions,” Jesus said. The Samaritan man in the parable “proved” that wisdom by the impartial justice he exercised. He stopped what he was doing that day and reached out to save the dying man, whom two Jewish religious leaders in the parable would not help. And it cost him some coin to do it. All of this was to the dismay of another figure, the real-life Jewish religious leader, to whom Jesus directed the parable.

Decades after Jesus’ death and resurrection, this may have been on the mind of James, a Jewish Christian leader and step-brother of Jesus, who seems to have adapted the principle to a different problem. Writing in an Epistle that shows clear correspondence to a wisdom agenda, James has found a Christian synagogue guilty of showing favoritism, or partiality, to the rich, and embarrassing the poor in their synagogue in the process. They are not being impartial in their dealings with others, and James challenges them to treat rich and poor the same, lest they be found guilty of discrimination, having “become judges with evil thoughts” (James 2:1-4). Acts of favoritism, he notes, do not reflect well on “our glorious Lord Jesus Christ.”

street light crossFor us today, however, the parable is not poignant, not even outlandish. It doesn’t make us smart because we don’t live 2,000 years ago in ancient Palestine. We have not absorbed the social taboos and religious pressures that made Jesus’ parable so startling. I mean, something quite profound is going on, here, in the public imagination, when the religious figure to whom the parable was directed can’t even say “the Samaritan” in answer to Jesus’ question “Who was the injured man’s neighbor?”, but instead answers “the one.”

I think we need a parable of the good Samaritan for today. I wonder how Jesus would tell the parable today. It would certainly challenge our contemporary imaginations. I had an idea for one a few years ago, but I gave up trying to finish writing it when I read The Parable of the Good Palestinian, by Stephen Sizer, an English vicar.

Throughout the four Gospels, we see that in Jesus the peaceable way of the sages’ wisdom becomes the gospel-shaped way of loving outcast and adversary. Civic officials, religious leaders, government authorities, and ordinary people—his own followers, too—were being challenged with a wisdom-based praxis that emphasized not just shaking off dehumanizing habits of the heart as individuals. By following Jesus’ lead they would become agents of a wisdom that would rehumanize relationships amid their diversity.

The ultimate act of Jesus’ personal modeling of his peaceable wisdom was the crucifixion, when Jesus went so far as to die to be able to include even his enemies. More than any of his inclusive personal acts, however, this one became known in the early Church as “a stumbling block” to some, “foolishness” to others, and “the wisdom of God” to others still (1 Corinthians 1:23-24).

See next post for the conclusion of this series.

©2014 by Charles Strohmer.

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

JESUS AS A TEACHER OF WISDOM IN ANCIENT PALESTINE part 5 of 7

©2014 by Charles Strohmer.

At the start of his public ministry, Jesus chose twelve close followers, and most of them were so different that they would never have come together on their own in any sort of initiative. We do not know much about any of them from the Gospels, and some we don’t know anything about. But here are some things we do know.

There were four professional fishermen, a tax collector, a political zealot, a guy who was sort of the “nobody” of the group, a man who held huge doubts about who Jesus really was, and the guy who betrayed Jesus. If there is any one thing this motley crew of disciples learned early on from Jesus it was to include the other in their midst.

wisdom tradtionHere is why we should consider this. In these current posts we have so far chiefly been focusing on ways in which Jesus taught his peaceable wisdom in ancient Palestine and counseled people to apply it. Stories and incidents in the four Gospels show different responses. Some people accepted Jesus’ wisdom and applied it. Some said, That’s interesting; I’ll think about it. And to others it was either foolishness or a stumbling block. And almost everyone was at the very least surprised by Jesus’ wise words, even if they did not take them to heart.

But what we see taking place with Jesus in ancient Palestine is not just about other people. For Jesus personally modeled his wisdom, quite publicly, in his own daily actions. Now those actions themselves surprised people. I don’t think they were surprised because they expected the teacher to be a hypocrite. I think they were surprised, even shocked at times, to see what the shapes of that wisdom would look like if applied in family, social, and political life. It challenged the normal shapes of things in Palestine. It did not square with their own wisdom – their own ways of seeing life and living in it.

It is by his choice of the twelve, with their diverse, and sometimes conflicting, interests and visions, that Jesus starts to get everyone’s serious attention about the shape of his peaceable wisdom – across the spectrum of life. The strange witness of shalom amid diversity starts in ancient Palestine with Jesus and the twelve.

Jesus deliberately stuck all thirteen of them into an initiative in which the group had to grapple for three years with its contradictions, competing interests, misunderstandings, personal issues, perceived lack of parity, and much more. And learn to live with it. No, I did not say that right. It was more than that. The twelve had to learn wisdom for expressing their diversity peaceably, everyday. It would change them personally. And it was meant to become their normative public witness amid that cosmopolitan diversity – for that was what Jesus himself, their teacher, was modeling. “A student is not above his teacher,” Jesus said, “but everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (Luke 6:40).

Of course the twelve failed terribly at times. But Jesus was afterward always showing them what course corrections they then needed to make, if the were going to continue to follow him, Sar Shalom, the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6).

And it went on from there, full speed ahead. After assembling the twelve, Jesus continued not just to teach his peaceable wisdom but to personally model it. And it was almost always controversial. We will explore some of these narratives in the next post.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.

JESUS AS A TEACHER OF WISDOM IN ANCIENT PALESTINE part 4 of 7

©2014 by Charles Strohmer.

widsom traditionIt is becoming clear that when we think about Jesus as teacher of wisdom, this is not about someone who went around quoting the book of Proverbs. Something else was taking place. Jesus was teaching from a way of reasoning about life, relationships, and decision making. It was a peaceable way of reasoning that was wisdom-based, and it had strong similarities to the ancient Hebrew sages’ peaceable way of reasoning. We have been exploring some vital and often overlooked aspects of this wisdom – this way of seeing life and living in it – since the first post in this series.

To quickly recall one of those aspects, the Hebrew sages had a way of reasoning in which shalom played a vital role in cooperative human activity and decision making across the spectrum of life. In ancient Israel this provided a morally responsible means for peoples of different faiths and cultures not only to meet and greet but to negotiate peaceable initiatives and agreements across all sorts of perhaps otherwise unnegotiable boundaries.

However, as an authoritative form or mode of knowledge and instruction, Christianity today, whatever the reasons, has in some ways clipped this way of reasoning from its Bible. That is, we are big on the Law (Torah) and the prophets as authoritative. But wisdom? We see a clue to the problem in the book of Jeremiah. Some conspirators (they are not identified) are plotting against the prophet, and while doing that they summarize three sources of authoritative knowledge for ancient Israel: the teaching of the law by the priest, the counsel from the wise, and the word from the prophet (Jeremiah 18:18).

I like Walter Brueggemann’s treatment of this triad (The Creative Word, chapter 1). “Torah,” “counsel,” and “word” are three shapes of “Israelite authoritative knowledge,” and “the priest,” “the wise,” and “the prophet” are the three agents of that knowledge and instruction. Each form of knowledge, he argues, “has a special substance and a distinct mode in the life of Israel. And a faithful community must attend to all three, not selecting one to the neglect of the others” (p. 8, his emphases).

In all four Gospels, Jesus can be seen as the archetypal agent of all three of these forms of authoritative knowledge and instruction. What I am hoping for in these posts on Jesus as a teacher of wisdom is to help us think about the form that we have neglected for far too long.

Jesus’ way of reasoning squares with that of the Hebrew sages and their wisdom tradition, with its emphases on shalom as vital to cooperative and peaceable human relations amid their diversity (see the earlier posts). But in Jesus, the sages’ peaceable way of wisdom gets taken up in the love of God and transformed into the gospel-shaped wisdom for loving not only one’s neighbors but also one’s adversaries.

In the previous post, we looked briefly at some ways in which Jesus taught this peaceable wisdom in ancient Palestine amid that roiling diversity with its conflicting ethnic, social, political, and religious interests. But Jesus did not just teach it. He also personally modeled it. This we will see in the next post.

©2016 by Charles Strohmer

A note from Charles: If you want more of the perspectives that Waging Wisdom seeks to present, I want to invite you to follow this blog for a while to see if you like it. Just click here and find the “Follow” button in the right margin, enter your email address, and then click “Follow.” You will receive a very short email notice when I publish a new post. Thank you.